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Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity

04/22/2011

Couldn’t really go through this book chapter by chapter, but I must say, this book did have a huge amount of useful information. His personal story was not all that interesting, and may hurt his case, given that he cheated on his wife. He seemed to be a fairly troubled child as well. His counter apologetics seem really good though.

What really harms his credibility is his books editing. Way too many typos. Strange wordings. Loftus has a strange, uneducated sounding style as well, ending some chapters by with a one word sentence: “Period.” There are strange misspellings, redundant sentences before and after headings. It would be tough for me to recommend this book, since Loftus just doesn’t sound that smart.

Yet when it comes to the actual apologetics arguments, things sound pretty good. He seems to be extremely familiar with the literature on his subjects, and has a very deep understanding of his topics. I like his outsider test for faith. Good starting point. I do believe he makes a convincing case against theism, at least the Christian sort, probably other sorts.

Update:

There’s a new, longer edition of the book that is supposedly better edited, and hopefully more well written.

Kindle Notes:

The second philosophical basis for grounding Christian ethics is natural law theory. This is the ethical system of Aristotle as adopted by Thomas Aquinas, and it has been the dominant one in the history of the church. It’s an antiquated view of morals today, in that it presupposes the world has values built into it by God, such that moral rules can be derived from nature (605).

I maintain Christians get their morals from the same place I do-from the advancement of a better understanding of who we are and what makes us happy as human beings in society. Christians do not get their morals exclusively from the Bible. Christians have just learned to interpret the Bible differently down through the ages in keeping with our common sense of morality, that’s all, as our moral values change with the times (632).

The carrot-and-stick method of morality due to punishment and reward is, in the end, the same motivation an atheist has, except that the carrots and sticks are those rewards and punishments we receive here on earth, which are social and personal (657).

Luther argued against the magisterial use of reason, in which reason judges the gospel, and approved of the ministerial use of reason, in which reason submits and serves the gospel. William Lane Craig agrees with this viewpoint and argues, “reason is a tool to help us better understand our faith. Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith, not vice versa” (708).

I think skepticism (or agnosticism; i.e., “I don’t know”) about religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is the default position. Anyone who investigates religion in general, or Christianity in specific, must begin with skepticism. Anyone who subsequently moves off the default position of skepticism has the burden of proof, since doing so is making a positive knowledge claim, and in the case of Christianity a very large knowledge claim that cannot be reasonably defended with the available evidence. This best expresses my set of control beliefs from which I derive two others: (1) There is a strong probability that every event has a natural cause; and, (2) the scientific method is the best (and probably the only) reliable guide we have for gaining the truth, even though I realize there is a fair amount of debate on just what that is (see note)  (929).

It is unfair to burden the scientific humanist with the `riddle of induction,’ for there is a `riddle of intuition’ or a `riddle of subjectivism’ or a `riddle’ for any other method. The intuitionist, mystic, or subjectivist can only justify his position by assuming his method to do so, thus committing a petito principi (begging the question). The burden of proof rests with these alternative positions…. If all positions involve some question begging and are on the same ground in this regard, we may ask: `Which is the least self-defeating?”‘ (1904).

While I’ll admit that our day and age still contains a lot of superstitious people, more thoughtful and scientifically literate people in today’s world have different standards-higher standards-for the evidence needed to believe (2103).

The first thing we notice is that the Hebrew God is pictured with a body, just like the gods of their polytheistic neighbors. The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics (2150).

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Shouldn’t this verse settle the whole issue (2163)?

When it comes to child sacrifice, it was actually commanded by God. In Exodus 22:29-30 we read: “You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The first-born of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me” (2294).

Later on God admitted he did this in Ezekiel 20:25-26 where he purportedly said: “Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD” (2297).

Scholarship has shown that Moses did not write what is now known as the first five books of Moses, known as the Pentateuch (2843).

(1) Deuteronomy (34:6) tells where Moses is buried and states “no one knows his burial place to this day.” This indicates that this was written some time after Moses’s death because it is remarkable that no one knows to this day-that is, in a time far removed from his death. Even conservatives admit that Moses didn’t write this. Usually, they say it is Joshua, but that really wouldn’t make sense of the “to this day” comment (2845).

Genesis 14 states that Abraham chased his nephew’s captors to the city of Dan. The problem is that Dan was not the name of that city until the time of Samson (Judg. 18:27-31) three centuries after Moses died. In Moses’ day the city was named Laish, not Dan. The Danites named it after their forefather Dan (2847).

Genesis 36:31 lists some kings of the other countries “before any king reigned over the Israelites.” In Moses’s life there were no kings in Israel (2849).

Exodus 16:35 reads, “The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.” Moses was dead before the Israelites reached the border (2853).

the most obvious examples of pseudonymity in the Bible. The most obvious cases are Mark 16:9-20; John 5:3-4; Acts 8:37; John 7:53-8:11; and 1 John 5:7-8 (2939).

The truth is that the origin of sin is never traced back to Adam and Eve in the Old Testament. It was only interpreted to be so during the intertestamental period, especially in the apocryphal and the pseudepigraphal literature (2956).

Thomas Aquinas argued from the Bible that heresy was a “leavening influence” upon the minds of the weak, and as such, heretics should be killed. Since heretical ideas could inflict the greatest possible harm upon other human beings, it was the greatest crime of all (3326).

E. P. Sanders offers five rational explanations for Jesus’ reputed miracles: (1) “More or less all the healings are explicable as psychosomatic cures or victories of mind over matter”; (2) “It may be thought that some miracles were only coincidences”; (3) “It has been suggested that some miracles were only apparent”; (4) “Group psychology has often been used to explain the feeding miracles”; and (5) Some miracle stories may be historicizing legends” (3395).

I find the following four arguments of Hume persuasive: First, miraculous claims are mainly made by uneducated superstitious people who lack common sense, integrity, or a good reputation. Second, there are many instances of forged miracles, which prove the strong propensity of mankind to believe a wondrous and extraordinary story, and then exaggerate it when they retell it. Third, miracle claims originate among tribes who are uncivilized, ignorant and barbarous. Hume asks, why is it that “such prodigious events never happen in our days?” Finally, competing religions support their beliefs by claims of miracles; thus these claims and their religious systems cancel each other out (3428).

“The defender of a miracle … must in effect concede to Hume that the antecedent improbability of this event is as high as it could be, hence that, apart from the testimony, we have the strongest possible grounds for believing that the alleged event did not occur. This event must, by the miracle advocate’s own admission, be contrary to a genuine, not merely supposed, law of nature, and therefore maximally improbable (3514).

Note: Not necessarily. Healing the sick is not necessarily violating the laws of nature, but could reasonably be called a miracle. If we have some idea of what God’s nature is, we could even call a miracle probable.

Mark Smith (of http://www.jcnot4me.com) set up the following scenario for Craig: “Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let’s pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection-Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.” Smith asked Craig, given this scenario, if he would then give up Christianity, having seen with his own two eyes that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Smith wrote: “His answer was shocking, and quite unexpected. He told me, face to face, that he would STILL believe in Jesus, he would STILL believe in the resurrection, and he would STILL remain a Christian. When asked, in light of his being a personal eyewitness to the fact that there WAS no resurrection, he replied that due to the witness of the `holy spirit’ within him, he would assume a trick of some sort had been played on him while watching Jesus’ tomb (3643).

Can Craig truly say that he doesn’t have doubts from time to time? Os Guiness has argued convincingly that while “an element of faith is indispensable to all human knowledge, … all of us will doubt at some point, whatever it is we believe.” All knowledge comes with some doubt “because we are absolutely certain of nothing…. Since our knowledge is finite, none of us can exclude the possibility of our being wrong” (3735).

The problem of unanswered prayer is particularly vexing when many biblical promises of answered prayer seem unqualified (Matt. 7:7; John 14:13; 15:16; and 16:23). The problem is that our experience teaches us otherwise (3758).

Pastor: John, my prayer for you is that you come to your senses before you go off the deep end. John: Well, if that’s your prayer and if prayer works, then I won’t go off the deep end, will I’? Pastor: But it will depend upon whether or not you have a receptive heart. John: Well, if it depends upon my heart, then why bother to pray for me’? Had my pastor responded further by saying he will begin praying that I have a receptive heart, I could’ve responded as I did at first. I could’ve replied, “Well, if that’s your prayer and if prayer works, then I will be given a receptive heart, won’t I?” (3827).

a Calvinist must admit that God has decreed that I should be a doubter and that I should write this book that will lead others into becoming doubters like me-even though the Bible tells us God desires all people everywhere to be saved! (See 2 Pet. 3:9.) (3834).

when it comes to petitionary prayer, why should anyone even ask God to do things? Shouldn’t God do the right thing even if we never prayed, regardless of the fact that he wants us to be involved through prayer? (3838)

There are Christians who say we should not test God, but in Malachi 3:10 God says to test him with tithes to see if he won’t shower his blessings down on those who give their tithe (3842).

If God answers prayers and heals people, then why are there no reports that he made amputated limbs grow back? This would be observable and it could be easily documented and tested (3850).

Here is the argument as stated by David Hume (Philo): “Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (3903).

The Catholic Church didn’t condemn slavery until the year 1888, after the Civil War and after every other Christian nation had abolished it (3931).

THERE ARE THREE GLOBAL THEISTIC THEODICIES Augustinian. The traditional Christian answer is that natural and moral evil entered the world as the result of an angelic and then a human fall into sin-freely chosen. God gives us free will in a neutral world and will allow us to reap the ful I individual, societal, and global consequences of our own free choices. “All evil is either sin or the consequences of sin.” God sent Christ to overcome that which brought evil into the world-sin. God will eventually be victorious over evil in the end. Sin that is justly punished is thereby canceled out and no longer mars the universe (3947).

John Hick’s Irenaean “Soul Making” Theodicv. Two stages of creation are involved: first humans were brought into existence as intelligent animals, and then, through free choices, human beings are gradually being transformed into God’s children. Perfection lies in the future of our existence through successive reincarnations (3951).

Process Theology of David Griffin. He argues that God has not finished creating the universe-it is still in process. The world is God’s body. The natural evil we see in the world is simply a part of the ongoing creative act of God through the evolutionary process-he’s not finished yet. In this view, God only has the power to persuade moral agents like us to do well (3954).

Richard R. La Croix: “If God is the greatest possible good then if God had not created there would be nothing but the greatest possible good. And since God didn’t need to create at all, then the fact that he did create produced less than the greatest possible good…. Perhaps God could not, for some perfectly plausible reason, create a world without evil, but then it would seem that he ought not to have created at all…. Prior to creation God knew that if he created there would be evil, so being wholly good he ought not to have created” (3975).

Theists typically respond by saying creation was an expression of God’s love. But wasn’t God already complete in love? If love must be expressed, then God needed to create, and that means he lacked something. Besides, a perfectly good God should not have created anything at all, if by creating something, anything, it also brought about so much intense suffering (3980).

A. M. Weisberger asks us, “Which is more desirable, a world in which there is no free will but where humans always do what is right and in which there is no suffering, or a world such as the present? (4286).

According to Weisberger: “We do not normally hold freedom to be intrinsically valuable, as evidenced in the willingness we show to limit our freedom to achieve goods, and especially when such freedom gives rise to suffering…. The prevention of heinous crimes, even if such prevention limits another’s exercise of free will, improves the world.”23 Theists are the first ones to say unrestricted freedom isn’t a good thing (4303).

First, that through our truly libertarian free actions on earth we gain access to heaven where we no longer have this freedom to sin. James F. Sennett has argued for this view (see note).25 But if heaven is a place where we no longer have the freedom to sin, then God could’ve bypassed our earthly existence altogether (4307).

compensation for suffering cannot justify the suffering endured; otherwise, anyone could be justified in torturing another person so long as the victim is later compensated (4420).

“If the word `good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that `good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards” (4454).

if a god requires that what I ordinarily call wrong in human behavior I must call right because he does it; or that what I ordinarily call wrong I must call right because he so calls it, even though I do not see the point of it; and if by refusing to do so, he can sentence me to hell, to hell I will gladly go” (4475).

The Concordist Interpretation is the theory that each day in Genesis I is a very long period of time (cf. Ps. 90:4). The first proponent of this interpretation was Hugh Miller (1869 CE). It was meant to harmonize science and the Bible, but it does no such thing. In the Bible, trees (day 3) precede marine life (day 5), and birds (day 5) precede insects (day 6); scientists think the opposite. But the biggest objection is the fourth day-the creation of the sun, moon, stars after the earth and its vegetation and trees. To say God revealed the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day is an ad hoc theory. You cannot turn the word “made” into “reveal” (1: 16) (4601).

Additionally, there are some huge differences between modern science and Genesis 1 that must be acknowledged (4612).

Just look at the parallel accounts of creation between the older account in the Babylonian “Creation epic” (Enuma Elish) and the Genesis I account. It seems readily apparent that they both got their views from out of the mythical stories of their day. These stories were merely shaped by them for their own religious purposes (4708).

Creation “out of nothing” is a viewpoint that was developed in late antiquity (ca. 200-700 CE) rather than in biblical times, anyway (4754).

In an important work on this subject Catholic scholar Joseph A. Fitzmyer did an exhaustive study of how the Messiah was understood by the Jews in the Old Testament. Fitzmyer claims that “one cannot foist a later Christian meaning on a passage that was supposed to have a distinctive religious sense in guiding the Jewish people of old.” 8 So when examining every potentially prophetic Messianic passage in the Old Testament, except perhaps for a couple of passages in the book of Daniel (a book which was “finally redacted c.a. 165 BC”), Fitzmyer rightly argues that the Christian writers interpreted these passages anachronistically due to hindsight understandings of who they concluded Jesus to be (4989).

I defy someone to come up with one statement in the Old Testament that is specifically fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that can legitimately be understood as a prophecy and singularly points to Jesus as the Messiah using today’s historical-grammatical hermeneutical method. It cannot be done (5053).

Tim Callahan has examined a hundred or more so-called prophetic passages in the Bible and subjected them to four simple questions: (1) Is the prophecy true, and if so, to what degree, or is it too vague as to be open to many interpretations? (2) If the prophecy is true, was it written before or after the fact? (3) Was the prophecy deliberately fulfilled by someone with knowledge of the prophecy? (4) Was the prophecy a logical guess? Was its fulfillment something that could be predicted based on a logical interpretation of the events of the prophet’s own day? After examining these texts, he concludes that not a single biblical prophecy satisfies the demands of these four questions (5129).

Let me focus on the one major failed prophecy in the New Testament from the lips of Jesus himself, who is best understood as a failed apocalyptic doomsday prophet.40 The eschaton never happened as Jesus prophesied in his generation (5135).

All of this fits nicely with Jesus’ and the early church’s radical “interim ethic” where his disciples are to sell all and give to the poor (Luke 12:33), and where Jesus said “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22). According to Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus “urged his followers to abandon their homes and forsake families for the sake of the kingdom that was soon to arrive. He didn’t encourage people to pursue fulfilling careers, make a good living, and work for a just society for the long haul; for him, there wasn’t going to be a long haul.”42 This makes perfect sense. Jesus believed and preached an imminent eschaton, given that he accepted John the Baptist’s eschatological message of repentance: the kingdom is at hand because “the axe is already laid at the root” (Luke 3:9) (5157).

This interpretation also fits nicely with the fact that the eschatological “kingdom of God” talk and the imminent prediction was successively watered down (from Mark to Matthew to Luke), to the point where such talk of an imminent eschaton is completely removed in John’s gospel, and the language about “the kingdom of God” is replaced with non-eschatological “eternal life” language, as we saw earlier (5162).

Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, where he tells his readers that when looking at the Bible, one must first assume God inspired the authors and preserved them from error or mistake. Then she writes, “Archer says, essentially that the reader must start the process of inquiry by assuming a certain outcome. Don’t look for the most likely hypothesis suggested by the evidence, he says, nor the one that is most likely straightforward or reasonable. Start by believing that a certain conclusion is already true…. Examine the evidence through the lens of that conclusion…. Ask yourself, `What explanations or interpretations can I come up with that would allow me to maintain my belief that these texts are not contradictory?’ If you can find any at all, then you have succeeded in your task. By implication, if you cannot, the problem lies with you, not the text. Archer’s approach, in almost any other field of inquiry, would be considered preposterous” (5256).

According to Robin Lane Fox, “Luke’s story is historically impossible and internally incoherent.” But he says, “Luke’s errors and contradictions are easily explained. Early Christian tradition did not remember, or perhaps ever know, exactly where and when Jesus had been born. People were much more interested in his death and consequences…. After the crucifixion and the belief in the resurrection, people wondered all the more deeply about Jesus’ birthplace. Bethlehem, home of King David, was a natural choice for the new messiah.” 15 “Luke’s real source for the view that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was almost certainly the conviction that Jesus fulfilled a hope that someday a descendant of David would arise to save Israel,” because the Messiah was supposed to come from there (Mic. 5:2) (5484).

Matthew and Luke actually tell contradictory stories. Luke has Joseph and Mary living in Nazareth from where they traveled to Bethlehem for the Roman census (Luke 1:26; 2:4). After Jesus was born, Joseph took his family from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for up to forty days (Luke 2:22), and from there straight back to Nazareth (Luke 2:39). But Matthew has Joseph’s family already living in Bethlehem, and after the birth of Jesus, staying there for up to two years (Matt. 2:16). After the Magi leave, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt and stay there until Herod died (Matt. 2:15). After Herod died, Joseph was told in a dream to return to the land of Israel, and he headed for his home in Bethlehem of Judea. But since he was afraid to go there, he settled in Nazareth (Matt. 2:21-23), for the first time (5498)!

A Christian apologist might object that the phrase “the Jews” merely meant those people who lived in the province of Judea, but several of these occurrences could not be just about people in Judea (John 2:3; 4:22; 5:1; 6:4, 41; 18:20, 33; 19:3, 21, 19, 40). Such a usage reveals the complete breakup between official Judaism and Christianity, which occurred after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Roman army. It is a very odd use of the phrase, leading most scholars to believe John the Apostle didn’t even write this gospel, because he himself was a (5658).

the only complete human being was/is Jesus, and he is metaphysically different than all other human beings. And if Jesus was indeed metaphysically different from us, how can he be like us “in every respect” and still atone for our sins (Heb. 2:17)? (5827)

even if punishment is needed, which I seriously question, then how does punishing Jesus help God forgive us? This Christian theory says God himself bore our punishment on the cross in Jesus. This means the divine way to forgive us when we sin against him is to turn around and punish his Son? (5959).

According to John Hick: “The idea that guilt can be removed from a wrongdoer by someone else being punished instead is morally grotesque”  (5977).

When comparing the four gospel accounts there are incompatibilities with how many women came to the tomb (1, 2, or 3 plus “others”), when they came (“while it was still dark” or “just after sunrise”), why they came (“to look at the tomb” or “to anoint the body with spices”), who they saw (one angel, two angels, a man dressed in white, or Jesus himself), what was said, who said what, who else came (Peter, or both Peter and John), who saw the resurrected Jesus first (Peter or Mary Magdalene), and what they did as they left the tomb (“they said nothing to anyone” or “they ran to tell his disciples”) (6114).

Where is the independent confirmation that the whole land was covered by darkness for three hours (Mark 15:33), or that the temple curtain miraculously tore in two (Mark 15:38), or that there was an earthquake (Matt. 27:51), or that “the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt. 27:52) (6208).

Some apologists make a big deal about Paul’s claim to the Corinthians that five hundred people saw the risen Jesus at the same time (1 Cor. 15:6). However, in a debate with William Lane Craig, Robert M. Price said that if there were really five hundred brethern who saw the risen Jesus, he finds it “incredibile” such a story “never makes it into any of the gospels” (6213).

“The empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning is a legend. This is shown by the simple fact that the apostle Paul, the most crucial preacher of Christ’s resurrection, says nothing about it. Thus it also means nothing to him, that is, an empty tomb has no significance for the truth of the resurrection, which he so emphatically proclaims. Since he gathers together and cites all the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that has been handed down to him, he certainly would have found the empty tomb worth mentioning. That he doesn’t proves that it never existed and hence the accounts of it must not have arisen until later…. (6273).

Concerning the second problem of Joseph of Arimathea, I believe with John Dominic Crossan and Keith Parsons that the accounts of Joseph of Arimathea giving Jesus an honorable burial are probably a literary fiction (6321).

we never hear of Joseph again. This is significant, I think, as explained by Roy W. Hoover: “He is not among the witnesses to the empty tomb in the Gospel stories and is never subsequently said to have become a believer and a member of the early church. His cameo appearance only serves the immediate narrative interest of the Gospel authors-to `establish’ the location of Jesus’ tomb, the emptiness of which he was no longer around to verify” (4340).

Now it’s not uncommon for someone to feel dejected when some hope is dashed and then to see something new in order to continue what he had started. The Seventh Day Adventists, for instance, began interpreting much of the Bible differently once they experienced a failed prediction of Jesus’ return. What were they to think now? The answer came in a vision. Jesus entered a “heavenly sanctuary.” Likewise, the Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced a failed prediction of Jesus’ return, and again, the answer came in a vision. Jesus did in fact return after all-he just returned “spir- itually” (6424)

It was not inconsistent, on the one hand, to believe that God might call Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt, and on the other hand, for God to want to murder him on the way (Exod. 4:24-26). When Pharaoh resisted Moses it was not ascribed to his free will, but to God’s hardening of his heart (Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17; Josh. 11:20, etc). Likewise, it is God who sent an evil spirit on Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-16, 23), and it was God who sent a lying spirit to enter the mouths of the four hundred prophets of Ahab (1 Kings 22:22; see 2 Sam. 17:14)” (6593).

If Satan was the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God, then why is he later found in God’s heavenly court doing his will in the Bible passages mentioned above? That makes no sense if God cannot tolerate sin in his presence (6612).

“You can point to people who were improved by faith, but you can also see people made worse by it. Anyone want to argue that, say, Mohammed Atta was made a better person by his faith? Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just goin

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