Randal Rauser vs. Raphael Lataster - The Proof for Theism and Christian Exclusivism (2015)

At the infernal date and time of 06/06, 6PM, in the year 2015, Christian apologist Randal Rauser debated sceptical scholar Raphael Lataster, on the existence of God and the exclusive truth of Christianity. Kindly hosted by Phil Robinson and Nuskeptix.

This informal ‘debate’ serves as a perfect example of why certain high profile apologists have refused to debate me. It is very difficult to defeat me. At least on these topics. My opponent was very upset that things did not go his way. Here’s how it went down.

Click here to view on YouTube

The topic set by Nuskeptix clearly indicated that we would be discussing the existence of God (that is, the god of classical theism) and the exclusive truth of Christianity. Rauser knew this, and immediately before we started recording, accepted my proposal that he start by presenting his case for Christian theism, with me following by critiquing it. Some of this spilled over into the introduction (recorded), where Rauser strangely seems to be back-pedalling, objecting to having to argue for the exclusive truth of Christianity, but then accepting my proposal that he argue for the truth of theism and Christian theism. Odd behaviour, but I digress.

Rauser began with the thoroughly unconvincing argument from objective morality, which unfortunately took up more than half of our time. In short, he demanded that I give an account (I actually did raise the standard evolutionary arguments, for subjective moralities) for the existence of objective morality, without ever demonstrating that the latter exists, or explaining why this would have any necessary relation to God, or to humans. He also was unable to deal with my objection that non-theistic god-concepts could also explain this ‘evidence’, which would become the dominant theme of my critique. As part of his case, Rauser also seemed to appeal somewhat to emotion, with the standard apologetic tactic of slinging mud at those nasty atheists who can’t say that things like rape are objectively wrong. No, I do not endorse rape. I think it is horrible, and would do horrible things to persons committing such heinous crimes.

He later (around the 42m mark) calls me out for demanding that he demonstrate why his position, theism (actually Christian theism), is the most probably one from the many possible, finding it ridiculous that he do this in 40-odd minutes. Note the topic of the debate. Note what we agreed to. This is an attitude I find all too often when it comes to Christian Philosophy of Religion, and it is really quite disturbing. Just as with my ‘article debate’ (in the Sophia journal, against Benedikt Göcke), the apologist basically concedes that they haven’t done their job and that it would simply be too hard to do so. Forgive me if I reply to “it’s all too hard” with “maybe you should put your big boy pants on”. Is this not his job? There seems little value in merely throwing up hypotheses that MIGHT possibly be true. He also demands that I give a case for ‘atheism’, whatever that means. Again, recall the topic of the debate, and what we agreed to.

Note that this demand that atheists argue for atheism (I think he means naturalism) is the sophisticated version of the common and much-maligned apologist approach of shifting the burden of proof, demanding that we skeptics prove God’s non-existence. Of course, I, like so many other atheists (call me an agnostic if it makes you feel better), don’t assert that God doesn’t exist. We simply don’t believe in God. Whatever is the right way to argue over these matters, we must again remember the agreed-upon terms of the debate. He would present a case for theism, and I would point out its problems. I was not asked to, nor did I agree to, prove god’s non-existence, or argue for naturalism’s probability.

Moving on, Rauser alludes to but apparently does not invoke the ontological argument, saying that his god, of classical theism, is the maximally great entity. I note how both formulations, Anselm’s and Plantinga’s, don’t work, and agree with him that there are disputes as to what actually is a maximally great entity. He effectively concedes that critical point then, with me further arguing that this argument can disprove theism by revealing pantheism (as just one example) to be the god-concept that obtains. Related to this is Rauser’s ‘argument’ that some people have an intense feeling of ‘otherness’, again conceding my objection that this can easily apply to pantheistic god-models (and it can also apply naturalistic models, of course).

As expected, he appealed to Occam’s razor, as if it has ever been established that a theory’s being simpler makes it more probably true. It hasn’t. And as I pointed out, this would only deal with polytheisms (and possibly alternative monotheisms), but not the pantheisms. And, of course, if fewer entities are simpler, no god is the simplest of all.

With Rauser not having said anything convincing regarding theism, or supernaturalism in general, I asked him about his evidence for Christian theism. Running out of time, he just said that he finds Christian miraculous claims to be persuasive, without actually mentioning any. No real argument there, so I just explained that we need good evidence to argue for these inherently implausible claims, and that the evidence is quite poor, with the Gospels being anonymous and otherwise very problematic.

It’s quite interesting that Rauser effectively conceded that he didn’t actually argue for theism (or Christian theism). That’s basically conceding defeat. So why turn up? Is the case for theism/Christian theism that bad? Yes, yes it is.

I did not even have to bring out the big guns. I never got out of second gear. I can competently argue for the probability of naturalism and also for the relative probability of alternative god-models like pantheism, but did not have to. I just focussed on the inadequacies of his case, which were plentiful. If he wished to just merely give some reasons for his belief without commenting on the probable truth of Christianity, then fine, though that seems unhelpful and redundant, but that wasn’t this ‘debate’.

His own debate review has him bemoaning that effectively too much was expected of him, with not enough expected of me. Diddums. As I said, consider the title of this little event, and what we agreed to do. I never said that I would argue for ‘atheism’, whatever that means. According to the host, Phil Ferguson, “Randal didn’t address either discussion topic he agreed to represent. That he performed as he chose was beyond my control.”

Finally, I think this little exchange demonstrates how ‘dangerous’ I am to the sophisticated Christian apologist. I am not anti-religious, nor do I hate God/god/gods/religion/Christianity. I know what they’e going to say before they say it. Immersing myself in the work of William Lane Craig and more scholarly and unscholarly apologists of the past few years will do that. I can demolish their case, even when giving them a helping hand, by temporarily accepting that naturalism is false. I hold them to account with regards to arguing for theism’s relative plausibility over alternatives like deism, polytheism, and pantheism - a gaping hope in this field. 

That arguing for some god/s is not the same thing as arguing for theism or Christian theism is a bone I will not let go of, so I fully expect to continue upsetting theistic apologists in future. Well, those that dare to debate with me.

P.S. Here is somewhat of a TL;DR, though with some more on what Rauser agreed to (which he is in a huff about, as well as some of his supporters): Rauser did not even attempt to prove the God of Christian theism, though he agreed to do so, beforehand, but also in the introduction. I have the specific location of the video marked. At 4m47s, after he expressed his desire to avoid discussing the exclusive truth of Christianity, I asked if he could demonstrate that Yahweh (the Judeo-Christian god) exists and is the one true god, and that Jesus was raised from death by Yahweh. He agreed to do so. At 5m57s I asked him for his case for Yahweh’s existence, and about his evidence for Jesus being raised by Yahweh. At 6m22s he again agreed to do this. We spent the next half hour pointlessly discussing objective morality. He then raised the concept of otherness, conceding that it needn’t only apply to theism. He also appealed to Ockham’s razor, without explaining why a simpler theory is a more probable theory, and ignoring my point about zero gods being simpler still. He offered nothing in the way of demonstrating theism’s relative probability compared with pantheism (as but one example of an alternative). He had nothing to say about Jesus. It beggars belief that an educated observer could perceive Rauser as having done well in this debate.

© Raphael Lataster 2021