My Opening Debate Statement vs Wallace Marshall

The details of the debate can be seen here on Facebook. Below is my 20 minute opening statement. Enjoy below.

Christianity or Atheism? Which Makes More Sense?

I am very honored to be here and grateful that anyone showed up at all!

My contention is that non-belief makes more sense than Marshall’s Evangelical Protestant Christianity, the kind located in the western world and in the Northern hemisphere, which began with the rise of Fundamentalism in 1910. Non-belief makes more sense given the lack of scientific and historical evidence for the number of extraordinary miracle claims Marshall must defend, any one of which, if not shown correct, would sink his ship of faith.

As a former Christian apologist myself, I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to believe in Christianity, or in any other religion. This is the main reason I am a non-believer, an atheist. I’ve discovered that no religion can be shown to be true anymore than the others that exist. They all share the same grounding. They all stand on the quicksand of faith-based reasoning as opposed to science-based reasoning.

Even if I cannot explain why the universe has the complexity to allow for life on earth, or how it all originated, I know enough to reject faith-based answers. I’m going to wait on the results of science to tell me the facts of the universe. It has a really good track record. Darwin solved the origin of species question with the science of evolution. It’s an answer no one could have predicted would ever be solved. So my bet is on science to solve others, if they can be solved at all. And as science answers questions religions die. For with the fact of evolution Christianity died. There is no longer an original Adam and Eve, no longer an original sin, and no need for a savior. So there’s probably no creator either.

I’m thinking like a scientist, which means following David Hume’s principle that a wise person proportions one’s belief to the available evidence. Going beyond that is unreasonable. So I refuse to play the pretend game of faith by pretending to know more than what I can reasonably know.

Let’s put this into perspective. Since non-Christians in the world number roughly 4.8 billion, I stand with the majority of people who reject Christianity. I symbolize the position of everyone else, the billions of non-Christians in the world. It’s Christianity vs. everyone else. My view is that everyone else is right!

When it comes to Marshall’s type of Christianity, not many people in the world believe it. There are an estimated 285 million Evangelicals, comprising merely 13% of the total Christian population, but just 4% of the total world population. That’s not too good at all, yet that’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s getting worse by the day. John Dickerson, in his book, The Great Evangelical Recession, tells us more than a quarter million evangelical young people “walk away from Christianity each year. Of that number... 65% do not find their way back” because “they don’t believe anymore.” [pp. 98-102]. We’re told, “This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.” [Ed Stetzer as quoted in Dickerson, p. 32].

Now let’s consider why the Mormon Church exists. All it took was a deceiver, or madman named Joseph Smith, and people willing to believe him. Persecution, propaganda, and high procreation rates by his polygamous followers did the rest. That’s it. When it comes to one of its main claims, that Native Americans are descendants of the Israelites who supposedly came across the Atlantic around 600 BCE, DNA evidence from more than 150 Native American tribes revealed no Israelite DNA. The irrefutable conclusion is that the Book of Mormon story is fiction.

Let’s next consider Scientology, which was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. He told us years before starting his religion, that “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” And he did. All it took was a deceiver, or madman and people willing to believe him.

These are two of the fastest growing religions in the world, and yet they are based on lies. We know this!

We know enough about these two religions to reject them because they originated in the modern world among scientifically minded people. They also left paper trails which helped us document their lies. When it comes to Christianity we lack the same means to evaluate its earliest origins in the first century. All we basically have is the propaganda written by Christians themselves. They excluded any contemporary writings of the Judaizers and theGnostics of their time. And there are no early records of its rise by the Romans or the Jews of that day.

So let me ask, how many of you, if raised to believe as Mormons or Scientologists, would ever come to the conclusion that your faith is false by reading exclusively their approved writings? Given the number of people here tonight, no one would. Likewise, how many of you, if raised to believe as Christians, would ever come to the conclusion that your faith is false by reading exclusively Christian writings? Again, probably no one. Yet that’s exactly what we have in the doctored up canonized New Testament, the approved writings of Christians who won the theological wars of the ancient past. In the Gospels for instance, Jesus always had the last word over his opponents—which is something I have never seen in any real religious debate. We never hear what his opponents said in response to him, who were surely intelligent people.

So how do you know you don’t believe something that’s false, or even a lie? Most people are simply born into a religion, or unreasonably persuaded to believe because of personal anecdotal evidence, or a warming of the bosom, or even peer-pressure.

This is why I’ve proposed and defended The Outsider Test for Faith, to help believers honestly evaluate their inherited faith. You must evaluate your own faith as outsiders. You must use the same reasonable standards when considering your own faith as you do when considering all other religions. No double standards. Demand the same amount of evidence for your own faith as you do for other religions. Do not try to explain away any difficulties. Deal with them honestly as you would to the other faiths you reject. Take a serious look at your faith as if you were an outsider. Use the Golden rule: Do unto your own faith what you do unto the faiths of others.

You must do this because cognitive biases get in the way of evaluating your own religious faith. The mother of all cognitive biases is confirmation bias, which is the strong tendency to search for data and/or interpret existing data in ways that confirm one’s prior beliefs. This bias forces believers to misjudge the probabilities in favor of their faith. But only by looking honestly at all faiths as an outsider will help you know which religion is true, if there is one.

The reason you don’t do this is because your brain will not allow you to seriously consider you might be wrong. In fact, right now your brain is ignoring the impact of what I just said. It’s convincing you that what I’m saying doesn’t apply to you. It’s thrusting what I said back at me. Can you hear your brain say: “Loftus is the one who shouldn’t trust his brain. He’s the one deceived”? But I already admit this is what my brain does, so to correct for it I’ve learned to demand hard cold evidence before I’ll accept these types of claims as true.

Here are the facts. Your brain will deceive you if left unchecked. You must force it to heel against its preferences. Your brain needs help to get at the truth. It needs better inputs, the objective inputs of science. For the brain is a belief engine. We first believe, usually what we prefer to be true, or what’s familiar, then we seek to confirm our beliefs, not to disconfirm them. We grope around for evidence to support our beliefs, sometimes despite solid evidence to the contrary. Once the brain latches onto an idea it can be extremely difficult to dislodge that idea from its grasp. The more important the idea is to the brain then the less likely it can be dislodged. If left to itself your brain will try to fit all facts into a grid of self-preservation, a procrustean bed of its own making.

The brain only cares if what it concludes helps it to survive. The brain evolved to act this way for self-preservation purposes. It maintains and defends its beliefs so you can survive as a social creature, since you need others to survive! You will defend the beliefs of your social group in order to stay within the safety net of your social group, irrespective of whether those beliefs are true or not. There is a massive amount or solid research supportive of these undeniable facts.

So again I ask, how do you know you don’t believe something that is false, or even a lie? You don’t, not until you liberate your brain of confirmation bias by treating your own inherited faith just like you do with the religions you reject.

Now for some specific arguments. There are roughly five strategies (or methods) used by Christian apologists to defend the Christian faith. Let’s let each one of them represent about 20% of the total apologetic strategies used by them. The first one is called evidentialism, where it’s claimed there is sufficient objective evidence to believe. Now I disagree that there is sufficient evidence to believe, but I do agree that this is the only reasonable strategy to adopt when defending Christianity. If you disagree, just ask what you would think as outsiders, if Mormons, Scientologists, Muslim or Orthodox Jews admitted there wasn’t sufficient objective evidence for their faiths. You would recognize something is seriously wrong from the start.

Well something is seriously wrong with Christianity from the start. For most Christian apologists reject evidentialism. They reject the need for, and/or the existence of, sufficient objective evidence in defense of the Christian faith. That’s probably because the first modern evidentialists were deists, and look where that got them. But that’s where the evidence leads, away from Christianity and toward total non-belief itself. The other four major strategies are as follows: 2) The Classical Strategy, which I call Apologetics Based On Special Pleading—getting to a god does not get you to your theistic religion; 3) The Presuppositionalist Strategy, which I call Apologetics Based On Assuming What Needs to Be Proved—which is a known fallacy. [You just can’t do that!]; 4) The Fideist Strategy, what I call Apologetics Based On Private Subjective Experiences—which are only evidence of private states of the mind; and 5) The Cumulative Case Strategy, what I call Eclectic Pragmatic Apologetics Based On Prior Conclusions—which is a method of saying whatever works.

Further details need not concern you here. They can be found in a chapter of my book, How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist. What should concern you is that these four different strategies all deny evidentialism, the need for, and/or the existence of, sufficient objective evidence in defense of Christianity. If these five strategies all had an equal number of Christian defenders arguing for them, that means 80% of Christian defenders reject the need for, and/or the existence of, sufficient objective evidence in defense of the Christian faith.

Be honest. If there was sufficient evidence for Christianity then no other apologetic strategy would ever have been devised! So the very fact these four other strategies exist means Christians themselves admit their faith does not have sufficient evidence for it. It’s not just me saying this. It’s what 80% of Christian apologists themselves admit.

What about arguments to the existence of God? Two of the greatest living Christian apologists are Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne. Plantinga has admitted theistic arguments don’t work, saying, “I don’t know of an argument for Christian belief that seems very likely to convince one who doesn’t already accept its conclusion.” Swinburne specifically rejects the Moral Argument to God’s existence, saying, “I cannot see any force in an argument to the existence of God from the existence of morality.” Another Christian apologist of note is John Feinberg. He is on record as saying, “I am not convinced that any of the traditional arguments [for God’s existence] succeeds.” Now if they don’t think these arguments work then why should any of us? Again, it’s not just me who is saying this. It’s what Christian apologists themselves say.

When it comes to the explanation of existence we are faced with two options, that, 1) something—anything—has always existed, or 2) something—anything—popped into existence out of nothing. Either choice seems extremely unlikely. There is little in our experience that can help us choose. But one of them is correct and the other is false. We either start with the brute fact that something has always existed, or the brute fact that something popped into existence out of nothing. So the simpler our brute fact is then the more probable it is, per Ockham’s razor. All that scientists have to assume is an equilibrium of positive and negative energy and the laws of physics. This is as close to nothing as science can get. But grant it and the late physicist Victor Stenger argued “the probability for there being something rather than nothing can actually be calculated; it is over 60 percent.” As such, “only by the constant action of an agent outside the universe, such as God, could a state of nothingness be maintained. The fact that we have something is just what we would expect if there is no God.”

Recently two physicists have significantly revised the standard model of the Big Bang, which is based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity. When they applied some quantum corrections to the model, they concluded the universe had no beginning, writing, “It existed forever as a kind of quantum potential before collapsing into the hot dense state we call the Big Bang.” [This new model is being advanced by Ahmed Farag Ali at Benha University and Saurya Das at the University of Lethbridge].

By contrast I find it implausible to believe that a Triune God has always existed and will forever exist as a fully formed being who is present everywhere. How could he have freely chosen who he is and what his values are? How is it possible that this being never had any disagreements within the godhead. How can he think, or make choices or take risks, which all involve weighing alternatives? Why would a perfectly happy triune God even create, especially if he would know even one child would be molested and tortured and killed because he did, much less the many others? When we explain the existence of the universe, our explanation should not be more complex than that which we’re trying to explain, nor should our explanation be based on faith, or the writings of ancient superstitious Bronze Age goat-herders.

We might even grant for the sake of argument there is a supernatural force (or being) out there. Then at best all Marshall can reasonably conclude is that a god exists, but he has no way to exclude other god-hypotheses, like god ceasing to exist when creating the universe as his last dying act. Or if god still exists, he cannot reasonably determine if god is good or a trickster god, or one who is watching us with enjoyment like rats in a maze to see what we conclude about it all. At best theistic arguments lead us to a distant god, one that is indistinguishable from none at all—an unnecessary hypothesis we can simply do without.

Much more effort needs to be done in order to establish Marshall’s God afterward. In order to do this, the evidence for miracles in the distant ancient superstitious past must be able to convince other theists. Yet other theists disagree over where the evidence leads. They are just as skeptical of other religious miracles as I am of them all.

Consider this 800 page book by Michael Alter. It’s the best book of its kind, an encyclopedic refutation of the resurrection of Jesus hypothesis, and it’s only Part 1 of a projected 2 volume work. The kicker is that it’s not written by an atheist. It’s written by a believer, a theist, just not Marshall’s kind of theist. He’s an Orthodox Jew. And my guess is that no one here tonight who is a Christian will ever read it, or books like it, because your brain will convince you not to do so. You only want to read what confirms your faith so you can stay within the safety-net of your social grouping.

Take the Jews of Jesus’ day. They believed in Yahweh, that he performed miracles, and they knew their Old Testament prophecies. Yet the overwhelming majority of them did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead by Yahweh. Since these Jews were there and didn’t believe, why should we? No, really. Why should we? Why should anyone? The usual answer is that these Jews didn’t want to believe because Jesus was not their kind of Messiah, a king who would throw off Roman rule. But then, where did they get that idea in the first place? They got it from their own scriptures. And who supposedly penned them? Yahweh.

Christians will also claim God needed the Jews to make sure Jesus was crucified to atone for our sins, just as he needed Judas to betray him. I myself am baffled as to why an omniscient God could not think of any other way to make this happen. But because he couldn’t, God apparently needed to mislead the Jews about the nature of the Messiah. So due to this loving and wise plan of his, Christians have also been given a reason to persecute torture and kill Jews throughout the centuries for their alleged crime of being Christ killers [the Romans are actually the guilty ones]. Not only this, but the overwhelming majority of Jews will go to hell where Judas is waiting for them. If anyone was sacrificed for the sins of the world it would be the Judas and the Jews. Does this sound fair for a perfectly good, omniscient judge? Really? Think like an outsider for the first time in your lives!

Given what I’ve said here, 18th century German critic Gotthold Lessing put a fine point on the problem of a reasonable faith when he wrote:
Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.

All that Christian apologists have is second-, third-, and fourth-hand conflicting testimony found in completed manuscripts dated in the 4th century CE, which Christians doctored up and included known forgeries. The evidence of the Gospels would be thrown out as unreliable testimony in any reasonable court proceedings.

What we have is a childish fairy tale at best, with a fairy tale god acting in ways that can only be depicted in fairy tales. It’s time to become adults in our thinking. No more playing a childish pretend game. Think like scientists instead. Think exclusively in terms of the probabilities. Proportion your assent to the strength of evidence. No more double standards. No more special pleading.