Lest we Forget, Loftus

atheism Debates


In the wake of his debate with Dinesh D’Souza on whether or not the Christian God exists, John Loftus says that even if he didn’t win, he learned a lot. I asked him if, given his loss (as a few people see it – including Loftus I think) in this debate, he was still hoping to debate William Lane Craig, something he has wanted for a while. After all, I figured, although D’Souza is good at what he does, Craig is more qualified and experienced. John’s answer was bold enough: “I’m not afraid. I’ll debate any Christian any time. Are you game?”

For those who follow this blog, you may have just done a double take. At this blog I publicly offered to debate John Loftus, back in April 2009.  Being somewhat amused by this apparent challenge, I reminded John that he had already received such an offer from me but had not taken it up. Here’s what came next: “Glenn, what are you talking about? I have no recollection of this.”

I thought I’d do him the favour of jogging his memory. I have also pointed this out in the comments thread. Here is what transpired here in April 2009:

First, at John’s blog entry regarding the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig, another debate where according to Loftus, the atheist lost, I made the following offer: “John, if you’d like to get in a little shooting practice for your hopeful encounter with Craig, how about meeting me (virtually speaking) to debate something like, say, the moral argument?” He made some passing references to his view on morality, but he said nothing about my debate offer.

Not wanting to have any loose ends regarding the offer (i.e. I was seeking a clear acceptance or rejection of the offer), I made the offer here at this blog. I know that John was well aware of the offer, since he actually commented on the blog post at the time “Name some topics you’d like to deabte and let’s see what we can do. I think I’m game.” Great!

However, John added another comment before I replied. A dreadful realisation had taken him. He said, “I see you’re writing a book on the moral argument. That means I would be outgunned on that topic.” Well wait a second. John wrote abook about why he became an atheist. But surely he wouldn’t look charitably on a Christian who said “sure I am keen to debate you, but not on atheism. You wrote a book on atheism, so I would be outgunned.” He has also written a book on “the Christian delusion.” Would I get a free pass for declining to debate chruistianity with him? I mean come on, a book!

I was a little surprised that an advocate of atheism and an opponent of Christianity, someone who wanted to debate Christians on their beliefs, felt that a famous argument like the moral argument would be out of his depth. But, wanting to be the gentleman, I suggested some other areas:

My main interest in arguments for theism is the moral argument. I have an interest in presuppositional arguments, but a big part of that interest centres around the fact that I think many advocates of those arguments need to be taken aside and have a thing or two explained to them. I think there is great potential in those arguments and I think many presuppositionalists get the argument wrong, or they think they argument proves more than it does. I also have a lot of interest in Alvin Plantinga’s arguments: concerning basic beliefs, concerning the argument from warrant, and I also appreciate (and think that many have underestimated) his evolutionary argument against naturalism.

Moving away from arguments concerning the truth of theism, I also have a strong interest in the widely held (but, I think disastrously wrong) view within modern political liberalism that seeks to see religious convictions kept out of the political process.

Nothing terribly unusual there, I would have thought. But alas: “Wouldn’t you know it? We don’t share the same interests, not presuppositionalim, nor Plantinga’s arguments, nor political liberalism.” So he didn’t feel able to debate the moral argument (one of the staple arguments for theism), or arguments used by Alvin Plantinga (one of the most prominent philosophers of religion alive today), or presuppositional apologetics.

I have to admit, I was left thinking “Gee, for a guy who wants to be seen as a man who knows the territory, there are a few blind spots there!” And now, months later in a context where he can safely hope that his readers never saw the comments over here, Loftus anounces that he’s the man, never backs down from anyone, anywhere, any time. Except for that one time, that he can’t quite recall.

With warriors like this, is it any wonder the online atheist community is so easily impressed? Look, I hope you know I’m a nice enough guy, John, but read through the above and then you tell me what people should make of it.

EDIT: Within a day of me adding this reminder to John’s comment thread, he shut that thread down. I’m just saying.

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • John Heller February 27, 2010, 10:23 pm

    Did you see the Peter Singer V Dinesh D’Souza debate? What you think?

  • Glenn February 27, 2010, 10:53 pm

    No, I haven’t seen that one.

  • John Heller February 27, 2010, 11:23 pm

    It is on Youtube. In my opinion Singer takes D’Souza to task on the problem of evil (which of course he talks about non-human animal suffering). Although D’Souze never helps himself as he targets mainly Singer’s ethical ideas and not the actual subject of the debate. Check it out-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Phgb67NAaHA

  • Matt March 1, 2010, 7:19 pm

    I remember that post well particularly the comment

    Wouldn’t you know it? We don’t share the same interests, not presuppositionalim, nor Plantinga’s arguments, nor political liberalism. Maybe you’ve read my book? That may give you ideas on what I’m interested in debating.

    Plantinga’s arguments are criticised in Loftus book. Loftus recently posted an article attacking Plantinga as a fundamentalist and is fairly mocking about it and on my blog he posted criticisms of Plantinga saying he had “heard of the great pumpkin objection” when my wife was still a child ( or something to that effect). Then a little while latter he said critiquing Plantinga was not an interest of his.

    Similarly Loftus book contains a critique of the divine command theory which is central to Adams celebrated moral argument and is a key component of Craig’s moral argument. Then he said to you he would not debate the moral argument despite having done so in his book. Interestingly, a while ago Loftus also invited me to give a guest post responding to his work in this area and then claimed he had not done so when I wrote a rebuttal.

  • Glenn March 1, 2010, 7:32 pm

    Yeah, the more I look through what John has written, the more obvious it is that he does argue about these things at his site, in his book and with theists.

    He just didn’t want to debate it with someone who might know the subject. The trouble (for John, at least) is that the way he talks himself up, he encourages his online buddies who don’t know any better to think that he’s a threat, but by sheltering himself from debate with anyone who’s actually a risk until he can land a “celebrity debate,” he ends up completely unprepared and outclassed. Exhibit A: His debate with Dinesh D’Souza.

  • Glenn March 1, 2010, 9:51 pm

    And no sooner do I point out that John’s thread is closed for comments – it opens again.

    I’m not saying there’s a connection.

  • Haecceitas March 2, 2010, 10:15 am

    That’s very Humean of you.

  • Joel March 4, 2010, 5:35 am

    Glenn, he shut it down because he can’t handle being shown up.


  • Jason March 5, 2010, 10:16 pm

    Loftus is a shameless self-promoter. He is more competent than any of the New Atheists, but really that’s not saying much.

  • james March 7, 2010, 10:01 am

    “With warriors like this, is it any wonder the online atheist community is so easily impressed? ”

    Classic! So true…

  • Thomas Larsen February 3, 2012, 10:48 pm

    Bring it on! 🙂 I’d love to see (or at least read) a debate between you two.

  • Glenn February 3, 2012, 11:44 pm

    Thomas, given John’s debate performances that I’ve now seen, he needs to aim lower.

  • Thomas Larsen February 4, 2012, 10:34 am

    Glenn, I agree. But apparently he’s up for the challenge now, should you want to accept or debate some other topic.

  • Glenn February 4, 2012, 4:21 pm

    Interesting Thomas. I’ve spoken with Loftus (well, typed), and offered a debate. He didn’t seem too keen.

    Here is where I made my first public offer. John replied, and I suggested a range of possible issues: All of them are things that John has confidently blogged on in the past. But in spite of that, John claimed that they weren’t within his field of knowledge and declined. The funny thing is – he declined because I was interested in discussing the moral argument, and John was worried that he might be outgunned because I was writing a book on it. I still am – it’s slow! And yet, he has written a book on why Christianity is false. And initially he asked me to name some topics. But now it seems he’s a bit shy of the topics after all. Maybe he shouldn’t be blogging on them! Besides, I suggested other areas too, on which he had blogged. Hmmm, he didn’t want those either! Heck, I even suggested that we debate Plantinga’s arguments about belief in God – arguments that Loftus had covered in his book. But no, John retreated. He was happy to put forward his arguments in a book with no responses, but he didn’t want to debate it with me.

    Almost a year later I posted a reminder – This blog post. I was reminding John that the offer was open.

    The reality is that – as I see it – John’s arguments have not become taken more seriously, but less seriously. Harsh though it might sound, if John has changed his mind and realised that actually nobody really thinks his arguments are worth engaging, but he wants to be seen taking part in debates, well, there’s a reason for that. Basically, if anyone beats Loftus in a debate about God, what happens? Nothing. People can say “Oh. You beat Loftus. You still might not have a clue.” I know that he says he’s an expert. He’s not.

    I gave Loftus two opportunities quite some time ago. He declined, and continued to spiral into (what I see as) self-made irrelevance. If he has changed is mind he can come back to me and we could talk, but I’m not sure what would come of it. But twice I extended the opportunity. It’s up to him now. I can be reached via email using the contact button at this blog.

  • Nick April 10, 2012, 7:56 pm

    I see loftus’ web site has a little Disney/Pixar type of movie making some strong accusations against Craig’s creditability. If I was Craig, seeing the nature of the content in the movie I would not even be interested in debating someone with this attitude. It seems to be going from one degree of desperation to another to get Craig to act. I also notice a claim that Craig feared one of his former students, this comment was made in 1985. The identity of this individual is unknown. However, it is assumed it is J Loftus. Well, 1985 was 27 years ago, get over it! I am sure that Craig would of developed his skills quite considerably since then. So, would of Loftus, but to the same degree? I will let the qualified philosophers evaluate this. Craig is pictured on DC as hiding from a one on one debate. I would suspect Craig really wants to debate more qualified and prominent candidates to show the reliability of the Christian faith on the secular university campuses and in the public square.

  • Glenn April 10, 2012, 8:13 pm

    Nick, I think Craig’s point was not that there was a specific former student out there that Craig feared – but that if there was anyone Craig would fear in a debate on God’s existence, it would be someone he had taught – because they (in theory) would understand how all of his arguments work.

    But any suggestion that Craig is afraid of debates with competent opponents is clearly falsified by experience. But they do need to be someone worth debating in public.

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