God or Godless?: A Written Debate Between an Atheist and a Christian

Atheist John W. Loftus and Christian Randal Rauser have co-authored a new book in which they debate a variety of questions about faith. It’s called God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.

The introduction to the book is below:

We (John and Randal) enjoy formal philosophical debates about big and important issues, and they don’t come any bigger or more important than the question of whether God exists. But as much as we love formal philosophical debates, they have their drawbacks too. For one thing, they often take way too much time. (Two or three hours in a stuffy lecture theater is a tax on anyone’s stamina.) For another, they often are a bit too formal (dare we say anal-retentive?). And finally, they are often fixated on a narrow set of questions that, while important, have been asked a million times before, like “Does God exist?” and “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Important and interesting questions to be sure, but there are different ways to slice the pie, and we think it is high time to approach from some fresh angles the same old debate over whether God exists.

With all this in mind, we wrote God or Godless? as a rather immodest attempt to address all that is lacking in the standard discussions. To kick things off, each of us chose ten debate statements in which the one who made the choice argued the affirmative while leaving the opponent scrambling to establish a case for the negative. I (Randal the Christian) seek through these debates to make a case for going with God, while I (John the atheist) aim to make the case for going Godless.

With that basic formula in mind, we then tailored our twenty exchanges to address the weaknesses in the standard debates. First, we’ve cut down the length. Forget hours of ponderous argument, tortured rebuttal, and meticulous cross-examination: in each of our debates we were restricted to opening statements of about 800 words, rebuttals of about 150 words, and closing statements of a meager 50 words. As a result we managed to touch on all the main issues on the topic in question in a breezy debate that can be read in about twenty minutes. Second, we bypassed most of the traditional questions and topics to make way for some new angles and issues. And finally, so far as the formalism of academic discourse is concerned, let’s just say that we weren’t wearing neckties when we wrote this book. We purposely sought to keep the mood light, and we left the official timekeeper at home.

Before we begin, we’d like to point out one more thing. There is a handy bibliography at the end of the book that provides our suggested readings for each debate. Yes, we admit that we cannot exhaust each of these topics in twenty minutes. Our hope is that you view these brief debates not as the last word on any issue but rather as an invitation to further reading, discussion, and debate.

So without further ado, we turn to the task at hand. Pull up a comfortable chair by a roaring fire, don your most intelligent-looking reading glasses, pour yourself a cup of coffee or a sniffer of port, and join us in addressing the grandest of questions: Should I go with God or Godless?

1. If There Is No God, Then Life Has No Meaning
2. The Biblical Concept of God Evolved from Polytheism to Monotheism
3. If There Is No God, Then Everything Is Permitted
4. The Biblical God Required Child Sacrifices for His Pleasure
5. Science Is No Substitute for Religion
6. The Biblical God Commanded Genocide
7. God Is the Best Explanation of the Whole Shebang
8. The Biblical God Does Not Care Much about Slaves
9. If There Is No God, Then We Don’t Know Anything
10. The Biblical God Does Not Care Much about Women
11. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, but Only if God Exists
12. The Biblical God Does Not Care Much about Animals
13. Everybody Has Faith
14. The Biblical God Is Ignorant about Science
15. God Is Found in the Majesty of the Hallelujah Chorus
16. The Biblical God Is Ignorant about the Future
17. God Best Explains the Miracles in People’s Lives
18. The Biblical God Is an Incompetent Creator
19. Jesus Was Resurrected, So Who Do You Think Raised Him?
20. The Biblical God Is an Incompetent Redeemer

Loftus adds in an email:

Randal chose the odd numbered questions and I chose the even numbered ones. I focused on the problem of suffering for an omni-God, both inside and outside the pages of the Bible. My goal was to drive a wedge between biblical theology and the brain of the believer. If I can do this Christians will probably not believe at all. They will be forced to do what reasonable people should do, trust science rather than faith. At that point they are on the road to atheism.

I’ve said this before, but I think these sorts of dialogues/debates are good for everyone. They raise interesting questions, give readers a starting point from which to have further conversations, and showcase what a back-and-forth debate looks like when it doesn’t involve trolling or PEOPLE TYPING IN ALL CAPS.

The book is available as of today, so if this sort of conversation appeals to you, check it out!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Matt

    Rauser is one of those guys who can write paragraphs and paragraphs full of fancy words and circular argument designed to confuse into submission the reader, rather than present any clear thesis. Just comparing the questions he chose to pose/answer vs Loftus’s sets up more of the same.

    Pass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/park.james.102 Park James

    Just reading the names of the topics listed by the theist makes me sad, cause I’ve heard them all before, and they’re all terrible.

    • trj

      Indeed. Number 9 and 11 seem particularly groanworthy.

      Hell, all of his assertions are ridiculously bad; it’s just we’ve heard most of them so often we no longer fully appreciate how silly and trite they actually are.

  • DKeane123

    I used to visit Rauser’s blog in which he regularly responded to atheists questions and comments. I found his arguments to be unconvincing from even an apologists standpoint.

  • LesterBallard

    I don’t find these questions controversial. But then questions or concerns of deity haven’t meant cockroach shit to me for a long, long time. I don’t care what “god” thinks. I don’t care what people who believe in “god” think about “god”. I just concern myself with fighting them legally and politically.

  • slaq

    I became bored with these debates a long time ago, as they are essentially rehashes of the same arguments over and over. If someone picks a copy off a bookshelf and finds it to be enlightening, then, pardon the phrase, God bless them. But I doubt I’ll be ordering a copy anytime soon.

  • Wild Rumpus

    I’m going to buy this book and donate it to my Unitarian church library. I’ve answered most of these topics comfortably for myself, but this will be great for discussion.

    I really like the tone of this book. If the next “torrent” of atheist books are coming, and they’re the antithesis of the confrontational “New Atheist” books, and they’re like this, then I look forward to the “torrent”.

  • baal

    Not sure I’ll grab the book but #7 gave me a chuckle on its title: God Is the Best Explanation of the Whole Shebang ‽

    The interobang was added by me. I’ve found that you can chuck ‘god did it’ out the window and everything makes just as much sense (or not) as it did just a few moments ago (pre-werfen).

  • JA

    Pretty standard (if not stereotypical) topics, but it might still be an interesting read.

  • randomfactor

    “Science Is No Substitute for Religion”

    Extruded aluminum is no substitute for dry-rot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Harrison/23417637 Michael Harrison

    The topics discussed don’t matter nearly as much as the quality of the thinkers involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thom.mills.35 Thom Mills

    ” My goal was to drive a wedge between biblical theology and the brain of the believer. If I can do this Christians will probably not believe at all. They will be forced to do what reasonable people should do, trust science rather than faith. At that point they are on the road to atheism.”

    Good luck with that. In my experience no matter what you present few will remove their faith even if you ask them. Those that do are the ones already doubting. But I guess it’s good if we get those people to come out.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Thanks Hemant for alerting your readers to this book.

  • MariaO

    These are the short answers:
    1. If There Is No God, Then Life Has No Meaning
    So what?

    3. If There Is No God, Then Everything Is Permitted
    Only if you want to live a miserable life.

    5. Science Is No Substitute for Religion
    Of course: fact is not substitute for fiction.

    7. God Is the Best Explanation of the Whole Shebang
    I thought that was 42?

    9. If There Is No God, Then We Don’t Know Anything
    So you could not have learned the three R’s without your god?

    11. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, but Only if God Exists
    Love is a “thing”?

    13. Everybody Has Faith
    Meaningless statement unless you define “faith”, which is a slippery word.

    15. God Is Found in the Majesty of the Hallelujah Chorus
    I find the splendor of Händel’s thought.

    17. God Best Explains the Miracles in People’s Lives
    What miracles that transcends the laws of statistics and nature do you mean?

    19. Jesus Was Resurrected, So Who Do You Think Raised Him?
    I have yet to see any convincing evidence that he even existed…

    • Houndentenor

      As a professional musician/singer I have to laugh at #15. No one who studies Handel considers Messiah to be his best work or the Hallelujah chorus to be the best piece in that oratorio. I do marvel at Handel’s writing both for voices (he studied with Scarlatti to learn the true Italian style) and instruments. Bach is even more amazing. I could go on. Does the writer even know any other sacred classical music?

  • freemage

    1. If There Is No God, Then Life Has No Meaning
    3. If There Is No God, Then Everything Is Permitted
    5. Science Is No Substitute for Religion
    7. God Is the Best Explanation of the Whole Shebang
    9. If There Is No God, Then We Don’t Know Anything
    11. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, but Only if God Exists
    13. Everybody Has Faith
    15. God Is Found in the Majesty of the Hallelujah Chorus
    17. God Best Explains the Miracles in People’s Lives
    19. Jesus Was Resurrected, So Who Do You Think Raised Him?

    Okay, so…. 1, 3, 11 are all generally the same. 5, 7, 9–ditto. 13 might also be in this group, if he’s arguing that skeptics have “faith that reality exists” or some-such. 15 is almost incoherent, but I think it’s an appeal to beauty. 17 & 19, of course, assume facts not in evidence (miracles in general, and then a specific miracle claim).

    So… at most, asked for 10 points, the theist only walked in with 5. 50/100 on any test I took in high school was a failure right out the bat, even without looking at his ‘work’.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X