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Monday, May 20, 2013

"God or Godless?" (John W. Loftus and Randal Rauser)

TITLE: God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.
AUTHOR: John W. Loftus and Randal Rauser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (208 pages).

This book is an engaging debate between a Christian and an theist on twenty controversial questions. Initiated by Randal Rauser, who takes the position of a Christian apologist, the opponent is a former Christian minister and trained theologian, who has since renounced the faith and embarked upon a journey of debunking Christianity. Rauser the fervent Christian asks ten questions, mostly in defending the rationality and the plausibility of the Christian faith. He does this by highlighting the flawed arguments of Loftus, philosophically, theologically, and socially through affirmations of the Christian faith as well as questioning the assumptions of the atheist arguments. Loftus, the staunch atheist aims at the outset to deny the attributes of God (omnibenevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence); discrediting the claims of Christianity, and arguing that science is basically the answer to life's probing questions.

Each author proposes ten questions, with the proposer making an initial affirmation, followed by a rebuttal by the opponent, and subsequently a defense. Both authors then get to make closing statements to summarize their stand. Randal the Christian affirms the following ten:

  1. If there is no God, then life has no meaning.
  2. If there is no God, then everything is permitted.
  3. Science is no substitute for religion.
  4. God is the best explanation for the whole shebang.
  5. If there is no God, then we don't know anything.
  6. Love is a many splendored thing, but only if God exists.
  7. Everybody has faith.
  8. God is found in the majesty of the Hallelujah chorus.
  9. God best explains the miracles in people's lives.
  10. Jesus was resurrected, so who do you think raised him?

Loftus advocates affirmatively the following:

  1. The biblical concept of God evolved from polytheism to monotheism
  2. The biblical God required child sacrifices for his pleasure
  3. The biblcal God commanded genocide
  4. The biblical God does not care much about slaves
  5. The biblical God does not care much about women
  6. The biblical God does not care much about animals
  7. The biblical God is ignorant about science
  8. The biblical God is ignorant about the future
  9. The biblical God is an incompetent Creator
  10. The biblical God is an incompetent Redeemer.
My Thoughts

I confess that I begin this book with a bias toward the Christian faith. It is thus no surprise that I side more with Rauser than Loftus. Preconceived notions aside, when I apply as fair an understanding as possible to Loftus's viewpoints, I cannot help but wonder whether Loftus's arguments are like sawing the same branch that he is sitting on in the first place. He concludes the following:

"Because the bottom line is that atheists are skeptics. That places us in a bracket all our own. We are not affirming anything. We are denying the claims of all religionists." (181)

My doubts about Loftus's position are three-fold. Firstly, does the skepticism include itself? That will mean Loftus will need to apply his critiques on Christianity the same way he does on his atheistic beliefs as well. Secondly, by saying they are not affirming anything in the first place, and denying the religious views, is that itself not an affirmation? I find it mind-boggling to see how Loftus manages to give himself a backdoor of escape, making his own arguments too slippery for anyone to grasp. Thirdly, by denying the claims of all religions, he may very well be denying his own. After all, remove the "theist" from atheist, and you have nothing much to talk about. As one who appreciates science, I am also surprised that Loftus has taken upon himself a big leap of faith in trusting that science will solve many more things in the future. The trouble is, science is science, and needs to be understood as that. Marry that to the other disciplines, we will get s strange mangled matter than seeks not explanation but faith seeking understanding. In other words, science has a boundary marker, something that Loftus refuses to accept.

That does not mean I am fully persuaded by Rauser as well. Some of the examples he use are less than satisfactory. For example, in the opening chapter, he takes the stand that life has meaning from a hugely utilitarian standpoint. That is a view with an extremely limited view of life. However, he does make some good arguments, like the part about no one believing in Baal today, while millions believe in the God of the Bible.

Overall, I agree more with Rauser because I find the arguments more cohesive and plausible. Loftus on the other hand, makes sweeping statements that require more evidence and proof rather than mere rhetoric or philosophical statements. In fact, the arguments Loftus makes sounds rather aloof and dismissive. Just look at the way sarcasm plays in the affirmative statements about the "biblical God."

This book gives readers some clear insights about the thinking processes of a Christian vs an atheist. Rauser has a message to tell while Loftus seems to have an axe to grind. The authors argue their views passionately and make rebuttals vigorously for their stand. They have also given readers some helpful resources for researching into the different viewpoints. I commend the authors and the publisher for sharing this important engagement that should appeal to both believers as well as non-believers. What I think is most beneficial is not the winning of arguments but the manner in which the debate is conducted. I appreciate the respectful mood throughout the book, and how the authors can disagree in their basic views, but still agree to the rules of the debate. Even if readers may not agree with everything the authors say, I am convinced that we can learn from them how to engage respectfully and constructively, and maintain the dignity of all involved.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.


  1. 1. If there is no God, then life has no meaning.

    If god is the highest power, and answers to know one, being the first "being" who has always been there, without even a cause... god himself has no meaning, no purpose. There is nothing he NEEDS to do. That is therefore a worse fate for the beings he creates. If the creator has no meaning, surely it's creations have no meaning either. Our meaning may be to worship him forever in heaven, but why? What is the greater purpose in that? What meaning is there in forever worshiping a being that has no reason for existence with no obligations?

    2. If there is no God, then everything is permitted.

    Isn't anything also permitted if there is a god who can do whatever he wants? There is no absolute right and wrong because god gets to decide that. There may be sub-reasons why things aren't permitted for our level of being-ness or humans. But in the grand scheme of things, the bottom line, the big picture, anything could be permitted. God gets to choose. So we may have our own "permissions" from god but that's meaningless when the permission giver has no reason to give the permissions except because he feels like it.

  2. I know you think you were unbiased in your reading of this book. However, you weren't. The reason Rauser's sections felt more well put together is because you have a deep confirmation bias. You were predisposed to accepting a theist POV and rejecting the atheist POV.

    Some quick thoughts for you though that will help you not sound quite so uninformed...


    1. the belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation ( distinguished from deism ).
    2. belief in the existence of a god or gods ( opposed to atheism ).


    (A) meaning not (non) or without. (Theist) the belief in a god or gods.

    Atheism is to belief as bald is to a hair color. Meaning, atheism is not a belief system. It is the LACK of belief.

    Belief: (1)An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.
    (2)Something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction.

    Faith: (1)Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
    (2)Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

    Notice that belief and faith are NOT the same thing. Atheists can have beliefs but in general do not have faith. Faith taking the second meaning of the word.

    Your assumption that atheism is a religious belief the same as Christianity or Hinduism is a false assumption. It is not a belief, it is the lack of belief. Faith enters no-where into the conversation for us.

    As for the validity of science and its demonstrated ability to solve problems, one only needs to look at the machine you are reading this message on to affirm the truth of that statement. Science has been able to provide (as a tool used by human beings and as a mode of thought, not a religious belief system) strong self evidence for its ability to handle almost every problem thrown at it. It is also self correcting in that when it makes a statement and is proven wrong, it is ALWAYS proven wrong by more and better science.

    Whereas, a theistic world view is solely informed via its respective ancient texts written by ancient human beings. Those cannot be changed or ignored. Yet they have grossly incorrect factual statements and their moral fortitude is archaic at best and genocidal at worst. This is not to say that theists are evil people. I know many who are very good people. Proof that despite a belief in a god, you can be a good person.

    If you want to really understand an atheistic POV, you should find a local group of atheists and freethinkers, sit with them, and ask questions. Don't think you can read just a single book and suddenly understand the whole argument.

    1. Hi Travis,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate the time and effort you have taken to explain your perspective and I am grateful for that. I remember I have stated upfront that I am already biased, so your point about me being unbiased has already been addressed. That said, I still that that everyone of us comes forth with a certain level of bias. Even your reply is not immune to that.

      With regards to your remark about me "rejecting the theist POV," I think that itself is incorrect. Having "doubts" does not amount to pure rejection. It simply means that I am not convinced. I too get a feeling that the disagreements about the use of A-theism is more about semantics rather than any philosophical matter. Your passion and belief about science is noted. My question will be: Will you be fair to assign that belief to religion as well?

      I find it quite intriguing that you make such a distinction between belief and faith. In some way, you have also caricatured religions somewhat unfairly. Not all religious adherents are able to say with 100% certainty about their religion, just like they cannot say with 100% certainly about non-religions. For that matter, everyone has faith. The difference is that they express that faith in different things.

      For the record, I have not said that I am some kind of an expert or have based my stand on the reading on just one book. Doing a book review does not necessarily mean I have been fully informed about all of atheism or theism. It is simply a snapshot of one's opinion at the time of reviewing.

      At a philosophical level, I remain unconvinced about your take on "atheism is not a belief system." Your statement itself about atheism is already an affirmation. The moment you deny that affirmation, or statements thereof, there is no platform to stand. The clue is this. The more strongly one feels about any one stand, one is already acting out affirmatively or "religiously."

      I appreciate your suggestion about meeting with group of atheists and freethinkers. Do be assured that I do have friends of that group, and we respectfully agree / disagree on matters such as these. For the record, your last statement is an unfair description of my stand, because nowhere in my review, have I ever stated that I am one who "suddenly understand the whole argument."