Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Essential Silliness and Hypocrisy (Even Duplicity) of Atheist John Loftus: Webmaster of Debunking Christianity

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Some folks have a real tough time when other folks disagree with them

John Loftus' words will be in green. The blue portions of his citations are (working) links that were in his original statements.

* * * * *

Former pastor John Loftus wants to be taken so seriously by Christians. And some do take him seriously (even Norman Geisler seems to). I was inclined to do so myself, until I ventured onto his blog last year and saw how he actually interacted with Christians (contrary to the noble, lofty sentiments of his blog's stated approach to discussion).

Yet another forum that purported to abide by high standards of ethics in discussion, but in fact fails abominably in holding to them, or else enforces the rules (if at all) with a blatant double standard . . . I've seen it a hundred times, and (sad to say) Christian forums (Catholic and Protestant alike) do little better, if at all (which is why I have refused to participate on discussion boards for almost exactly four years now).

Blogs seemed to be on a higher level for a while, but now they seem to be rapidly going the way of the old discussion boards. Human nature, I reckon. It's always been difficult to achieve a true, constructive dialogue, and it always will be, because people too often take such disagreement personally and don't know how to do a dialogue (having never learned).

The apex of my experience at Debunking Christianity was when Loftus went ballistic because I (imagine this!!!) criticized his story of "deconversion" from Christianity (part one / part two). You would have thought it was the end of western civilization. He threw another hissy fit when I critiqued another argument of his, about God. This guy obviously can't take any criticism. He's clearly not interested in dialogue with Christians. But he loves to preach to us, because that is the one-way monologue that he prefers (more on that below). He has carried his love of preaching from the pulpit to atheist polemics.

Recently, after a similar ridiculous experience on the ExChristian.Net site (when I outrageously dared to critique the deconversion of the Grand Poobah there: Dave Van Allen), Loftus showed up on my blog and basically agreed with Van Allen that I "trolled" atheist sites (rather than attempting to engage in serious back-and-forth, socratic discussion, which is always my goal in conversing with anyone of different beliefs). Disgusted with that, I wrote a sort of "turn the tables" post about the prevalence of "angry atheists" -- including a remarkable tidbit (that I discovered entirely by accident) about some unsavory public behavior of atheist icon Christopher Hitchens.

I documented how the charge of trolling was ludicrous, showing how I had stayed at Debunking Christianity for three and a half months, and had engaged in 19 major dialogues with several people. Many atheists (like many Christians and many human beings, period) don't like it when you disagree with them and can give solid reasons why.

Loftus keeps harping on me to read his book, Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Atheist Explains. He has made the ludicrous claim that virtually any Christian brave enough to read it would almost certainly lose his faith (can you believe the hubris of that??!!). I have said that if he sent me a review copy, I'd be happy to do an extensive critique of the book. He refuses, implying that I am simply looking for a freebie. For my part, I offered him a free e-book version of my book about atheism: Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism, saying that this dispute was not about money, but about truth.

Anyway, when Loftus showed up on my blog, I was willing to give him another shot. After all, we all blow it sometimes and hopefully we learn from our mistakes and try to do better. He seemed serious and sincere, and wrote:
Many of our beliefs contain an irreducible personal element to them, and we subsequently have a strong tendency to rationally support what we have come to believe on less than rational grounds. Some feel the need to defend what they believe more than others, like you, and me . . . I have written some things on these issues. Take a good look at them. If you choose to respond let me know when you do.

(9-29-07 on my blog)
I did make it clear, though, that if I were to do this, he would have to do a better job of interacting, and not erupt again in a spasm of irrational insult, as in our previous encounters:
Hope you are doing well these days. . . . What reason would I have to believe you could maintain your composure in a dialogue? You haven't yet with me . . . I seek dialogue with people who don't have to make everything personal and take everything personally. Perhaps you have undergone a major change of approach since our previous encounters?

(9-30-07)
John Loftus replied:
I’m doing well, kind burned out right now, but thank you. You too. . . . Our testimonies merely share a personal story. You can liken them to people at AA meetings who share what alcohol did to them and why they are leaving it behind them. They contain arguments, of course, but they are also very personal. It’s hard not to react strongly when someone basically says we shouldn’t feel the way we do, because feelings are also expressed. Doing what you do gets a rise out of us because of this. The webmaster at ex-christian.net responded beautifully to your critique, I thought. I just think you would do better to deal with our arguments, the kind that I linked to earlier, that’s all . . . the reason you provoked my ire is that you came to DC and evaluated personal testimonies, not our arguments, and as I said these stories are personal. Just like Christian testimonies they express to the “choir” their initial reasons and they express their personal feelings about why they left the Christian faith. Tell you what, deal with what I said here.

Cheers.

(9-30-07)
Now, does that strike you as a sincere and fairly friendly challenge? If you agree, then you got the same impression that I received myself. So I resolved to make a response to the papers he asked me to look over, but not without trepidation (as it turned out, more than justified). I wrote:
The strong insults from John, as I recall now, actually began during this series on evil, before I ever critiqued his deconversion. So he was reacting emotionally to arguments other than simply his (as he says) simplified, less-serious-of-an-argument deconversion story. I'm willing to give his papers another shot, but the proof is in the pudding, as to whether an actual dialogue will occur, minus the extraneous, unhelpful elements of emotionalism and personal sensitivity.

(9-30-07)
And so, last Sunday (the entire afternoon), I issued a careful, point-by-point reply (Reply to Former Christian John Loftus' "Outsider Test of Faith" Series [+ Discussion] ). I thought this would be a good start-up of a new discussion (anyone can read it and judge for themselves), if indeed Loftus were truly willing to do that. He asked me to reply to his stuff, and I did (despite our troubled past interactions, due to his hypersensitivity to any criticism). What more can one do?

The warning flags went up even before I had issued the new paper. Loftus (bless his ex-Christian heart) had to act like an idiot before he even saw what I wrote. He regurgitated on my blog:
I don't care if you give us another shot. You were personally rude. You have all the answers. The rest of us are just dumb. Or you can help Scot out who earlier asked you to answer me. [indeed, I did that] You could just wait to see my book, "Why I Became an Atheist" due out from Prometheus Books at the end of Februrary. No freebies, like you had asked for earlier. While my focus is on evangelical Christianity, your view won't escape criticism either.

Cheers.

(9-30-07)
One can only shake one's head at such foolish stupidity. Like I said, Loftus wants so badly to be taken seriously, yet he seems paradoxically determined to destroy his own credibility with behavior like this. But this was only the beginning, pitifully enough, as we shall see. Now he has proved that he wasn't even asking sincerely for me to critique his thoughts, and was merely playing games. I protested:
What a shame. And I thought it could have been a good discussion too. So many times with (usually angry, irrationally emotional) atheists, it is over before it even begins. He asked for a reply, I gave it, and before he even waited to see if I would reply or what I would say, he has insulted me as a pompous know-it-all.

(9-30-07)
Rather than make the slightest counter-reply to my lengthy, substance-filled paper, here is how Loftus reacted:
I have answered your objections clearly and decisively in my book, which is being recommended by some interesting and important people. You seem to only be aware of my older book which is no longer available. [I merely used a photo of the older version because it had his picture on it] Get my present book. Or better yet, pre-order the Prometheus Books edition.
I'm not interested in giving out a free book to you, because I do not believe you will give it a fair hearing, and I certainly don't think it will change your mind even if what I wrote is the truth, which I think it is. It's a non-sequitur to argue that I won't give you a freebie because I am interested in your money. I am not interested in your money, but I won't buy my book (which is what I'd have to do), and give it to you. Maybe you can contact Prometheus Books and maybe you can have them send you a free copy for review. That'd be fine with me.

(9-30-07)
And (as if I hadn't written anything at all):
This post of mine is a good summation of what I'm arguing for. How exactly is it that what you just wrote refutes it?

(9-30-07)
This seems to be a new pattern of atheist-Christian interaction, too (along with the angry atheist tendency and the ubiquituous charges that we are unalterably opposed to science and reason itself, are "insane" and "hateful" and need infantile "crutches" and so forth): Loftus himself asked me to respond to his reasoning in some particular papers, and I took my time to carefully do so, and then he acted like this.

Likewise, I asked the atheist "DagoodS" (with whom I had had what I thought were several good dialogues) to write his deconversion story, that I could then respond to from a Christian perspective. He started doing so, in installments, and I began replying, but then he didn't like what he saw and made it increasingly clear (by a variety of subtle-but-real insults and snide insinuations) that my counter-opinions were not welcome at all. So I quit right then and there, because the well had intentionally been poisoned, and any hope of intelligent dialogue sabotaged.

Loftus continued to relentlessly hound me to read his book (as if such pleas and provocations are what motivate me to write anything):
Dave, have you seen this? You really ought to take a good look at my book. People are being led astray from reading it, ya know. And you could set them straight. The longer you wait.....well, you know.

(10-3-07)
I made the obvious response:
I made a lengthy critique of exactly what you wanted me to critique, and it wasn't your deconversion. Ball's in your court. Why should I move on to something else when that wasn't yet responded to?

(10-3-07)

That's fine. I respond to your objections in my book, and it would take too lengthy of the comment space here to deal with what you wrote. If you don't understand that, then fine. Cheers.

(10-3-07)
I had had more than enough of this run-around-the-rosie silliness and folly by then, and blasted Loftus (with complete justification, as far as I am concerned):
Great. Next time you challenge me to respond to something you write, I'll understand that you have no intention of counter-responding, and will take that into account as I decide what is worthwhile to spend my time on.

You act as if you've written nothing except your blasted book. You write tons on your blog, yet you act as if none of that ought to be critiqued or examined. We're all supposed to accept it as Gospel Truth, and if we don't, we get sent to your book because you are unwilling to give any answer to us mere mortals and can only preach to the choir on your blog.

That is intellectually unimpressive in the extreme . .. .

I gave it my best shot with a serious extended reply to exactly what you asked me to reply to. But you had ridiculously insulted me before I even completed my reply. And now this is how you respond.

One either wants to engage in true dialogue with competing ideas or they don't. You clearly do not, and only want to preach (which makes sense, being a former pastor; you just changed congregations).

(10-3-07)
Well, lo and behold, now new self-revelations from Loftus come out. He was never serious in the first place about wanting a reply, and was just playing games. In a word, he is a liar. He wrote on a thread at ExChristian.Net: the same one I participated in, in my visit there:
Dave Armstrong is not worth people's time. He comes blasting in, we blast back, he demands an apology, we apologize, he accepts without doing the same, he moves on. So what I do is to challenge him to respond to an argument of mine. That keeps him busy for an hour or two or three. I figure the time it takes for him to respond keeps him out of my hair. But it does no good to dialogue with him, I've found. So when he's done I thank him and refer him to my book. It's fun really. Like I said, if he was worth my time I would dialogue with him. But he's not for several reasons.

(10-6-07)
There you have it, folks: the perfect, most appropriate, tragi-comic ending to the whole fiasco: Loftus wasn't the slightest bit interested in dialogue from the outset. He was lying and attempting to manipulate my use of time, by pretending to want a dialogue when he really had not the slightest intention of doing so from the beginning. The behavior doesn't exactly line up with the rhetoric . . .

Or else (since John Loftus is manifestly a liar, anything is possible now), he actually did want to dialogue, but saw my response and concluded that he had no decent reply, and so (as an evasion tactic) had to revise the history of what happened, to make out that he never did want to dialogue. Rather, he ventured bravely onto fellow atheist territory to announce further insults.

Either way, the man has amply proven how pathetic his personal ethics are, and what an intellectual coward he is. All he had to do was shut his big mouth for a few hours, read my lengthy, serious reply that he asked for, and make an intelligent, non-insulting counter-reply. That could have put us on an entirely different plane of discussion. It would have been a positive, hopeful thing. Something good may have actually resulted from it. But he just couldn't do that.

And why is that? Because I am an "idiot" (as he has called me in the past) and "not worth people's time"? Or is it because he cannot answer a serious Christian objection to his skeptical atheist nonsense? You decide. I have laid out the history of what happened, so you can use your critical faculties and decide what has gone on here. For my part, I think the truth is plain to see.

Isn't it interesting, too, how different people see different things in the same occurrence? You saw how Loftus characterized my brief stay (on one discussion thread) at ExChristian.Net. Huey Heard is an atheist who was there, too. In fact, he made a few strong responses to me himself. And he was kind enough to come onto my blog to discuss things (unlike Loftus) rationally and intelligently, in a friendly fashion. Here is what happened (Huey's words will be in purple):
You started off this particular blog with dishonest assertions to the effect that we attacked you . . . Dave you are the one making the attacks, not any of us. . . . Yes we have attacked xtians in the past, as evidenced by your cherry picking of Dave’s website, but it is only usually after they attack us. Sorry, but I find it offensive to have people yell into my face that I am going burn horribly in their hell.

(10-3-07)

You can complain all you like, about my person or method, but I am interested in replies to my arguments. That ceased long ago on that forum, and so I left, because obviously no constructive discussion was going to take place.

I don't deny that I made any personal remarks at all. I certainly did. But I think they were justified as replies to what was coming my way. An "ad hominem" is warranted or justified if indeed the person is guilty of what he is accused of, by means of hard evidence.

(10-3-07)

And what did you think you were getting from Jim Arvo? He did address your arguments, quite well in fact. I also addressed your arguments, in my own small way, as did others. There was constructive dialogue. Jim did not launch an ad hominem and neither did I. Nobody called you names, asserted that you were stupid, what have you though I admit that we have done that to others. You are claiming an affront where none was given and I am trying to understand why.

(10-3-07)
I explained how I thought the discussion with Jim Arvo had gotten derailed. I wrote: "Now, perhaps I was wrong in charging obfuscation, but I didn't think Jim would be sensitive. Nevertheless, I can take my share in the blame for that remark." Yet John Loftus claimed above that I accepted apologies "without doing the same." Anyone can see from this example that this is false. I apologized first to Jim Arvo (10-3-07), and then he (to his credit) reciprocated on 10-4-07:
David, I humbly apologize for implying that I found no substance in the few arguments of yours that I've read thus far.
I accepted this:
We'll have to agree to disagree, Jim. I have no further arguments on the matter beyond those I have already given. But I appreciate your non-polemical tone, and the apology.
And he said:
Okay then. Take care.
Then "RD" (more on him below) jumps right in (right before Loftus made his latest shot / confession of lying):
Good riddance to the self-righteous troll.
It is a lie also for Loftus imply that I "demanded an apology." No such thing happened. Anyone can see this by searching for the words apology, apologize, sorry, retract, retraction, demand, etc. in the thread. It never happened. All I did was note on my blog that the discussion had become ridiculous and unfruitful, with lots of personal attack. I never demanded anything. As we saw, I apologized, and accepted Jim Arvo's gracious apology back. Dave Van Allen spontaneously apologized for earlier claiming that I had broken my word to someone, which I publicly accepted ("Thanks to the webmaster for the apology. I will edit my post accordingly").
I had simply written a post documenting the claims against me that he made, not made some "demand". He retracted that one, but still hasn't retracted the charge that I troll atheist sites.

Anyway, as to whether personal insults occurred that I or anyone else would find objectionable and a legitimate reason to withdraw from attempted discussion, back to my later discussion on that very topic with Huey Heard on my blog. I documented for him exactly what remarks I felt were undeniably personal attacks. I also explained my perspective on that in a post at ExChristian; cross-posted on my blog. Huey accepted the validity of some of my examples [my previous words that he cites will be indented]:
As you said, fair enough.
RD said: “…accentually (sic) lie to yourself knowing full well deep down inside it could not possibly be true.”

[I'm a dishonest idiot with an infantile crutch who wants to believe an obvious lie. This is not an insult?]
I have to agree with you there. It is the same argument that xtians use on me, usually in the form of ‘why do you hate god?’. I do not, deep down, presuppose the existence of a god any more than you, deep down, do not. I myself have always found it insulting that people assume, without knowing the first thing about me or my thought processes, I MUST believe in their god. Well I don’t. But my lack of belief does not imply that you MUST share that with me. You had a common xtian argument turned on you and yes, I would call that insulting. And I won’t even go into the next of RD’s comments.
boomSLANG said: “....and we make sure that all self-righteous theists are treated like people . . .”

[why should I automatically be considered "self-righteous", esp. after I had just stated that atheists were welcome on my blog and would be treated politely?]
First of all it is hard to discuss topics of this nature without generalizing. No one can start off every assertion with ‘this does not apply to everybody but…’ but never the less, an attempt to make everybody aware of that unspoken preamble should be made. Yes Dave I have read where you have done so on your blog. Your disclaimer at the beginning of this particular blog [link] speaks volumes! However to address this particular topic, all I can say is that with all the obviously self-righteous theists we do see on Ex-Christian.net we tend to indulge in knee-jerk reactions. I am not offering that as a defense, just an explanation.

. . . I will finish this post with the following: I now see where you are coming from and as I read more of your blog, I will see more. To show you where I am coming from I will tell that I am a die-hard atheist whose best friends are VERY devout christians. I introduced them, was the best man at their wedding (18 years ago) and still consider them to be the best people I have or ever will meet. I do not hate christians. That would be bigotry. I do however detest fundamentalism of all types as it seems to invariably lead to unreasoning hatred. I personally don’t care if you worship trees on Mondays and rocks on Tuesdays. Just don’t tell me I have to.

(10-3-07)
I replied with a conciliatory post. Huey reciprocated, and so we got off to an excellent start for possible future discussions. The moral of the story was that there are different opinions as to what happened on that thread. I claimed there were personal attacks going on, and so left because that precludes intelligent discussion if it comes to predominate. Obviously, one proof that these were indeed taking place was the two apologies graciously offered, which I accepted.

The friendly, fair-minded atheist Huey Heard at first objected to my characterization, but when I gave examples, he acknowledged at least two of them (different from the two apologized for), and gave an explanation (but not an excuse) as to why they likely occurred. This establishes the factuality of the claims I made in the first place: that personal attacks were directed towards me in place of rational argument.

But John Loftus has to lie and distort what happened: "He comes blasting in, we blast back, he demands an apology, we apologize, he accepts without doing the same, he moves on." As anyone can plainly see, that is a gross distortion of what happened, including two lies about my supposedly demanding apologies and not offering any, and a caricature of my initial entry into the discussion ("blasting in"). Here is the horrible, insulting, condescending, pompous way in which I began my brief stay at ExChristian (the common courtesy of letting someone know that I replied to a paper of his):
I have posted a lengthy reply to webmaster Dave's deconversion story on my blog. I don't know if I am allowed to post the URL, but I believe my name will include the URL to my blog, where it is currently near the top. Anyone is welcome to come comment.

I make sure that all atheists and agnostics are treated cordially and respectfully on my (Catholic) blog.

(9-27-07)
My second post involved a little joke about Motown (I'm from Detroit), based on someone's citation from a Four Tops song. Really insulting stuff there, too, huh? I even joked about the insult (seen above) to the effect that I was "self-righteous."

My third post began my series of replies to Jim Arvo, which I thought was a very good exchange for a while (and not bad overall, though it did degenerate; but we both took our blame for that). I started out: "Thanks for your thoughtful reply." Really nasty stuff, huh? All this is "blasting away"? The insults began before I said anything objectionable at all. The only reason anyone could have gotten angry at me (apart from my being a Christian) was because (again) I had the unmitigated gall of disagreeing with the reasoning expressed in a deconversion story.

But no one would ever get a proper impression of what actually happened when I first went onto that forum if they went solely by Loftus' exercise in revisionist history and smearing propaganda, would they? It just shows yet again that there are two sides to every story.

My blog is all about friendly, open, honest, mutually-respectful dialogue and hearing both sides. I debate all kinds of belief-systems, and have engaged in somewhere between 450 and 500 dialogues (I no longer keep track, but I know it is at least 450). But Loftus and Van Allen and their blogs are not about that. They are about preaching to the choir, mocking and trashing Christians and Christianity and emotional backslapping and warm fuzzies: one atheist to another.

You can still find fair-minded, rational people like Jim Arvo and Huey Heard even on blogs like these. But for every one of them there are at least nine (vocal) insulting, irrationally angry or mocking atheists / agnostics / skeptics. And it is almost impossible to talk intelligently with an Arvo or a Heard without a bunch of patronizing nitwits trying to butt in and immediately bring the discussion down to the mudslinging pit. But as soon as Heard came over to my blog, such a normal conversation was entirely possible and we actually came to a refreshing friendly agreement and a measure of understanding.

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