1. Loftus: “The Bible is filled with superstitious beliefs that modern people rightly reject. It describes a world where a snake and a donkey communicated with human beings in a human language, where people could reach upward of 900 years old, where a woman instantaneously transformed into a pillar of salt, where a pillar of fire could lead people by night, and where the sun stopped moving across the sky or could even back up. In this imaginary world an ax head could float on water, a star could point down to a specific home, people could instantly speak in unlearned foreign languages, and one’s shadow or handkerchief could heal people. It is a world where a flood can cover the whole earth, and a man can walk on water, calm a stormy sea, change water into wine, or be swallowed by a “great fish” and live to tell about it.”
I guess that settles it right there! Because on Loftus’ worldview miracles (which is what all the events that he describes here are – acts of God in history via agents or direct causation) can’t happen then that means Christianity is irrational & that miracles can never occur. That is simple question begging.
Further, would it be wise for me to reject my Christianity because of these overt miracles even though the God of Christianity is clearly capable of performing such deeds especially since he created the entire universe from nothing? Can such a God not intervene in his creation in dramatic ways should it so fit his purpose? Surely if such a being exists then he can intervene in extraordinary ways (Loftus even admits that miracles are possible if God exists – see point 3 in Part #6). Further, some of Loftus’ views on the miracles described are problematic since many Christians, for instance, do not hold to a universal flood (although many do) or that the snake in the Garden of Eden was really a snake but rather standing in for a heinous symbol as a representation of Satan. Regarding the unusually high ages of some Old Testament personalities I put this question to my Old Testament lecturer. Her reply was that in the society at that time numbers stood in as representatives for other realities, so I don’t think that these high numbers need be taken as literal ages. Also, since my personal investigations into the historical Jesus well affirm the supernatural aspect to his ministry I have no difficulty whatsoever believing that he turned water into wine, walked on water, calmed a stormy sea, and so forth. Instead, Loftus would need to do a bit more than just assume that these things cannot happen. I’d argue that these miraculous events must be child play for a God, especially a God like the Christian one. If anything the biggest miracle of all, in my view, is that Jesus lived a sinless life, hence suggesting that he never sinned even once (never giving into temptation, cursing, lusting etc.). How does anyone do that? That would make Jonah being swallowed by a large fish look like a walk in the park.
Secondly, the miracles within the Bible are not prescribed as the general workings of nature on a consistent basis. That Jonah was swallowed by a fish happened only once, that Balaam’s donkey spoke happened only once. These are represented as once of workings of God in his creation in order to achieve an intended purpose. In order for these to be irrational the atheist must disprove the existence of the Christian God or at least make an argument as to why these miracles are impossible if the Christian God exists.
Thirdly, is this saying anything about the truth claims of Christianity based upon the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as an event of history? I could grant almost all of those miracles Loftus mentions as mythological but it would still not follow that Christianity is false, instead it would resolve into a debate about the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (which is by no means uniform in interpretation among Christians). Philosopher McGrew informs us: “Admittedly, these three — the story of the serpent in the Garden, the story of Baalam’s ass, and the story of Elisha’s floating axe head — are fairly remote from the resurrection, both in time and in content. I am certainly *not* saying, “Jesus rose from the dead; therefore you should take every miracle reported in the Old Testament as literally true.” That would be far too simplistic. But such accounts can now be approached without the sort of bias that would prevent us from even considering the possibility of their truth. I do not believe that a man *must* accept their literal truth in order to be a Christian. But I do think it likely that at this remove from the events only a Jew or a Christian *could* reasonably believe them” (1).
Fourthly, I’d like to ask Loftus about his set of miracles that his atheism demands he believes in (without an appeal to any external agent that can intervene in creation). How does he explain the beginning of a universe from nothing, getting conscious & sentient life from inorganic materials, getting order in the universe from chaos, and getting the immaterial from physical matter? I am grateful that the Christian worldview does not need to face such a dilemma.
2. Loftus: “This is a strange world when compared to our world, but Christians believe that this world was real in the past. My contention is not that ancient people were stupid, but that they were very superstitious”
I have already answered Loftus on the topic of chronological snobbery that he clearly espouses here (see point 3 of Part #3), so we needn’t revisit it. However, I take issue with his claim that “This is a strange world when compared to our world” precisely because dramatic miracles do occur today. Not only have I myself interviewed many eyewitnesses to miracle healings (as well as exorcisms) but academic sources have also corroborated that such events occur today, in fact, they occur rather widely (I have already answered this in point 4 of Part #6 should anyone wish to return to it). However, Loftus isn’t entirely wrong as God has ceased acting in dramatic ways that he once did in the times of the Old Testament for his word & revelation is fully complete and he needs not continue. So, although miracle healings & exorcisms are widely reported and corroborated today from eyewitnesses and medical documentation we shouldn’t expect God to part an ocean or send fire and brimstone in judgment on cities (this does not exclude the possibility that God does still today in fact judge in ways that he deems fit). I don’t think Loftus’ claim has any substantial weight in its favour.
3. Loftus: “One can perform scientific tests for what I consider superstitious beliefs. One can compare what a meteorologist says about the weather with what someone who plans to do a rain dance says about it, and then test to see who’s right more often. Testing and comparing results is science. The results of reason and science have jettisoned a great many superstitions…”
This is practically a rehash of other things Loftus has said previously, however it is quite ironic that he writes that “The results of reason and science have jettisoned a great many superstitions.” Well, the last time I saw Loftus was trying to go with an eternally existing universe even though such is clearly contrary to scientific evidence (see point 8 in Part #5). What about his other miracles (life coming from non-life, order from chaos, intelligence from inorganic material etc.) that all seem very unscientific & superstitious to me.
4. Loftus: “The Bible describes so many prevalent superstitious beliefs within Gentile nations that there is little doubt that superstition reigned during biblical times. Moreover, these beliefs were so prevalent that the Bible even portrays God’s “chosen people” regularly participating in foreign religious rituals and worshipping other nations’ gods and goddesses. Evidently, then, the beliefs of the Israelites themselves—and later their Christian successors—were collectively forged within a highly superstitious cultural mindset.”
Sigh, more chronological snobbery. However, I am also tempted to ask: So what? So what if God’s chosen people fell into Idolatry by going after the gods of other gentile nations (Exo. 34: 1-10, Deu. 9:21, 1 Kings 15:13, 2 Chro. 34:4)? All that is saying is that they rejected the one true God for the false gods of the other nations.
5. Loftus: “In the modern world we no longer believe in a god of the sun, the moon, the harvest, fertility, rain, or the sea. We don’t see omens in an eclipse, a flood, a storm, a snakebite, or a drought. This falling away is due to our better understanding of nature than that of our ancestors, made possible only by the advance of science.”
This is actually a false statement since many people in our “modern world” still do believe in some of these practices. This is the case within certain folk religions that is set to grow to 450 million (up by 45 million) by the year 2050 (1). Do these people, according to Loftus, not count as existing in our “modern world”? That of course does not mean that I agree with these people, it simply means that Loftus is incorrect.
To be continued…
1. Personal correspondence with Tim McGrew (Professor of Philosophy).
2. Pew Research Center. Adherents of Folk Religions. Available.