Ten Lessons From Randal Rauser On How Not to Lose Gracefully

Dr. Randal Rauser and I co-wrote the debate book, God or Godless?, according to which, on most accounts he lost. So he's reviewing his own book on his blog. That's not bad in itself, so long as its educational. One should learn from failed attempts, yes. But he's whining, mischaracterizing and special pleading his case. Typical Christian apologist.

Take for instance his review of chapter five. In that chapter he wanted to debate whether science is a substitute for religion. *Cough* Commenting after the fact on his blog he adds:
Of course, it’s also true that religion is no substitute for science. Each area of enquiry has its respective domain. Just as physics, geology or meteorology will not answer the question “How shall we then live?” or “What are we here for?” so theology will not answer the question “How many elements exist?” or “How do we reconcile the four fundamental forces?”
Hold yer horses Rauser. Full Stop. Do tell us “How shall we then live?” or “What are we here for?” Spell out the details, please. Pay particular attention to today's national and global controversies along with the controversies among people who claim to be Christians. Don't just tell us your parochial Canadian heterosexual patriarchal white-male middle-class answers either, Randal. Show us how your answers can convince others who disagree, and lacking that, why you can't convince others who disagree.

Rauser goes on to argue a few things that I vehemently dispute, that 1) I have a crude understanding of science (using a selective quote from what I said out of context); 2) I have faith in science (because faith is equal to confidence); and that 3) I am deluded into thinking I'm defending science (when in reality I'm defending a particular philosophy of science).

My understanding of science isn't crude at all. I was contrasting the concept of worship with science, and the contrast is quite clear, as you can see to the right. I was not defining science or the scientific method either. You see I know about it though. And my confidence in science is based on the objective probabilities, something faith goes beyond or creates out of thin air, that science alone has the best chance to tell us anything important about the nature of nature or its workings.

As to the claim I don't know the difference between science and the philosophy of science goes, look at my last sentence. My guess is that Rauser is just too blind to see what seems quite apparent. He fails to grasp that I was given 800 words to write on this question so I had to make good choices on what to include. I am, as always, keeping it as simple as possible, and no more. I also sincerely doubt Rauser has studied the philosophy of science in the same depth I have. I doubt very many people have. When I was in seminary one could almost (but not quite) say I majored in the philosophy of science, as that was the main focus of my professor James D. Strauss. In his mind, everything related to apologetics was related to it. We read and discussed Barbour, Peacocke, Popper, Kuhn, Polanyi, Lakatos, and many others, most notably Stanley Jaki (I personally met him and owned and read all his books). Every class I took with Strauss had something to do with it, even classes titled "19th Century Theology" and "20th Century Theology", believe it or not. Dr. James Sennett would verify what I'm saying, since he and I were students together. Some of the classes I took were specifically related to it, like the "Making of the Contemporary Mind", "Historiography of Physical Science" and "Historiography of Theories of the Mind". Believe it or not my master's thesis was semi-directly related to the philosophy of science, even though the title wouldn't suggest this at all: "Karl Barth's Doctrine of the Word of God." [My claim was that Barth got the science of his day wrong so he didn't have to break apart from a more conservative reading of the Bible]. When I studied with William Lane Craig I took a class with him on the philosophy of science, where we read through and discussed in depth Frederick Suppe's massive 832 paged work, The Structure of Scientific Theories (I see it's still in print).

I know the difference between science and the philosophy of science. How is it that Rauser can say I am delusional, basically clueless about something like that from what I wrote in its context? Only by turning a blind eye away from my very last sentence (for which see below). I find that dishonest. It doesn't mean I don't know about something simply because I don't mention it, or if in mentioning it, I don't say much about it, or if I reach a different opinion about it after studying it in some depth. I think that's what gets most people. They just don't understand how many issues I have studied and at what depth. They just assume I'm ignorant because they disagree. But as I have said before, and will frustratingly say again and again, I might be wrong but I'm not ignorant. That option is not available to you.

I've just changed my mind about the value of the philosophy of science, just as I've changed my mind about Christianity, just as I've changed my mind on the value of the philosophy of religion. I would think I'm entitled to that without being called delusional. Notice my last sentence again? I wrote: "While philosophers debate the minutiae of what makes for science, science continues to advance our knowledge about the world." That succinctly sums up in one sentence the main conclusion I reached from studying the philosophy of science.

The interesting questions in the philosophy of science for believers have to do with things like the origins of modern science, the relation of science to faith, the demarcation line between science and non-science, whether science can tell us everything, whether scientists are completely objective, whether certainty is attainable, whether completely neutral observations are possible, whether there is such a thing as a fact (or, if instead all facts are theory laden, and if so how much), and especially how science advances, and whether there are similarities between religion and its paradigms (if they are paradigm driven) and models. The goal was to see how much religion and science are alike. Things like that. And we reveled in it.

I've just changed my mind. These issues, while interesting and valuable in their own right, don't deserve much of a mention at all for my specific purposes. [On the origins of science see Richard Carrier's chapter in The Christian Delusion]. Believers focus on them because they allow for loopholes for their faith. If there is even a tiny hole left in the concrete wall that science has built against faith they'll take it. So I focus on the concrete wall, not the loopholes. I focus on concrete examples like evolution and the existence of Adam and Eve, a virgin who gave birth, a man who arose from the dead and ascended into heaven, or for comparison, someone who claimed to have levitated for five minutes.


Now for the ten lessons from Randal Rauser on how not to lose gracefully:
  1. Loftus just fooled people into thinking he won, I just can't figure how he did it though.
  2. I would've won if we focused on philosophical issues, but John stuck to scientific, biblical, theological and ethical issues.
  3. "Unfortunately, after the book was published, Loftus repeatedly derided my contribution. Not only is that a regrettable breach of professional etiquette, but it also didn’t do the book’s sales any favors." [A direct quote, but with no evidence I did that, which I defy him to produce, or that doing so breached any ethics or reduced any sales. Just now I received my six month royalty statement from Baker Books and the results are extremely dismal regarding sales though, so I'll grant him that fact].
  4. "While I don’t think Loftus is very skilled at developing extended arguments [i.e., seen in Loftus’ big book Why I Became an Atheist], he is nonetheless quite good at short, pithy statements which is what this book required." [Another direct quote. Poor Rauser. He was at a disadvantage you see. He needed more words to make his points, more than I did. For my rebuttal see below].
  5. To make up for this disadvantage I've written a series of posts to equal the playing field, by revisiting issues we've debated. You see I won after all, and people need to know why.
  6. Anything Loftus didn't mention in his original 800 worded essay I can claim he's ignorant about. [Doing this not only violates the principle of charity, it is also dishonest.].
  7. Anything Loftus simplified in his original 800 worded essay I can claim he wasn't knowledgeable about. [See above. As I said this is dishonest].
  8. Any good points Loftus made in his original 800 worded essay I can show he was wrong about them too, by using more words than were originally allotted.
  9. If Loftus were to respond to my additional words with an equivalent amount of additional words, then with even more additional words I could show he's wrong, since ya can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man.
  10. If Loftus were to respond still further, with an equivalent number of words equaling my additional words, then he's entered into my terrain, an extended argument, and as I just asserted, he's not good with extended arguments. Ta Da! I win.

When it comes to extended arguments, such as my book-length cumulative case argument in Why I Became an Atheist, no one, and I mean no one has the requisite scholarly grasp of the knowledge required to attempt what I did in it. It's probably a first of its kind book by an atheist, a counter-apologetics book that mirrors the quality of most Christian apologetics books written by a single author. No full-range apologetics book I know of was written by someone who had a scholarly grasp of every issue treated in it. So even Christian scholars on a particular issue can nitpick those Christian books to death. As a Christian I did. We did. How much more can atheist scholars do so! And the reverse would be true. My book is probably the only truly counter-apologetics book written by a single atheist author on the market, dealing with most all of the important issues. Since I'm not a scholar on every issue I write on, the Christian opposition will see some problems with some things in it. Nonetheless, I quote from and refer to liberal, agnostic and atheist scholars. They make my case for me. So I don't have to be a scholar on every issue anyway, just know who the scholars are on the issues and refer to them. If a Christian apologist like Rauser wants to dispute them then have at it. He's not disputing what I alone say, keep that in mind. So writing my book was still worth the effort. It's a cumulative case.

And it's being received well. Take as just one example what Dr. John Beversluis said of it, who is the author of C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion:
No review can begin to do justice to an ambitious book of this scope or to the sustained theological, philosophical, scientific, textual, and historical critique of Christianity that it contains. Suffice it to say at the outset that I have never read a book that presents such a massive and systematic refutation of the claims of Christianity, and I have seldom read a book that marshals evidence (from such a wide variety of disciplines) and documents its claims in such painstaking detail."

'The Problem of Evil' (chapters 11 & 12)...contain one of the most penetrating and no-nonsense discussions of the problem that I have ever read.

I can pay John Loftus no higher compliment than to say that his new book is reminiscent of The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and The Life of Jesus Critically Examined by David Friedrich Strauss. He has done for the 21st Century what they did for the 18th and the 19th. It should be required reading for every Christian. Source to be found here.
If what he said seems way over the top to you, then it seems that way to me also. Take it down a few notches if you wish then. I'll humbly accept that instead. ;-)