This is Bookmarks. You’ll get a little look into what the show is reading right now in order to prepare for upcoming shows and get a glimpse into some upcoming books, many times before they’re released.
The first Bookmark is on John Loftus’s soon to be released 2nd Edition of his well known and fantastic book Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. Mr. Loftus is a former Christian minister and apologist with M.A., M.Div., and Th.M. degrees in Philosophy, Theology, and the Philosophy of Religion from Lincoln Christian Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. While in school he majored under Drs. James D. Strauss and William Lane Craig.
As I indicated, I’ve read the 1st Edition (twice; the second time just late last year) and it’s excellent. Packed with citations to scholars and their works and accessible to the philosophically untrained (and even previously unexposed), the 1st Edition wasn’t just one person’s opinion on the state of the discussion about the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, the book functioned as a introductory overview on the state of that discussion.
This new edition (rare, by the way, for an atheist book to see a second edition) is, I believe, an all around improvement. The overall outline of the book has been improved so that it’s just better formed as a cohesive flowing whole. The personal introductory first chapter in particular I believed to be too long and too personal when I read the 1st Edition (in addition to my believing that Mr. Loftus had left himself open to personal attacks on his character, no matter how brave I believed him to be for putting himself out there as he did). Mr. Loftus told me via email which sections he feels he’s made the most improvements to and I find as I read the 2nd Edition with the 1st open next to me for comparison purposes that I have to agree.
As before, but with improvements on seemingly every page, Mr. Loftus ranges through the relative value of evidence over faith, what the existence of morality says about God’s existence, the nature and quality of historical evidence, the question of miracles, the findings of modern Biblical Criticism, and much more. But the jewel in the book is still Loftus’s defense of the Cumulative Case Method and the Outsider Test for Faith.
All too often in these discussions people examine one single argument and assume that the truth or falsity of theism is confirmed by the success or failure of that argument. But what Loftus argues for is an application of a Cumulative Case Method; an examination of the religious belief system as a whole rather than piecemeal. To see why this is important, realize that there’s a knock on effect with regard to a discussion of a religious belief system where, for example with regard to question of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, whether the resurrection occurred requires a discussion of the sources for this historical claim, the value of the sources, the sources’ continuity with the Hebrew Bible, Syro Palestinian archaeology (if the Hebrew Bible’s historical claims are undermined then so are the NT’s attempts to claim that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension were directly prophesied in the Hebrew Bible), and of the dating, formation, and sources for the Hebrew Bible, just to name a few. Then, the examination itself must take place as an outsider would examine the truth claims of their own faith– The Outsider Test for Faith. Two facts standout to dictate this strategy. They are the fact that (1) people are almost invariably of the same faith as their parents or at least of the culture they were born into, and that (2) the error in thinking known as confirmation bias causes us to unduly favor propositions we already agree with, ignoring or minimizing disconfirming evidence. It is not easy to ensure that we don’t do this, such is the power of confirmation bias, but if we want to get at the truth then we must. So we must examine religious claims as an unweighted agnostic.
Obviously Mr. Loftus’ defense of these principles is certainly more expansive than the short simple description I’ve provided, and that defense is better this time around. He more firmly grounds them and then responds to criticisms of their value and practical application that he’s received in the ensuing period following publication of the 1st Edition. If you’ve already read the 1st Edition, the 2nd is still worth a look. If you didn’t read the 1st, the decision just got a lot easier. What was already one of the best entry level philosophically-minded counter-apologetic books, it now seems, is even better.
Keep an eye out for our interview with Mr. Loftus coming soon. And consider pre-ordering the 2nd Edition of Why I Became an Atheist from the Think Atheist Radio Show Bookstore in order to support the show. You might also consider Mr. Loftus’ two edited works, The End of Christianity and The Christian Delusion. Remember, purchases there are via Amazon and cost no more but Amazon shares a tiny slice of their profits with us.