Does God exist? On the surface of it all, the question sounds fairly simple. Yet in reality, it is perhaps the deepest, most important question that any of us can ever answer. It has far reaching effects, and should be considered with great interest. When it comes to theism, and Christian theism in particular, there are an abundance of good resources available to the seeker. That is where the book God or Godless? by John Loftus and Randal Rauser shines. It provides a good resource with a fresh twist. The book is written in an informal debate style. With each chapter a new premise is introduced. Then each author has the chance to present their position, a brief rebuttal to each other, and a paragraph of closing remarks. This debate style keeps the discussion deep and yet readable. Through the course of their debate, the authors considered 20 premises that are rarely discussed in most formal debates; and each author had chapters in which they argued very strongly.
Dr Rauser, the associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary, had several chapters in this debate in which he shone very brightly. When discussing the premises “If there is no God, then life has no meaning,” “If there is no God, then everything is permitted,” and “The biblical God is ignorant about science.” In these chapters, Dr. Rauser excelled at giving coherent and legitimate arguments in defense of the faith. In my opinion, the chapter in which Dr. Rauser contends that if God doesn’t exist, then there is no meaning was his most powerful and well articulated case for theism. Because purpose is only a reality when there is transcendent grounds for that purpose, any “purpose” that might exist in an atheistic universe is ultimately subjective. Mr. Loftus’s only answer is that purpose is found in whatever makes a person happy. Ultimately subjective hedonism is the result of the atheistic view on this point. This is only one illustration of Dr. Rauser’s ability to expose the end result of an atheistic worldview that he demonstrates throughout the book.
That being said, there were a few areas in which I felt like Dr. Rauser was weak. The weaknesses of the book is particularly felt in Dr. Rauser’s willingness to concede a lot of ground to Mr. Loftus. This is seen primarily in the chapter “The Biblical Concept of God Evolved from Polytheism to Monotheism.” In this chapter, Loftus argued that the Pentateuch was written much later, during the time of Josiah. Because of this, the Pentateuch’s statements that there is only one God can not be taken as a reflection of early Israel. He argues that as Josiah reformed Israel from idol worship to worship of Yahweh only, the Pentateuch was written to reflect this new tradition of monotheism, meaning that Israelite religion evolved from polytheism to monotheism. Rather than really contending this, Dr. Rauser instead postulated that Biblical revelation has been progressive as God more fully revealed himself to his people. He allowed them to worship him as supreme above other gods for a time until he finally revealed that he is the only true God. This is a major concession; especially considering the fact that there are good reasons to believe that the Pentateuch was indeed written early by Moses. Loftus’s arguments hinge on a late date for the Pentateuch. So this concession was a major weakness.
Not only did Dr. Rauser present a strong case that was argued effectively, but Mr. Loftus argued well in some portions of the book. One of Loftus’s greatest strengths throughout the book is his total commitment to the atheistic worldview. He is honest enough to admit the less than desirable end of atheism in a few chapters. For instance, he willingly admits that if there is no God, then there is no objective meaning to life. He chooses to argue that the only meaning there is is the meaning we give to life. He frankly admits hedonism. In addition to honesty about atheisms end in many places, Mr. Loftus argued strongly in two chapters: “The Biblical God Commanded Genocide,” and “If There Is No God, Then We Don’t Know Anything.” So strong argument and commitment to atheism are his strengths.
But as a Christian, I can’t help but notice the overall weakness with which Loftus presents his total case. Despite his willingness to admit some of the less than favorable results of atheism, his total argument very weak. Despite all of the ranting about “genocide” and atheistic morality his argument against God is really only based on one issue “the problem of evil.” Everything else creates a purely rhetorical smokescreen for this one problem. He concludes the book by saying that the sufferings of the world create a case against an omnibenevolent God. But what Loftus fails to realize is that, in an atheistic world, there is no way to say that anything AT ALL is objectively evil. Objective moral values depend on there being a transcendent standard by which good and evil are measured. For there to be evil, there must be a contrasting good by which we know it. For there to be good, there must be an objective standard by which we measure good and evil. For there to be objective moral law, there must be a moral law giver (i.e God). The whole problem of evil fails to disprove God’s existence since a transcendent God is needed to support the idea of objective evil. So Loftus’s total argument is a failure.
All in all this book is a very stimulating a helpful read. The arguments that Dr. Rauser provides are brief and well thought out. Because of this, God of Godless? stands as a helpful resource for the apologist to read and consider.