This book has a very interesting premise. Instead of a book with one long debate about whether or not God exists, this book contains twenty short debates on a variety of topics, everything from whether or not life has meaning apart from God and whether science is a substitute for religion to whether or not God cares about women or if He is ignorant of the future. The book can be consumed in large quantities or in bite-sized chunks, reading one or two debates at a time.
It should be stated that since the debates are short (this was by design), then not everything that can be said on these topics are said. So this should really be treated as more of an introduction to these topics, and each debater does give books for further reading on all of the topics if you wish to look more into them.
This is actually my first experience with Randal Rauser. I have read one of Loftus’ books where he quotes Rauser, but I am unfamiliar with his writings or his stances on certain issues. So I was looking forward to this book, not only because of the back and forth exchange, but so that I can familiarize myself with another Christian philosopher.
Admittedly I am no fan of John Loftus. He’s simply a poor philosopher, despite having once taught a class on the subject. The fact that in the very first argument of the very first debate he starts taking potshots at Christians makes me very hesitant to take him seriously, especially since his argument is just dead wrong (the argument is that since Christians are deluded and Christianity offers a false hope, it motivates Christians not to care about social ills. This is simply patently false, especially since Christians have consistently been on the forefront of opposing and ending human rights violations, everything from slavery to civil rights, to opposing the current human rights violation of abortion.) Loftus also makes the ridiculous assertion that religion has never solved any problems or answered any questions, whereas science has. This is simply uneducated nonsense. Before the 1900’s, science was a Christian pursuit. Scientists were motivated by their faith in God to study the universe that God created, because by studying it they would learn about God. Religion motivated the development of science as we know it today. Plus, philosophy has sometimes preceded science. When Al Ghazali formulated the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he argued that the universe had a beginning using philosophical arguments that an actual infinity of time couldn’t exist. It was later that a Belgian monk discovered the Big Bang.
Lest you think I am harsh on Loftus because he’s an Atheist, that’s certainly not the case. I just believe a much better thinker could have been selected to support the Atheist side. For every poor Atheist philosopher like Loftus, Richard Carrier, or Richard Dawkins, there are good Atheist philosophers like Graham Oppy, Kai Nielsen, or Quentin Smith.
The debate remains very cordial, which is refreshing for such a controversial topic which has the capacity for turning very ugly (although the debate on whether or not the Biblical God cares about slaves seemed to get a little bit heated near the end). However, as I have read many of the reviews on Amazon, it seems that many people are put off by Randal’s style. John has a more upfront approach, just giving his arguments. There’s nothing wrong with this. Randal prefers a more literary style, telling a story or giving an analogy to illustrate his point. There is also nothing wrong with this. In fact, authors have a long tradition of using works of fiction to illustrate philosophical points. Take George Orwell’s 1984, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, to name but a few. Randal’s story-telling doesn’t take away from his arguments, it elucidates them.
John does have a frustrating habit of ignoring Randal’s arguments altogether and just repeating his earlier points. As I stated earlier, I do view that many of these debates are one-sided just because Randal’s points are so strong and most of John’s arguments are just not well-reasoned at all, as becomes apparent early on. John rejects Randal’s arguments just because he’s an Atheist and he needs to find any reason to support his Atheism, not because Randal’s points are bad. That being said, I do think John makes some good points, so they’re not all bad. As I mentioned earlier, Randal does make some major mistakes in his theology, such as supposing that a perfect God, one who cannot lie, would allow false statements about himself into the Scriptures that he supposedly inspired. And while I believe Randal was the clear winner in most of these debates, I think John did have the upper hand in a few of them.
I obviously have many gripes about John Loftus. But while fewer, I do have some about Randal Rouser. First is the position that he rejects Biblical inerrancy. I think this is dangerous for a Christian to do and is why I don’t think I could recommend him as a philosopher, and this is something that John does call him on a few times. Second, Randal apparently doesn’t know what “begging the question” is (it’s an informal logical fallacy). Randal keeps saying “that begs the question” when he obviously means “that raises the question.” It’s a common, and possibly understandable, mistake for a layman, but one that a professional philosopher shouldn’t make.
You should look elsewhere if you’re looking for a more academic treatment of these issues. However, I did find the book an enjoyable and easy read, and I think it’s a good book to introduce yourselves to many of the topics presented here.