1. Loftus: “If God revealed himself in history, then he chose a poor medium (limiting his revelation to the past) and a poor era (the superstitious ancient past) to do so. Almost anything can be rationally denied in history, even if the event happened.”
That Loftus writes that “If God revealed himself in history, then he chose a poor medium (limiting his revelation to the past) and a poor era (the superstitious ancient past) to do so” is a non-sequitur. Just because God chose to reveal himself to a certain people in history does not mean that he did not reveal himself. After all, God could have sufficient reasons as to why he chose a certain people, at a certain location & at a certain point in history. I bet that if God had to reveal himself today then in 2000 years from now (when we would look hugely unsophisticated by comparison) we will have more future John Loftus’s claiming this same thing.
Then he writes that “Almost anything can be rationally denied in history, even if the event happened” must be one of the more absurd things Loftus has said. Almost anything? Would that include the war feats of Alexander the Great, the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, or the commencing of the building of the Great War of China during the Qin Dynasty? Well, obviously evidence does not matter at all to Loftus because he is totally blinded by his hyperskepticism, a position that his fundamentalist atheism demands him to adopt. This is just one of many reasons as to why I have stopped discussing & debating with atheists in online forums. I wonder how many professional historians would agree with him.
2. Loftus: “The historian is dealing with a past known to contain many frauds and forgeries. This justifies a skeptical outlook about reports of historical events.
This is nothing more than Loftus’ a priori rejection of the reliability of any historical text (in this case our biblical & historical texts) that he disagrees with or that he finds threatening to his worldview. It is the usual “guilty until proven innocent” approach to history. We could all do this with anything, but would such a methodology be “rational” or fair? It’s hard to believe that atheists like Loftus claim to be rational when they let their personal bias so obviously colour their work. Instead, I challenge Loftus to be fair in his considering of historical evidence and once he does that then we may just have a rational discussion.
3. Loftus: “Consider the following historical questions. How were the Egyptian pyramids made? Who made them? Why? Was Shakespeare a fictitious name for Francis Bacon? Exactly how was the Gettysburg battle fought and won? What was the true motivation for Lincoln to emancipate the slaves? What happened at Custer’s last stand? Who killed President John F. Kennedy? Why? Who knew what and when during the Watergate scandal that eventually led to President Nixon resigning? Why did America lose the “war” in Vietnam? Did George W. Bush legitimately win the 2000 election? Did President Bush knowingly lead us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses? What about some high profile criminal cases? Is O.J. Simpson a murderer? Who killed Jon Bene Ramsey? Is Michael Jackson a pedophile? Can we say that we know the answer to any one of these questions with so much confidence that we’d be willing to go to Hell if we got it wrong?”
This is just totally irrelevant to everything. I don’t care how the Egyptian pyramids were built or whether or not Bush won an election. But until Loftus tries to be reasonable we needn’t take him seriously. Instead, he just time and time again illustrates the depths of his fundamentalism (at least he is being a consistent fundamentalist). However, I feel that his last line: “Can we say that we know the answer to any one of these questions with so much confidence that we’d be willing to go to Hell if we got it wrong?” is quite loaded. I take it that he is digging at the Christian message, namely the resurrection of Jesus, that comes down to us via history & historical textual sources. Now, since Loftus applies his radical hyperskepticism to any historical data, as he himself evidently admits, then it is no wonder that he finds that affirming the resurrection is particularly problematic, and that his eternal destiny is on the line based off some skimpy historical evidence in the way of Jesus’ resurrection. But I strongly suggest to him that the historical evidence is not lacking, in fact, when considered it is quite compelling. I think ultimately Loftus’ hyperskepticism is to blame here, not the historical evidence.
4. Loftus: “Hector Avalos argues that historical studies are fraught with serious problems. Regarding the nonsupernatural claim that Caesar was assassinated by Brutus in Rome in 44 A. D., he write: “We cannot verify such an occurrence ourselves directly and so we cannot claim to ‘know’ it occurred.” When it comes to whether or not King Arthur actually existed, he argues, “our contemporary textual evidence … is nearly nil.” If this is the case with nonsupernatural historical investigations, then it is compounded so much more when it comes to the so-called supernatural events of history.”
More irrelevancy. Also, Professor Hector Avalos (who is also known for his intense opposition to religion especially that of Christianity, just by the way) of whom Loftus quotes appears somewhat unfamiliar with the historical method by assuming that non-contemporaneous historical/textual evidence is unreliable or that it counts against a historical figure or event. It is then quite evident that Loftus will then use this as an argument against our gospel sources for information on the historical Jesus even though most of ancient history comes down to us in non-contemporaneous sources (and often these sources are accepted by historians as credible testimonies as to what occurred in history). However, professional historians strongly disagree, as scholar John Dickson explains that “In any case, to suggest that the Gospels are somehow dodgy because they are not contemporaneous accounts of Jesus indicates a basic unfamiliarity with the discipline of history. Anyone may express an opinion, of course, but opinion should not be offered under the guise of expertise” (1). Even the skeptical historian Bart Ehrman is critical of such a position as “To dismiss the Gospels from the historical record is neither fair nor scholarly” (2). Instead, the reliability of any historical text needs to be determined on other grounds such as textual traditions that lie behind them, cross corroboration with other sources, as well as what other disciplines like archaeology can tell us.
Finally this perpetual disparaging of the discipline of history on Loftus’ behalf strikes me as rather ironic. In fact, in a recent debate I viewed between the Christian Randal Rauser and Loftus, Loftus accuses Randal of being a “science denier” because he does not affirm the self-defeating position of scientism (I review scientism here), a position that atheists tend to adopt when they deify the scientific method beyond its own capabilities (3). However, even though he accuses Rauser of this, and out of the other side of his mouth, he adopts a hyperskeptical approach to the professional discipline of history. So, if Loftus cannot apply such consistency between disciplines then why does he complain about Young Earth Creationists who try to make science fit into the mould of a 6000 year old Earth, as he does in his visit to the Creation Museum (see here)? Why can’t the YEC disparage science and elevate history? This is what Loftus does except in the reverse order. I strongly believe that after some of Loftus’ above statements we would all be well warranted in accusing him of being a “history denier.” However, the very reason lying behind Loftus’ denial of the discipline of history is rather easy to answer. I’d say that it is because Jesus happens to be a historical figure and our historical data, more often than not, affirms his deity and provides rational reasons as to believe in his bodily resurrection. Nonetheless, for Loftus and his fellow atheists there are two commonly used ways for them to dismiss this in order to avoid the intellectual responsibility of having to provide an answer – that is to either make nonsensical claims of Jesus not ever existing or alternatively an attempt to set alight the whole discipline of history, the second of which is apparently Loftus’ preferred method. That to me is the very antithesis of Loftus’ claim to be open minded & rational.
Then his subsequent claim that we ought to doubt “the so-called supernatural events of history” says nothing more than his a priori commitment to naturalism. Unless Loftus can demonstrate that the physical world is all that exists and that miracles cannot or do not occur (even though there is strong evidence that they do) then we needn’t take his a priori position seriously. In fact, in order to be as objective as possible we all need to let evidence speak for itself – and when we actually do this for the evidence we possess on the Jesus of history we can all clearly see just why Loftus tries to burn the whole historical enterprise to the ground.
5. Loftus: “When dealing with the problems of the historian, William Lane Craig argues that, “first, a common core of indisputable historical events exists; second, it is possible to distinguish between history and propaganda; and third, it is possible to criticize poor history.” Craig concludes that “neither the supposed problem of lack of direct access to the past nor the supposed problem of the lack of neutrality can prevent us from learning something from history.”
Notice again how the argument of a Christian apologist centers around what is merely possible. That knowledge of the past is possible is certainly a reasonable conclusion, but a rather meager one, and it does nothing to remove reasonable doubts concerning any supposed historical event, especially momentous and miraculous ones.”
There is some misrepresentation here. When Craig says that “core of indisputable historical events exists” he is trying to inform us that despite the differences between historical sources what needs to be explained is what they all agree on. In summary Craig seems to be clearly affirming what any rational historian would tell us: that we can certainly know things about the past with different degrees of historical probability. Regarding the rest of Loftus’ statement I’ve answered above.
To be continued…
1. Dickson, J. 2014. It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas … Mythicism’s in the Air. Available.
2. Ehrman, B. 2012. Did Jesus Exist? p. 71-73.
3. Youtube. John W. Loftus vs Randal Rauser Debate the Existence of God. Available