Yesterday John W. Loftus posted the first blurb for our forthcoming debate book God or Godless: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions (Baker). The blurb comes from David Marshall, author of The Truth Behind the New Atheism and editor of the forthcoming Faith Seeking Understanding (in which I have an essay). Here’s the blurb.
This is not a quarrel, nor one of those flame wars of the deaf that rage across cyberspace then spills angrily into print, nor even that stuffy, artificial creation, a ‘religious dialogue.” What we have here is conversation: at times witty, at times tendentious, often humorous and almost always engaged on emotional as well as intellectual levels. Rauser is master of parables with a philosophical point: Loftus makes an art form of heart-on-his-sleeve pragmatism. Both land blows, yet the book contains hardly a trace of bitterness: at best, it reaches the level of a mythical, Platonic debate in a pub. Almost no one will fully agree with either writer, nor fail to enjoy the rhetorical flow.
All in all I thought this was a really good blurb in terms of accuracy. It is easy to churn out empty blurbs of unqualified exultation — This book is a game changer! A landmark work! Indispensable and life-changing! — but Marshall’s blurb does something much better: it actually summarizes the spirit of the book.
This didn’t stop John Loftus from having to add his own quibbles with it. He begins by writing: “I want my readers to understand that Marshall is a Christian scholar, so there is something he said that might be construed as a tad bit unflatering to me, but it’s to be expected.” In other words, John is too insecure to let the blurb stand on its own. He has to try to persuade the reader that David is biased. (Ironically, it is John who invited David to provide a blurb! Why does he ask people to write blurbs if he believes that they are biased to begin with?)
The first thing John complains about is that David writes “Loftus makes an art form of heart-on-his-sleeve pragmatism.” It is too bad he didn’t like that because it is wholly accurate as any careful reader of the book will discover. On several topics ranging from meaning to epistemology to ethics to beauty, John adopts a bald, functional pragmatism. If he hasn’t realized that about himself it is time for some careful soul introspection (sorry, I meant brain introspection). This is how John replies to David’s assessment:
“What’s that? Oh, perhaps I prefer to deal in concrete examples rather than definitional apologetics. Perhaps it’s because I want to talk about real pain experienced in our world, which has as its creator an impotent or uncaring God. Well, if that’s what he means then I’ll wear it as a badge of honor.”
No John, that’s clearly not what he means. What he means is that you’re a pragmatist.
The second thing John takes issue with is this statement:
“Almost no one will fully agree with either writer, nor fail to enjoy the rhetorical flow.”
Apparently this also is too much for John to bear and so he hastily adds:
“Hmmm, I think a majority of atheists will agree with everything I say. Perhaps that’s his way of saying he doesn’t agree with Rauser as much as he’d like to, something I expect from many other Christian readers of our book.”
This is actually humorous. John now feels the need to psychologize David’s comment as some form of sublimation and projection representative of David’s own dissatisfaction with my presentation of Christianity! Why does John feel the need to assure himself that a majority of so-called “free thinkers” will all freely find themselves agreeing with absolutely everything he says? Does he have any idea of the great diversity among atheists on the topics we address in the book?
In fact, if anything one might quibble with David’s statement here as representing a truism. Just consider the Christian disagreement on how to defend Christianity — e.g. classical-evidentialist, Reformed epistemological, presuppositional apologetic methods — let alone the disagreement about what the Christianity that must be defended is. Nor, as I noted, is there less debate among atheists on these same issues.
So here’s the lesson. If somebody provides you with a blurb, accept the blurb and thank them. If you demonstrate the need to add a critique of the blurb you solicited that is multiple times longer than the blurb itself, you simply show yourself to be insecure.