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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We all know poppycock when we hear it, 27 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (Paperback)
John Loftus is an ex-preacher who has not only left his evangelical beliefs behind but is now an eloquent voice for humanism and atheism and reason. In this excellent volume, he joins eight other writers in producing fifteen chapters divided into five parts. This is a systematic and informed analysis of the Christian delusion, starting with why faith fails as a route to knowledge and ending with a rejection of the idea that society depends on Christianity. The foreword is written by another well-known ex-preacher, Dan Barker, who charted his own journey from faith to reason in Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists. What both share with the contributors is an attitude that is characteristic of the new atheism, that, as Loftus puts it, someone "has to tell the emperor he has no clothes on."

Barker suggests that "what unities the authors of this volume is not revenge for having been victimized by the deceptions of religion, but a burning desire for actual facts." While the title of the book is provocative, the contributed essays are far from wholly negative. A typical strategy is that of David Eller, a professor of anthropology, who argues that our moral sense is grounded in the natural world and does not originate with Christianity. Eller identifies agency as the "one quality that religions seem to share" (it's certainly something that preoccupies the religious evolutionist Robert Asher in Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist). We humans are inveterate agent-detectors, looking for will or intention or purpose or goal-oriented behaviour in each other and in the world around us, even when none exists. Eller mischievously concludes that it's "never easy to be honest with yourself about the Bible when a mind-reading god is always present."

Baruch Spinoza dismissed much of the Bible as the "uninteresting opinions of some people who lived long ago" (see Richard Popkin's The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza) and Jason Long, in his chapter on the malleability of the human mind, suspects that "those who have been conditioned to believe in a book with a talking donkey will never actively seek out someone to challenge this position." This is what those of us who see no reason to look beyond naturalism are up against, and why Barker's emphasis on facts is important. In Ignorance: How It Drives Science, Firestein argues that accumulating facts is not what science is about. That may well be true, but facts are of course still important, especially in an area like religious belief where facts are often denied or obscured because of commitments to ancient doctrines. When Barker concludes that the "case for faith is a case for ignorance" he's not talking about the "insightful ignorance" of scientists but of all the many ways in which Christians are wrong. In short, scripture is not a reliable source of knowledge.

Richard Carrier cuts to the chase in his chapter on why the resurrection of Jesus is unbelievable, from which it follows that so is Christianity. He points out that Christians no longer believe Peter's Gospel, for many of the same reasons we no longer believe the marvels reported by Herodotus. But why then believe any of the other Gospels? How are they any less fantastic than the Gospel of Peter? Any reasonable person not already committed to the New Testament as it stands must pause for sceptical thought. The challenge to believers - formulated by Loftus in his "outsider test for faith" - is for them to examine their own religious faith with the same presupposition of scepticism they use to examine other religious faiths.

The outsider test is surprisingly devastating given its simplicity. Not being able to believe a claim just because you've read it in some ancient text pulls the rug right from under a remarkable number of Christian beliefs. Oh, but the Bible is God's word, isn't it? The three chapters of the second part refute this claim, with Paul Tobin listing several impressive deficiencies in a supposedly divine book: the canonical Bible "is inconsistent with itself" and "not supported by archaeology", and it contains "fairy tales", "failed prophecies" and "many forgeries." If Barker's right, and "Is it true?" is the most important question we can ask about any religion, then the title of this book is less polemical and more descriptive.

With contributions from other eminent atheists such as Robert M. Price (on the mythical Jesus) and Hector Avalos (on why atheism was not the cause of the Holocaust), this is a wide-ranging, well-organized and well-argued critique of Christianity. The overarching theme, as expressed by John Loftus himself, is that scepticism "is the hallmark of an adult who thinks for herself."
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Mar 2013 07:57:39 GMT
F Henwood says:
I agree with most of the views expressed in this review. Yet religion persists and there is no sign of it going away in much of the world. Its persistence must be something that atheists have to explain, surely?

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Mar 2013 16:47:13 GMT
Sphex says:
Thanks for your post. There are many interesting approaches to explaining why religion persists, including Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors by Pascal Boyer (which I've also reviewed), and Why Gods Persist: A Scientific Approach to Religion and Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (which I'm reading right now).

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2013 02:01:21 BDT
Bertrand Russell was of the opinion that fear is the basis of religious belief. Such a view is also implicit in Ingersoll's Vow. We feel dwarfed by a universe so vast, awesome and mysterious and religion is one means by which Man tries to make sense of it and find reassurance that the universe is essentially benign rather than indifferent. Unfortunately when one reviews the many varieties of religious belief, the result is more often nonsense than sense.
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