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An interjection: did Randal Rauser do his readers a disservice by co-authoring a book with a layperson?

Over at Debunking Christianity, a blog I once frequented authored by someone I once respected, there's been a controversy over the fact that the book I'm currently reviewing, An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar, was co-authored by Justin Schieber—someone who has no formal training in theology. The implication is that this makes the book too lopsided, because Randal Rauser is a doctoral-level academic theologian. Was he picking low-hanging fruit by co-authoring his book with a layperson?

First, I'm highly confident from my reading of the book that Schieber was by no means out of his depth, and that Rauser himself would laud the discussion as spirited and thought-provoking. (And, contrary to what my readers might expect, I don't think a clear "winner" emerges from the book.) Furthermore, the book is intended for laypersons, not academics. But the question here is broader: do laypersons have any business engaging academics in the first place?

Everyone is a…

An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar - the review, part 4.2

The implications of moral intuition
Rauser's moral argument is strongly dependent on the notion that we can intuitively access purely objective moral truths, just as we can intuitively access our sensory perception. He says, "I can just see that 2+2=4 and that the sky is blue, and I can just see that particular actions are morally good and praiseworthy and others are morally evil and condemnable." When Schieber challenges Rauser on how this hypothesis can be squared with what Richard Dawkins referred to in The God Delusion as the "shifting moral zeitgeist"—changing cultural attitudes toward the moral context of various actions—Rauser suggests that our moral intuitions can be mistaken, just as our sensory perception can be mistaken.
However, I think Rauser overlooks several relevant differences between moral and sensory intuitions (as an aside, I'd argue that mathematics are not intuitive at all, but that's a rabbit trail for a later chapter). We have d…

An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar - the review, part 4.1

Chapter 4 features one of the most critical topics in the discussion, and a major reason I am an atheist: moral facts, values, and obligations. Schieber takes the important step of noting that the view he defends, desirism, is but one of many options available to non-believers—and it's worth noting here that I do not think desirism in itself provides a satisfactory account of moral values and obligations. Rauser takes the view that our intuitions give us access to purely objective moral facts (though he concedes that our perception of said facts may be mistaken from time to time, as is the case with sensory perception). This will likely be my longest critique of any chapter in the book. I want to discuss what I see as the limitations of desirism, and flesh things out a bit with my own view of moral ontology. I want to talk about some of the strengths and limitations of Rauser's approach, particularly with regard to his implicit claim that acts themselves have an intrinsic mor…

An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar - the review, part 3

The third chapter finds our authors discussing the problem of "massive theological disagreement", or mtd - why does such a multiplicity of religious faiths exist, and why is faith plagued by such deep disagreements often over fundamental conceptual issues, if God desires us to be in a sartorial relationship with Him? Following some tangential discussions about what constitutes religiously motivated violence, Schieber formalizes his argument:
·Premise 1: On the denial of theism, the observation of mtd is likely.
· Premise 2: On the affirmation of theism, the observation of mtd is unlikely (or less likely).
· Conclusion: the fact of mtd supports atheism more than it supports theism.

The discussion, after a time, begins to fall into somewhat repetitive trappings: Rauser or Schieber constructs an analogy to explain why massive theological disagreement either conflicts or comports with the God of classical theism; they spar a bit over the analogies, then shift focus to another ex…

An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar - the review, part 2

Note: I'm blogging remotely from the sunny shores of Jamaica, using the Blogger app on my phone. The app kind of sucks, so unfortunately my first few posts on this book will likely have some formatting issues until I can get back to my desktop later this weekend. Til then, enjoy!
Chapter 2: God, Faith, and Testimony
Faith is a tricky subject, and one that I feel is too frequently subject to equivocation. What is faith? What does it mean to believe something "on faith", and when is it ir/rational to do so?
The second chapter begins with a cursory overview of the concept of faith. Rauser suggests that it can be held to mean either a faith, as in "the Christian faith", or it can mean something equivalent to trust. Schieber rightly opines that most non-believers would simply prefer to use the word "trust" in such contexts, but I feel he missed an opportunity to ride Rauser a bit harder. I would add that the religious concept of faith is, in my experience at…

An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar - the review, part 1

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Note: I'm blogging remotely from the sunny shores of Jamaica, using the Blogger app on my phone. The app kind of sucks, so unfortunately my first few posts on this book will likely have some formatting issues until I can get back to my desktop later this weekend. Til then, enjoy!




An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar is a bit of a challenge to "review" in the conventional sense. It's not a polemic, and because of its unique format in which propositions are immediately challenged on both sides, trotting through the book and offering point by point rebuttals would be largely redundant. To the extent that I can review the book broadly, I'm satisfied to summarize that it is, by and large, a refreshing take on a stale genre. It's all too easy for theistsand atheists alike to read and/or write within their own echo chamber, soWalk into a Bar (as I'll referto it for the sake ofbrevity) provides ample opportunity for readers on both sides of the pew to challe…

Reflections on a Trump Presidency (or, I seriously can't believe it)

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While the rest of the world was fussing over the latest 'controversy' our President-elect created on Twitter, I began to reflect on my own disbelief over the outcome of this election. I mean, if I'm grieving for our country's future, I'm definitely still in the first stage: denial. I truly cannot believe that this man, who made the news this week by, among other things...

Settling a lawsuit for running a fraudulent universityHiring a possibly racist fake-news mogul as his chief strategistKeeping his business ties despite glaring conflicts of interestBackpedaling on several of his major campaign platformsComplaining on Twitter about the diverse cast of Hamilton pleading with the Vice-President-elect to be their advocateComplaining on Twitter (again) about Saturday Night Live being mean to him ... is actually going to be our President. The highest office in the land and the most powerful single person in the free world. I can't. Fucking. Believe it. 
Why, though? …

I'll be reading and reviewing the new book from Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber

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Randal Rauser was very kind to offer me an early copy of his collaboration with Justin Schieber, An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar..., which I've been very much looking forward to reading.

Because of its unique format, I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to go about reviewing and commenting on the book; I'm going to have to dig into it first. This is a different kind of book — a kind of book I wish there were a lot more of. It's a dialogue instead of a monologue, which to some extent will undoubtedly render superfluous my likely thoughts on some of Randal's arguments, because I expect Justin will be doing a fair bit of that heavy lifting. I don't necessarily expect to agree with Justin entirely either, of course, but it'll take some tact for me to choose which arguments I most wish to engage. What I hope to offer is not just a series of predictable objections, but thoughts on both interlocutors' approach and ways in which I think they succee…

In the aftermath of Trump's upset, some levity for my liberal friends

When Obama was elected in '08, it was against a backdrop of idealism, of reversing the trend of Bush — unnecessary wars, ballooning deficits, tax cuts for the rich, weakening of medicare and medicaid, threats to women's rights. What ended up happening was politics as usual. Even in the first two years with a democratic congress, Obama struggled to pass legislation with "blue dog" centrist democrats. And Obama was no saint — he was unable or unwilling to break up the "too big to fail" banks that drove us into a massive recession, he didn't close Guantanamo Bay, and he has presided over highly controversial drone attacks that have cost thousands of civilian lives. So it will be with President Trump. He's not going to build a giant wall or enact a mass deportation of immigrants or ban Muslims from entering the U.S. All of those things have massive cost, logistical, and human rights obstacles. There will probably not be a sweeping repeal of the Afforda…