‘There Was No Jesus, There Is No God,’ by Raphael Lataster: A Review
At John Loftus’ blog Debunking Christianity a few weeks ago I learned of a new book by Raphael Lataster, a PhD candidate in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. In a blog post at D.C., Lataster explains why he wrote the book. It was to confront who he calls “New Theologians,” who “rehash and create philosophical arguments for God’s existence that many, sceptics included, find convincing.” It was his desire to write a book addressing their claims. Here is Mr. Lataster’s personal website. His book, titled There Was No Jesus, There Is No God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism, is 190 pages, including the bibliography, and I was able to read this book in a single day. It is published through CreateSpace, copyrighted 2013.
There Was No Jesus, There Is No God is one of the best books I’ve read dealing with issues surrounding the debate about the historical Jesus and the existence of god. While the author is a Religious Studies scholar, this particular book is his attempt to condense all of the scholarly material and make it easily understood by non-scholars. This is one reason why I enjoyed the book as much as I did. While I’m familiar with all of these issues, having studied many of these same sources the author uses myself, the author’s down-to-earth approach to the subject matter and his excellent explanations of the issues was very helpful in solidifying my existing knowledge and putting it in very clear terms. I even learned a few new tidbits of information that I found fascinating.
The book is broken up into two sections. The first two chapters detail the search for a “Historical” Jesus or a “Biblical” Jesus within the pages of history. The author outlines the issues surrounding this search, such as the sources Biblical scholars use to conduct their search and the methodology they use to investigate those sources in order to determine facts about Jesus’ life. The author then outlines the issues with the reliability of the Bible and questions whether or not anything meaningful can possibly be gleaned from the Bible about Jesus. The author, in that down-to-earth style demonstrates quite thoroughly – not to mention humorously – that there really is no reliable method of determining whether or not any kind of Jesus, historical or Biblical, really existed. The third chapter discusses in detail the evidence for a theory that is briefly mentioned in the previous chapters about a “non-literal,” “celestial” Jesus. Finally, the author discusses how the Jesus story parallels many other stories of other mythical figures throughout history.
After dismantling any hope of the Bible being relied upon to tell us any reliable information about Jesus, the author begins the second section of the book and turns his sights to the issue of the existence of the Christian god. Prior to this, however, is a brief discussion on the merits (along with an examination of a few of the objections) of Bayesian reasoning, a mathematical calculation that is used to deduce the probability of something. The author discusses using this method to give a probability estimate for Jesus’ resurrection.
Chapters five and six cover the evidence for the existence of god and these are much shorter chapters than the discussion about Jesus. Chapter five is more of a Preface to chapter six, briefly discussing the “three ways” a believer might go about trying to prove the Christian god’s existence: scientific arguments, historical arguments, and philosophical arguments, of which he humorously opines that these philosophical arguments are “lazy, ambiguous, speculative, discriminatory, and often appeal to our ignorance.” I couldn’t agree more. Like the author, I prefer to rely on evidential arguments.
In chapter six the author briefly deconstructs the philosophical arguments, mostly of William L. Craig. Due to the fact that the author does not give much weight to philosophical arguments this chapter is very brief, as it should be (because philosophical arguments for god are pointless anyway), but if a reader is looking for a thorough book on philosophical arguments to use against Christian belief, this is not the book for you. However, the author does present his own philosophical argument, which seeks to demonstrate how philosophical arguments for god’s existence are useless (talk about irony)!
Unlike many of the more recent books about religion that seem to shove the author’s viewpoint down your throat, the author seems more like a considerate guide, as he educates you on the facts of the case so as to enable you to make up your own mind on the issues about Jesus’ historicity or god’s existence. I found the book to be well-written and funny. It was not only fun to read but it was very educational. I’d highly recommend this book to new deconverts or believers who are interested in historical Jesus studies and Jesus mythicism.