Nitpickers Have Started to Attack

The more educated and intelligent a scholar is then the more that scholar argues against the main argument of his opponent. You can actually tell from what they attack whether they are scholarly or not. They do not nitpick at minor points unrelated to the main argument itself, unless they have first dealt with his main argument.

Well, the nitpickers have started attacking my book.

Layman over at Christian Cadre wrote something about a list of professing Christians I claimed who don’t believe in the empty tomb. He disputes some of them, and he may be right, but I don’t think so. Nonetheless my argument in that chapter stands on its own merits and he has said nothing about it. Nothing. Yup, that's right. Nothing was said against the arguments I laid out in that chapter. That's nada, zip, zilch, zero. Big deal if he’s right on a couple of these names. If all that's required is to nitpick a book for errors in a list of names then have at it, as I said.

But some people have come away thinking with Brad Haggard, that I have "no credible sources" and therefore my "whole argument is undercut." And so it must be that "the list was blatant mischaracterization." Why does he conclude this? Because he has not read my book to know what my argument is, that’s why.

My book covers the topics of God, man and the universe, using the disciplines of science, theology, apologetics, philosophy, history, Biblical studies, and so forth. No mere mortal can have a good grasp of it all, as I told Layman in an email. I even admitted that I know I'm wrong about some things, so I'm willing to learn. Whether Layman is correct or not I'm not sure, and that's my final word on it.

Here's what John Beversluis wrote about my book:
"No review can begin to do justice to an ambitious book of this scope or to the sustained theological, philosophical, scientific, textual, and historical critique of Christianity that it contains. Suffice it to say at the outset that I have never read a book that presents such a massive and systematic refutation of the claims of Christianity, and I have seldom read a book that marshals evidence (from such a wide variety of disciplines) and documents its claims in such painstaking detail."
But along comes Layman nitpicking about a detail. Others will do likewise. I am a mere mortal. I did the best I could with what I was doing. I do not have to defend the minutia. Deal with my larger case.

My contention is that at best so far for the most part, all I have seen are mischaracterizations of my book, personal attacks on me, nitpicking at small details, and sloppy reasoning in trying to refute it.

Another nitpicker is Matt Flanagan who wrote a post about slavery claiming with others that the slavery in the American South was not Biblical and should never have been justified from the Bible. He quotes me in it where I say the results were horrific for Frederick Douglass and his aunt.

You can read our exchange there, but I said this:

What I find interesting, Matt, is that you have not addressed my main question in my book:
“Why didn’t the Christian God ever explicitly and clearly condemn slavery?...why didn’t God tell his people, “Thou shalt not own, buy, sell, or trade slaves,” and say it as often as he needed to? Why was God not clear about this in the Bible? Just think how Copan’s own arguments would resonate with him if he were born into the brutal slavery of the South! What would he think then as his blood was spilled at the hands of a Bible-quoting master? Sam Harris claims, ‘Nothing in Christian theology remedies the appalling deficiencies of the Bible on what is perhaps the greatest—and the easiest—moral question our society has ever had to face.’”
Was your God as clear on this issue as he was about murder? Oh, that's not a good analogy because, well, you know, genocide, the witch hunts, heresy trials and the crusades. Hmmmm. Okay, let’s try this one: Was your God as clear about this as he was that we should love our neighbors? Oh, that's not a good analogy because, well, you know, the question was "who is my neighbor?” right? But once you get my point you'll have no good answers to this problem and you know it, so instead you side-step it as you did here. That's what it takes to believe, Matt, side stepping problems because you cannot reasonably explain them. Skeptics say believers are ignorant, and they are, but they’re not unintelligent. It takes a great deal of intelligence to find ways around these types of problems in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance they create.

I find your post absolutely pathetic. Oh, that's right, everyone should've seen the truth about slavery as you do based on hindsight. Does this require that believers should be able to study the Hebrew and Greek? They had the King James Version. They came to their own conclusions as Protestants without requiring Catholic ecclesiastical interpretive authority. So, what does God require here?...that they become scholars and figure out by hindsight like you have on these issues? Yeah, right. In fact. I'll bet you think your views on women, heresy trials and the crusades should’ve been plainly obvious to the historic church too. They were just stupid on a par with a rock, right? No, better ease your mind with the idea that they just did not care to follow God, that they purposely twisted the Bible knowing they were wrong for, oh, three centuries when it came to the witch trials. No, they weren't sincere, were they, or Christians, because Christians always understand the truth and they always behave godly, right? Yes, there are insincere professing Christians, but in my experience people agonized over knowing what God's will was for them--the overwhelming majority did. And given the threat of hell why wouldn't they? And let’s not forget that the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit just did not do his job.


Warren said...

Nice post, John.

Many of your posts deal with defending your book, which I haven't had the pleasure of owning because I am in the habit of getting books in audio format and listening (and usually relistening) to them during my long commute to work.

This works great for me, but I haven't found your book in audio format, though. I was wondering if it is available somewhere, and if so, where? (if not, why not? do you have anything to do with that?)

Brad Haggard said...

Lol, John. Can you put me on your list of "fleas"?

Sorry I even brought it up, I'll slink back into my cave now.

Steven Carr said...

Layman is a lawyer. 'A professional lawyer' in the words of Peter Cook.

A lawyer's job is to nitpick.

No book is infallible, and nits can always be picked.

If Layman could find something major, or show that your arguments depended crucially on that list, he would have at once done so.

His silence on the main points speaks volumes.

Bluemongoose said...

Perhaps you need to get some thicker skin, John. Nitpickers? Honestly, if you couldn't handle the rejection of your theories, then why write a book at all? Why resort to name calling? I thought you secular thinkers were all about being accepting of opposing views -- or is it those who oppose you have to accept your views? Hmm....

Matthew said...

He disputes some of them, and he may be right, but I don’t think so.

Then maybe you haven't read the quotes with which he proved you wrong?

Madeleine said...

Talk about selective reading! How about you deal with Matt's main argument in his post on slavery? That the Bible explicitly condemns the type of slavery practiced in the US South.

Talk about nit-picking and avoiding the main argument! Practice what you preach perhaps?

Going on about nit-picking, people's education levels (Matt's is PhD remember?) and intelligence, advancing some argument you made in your book that has nothing to do with whether the Hebrew word ebed is correctly translated as our modern understanding of slave (which was Matt's central argument that you have neatly avoided with this rant) tells us nothing except that you want to avoid addressing the fact that your claims that the US South practices of slavery were compatible with Biblical teaching on it or that Charles Hodge supported it, which he did not.

Whether God should make things clearer, or program us to both always understand him and desire to agree with him is not the main argument here. Matt was not writing a book review of your book, he was writing an article on Slavery, the biblical teaching, looking at what John Locke wrote and he cited a specific claim you made in that context and addressed it demonstrating you were factually incorrect.

A claim you don't want to address.

Michael said...

It's important to get the little things correct. I think Mark Robert explains why better than I can here:

At this point my criticis will no doubt say that I'm nit-picking, that the errors in god is not Great are insubstantial. My response, as one who has graded hundreds of graduate school papers over the years, is that you can almost always see the quality of a writer's thinking in how he or she deals with seemingly insignificant details. 'A' papers generally get the names and dates right too. Sloppiness in small things is generally a precursor to sloppiness in larger things.

John W. Loftus said...

Madeline, methinks you just aren't trying to understand. You have an agenda. You have faith. Who needs anything else? And Hodge, BTW argued on behalf of Biblical slavery; that Biblical slavery if done the Biblical way, was good.

Bullshit. There is a well known distinction between a institution in theory and an institution in practice. The practice of the theory never, and I mean never, accords with the theory. Theories are idealizations which do not work out in practice, ever.

Oh, that's right. God expected the theory to work out in it's idealized form. What then does that make God? Dumber than a box of rocks.

Again, I say, you just are not trying to understand, you really aren't, neither you nor your husband. You have faith. You seek to justify. You try to explain the obvious away. That's what you have to do.

John W. Loftus said...

Michael, I don't think that quote applies to me unless it can be shown I make numerous little mistakes. Still, you must place any number of mistakes I do make in the context of the grandiose nature of the work itself. If, for instance I'm writing about God and the universe using the various disciplines that I do, it should be expected that I get some things, maybe many of them wrong since no one can have a good handle on it one.

Now you might say that until I do I shouldn't write such a book, but then that's a convenient way to silence me since I could never write it in the first place.

I put it out there. In a couple of years I will revise it from learning about any mistakes I may have made. But I do not think believers will be able to show me where my main lines of argumentation are wrong, so given the grandiose nature of the book that's more than most people could do.

Michael said...

I appreciate what you're saying however you managed to get the views of several scholars wrong which would be several mistakes. Isn't it the author's job to check their facts before they state them?

Your book is on my list of thing to read however I'm not going to buy any more books until I've found time to read the last lot I bought:p Until then I can't comment on how accurate the rest of your book is.

John W. Loftus said...

Michael, I did no such thing, or at least it hasn't been shown sufficiently to me anyway. You seem to accept the first person who states something without waiting for rebuttal. My rebuttal may be off in the future but I will research this further before I say Laymen is correct. I am initially inclined to think he is not correct. So don't go jumping the gun here in any case.

Rob R said...

Theories are idealizations which do not work out in practice, ever.

Just a nitpick here.

That is quite a theory you've got. Doubt it always works out in practice.

Teleprompter said...

Rob R:

Does the exception prove the rule? ;)

Allie said...

I'm sort of surprised you've criticised a few people's style of argument, given that you exhibit a few classic symptoms of diversion from the point yourself. Someone criticises your argument about the Biblical take on slavery - you bring up the Crusades! the Spanish Inquisition! anything else that is part of Christianity's chequered history but doesn't have much to do with the topic before you. I don't mean to say that that's not a good point to make and shouldn't be discussed - I just mean that maybe if you're going to criticise the techniques of argument that other people use, you should be aware of your own.

And I am going to make one piece of criticism: If you so desperately want to win over people like me (yes, I am a Christian), you instantly alienate us by saying that we are ignorant (though, most kindly, not unintelligent). I can accept that I may be riddled with bias and the need to believe and so on and so forth, but I will not accept the accusation of ignorance. I don't think you understand where Christians (especially the "not unintelligent" ones) are coming from if you can say that.

James B said...

John, about post and comments…
In the words of the infallible Jim Rome…Rack ‘em.
So nice to see the reaction of the religious crowd, tucked away in their modern, suburban Christian world, give “explanation” regarding the orgy of bloody evil some can concisely term “church history”.
Two things I have noticed in regard to Christian response to argument. One, as this post pointed out, tries to discredit the arguments author, which is fair game. Great tactic, rabbit trails the audience away from the argument itself. Second, as Phil Fernandez said many times debating…”the majority of scholars agree…” As a former fundamentalist drone, I would hear these words and smile, as my brain was turned off, and I listened to the magical words flow from the pulpit. “It’s all true, it’s all true! Hallelujah!...please visit the book table on the way out. Fresh copies of 'Jesus is White, and So Can You!' will be available until evening service.”

Christian Agnostic said...


I've read your book and found it very comprehensive. The bit I found the least convincing was the end when you described why you became an atheist. To characterize your argument you seemed to say, the evidence is ambiguous and I don't like uncertainty so I'm going to nail my colours to the mast here.

I didn't find a strong refutation of a panentheistic conception of God as the universal reality beyond all experience and across religious divides. In short I understand why you ceased to be an evangelical but why you ceased to be willing to believe anything I can't fully understand.

Also, I believe your book would be ineffective among large numbers of believers because you don't adequately deal with contemporary claims of miracles, resurrections and healings. At a recent church event that I attended people were claiming manna had appeared from heaven and people had been raised from the dead. SO when I attempt to argue against miracles by the prinicple of analogy they just say "miracles" happen now! All the time!

I don't really know how to deal with those claims because when I posit a naturalistic explantion I am accused of ignoring God's power and being unwilling to believe.

Layman said...

Which is it John?

You critique me for nitpicking but you first say, "Thanks for researching this Layman."

Here you say you will look into it but on my blog you say, "Whether Layman is correct or not I'm not sure, and that's my final word on it." In our emails you said you wanted to revise this for your next edition of the book. How can you do that if this is your "final word" on the matter? If it is worth correcting in your book what is so horrible about my blogging on it?

One of the things that I continue you to find unsettling is your ongoing refusal to identify your "reliable source" for the information I discuss. Surely you know. Why won't you say?

Layman said...

And when did you reverse yourself and allow comments again? I didn't see an announcement retracting your policy against allowing comments from people who may disagree with you.

John W. Loftus said...

Layman, read Steve Carr's comment above and talk to me about something substantial next time.

I am looking into this issue. My final word on your blog says nothing about my final word which you'll find in my revised book.

For you to think this issue says anything at all about my case amazes me.

Nitpick away. I'm listening. You will only help my revised book be a better one for which Christians will thank you in the years to come.

And periodically I change my mind on things. I suppose you don't.


Layman said...


Are you still looking into who was your "reliable source" for this information? Why won't you say?

John W. Loftus said...

Layman, have you read Steve Carr's commet yet? Why won't you say?

As I said, I'll look into it. How many times do I have to say this? But I'm in no rush since other things are pressing. Just read the future edition of my book. Then, and probably not until then, will you find out. Sorry to disppoint you, but that's all I offer a nitpicker. You don't deserve anything more.

Perhaps now you can try to deal with my larger case. But I already know you won't, for to deal with it you must deal with my whole case, and that you cannot do.

Layman said...


You've been "looking into it" for months.

How could you have told me it was a "reliable source" if you had no idea where you got the information from?

What was the "reliable source"?

Sabio Lantz said...

I have started your book. What I love about is how honest and imperfect you are. It puts a whole new spin on reading this blog -- very nice !

Gandolf said...

Madeleine said..."Talk about selective reading! How about you deal with Matt's main argument in his post on slavery? That the Bible explicitly condemns the type of slavery practiced in the US South."

Oh hallelujah Madeleine the world has matty now to go translating for everyone.Praise be! the new messiah has finally arrived.

A bit of a pity matty just cant be everywhere in the world at once though huh.

Madeleine said.."Whether God should make things clearer, or program us to both always understand him and desire to agree with him is not the main argument here. Matt was not writing a book review of your book, he was writing an article on Slavery, the biblical teaching, looking at what John Locke wrote and he cited a specific claim you made in that context and addressed it demonstrating you were factually incorrect."

Hmmmmmm well Madeleine it might seem to be such a trivial point in the mind of many of the faithful like yourself,but the fact remains if God was this intelligent supreme being that you faithful folk so often try suggesting he was.Then excuse us for wondering just why he placed all his bets on there always being enough Matty`s to go around to translate for us all?.

Because you can nit pick all you like and use all the intellectual gymnastics you wish over things such as whether the Hebrew word ebed is correctly translated as our modern understanding of slave etc.

But this doesnt change the fact that very many in Christianities past and present without the presence of the messiah matty, for some reason have managed to translated sometimes that slavery somehow was supposedly ok by the book.

Not a main argument?.

Please explain how much it really matters if ebed is or isnt slave or whatever or whatever,in regards to this book being the supposed divine word of some God.

If its actually no divine word of any god in the first place because any smart god surely should have realized it wasnt ever going to be that likely or even possible that all people would always be so scholarly.

I agree with John "you just are not trying to understand, you really aren't, neither you nor your husband."

Madeleine i understand its probably quite boring over on M&M a lot of the time.And quite likely you and Matt and many others there are maybe a little jealous that this blog receives so many more visits than yours does.

But maybe you should be giving it some more thought about if its because you are mostly just nitpickers with so little to offer.

Gawd .....The christian rattles on about selective reading etc bitching and wailing picking on crap like "oh you said this or that" blah blah,whilst themselves selectively choosing to not even bother take the time in the first place to ask themselves if this God was supposedly so smart and understanding etc.Just why he might have then quite stupidly not even thought that much about it not always being that likely or even possible for a messiah like Matty to always be around when everyone needs them.