I’m always happy to engage the reviews of informed critics. And this one comes from philosophy student Adam Omelianchuk. You can read Adam’s review here.
Things start off on a positive note as Adam observes:
“The skill of each author is on display as they both jam a lot of content into a short space, and for that I can appreciate how much I have to learn about the art of dialoguing with few words to spare”
Adam recognizes the daunting task of summarizing twenty short debates in a review and so he opts for a different mode of engagement:
“Instead of giving a blow by blow account of each argument, I want to make a few observations about the general strategy of the contenders along with some commendations and criticisms of what I took be the heart of their main arguments.”
He then summarizes what he sees to be John Loftus’ basic argument as he concludes: “I got the impression that Loftus had Christianity, and not so much God, in his sights.” There is a lot to this observation, though it is hardly surprising given that John runs a blog called “Debunking Christianity”. But it is also only partially true. If John is a critic of Christianity, he is equally a critic of theism as he believes appeal to God to explain anything is a failed hypothesis and a violation of reason.
Next we turn to Adam’s comments about my argument. This is really summarized into two sections: my defense of theism and my defense of Christianity, and in particular the Bible. Adam is positive on the first front:
“While many of these arguments can come across as tired and well-worn, Rauser deftly weaves their major claims into little stories or examples a middle school student could understand. That’s no knock, and this reviewer, who has spent too many hours reading William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and William Dembski, benefited greatly in seeing how their arguments could be boiled down to their essentials and elegantly deployed for apologetic purposes. Through his argumentation, Rauser is able to show that Loftus is left with an impoverished worldview where truth, beauty, and goodness are relative to the whims and wiles of an unguided and random process that can only induce cosmic despair.”
Adam then opines that my argument “goes roughly like this”:
 If God does not exist, then there is no truth, goodness, or beauty that could be objectively known.
 There is truth, goodness, and beauty that can be objectively known.
 Therefore, God exists.
That’s pretty rough. Adam’s summary is limited to the three transcendentals which I do engage, but only as part of my case. In addition, his argument summary is epistemological whereas my argument also includes an ontological dimension. All in all this leaves his summary as a rather unreliable guide to what I do in fact argue.
Next, we turn to the specifically Christian dimension of the case. Adam writes:
“But what about the Bible? Rauser’s defenses of Scripture are sure to leave some Christians dissatisfied. While it is true that he makes an effort to disabuse Loftus of his severely critical interpretations, his concessions with respect to the problem of Old Testament violence and biological evolution give the impression that there is something strange about holding to the authority of Scripture in this day of age.”
This raised my hackles for several reasons. First, the apologetic argument I present for Christianity cannot be reduced to an argument relating to the Bible. One of the arguments I present depends on the occurrence of instances of synchronicity (what I call LAMPs) in the lives of individuals. Using Dembski’s design filter one can reason from these experiences set against a Christian background set of beliefs that one is properly relating to God and thus that their Christian beliefs are broadly true.
Second, I defend the resurrection, yet this doesn’t merit a mention. Surely Adam would agree, whatever his views of Old Testament violence and biological evolution, that belief in the incarnation and resurrection is more important as a marker of Christian identity. Thus, I would submit that my prioritization in the short compass of this book was well advised.
Third, I take issue with the suggestion that anything I have said is inconsistent with “holding to the authority of Scripture”, so I’d love for Adam to provide clarification in this regard. I hold to the plenary inspiration of scripture as well as its functional inerrancy, so what is the basis for Adam’s charge?
Fourth, I don’t think I make a “concession” to biological evolution any more than I make a concession to heliocentrism. The scientific evidence for common descent is overwhelming (and I very much enjoyed a presentation by Dennis Venema on this topic at Biologos this past week) so any apologist who spends their time arguing otherwise is, in my view, wasting their time and doing a disservice to the church. This isn’t a concession because Genesis 1 and 2 are cosmogonic ANE narratives which simply don’t provide the kind of specificity about biological origins that Christian conservatives often assume.
As for Old Testament violence, my extensive writings on this topic speak for themselves. All I’ll say here is what I say in the conclusion to the book: I don’t think that the church is well served by (most) attempts to downplay or reinterpret the divine violence that is present in scripture.
“Rauser maintains that despite Scripture’s oddities, God is a supremely competent author, but if Loftus has achieved anything in this book, it is that he creates some prima facie reasonable doubt for this claim.”
This seems to be pitched as a criticism but taken in that way it is strange coming from a philosopher with the acumen of Adam. Good gosh man, what argument in philosophy doesn’t leave some “prima facie reasonable doubt” at the end of it all? If we’re going to critique arguments because they leave some room for reasonable doubt then I’m in good company!
“All in all this is a breezy read that feels like being hit with a scatter gun of truncated arguments. As a reviewer, I am used to reading longer, more sustained arguments, so I wasn’t disposed to like this sort of format and I can’t say I did….”
The sentence seems to be cut off here but we get the point. Adam wasn’t that keen on the format. However, this response should be tempered by Adam’s comments above that the concise and compact nature of the arguments provided a helpful overview for a range of issues which is precisely what John and I were aiming to do.
I would add as well that “longer, more sustained arguments” are not necessarily better arguments. After all, the most influential academic paper in epistemology in the last five decades is only 2 1/2 pages long (Gettier’s “Is justified true belief knowledge?”).
Finally, Adam concludes with a commendation that, in light of the compliments noted above, strikes me as surprisingly tepid:
“But if you are wanting to expose middle and high school aged kids to some of the challenges Christians and atheists face in making their respective cases, this book may be of some value.”
Be that as it may, Adam’s suggestion that this book be given to middle schoolers suggests that he may suffer from graduate school syndrome (GSS), a heightened disconnection with the comparatively modest real world conceptual abilities and reading level of a broad lay and undergraduate readership that comes with immersion in graduate level books and seminars. When I began teaching I suffered from GSS unawares, a fact that became obvious as I lectured on inter-trinitarian relations to a class of bewildered nineteen and twenty year olds. In fact, I think the level of argument in the book is well aimed for intelligent high school students (though not middle schoolers), undergraduates, and the interested and motivated general lay reader. And as a trade press paperback that was precisely the target audience.
I may have several criticisms of Adam’s review, but I am thankful for his candor and rigor in engaging the book. And I really mean that. Adam requested a review copy and I gratefully acknowledge that he reviewed the book with honesty and dispassionate scholarly distance.