Stephen Law responds to Randal Rauser on Believing Bullshit

Stephen Law responds to Randal Rauser on Believing Bullshit July 17, 2013

This is from Stephen’s SIN post. i have posted an excerpt. Check out the rest here.


A while ago the well-known Christian apologist and blogger Randal Rauser posted a very long review of my book Believing Bullshit on his blog. You can find Rauser’s review here.

While making a few nice comments about the book, Rauser was generally very negative. He posted the same review on the amazon page for my book and gave the book just two stars.

A negative review is fine, of course. However, Rauser’s review is academically poor (it was written in haste, I suspect).

Such is the length of Rauser’s review that I didn’t at the time have time to go through all of it, line by line, pointing out the numerous misrepresentations, muddles and errors that it contains. I told Rauser I would get round to responding.

I still don’t have time to respond to Rauser’s entire review in detail. But, being on sabbatical, I have  devoted a couple of hours to dealing with points Rauser made regarding just the first chapter of the book.

Were Rauser’s review more academically robust and interesting, I might have devoted the many more hours required to respond to the rest of it. But the review is poorly argued, and in any case I suspect no one will bother reading the many thousands of words of commentary I would have to produce to deal with the entire thing properly.

The first chapter of Believing Bullshit examines the dubious way mystery is often appealed to defend belief systems, especially supernatural belief systems (religious and non-religious). Rauser picks up on a later section of the chapter on the problem of evil and the way in which mystery is sometimes appealed to by theists in order to try to deal with that problem. …

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  • Daydreamer1

    Well, it’s another focus of nonsense isn’t it.
    Do you remember when you were taught that you needed to find a problem before trying to solve it?
    What is the problem here? There is no evidence of a God in any measurable event in our universe.
    What exists is a conflict between Christian theology and the evidence – and people trying to point it out, but I don’t think we should pretend that this is a problem that actually requires an answer. Hell, the theologians even admit they don’t have one when they appeal to, err, not knowing it.
    You are walking down the street and suddenly the blue sky darkens. There are cracks of thunder and lightening bridges the newly billowing clouds. Then, in an instant, a hand belts out of the sky flattening a mother and small child infront of you before pulling back into the sky as the clouds instantly melt away.
    That is the world where I would need theologians to say that our all loving God was still all loving and that we just couldn’t understand the grand plan from our limited and sinful perspective.
    Right now I live in a world where no God does absolutely anything at all. What is the point of a debate about actions that never happen? But, in Humian style, don’t ever happen in the context of design. We are not talking about a group of humans sitting watching an old lady fight her shopping into her car, or a man watch leisurely as a car rolls into a child. We are watching absolutely nothing happen. Natural events are occurring naturally. There is absolutely no need for an explanation like this. It is just theological mental masturbation (perhaps because they deny themselves the real thing ;) ).

    • Honest_John_Law


      “Right now I live in a world where no God does absolutely anything at all. ” – Daydreamer1

      Imagine, for example, life in Europe and Asia during the years when the Black Death was raging, and a substantial percentage of entire national populations suffered and died. There was considerable backlash against the Church, as many reportedly viewed the Church as seeming particularly impotent at the time.

      I have been pondering something re. these ongoing philosophical debates. I have personally known many sincere Christians who believe they are commissioned to spread the “Good News”. Many are genuinely concerned about the condition of “lost” people, and they desire to help the “lost” get on the path toward “salvation”. Aside from that sort of motivation, I wonder what else might be compelling so many Christian philosophers to fight tooth and nail to defend their belief system. I wonder if some (or many) of them believe society would spiral into collapse if, for example, the basic tenets of Christianity were ultimately rejected by most people in the areas where they reside.

      Any thoughts?

      • Daydreamer1

        Hi Honest,

        Many thoughts about that.

        Primarily that it all emerges from our biology. As for why I am not sure. I am interested in whether empathy might allow a little crack through which we can peer.

        With Mirror Neurons: if we understand others only through reference to our own body (etc) map, such that anesthetising the correct nerves is all that is required to melt the interface between you and other people (i.e. when it is anesthetised you will feel your arm touched when you see someone elses touched, revealing that the nerve feedback is what defines your ‘self’ body) then maybe this gives us a clue as to how the mind is also defining and understanding it’s ‘self’. Maybe we like to surround ourselves with people who have similar ideas to us, and spend so much time trying to make others think and believe the same way, because on a very physical level there is conflict between our mind and the mirrored mind model we create of others. Perhaps in a literal sense being around others with different opinions means our neurons are attempting to hold together opposing values as if we are becoming something like schizophrenic. If neural processing is required to define the difference between the self and other peoples physical bodies within our mental model of the world then the same thing might be happening with our mental model of our minds in relation to other minds in our environment. The result is increased activity, conflict between neurons firing and creating different models of the self in relation to external mirrored stimulus. We fight this by trying to make others like us to reduce the noise in our environments and hence reduce internal neural processing requirements and so reduce energy expenditure.
        As for them believing that society would collapse, many of them tell us this is what they believe. Of course many tell us they believe in virgin births, people made out of dust and 2 of every animal kind on a boat. Rationality is not exactly expected from this mind-set. Given the evidence to the opposite I think this is something being taught and accepted without thinking too deeply – another great skill of the religions.

        • Honest_John_Law

          Thanks for the reply. Most interesting.

          • Daydreamer1

            Its only the question that’s popping into my head at the moment. Obviously the evolutionary pressures for social bonding are key on one level, but I would love to know what those pressures acted on neurologically. We bond in groups over shared ideology, friendships occur naturally like this. We make trade offs of course. We have many friends with different ideas, but perhaps we trust because of experience, i.e. less immediately than if they were ‘more like us’.

            It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that the main two things going on here are attempts at energy reduction in neural activity (part of survival anyway since the brain uses a lot of energy) and survival of the fittest (in this instance group bonding being a prime pressure) – all in the context of increasing brain size over the past few million years.

  • stephen law
    • Ha! Thanks Stephen – I was going to email you to make sure you had seen it!

      • Daydreamer1

        Nice response. No doubt I will read the response to this response soon.

        I think I have landed on my personal position regarding God’s possible evils and it is that debates like this are the same as debating what cancer and earthquakes tell us about the morality of fairies. I mean surely since fairies could use their magic wands to remove cancer it means that they cannot be perfectly good. “No, because we have never seen fairy land and so cannot understand the way fairies operate”. If only we could see the bigger picture we would understand the Truth about fairy morality.

        This is an argument about a hypothetical world. There is no reason to think that answering the ‘problem’ of fairy morality does anything at all to our world, or our power to explain it. Rauser is trying to do the same thing – answer a hypothetical. It is good to have a philosophical counterpoint, but only because of human psychology – not because it is needed to explain anything outside of Christianity. If people are exposed to only one point of view they can fall under the illusion that it is more valid simply by not being shown its competition. Answering Randal et al is very often more about that than actually having to answer anything that is a real world problem. This is an internal dispute only – like a political party trying to answer a question about itself.
        The only time this becomes a necessary discussion is once God starts acting in the world in a scientifically measurable way. Right now it is just Randal et al trying to self justify.

        • possibiliter ergo probabiliter. It’s possible, therefore it’s probable fallacy. The problem is that they assign certainty to God through other arguments (erroneously, of course) and then use that certainty in application to the problem of evil, so there MUST be a greater good, or there must be a valid reason why God cannot intervene…

          • Daydreamer1


            As you say, that is the fallacy. We see it very often. Lets say we imagine 10 stories to account for reality. I am not going to call them possibilities because this is not like rolling a ball down a hill. There it might go one way or perhaps it will hit a stone and get pushed another way. Our 10 stories are not possibilities of the same category. Our 10 stories are certainly not probabilities, not until we discover reasons that externally allow probabilities to be assigned to them.

            The theists game is to play with us here and muddle up the classes. First let them show that their story is not fictional, then we can worry about whether it is internally consistent. Until then this is only being played out as literature – exactly the same as if on one page Shakespeare had written that Macbeth committed the murder, and on the next said that it was the barmaid. It is equivalent to the Shakespeare fan club trying to explain away an inconsistency, and only of any importance because the equivalent of the Shakespeare fan club has convinced people that the stories are real.
            Having said that many people site moral conflict for their deconversion, so I can understand theologians attempts to shore it up. My Christian friends who explain that their faith is a daily struggle admit to this being one the hardest problems to reconcile. I think that its importance to strategies based on revealing and exploiting cognitive dissonance cannot be underestimated since this seems to be one of the key areas where the cognitive dissonance is most likely to pop the bubble of faith. As such, even though the theists braces amount to little more than ‘trust the story’ it is very worthwhile to ensure that counterargument is present on the web.