Recently I found this article – http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/john_loftus/christianity.html written by John Loftus. Due to my current very limited access to the Internet I only have the time and means to make a few brief comments concerning the “control beliefs” Loftus “adopts” as described in his article. It is my contention that those who reject the Christian worldview are horribly inconsistent with what they state with regard to their own would-be epistemological systems and that this is especially evident in the case of John Loftus.
At the core of the “argument” Loftus makes is a discussion of “control beliefs” which he defines as “beliefs that control how one views the evidence”. As Loftus further describes these beliefs a recognition that these are essentially the same things as presuppositions arises. Thus, there is occasion to congratulate Loftus on his recognition of the importance of presuppositions before moving on to critique what he sets forth as his own control beliefs.
Loftus writes that according to his view everyone should approach both religion in general and Christianity specifically from the “default position” of skepticism. Whether Loftus here refers to skepticism with respect to religion only or to skepticism in a broader sense is unclear. If it is with respect to religion only, the question should be raised as to why religious skepticism rather than a broader form such as global skepticism is to be our starting point. Global skepticism is a much more appropriate position for those who reject Christianity, but we will assume that Loftus is referring to religious skepticism. How Loftus determines that religious skepticism is a default position escapes me, but aside from this the assertion appears to contradict some of his later claims regarding sociological factors allegedly determining religious belief. Of course, Christians will reject the idea that religious skepticism is a default position anyway, resting instead upon the biblical truth that everyone knows the Christian God, even Mr. Loftus. Perhaps such a statement will make non-Christians cringe. Afterall, the Christian belief that everyone starts from the knowledge of God (rather than skepticism) seems far too convenient for Christians to claim. However, this belief does not differ on the surface from the claim made by Loftus that religious skepticism is a default position as far as convenience is concerned. To assume that skepticism is a default position is to beg the question against Christianity. Loftus has merely asserted that religious skepticism is a default position but has not shown it, runs into problems when this assertion is coupled with the “Sociological Reasons” section of his article, and assumes his own position of non-Christianity from the start while being unwilling to permit Christians to assume their own position. Nevertheless more problems appear even if what Loftus has so far presented is accepted as true.
Loftus submits that anyone “who subsequently moves away from that default position [of skepticism] has the burden of proof, for to accept a religious set of beliefs is to accept a positive truth claim”. We shall concede the point that those who are not religious skeptics certainly carry a burden of proof, but if Loftus means to imply that the religious skeptic has no burden of proof then he is mistaken. One cannot simply assert the negation of religious truth claims without reason and expect to carry any intellectual credibility. Certainly Loftus should concede as much as he proceeds to offer justification for his position in his article as well as elsewhere. There is much more to be said on this subject, but more time will not be given to it here.
Loftus claims to derive two more control beliefs from his supposed default position of religious skepticism. The first of these is that there “is a strong probability that every event is a natural one to be explained by natural forces alone”. Loftus never explains in his article how this second control belief is derived from the supposition of religious skepticism, and the rejection of religious claims does not necessarily lead to accepting naturalism. Now Loftus may point out that he only claims a strong probability for naturalism, but this does not follow either and even if it did Loftus does not explain how.
The third control belief Loftus claims for himself is that the “scientific method is the most reliable (and probably the only) guide we have for determining the truth about the world”. Again we should ask how one derives this control belief from the premise of religious skepticism. It sounds nice, and it surely is a popular mantra in our unthinking “scientific” culture, but the idea that rejecting religion leaves one with science and vice versa is the result of one of the most absurd false dichotomies plaguing the philosophy of religion today. For some odd reason many atheists think they have a sort of monopoly on all of “science” and Christians are entitled to not a shred of it. This seems to be the case regardless of how truly ignorant the unbeliever may be of the field of science. Loftus refers to “the” scientific method, as though there is only one resulting from a rejection of religious truth claims. This could actually be rather humorous given the history of the philosophy of science. There is really no way to know, at least as far as this part of the article is concerned, what philosophy Loftus follows when it comes to science and the scientific method. What the scientific method is simply is not as clear as the average high school science textbook would make it out to be. Philosophical concerns await the scientist at every turn, though the scientist often wants to have as little as possible to do with them.
Nothing is given to substantiate the claim that the scientific method is the most reliable guide to truth apart from the religious skepticism from which this claim is supposedly derived. How one is to derive a specific view of scientific method from the rejection of religious truth claims is, again, totally unclear. However, the same lack of justification exists when it comes to an explanation of how the reliability and sufficiency of the scientific method are derived from the rejection of religious truth claims. Further, let’s assume for a moment that Loftus is correct and the scientific method (whatever that is in his view) is the only reliable guide to truth; how would we ever know? That is, we must assume that the scientific method is a reliable guide to truth in order to find that the scientific method is the only reliable guide to truth. The assumption is not based upon anything other than blind faith. Of course we are unable to get even this far, as the very statement “[the] scientific method is the most reliable (and probably the only) guide we have for determining the truth about the world” is not itself scientifically testable. It is impossible to scientifically justify science. Science rests upon a great number of assumptions found outside of the scientific realm. In addition to the aforementioned problems, this control belief is unable to account for much that Loftus desires to appeal to in the various disciplines he lists as titles and proceeds to utilize in his failed explanation for why he is not a Christian.
Supposedly Loftus requires sufficient evidence or reasons to justify truth claims, but throughout his article Loftus makes plenty of assertions without such justification. The control beliefs he lists as being his own are arbitrary, self-frustrating, unable to account for what he writes, and do not appear to be logically connected to one another as he claims. Loftus claims that his control beliefs bias him “against dogma and superstition” but one must conclude that his control beliefs are little more than unbelieving, unsubstantiated dogma themselves.