Jerry DeWitt had been preaching in and around Beauregard Parish, Louisiana since he was 17 years old. Full of warmth and gifted with electric Pentecostal oratory, he was a popular figure around town. He even planned to run for mayor. But when his 85-year old aunt discovered he was an atheist, the news spread quickly. Within a year he had lost his job, the bank had foreclosed on his house and his wife had left him.
In the most recent June/July issue of Free Inquiry magazine, Robert Price congratulates Baker Books for publishing our book, saying, “It represents a departure from the traditional evangelical Christian resistance to let readers, hearers, and students encounter alternative viewpoints except through the filter of apologetical distortions by ‘our side.’” He suggests the change is perhaps because “the internet has made everything instantly accessible…and virtually unavoidable.” This is welcomed no matter what the reason. He goes on to “heartily” recommend the book “as the basis for small group dialogues,” but along the way also says some good things and bad things about it.
This time up is Jill Graper Hernandez’s chapter, “Leibniz and the Best of All Possible Worlds (pp. 94-105). In her words Leibniz argued that,
Our actual world is the result of the convergence of God’s perfection and freedom, even though the actual world contains imperfections that arise out of metaphysical limits (like my imperfect rationality) or out of choice (like my propensity to sin). But even though this created world is not perfect, it is the best possible, and so it would be impossible for God to create a better world or to intervene in the world to prevent or limit suffering within the created order. A perfect God would create only the best out of any world that could be conceived; since this is the world God created, this is the best possible of all worlds that could be conceived–the best of all possible worlds.” (p. 97).
I will admit that John does do a great job. A lot of his points ultimately go back to the problem of evil…when John talks of how the Biblical God commanded genocide and does not care much about women or slaves, he makes good points. The honest Christian ought to admit this is a huge difficulty. If there really were a good God, wouldn’t God command people not to have slaves? Wouldn’t God command people in patriarchal societies to treat women much better? What good is a God who can’t command the heights of morality? Randal does admit that this is a difficulty and presents as decent an answer as can be expected. Such challenges as John brings up ought to cause any Christian to pause….[But] even were John to convince me with his arguments, I would not join him in atheism. Perhaps I would move to a more liberal Christian perspective, or at most become some sort of Deist. In the same way, if I were already an atheist, Randal might not convince me to become a Christian, but his arguments go far in showing the shortcomings of a godless world and might lead me to think there is something out there. In other words, my (certainly not unbiased) verdict would be that this book is convincing in pointing to a God while offering enough flaws in the Bible to stop short of it being the Biblical God. Link
This time up is James Spiegel’s chapter, “The Irenaean Soul-Making Theodicy” (pp. 80-93). Initially I had extremely low expectations from Spiegel since I had read his book, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief,where he claims atheists are irrational and have the will to disbelieve because of immorality. Only a buffoon would ever say such things, someone who has never traveled the world, studied world history, or the history of doubt itself, the last topic of which Jennifer Hecht has written about in her book, Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.So I was pleasantly surprised in reading his chapter to learn he’s at least a pseudo-intellectual after all, along with the other authors in this book. [Sorry to be so abrasive but their case is really THAT bad!] That being said, so far this is the best chapter in the book since Spiegel is at least honest enough to express some doubts about the very things he’s trying to defend. In fact, it’s refreshing. I am doubly impressed.
We don’t have many examples of civil, truth-seeking dialog with the Other, especially in the realm of religion. Until now. We can do better than this. A lot better.
Randal Rauser is a Christian who teaches history and theology. John W. Loftus is a former-evangelical minister-turned Atheist apologist. These two men are friends and colleagues who deeply, passionately disagree about fundamental truths. And yet they’ve co-authored a brief, fun, profound book that can and hopefully will serve as the basis for bridges between Atheist and Evangelical communities. In other words, each chapter is short, sweet and packed with rhetorical goodness. Both Randal and John are experts in their field, so their arguments are tight, clear and very accessible (though a few of the later chapters sent me scrambling to Wikipedia to look up one term or another).
God or Godless?gives us a clear model for moving forward in honest, truth-seeking relationships across the religious divide.
What makes the book really good is the quality of the questions both John and Randal bring to the table. Sometimes Randal is the clear winner; other times it’s John. Always, both men have clear, well-thought-out positions and treat each other with kindness and respect (excepting the occasional fun snark).
I’m currently rereading the book with a group of 20-somethings. Some of us are Christian, some are atheist or agnostic. But reading and discussing God or Godless together is helping us to build transformative friendships founded on mutual love and admiration. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. LINK.