1. Loftus: As a former Christian I examined several major religions and various Christian cults and concluded there wasn’t sufficient objective evidence for any of them. I was a skeptic of all other religions except my own particular evangelical sect. What happened that changed my mind is that over the years I learned to apply the same objective evidential standards to my own faith that I had already applied to the other faiths I rejected. As I did that, I learned to reject them all because of the same reason, the lack of sufficient objective evidence.
I will begin by saying that I admire Loftus’ efforts in attempting to understand what he initially believed before his loss of faith. Obviously I sympathise that he went through a period of turmoil and that many of his pressing questions failed to find answers, and thus he ended up losing faith in Jesus. It is true that everyone needs to sift through evidence and arguments and end up with their own conclusions. To not do so, and to blindly believe something (whether atheist or Christian), is particularly un-admirable. At least I shall be honest and thus not charge Loftus with what he charges Christians like me, that of having blind faith. However, I can still say several things about Loftus’ statement.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that many have come to the opposite conclusion to that of Loftus, and have in fact gone from full blown skeptic to believer. Loftus denies that there is an evidential basis for all of the religions that he says that he has examined. However, many would disagree, for example the former militant atheist Lee Strobel claimed that “It was the evidence from science and history that prompted me to abandon my atheism and become a Christian” (1). According to Wallace, a former atheist homicide detective, the historical person of Jesus became an issue because “If Jesus really was who He said He was, then Jesus was God Himself. If Jesus truly did what the gospel eyewitnesses recorded, then Jesus is still God Himself. As someone who used to reject anything supernatural, I had to make a decision about my naturalistic presuppositions” (2). The scientist Frank Tippler came to his conclusion that God exists based off of the “inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics” (3). Biophysicist Alister McGrath claimed that he lost faith in his atheism because the arguments for it became “circular, tentative, and uncertain” (4). In fact, Darrin Rasberry used to write for Loftus’ Debunking Christianity blogsite, however he soon became of follower of Jesus because of the power behind arguments for God’s existence (see my report of his testimony). We could go on, and I could mention other big names such as C.S. Lewis, Ord Holloway, Sarah Salviander, A.N. Wilson, Jennifer Fulwiler, Craig Keener, Mike Bird, Peter Hitchens, Francis Collins etc.
The fact is that this is not, and I don’t intend it to be, an argument for the authenticity of the Christian faith, but what it does suggest is that Loftus’ conclusion is not the only one out there. Whereas Loftus claims there to be no objective evidence for God, or Christianity, many claim the exact opposite.
2. Loftus: I am an atheist because even the best and brightest apologists like Randal who take our arguments seriously cannot provide a good reason to believe.
The last time I saw Loftus in a debate against the Christian apologist David Wood (Debate: Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?) I recall Loftus being clearly outmatched in most departments. Now, I give credit where credit is due, for example, the skeptic Shelly Kagan made for a fantastic discussion with William Lane Craig (debate: Is God Necessary For Morality.) that was highly substantive and pleasant. I recommend people to view that debate if one so wishes to get good input from both sides. However, when Wood challenged Loftus on things like the historical evidence for the resurrection Loftus rambled on about irrelevancies and pretty much failed to answer any of Wood’s points. Wood brought up several historical facts that support the resurrection hypothesis and I left that debate stronger in my faith than before it. Further, Loftus went on about some unknown belief system call ‘Yingyanity’ (correct spelling?) that no-one knows about, and that its only resemblance to Christianity is its similar sounding name. On the whole Loftus’ performance would have been highly disappointing to many atheists out there, and I can understand why.
So, over the next few days I will be looking very closely into Loftus’ claim that Christians “cannot provide a good reason to believe.” I am looking forward to reviewing what Loftus has to offer in response to the historical facts established to prove the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation. I have high hopes that I won’t discover that Loftus is a Jesus Mythicist… that would be disappointing.
3. Loftus: Everybody has faith. Misguided. This may be true for most people, but it’s the problem, not the solution. Faith is a cognitive bias causing people to overestimate any confirming evidence and to underestimate any disconfirming evidence. Faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities. [When I say this I’m not saying Randal is irrational, only that faith is irrational.] Reasonable people think exclusively in terms of probabilities based on objective sufficient evidence along with sound reasoning about the evidence.
Well, I answered this in our previous rebuttal. What Loftus, like most atheists, does is just define faith as a belief based off no evidence, or as he calls an “irrational leap over probabilities.” However, as I initially pointed out Loftus shows no cognisance, or even supplies a hint, of the Christian belief of evidence based faith (see my aeroplane analogy in our previous rebuttal). We also saw that atheism itself is a faith based system for many reasons. In fact, I’d charge Loftus with holding to overwhelming probabilities that would suggest that it takes more faith to believe in his atheism than it does to believe in Christianity, or a god. I particularly like the argument from the improbability of naturalistic evolution (as opposed to theistic evolution).
For instance, in the ‘Anthropic Cosmological Principle’ two prominent scientists Barrow and Tippler lay out ten steps that human evolution would need to have gone through in order to bring about modern man as we know him. But here is the central issue for atheistic evolution – each of these steps are so improbable that even before it could ever possibly occur our sun would have burnt out and ceased to exist, and in the process it would obliterate our planet Earth. In fact, the number that Barrow and Tippler calculate the chance of atheistic, unguided evolution of ever occurring in the human genome to be somewhere between the values of: 4^-180^110 000 and 4^-380^110 000.
To say that that number is inconceivable would be an understatement, but that is what, according to probabilities, it takes to believe in naturalistic evolution where no outside agent would have been involved. I go on about how Loftus has to have faith that everything in the universe can be explained naturalistically. So, he has faith that some naturalistic explanation of the Big Bang will come about, or a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, or that the overwhelming testimony for miracles of healing in the world today will be naturalistically explained. In fact, see my article: 10 reasons it takes Great blind faith to be an atheist.
4. Loftus: God best explains the miracles in people’s lives. Silly. Given the number of believers in the world and the number of rare coincidences that could occur in their lives I’m actually surprised there aren’t more miracle claims. Extremely rare coincidences happen. It’s what we would expect given the odds. There are no verifiable supernatural agents behind them. People merely see supernatural agents where there aren’t any because we’ve inherited this propensity from the animal kingdom, who thought they heard predators approaching merely at the random sound of rustling leaves. What we need are clinical studies, which are the best kind of scientific evidence for these claims, and nearly every scientific study done on petitionary prayer has shown it works statistically no better than chance.
Again, this is simply detached from reality. What follows here are excerpts of miracles stories from scholar Craig Keener’s two-volume investigation. Following that I have my own list of miracle testimonies that I’ve received from interviewing people (forgive me for now since I have not linked footnotes particularly because I have not completed my thesis from where this comes. This list comes from my section where I tackle David Hume’s argument against miracles).
The most comprehensive case of such healings on an academic level is that of Craig Keener’s two volume worldwide investigation. Having consulted this I conclude that the amount of testimony is quite overwhelming. For example, Leo Bawa, PhD candidate Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, testifies to being an eyewitness: “By God’s grace I have seen God healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses by his power: malaria, pains and aches, cancer, depression, bones; and the dead brought back to life” (xx17). According to Keener a woman by the name of “Shelley witnessed a deaf boy about the same age healed the same night, and the next day a church was started” (xx18). Keener’s correspondence with Dr. Nicole Matthews confirmed an eyewitness testimony to healing of a paralyzed woman on a mat (xx19). Dr. Julie Ma, Korean missiologist at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, claims to be an eyewitness to the healing of an old man with a critical spinal problem, she saw that after prayer he “was instantly healed and he stood up and walked away.” Another time she saw “an old man who had been deaf in both ears since he was a young man was instantly healed” (xx20). According to Keener he has investigated reports “of someone being miraculously healed, and a church being started in a village the next day, in a whole region—sometimes entire villages turning to faith in Christ” (xx21). According to a study 86.4 percent of Brazilian Pentecostals have claimed have experienced divine healing (xx22). The former principal of the Malaysia Theological Seminary, turned bishop, in Asia affirms that “the miraculous is assumed and fairly regularly experienced” (xx23). Sung-Gun Kim tells us that “Pentecostal Christianity within Latin America, Africa and Asia” have experiences of “exorcism, healings… and so forth” (xx24). In India we are told that “many tangible miracles have happened such as the healing of the deaf and dumb and incurable diseases which strengthened the ministry in its initial stage” (xx25). A Western researcher in the Philippines found out “that 83% of them actually reported that they had experienced some dramatic healing from God in their bodies” (xx26). Another Asia based study found that ”562 of the 604 Christian respondents claimed to have experienced healings, all with positive spiritual and church benefits” (xx27). Two interviewers, Millar and Yamamori, found that “in India, in particular, healing was viewed as commonplace among the Christians we interviewed” (xx28). Martin found that miracle healing and exorcism compose “a large proportion” of South India’s Christian population (xx29), whereas Betty Young, an archivist of United Mission to Nepal, says that in Nepal “there must be thousands who have come to the Lord through healing” (xx30). Edmond Tang says that “according to some surveys, 90% of new believers cite healing as a reason for their conversion” (xx31). Of Christianity in China David Aikman concludes that “it is difficult to investigate the phenomenon of Christianity in China today without hearing stories of miraculous healings” (xx32).
These many contemporary and evidence based miracles, as well as historical miracles (miracles that come down to us in ancient sources, such as what we have for Jesus), according to two scholars Theissen and Merz, “obliges us to recognize the possibility of healings and exorcisms. For in many cultures there is an abundance of well-documented analogies to them—and even in the ‘underground’ of our culture, although that may be officially denied” (xx33). Danny McCain, a lecturer at the University of Jos in Nigeria and the founder of the International Institute for Christian Studies, claims that “is arrogant and unprofessional for Western scholars to outright reject the miraculous, totally ignoring the testimonies of thousands of people” (xx34).
Secondly, Loftus’ argument falls flat for me on a personal level for several reasons. Firstly, I claim to have experienced, or had, a supernatural encounter myself (xx35). My encounter was experienced by at least a dozen other Christians on separate and in different occasions, and thus provides corroboration that I did not subjectively imagine what I experienced (xx44). I have also inquired of, and interviewed, many people in regards to supernatural encounters. Although I have rejected some as probably having a natural cause (xx36) several of them almost certainly affirm supernatural causation. One friend had encountered an exorcism on a church youth camp, and this had caused him and others to flee the scene. When this friend later inquired of what occurred he was informed be elders that it took several men to hold down a 13 year old boy who foamed and frothed at the mouth in response to prayer (xx37). A leader in a church in Mitchells Plain, in Cape Town, affirms an encounter of possessed girl in a hospital (xx38). This mature leader, whose occupation is that of a nurse, claimed that a girl she prayed for manifested a deep voice, unusual strength and was foaming at the mouth. Only after prayer did these symptoms subside. My lecturer in Ethics, who is also a pastor, prayed for a man with a cancerous tumour on the brain (xx39). This man had all but accepted that death would result, since he was given mere months to live. In that moment of prayer the man had an overwhelming heat sensation in his head, and scans the following day revealed that the tumour had shrunk to the size of a scab, and amazingly it had relocated to the bottom of his brain at the back of his head. A South African pastor of 37 years affirmed that when he prayed and anointed with oil a deformed baby that was soon to die the baby then recovered fully (xx40). This pastor was invited to the baby’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th birthday parties. When doctors confirmed this remarkable recovery one doctor said to the pastor “I don’t believe in God, but whatever you did worked.” This same pastor had an experience when a man he prayed for begun retching, except no substance came out from his mouth, and the pastor took this as demonic in nature. One acquaintance alleged to have seen a pastor exorcize a demon from a schoolgirl in one of Cape Town’s top schools (xx41). A close friend of mine also had an encounter with demon possession. This involved a girl who collapsed and writhed in response to prayer, this scene took place at his school during afterhours. It was later discovered that this girl took part in witchcraft since her mom was heavily involved in such practice (xx42). A friend of mine at my college alleged to have seen gold dust inexplicably appear on a pastor when he was giving a sermon (this phenomena was corroborated by Darren Wilson in his four-part documentary series) (xx43). Finally, my personal GP booked an elderly lady in for a back operation to rectify a dislodged spinal disc. A few days before the operation, in which my GP was operating as an assistant, the woman returned to her practice claiming that her back had healed after her family had prayed for her. Scans of her back confirmed this full recovery and the operation was cancelled. When I asked my GP what she thought of this she said that “some things are not scientifically explainable.” (xx44)
In fact, Keener’s analysis of surveys on miracle healing during his three year investigation of the miracles claims found that in just 10 countries the number of witnesses to miracle healings came “to about 200 million. But what is more striking is, from the same survey, that about 39% of Christians who did not claim to be Pentecostals or Charismatic, in those 10 countries, also claimed to have witnessed or experienced divine healing. Now that’s just 10 countries. They didn’t even include China, where about 10 years ago some information from within the China Christian Council, suggested that nearly half of all new conversions from the previous 2 decades had come from what they called faith healing experiences. And some other surveys put the figure even higher. Now, I don’t know how we would figure out more precise data, you know, like what the percentages actually are, or so on, but in any case, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who make these claims” (5).
So, I find this far from being silly, as Loftus claims. In fact, this puts a gaping hole into his claim that he’s “actually surprised there aren’t more miracle claims.” In fact, I am surprised there are so many eyewitnesses to miracles! I challenge Loftus to take this data seriously and provide a refutation (I suspect he will appeal to Hume, of which I am confident to engage him on). I’d also like to challenge Loftus in his claim that “there are no verifiable supernatural agents behind them.” I would sincerely like to know how he can make such a claim to knowledge. Then of course he provides no reason to believe that all this overwhelming testimony is some product “from the animal kingdom, who thought they heard predators approaching merely at the random sound of rustling leaves.” This also commits the genetic fallacy for even, if we were to agree with Loftus, that people are disposed to experiencing such things as a result of inheritance from the animal kingdom that hardly disqualifies the idea that God can still give people supernatural experiences. It’s the classic genetic fallacy.
Then he says “What we need are clinical studies, which are the best kind of scientific evidence for these claims, and nearly every scientific study done on petitionary prayer has shown it works statistically no better than chance.”
That is exactly what has been done via Craig Keener’s 2-volume investigation as well as by others (I shall be highlight them in my thesis). Better yet, for my case, is that the miracles I mentioned above from Keener’s investigation only comes from 20% of Keener’s book! Regarding prayer I’d recommend all readers to consult a piece I wrote long ago answering exactly Loftus’ challenge except made by another atheist (view that here). I find Loftus’ claim that we can only know that prayer works if it is statistically analyzed problematic. Firstly, it sounds silly to put God to the test. Why should God subject himself to some scientific based test? If anything God would be offended that is creation is trying to put him to the test. Secondly, as I highlighted in my linked article, there are several qualifiers that need to be taken into account in order for prayer to be effective. Further, it would appear that Loftus does not know that a study had actually found “that intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God has a beneficial therapeutic effect in patients admitted to the CCU” (6). Surprising that Loftus does not at least hint at that. Finally, I have never used this study as an apologetic for the Christian faith because I am very skeptical of prayer based studies for the reason that there are way too many factors involved, that often the studies are an appeal to all gods rather than just the Christian or Muslim one, and that its nonsensical to put God to the test especially when Jesus forbids it (Luke 4:12, Matthew 4:7), as well as the Old Testament (Deu. 6:16).
To be continued…
1. Strobel, L. 1998. The Case For Christ.
2. Wallace, J. 2015. Jesus Is Evidence That God Exists. Available.
3. Frank Tippler quoted by Thomas Szasz in The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience (2002). p. 88.
4. McGrath, A. Breaking the Science-Atheism Bond. Available.
5. Keener, C. Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.
6. Byrd, R. 1988. “Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population”. Southern Medical Journal 81 (7): 826–9. Available.