“Why Christians Should be Reading John Loftus’ Books,” By Christian Professor Dan Lambert
Actually, the title to this post of his is much longer: Why Atheists Shouldn’t Marry and Why Christians Should be Reading John Loftus’ Books: Thoughts On Becoming an Atheist, Critical Thinking, and the Outsider Test for Faith. *Whew* that’s a mouthful! [Disclaimer, Dan and I are friends. Yes I have them, in fact, most all of my family and friends are Christians.] I first met him as he was using my book in his class which I wrote about here. He joins other Christian intellectuals in having a guest post at DC, like Douglas Groothuis, James Sennett, Kenneth Howell, Craig Bloomberg, John Haught, and even William Lane Craig (by proxy). LINK. As with the others I’ll post it in its entirety without comment (at least initially). So here is Dr. Lambert on the topic above. Comment as you will. He may respond.
WHY ATHEISTS SHOULDN’T MARRY AND WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD READ JOHN LOFTUS’ BOOKS: THOUGHTS ON BECOMING AN ATHEIST, CRITICAL THINKING, AND THE OUTSIDER TEST FOR FAITH
By Dan Lambert
I first came across John Loftus more than five years ago while preparing to teach a new course at an evangelical Christian university. The class was called “Encountering Atheism, Skepticism, and Doubt.” I was looking for a primary text to use that would help those very sheltered Christian college seniors understand that atheism has some important critiques of our faith and that would help them understand atheists’ arguments against faith using the writings of atheists, not the writings of Christian apologists about atheism.
When I found and read Why I Became An Atheist, I was impressed with the thorough scope and depth of Loftus’ experiences and critiques of Christianity. I read all the best-selling books by all the popular atheist authors, but in my opinion, and for the purposes of my course, Why I Became An Atheist was the most thorough tome I found. In it Loftus explains what he calls the “Cumulative Case Method” that ultimately led him to abandon his faith and embrace atheism. He discusses personal experiences, historical evidence, philosophical reasoning, scientific methods, sociological truths, the Biblical record, and anthropological theories that, all considered together, led him to his final conclusion that there is no God.
In WIBA, Loftus introduces an idea he calls The Outsider Test for Faith, which of course became the foundation for his newly released book of the same name. I believe Loftus is taking the dialog about faith in a very positive direction by proposing this test, and that all serious Christians would be well advised to accept his challenge.
I could critique some elements of the book (e.g., he uses way too much space defending his ideas from apologists and pastors very few have heard of and even fewer care about, and not enough space laying out step-by-step examples of how to examine one’s faith using the OTF,) but I mostly want to concentrate on its strengths.
For theists like me who came to faith via a primarily emotional experience, but have remained steadfast in faith and have matured in belief due to intellectual study, research, and pursuit of truth, challenges like the OTF are useful and enlightening. Personally I believe the OTF is merely one element of the Cumulative Case Method (CCM) that Loftus claims led him away from God years ago. I would argue that the CCM is a much more thorough, and even a more scientific approach to examining faith than is the OTF.
That brings me to the first part of the title of this brief essay, “Why Atheists Shouldn’t Marry.” Entering into marriage requires a leap of faith beyond the scientific probabilities. For atheists who claim that we should only believe what science can support, the claim that another human loves us so much as to lead us to pledge our lifelong love and commitment to remain married to them is absolutely hypocritical. How can science prove beyond doubt the love of another for me? We can observe signs of what we call love, we can scan the brain for activity in the appropriate sectors, we can even use our own feelings as a guide. These can all be manipulated or faked. And if you use science as a guide, atheists have to admit that the statistical probability of a lifelong happy marriage is well below 50%.
So why do atheists, even those who embrace some form of scientism, get married? It’s because of the CCM. What does the CCM have that scientism and the OTF don’t? The element of untrustworthy human experience. Loftus admits in WIBA that his own experience might have tainted his objectivity as he began to doubt his faith. Highly regarded experts in the Philosophy of Science such as Susan Haack, Paul Feyerabend, and Keith Ward admit that the scientific method is incomplete and that scientism has to be rejected because science cannot explain everything. Human opinion and experience has to be factored in. We all marry because we believe that, in the face of overwhelming odds against it, the love that we have with another is real, true, and lasting. That requires a leap of faith beyond the probabilities.
Christians like me, who believe that all truth is God’s truth, no matter where it may be found, should embrace dialog with atheists like Loftus. I know it drives him nuts, but I have told John several times that his books, and those that he has challenged me to read, have greatly strengthened my faith over the last 5+ years. I am willing to admit that atheists may ultimately be correct and that there is nothing beyond our natural world. Obviously I don’t think that’s the case as of today, but I look forward to a vigorous and amicable discussion of the idea as I continue on my quest for truth.
(Dan Lambert has a Bible college and a seminary education, and has been in some type of ministry for over 30 years. For the past 15 years he has taught at Bible colleges, seminaries, and Christian universities. He also holds a Doctor of Education degree.)