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An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything Paperback – December 6, 2016
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“Imagine sitting at a table in your local bar or coffee shop and overhearing two smart, energetic, and creative thinkers go at it over the existence of the Jewish/Christian/Islamic god. Thanks to Rauser and Schieber, we don’t have to imagine: this book is that debate. Anyone who enjoys a hard-hitting but classy philosophical dustup will love this fun and informative book.”
—Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian and 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
“Fun, thoughtful, and surprising, An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar is a title after my own heart. In the setting of a neighborhood pub, Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber engage in passionate, thoughtful, and—this is key—civil conversation on the enduring question of whether or not God exists and why that matters. Grab a cup of coffee or a favorite pint and buckle up, because these two know their stuff, and in these pages you’ll find yourself reexamining what you thought you believed—or didn’t believe—about God.”
—Bryan Berghoef, author of Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God
“Schieber and Rauser offer something sadly too rare: a civil, respectful, and reasonable dialogue over the question of the existence of god. At a time when theists and atheists usually just lob rhetorical bombs at each other over a figurative DMZ, that’s a rather refreshing thing, regardless of which side you come down on.”
—Ed Brayton, writer at Dispatches from the Culture Wars and 2009 recipient of the Friend of Darwin Award from the National Center for Science Education
“A refreshing book with perfect sparring partners! Schieber and Rauser insightfully refute bad arguments related to atheism and also highlight issues that need more attention within the popular debate over God's existence.”
—Trent Horn, author of Answering Atheism
“An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar should launch a genre. It’s a book that balances accessibility, rigor, and probing creativity, and it has the potential to bring into the mainstream the sophistication and constructive insight of academic philosophy of religion—something often sorely missing from the preachers and polemicists who hog most of the attention in the theism/atheism debate.”
—Daniel Fincke, founder and primary writer of philosophy blog Camels with Hammers
About the Author
Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where he has taught since 2003. He lectures widely on the topics of apologetics and Christian worldview. Dr. Rauser is the author or coauthor of nine books including The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails and Theology in Search of Foundations. Dr. Rauser also regularly blogs and podcasts as The Tentative Apologist at randalrauser.com.
Justin Schieber is founder and host of Real Atheology, a Youtube channel dedicated to presenting issues in contemporary philosophy of religion in easy-to-follow videos. As former cohost of the Reasonable Doubts Radio Show and Podcast (2011-2015), Justin enjoys promoting a friendly, yet firm, skepticism toward religious claims. He lectures on the philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God and has participated in many public debates at colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada. He served on the board of the Grand Rapids chapter of the Center for Inquiry in 2014 and 2015.
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Coming in I must admit I’m a big fan of Justin’s work on the Reasonable Doubts Podcast and his new ventures in the Real Atheology YouTube channel which just transitioned into its own podcast. I also happen to have a bit of a soft spot for Randal. Randal is one of those apologists that strikes me as quite very honest about how arguments and the like work out, even if we disagree about the conclusions. If I had to pick an apologist to go have beers with, Randal is one of the few I’d be happy to do so with.
So those are my biases, coming in I happen to like both authors. Spoiler Alert: This is a positive review.
This isn’t Randal’s first go at a collaborative “debate” book. I’ve reviewed Randal’s book with John Loftus: God or Godless on my blog, which I also happened to enjoy and would still recommend for theists and atheists alike.
An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar has an extremely different feel to it, despite at first glance being the same kind of debate book between a Christian and an Atheist who are both well versed in the Philosophy of Religion.
This is because while “God or Godless” had a respectful exchange over arguments, “An Atheist and a Christian Walk Into a Bar” is downright cordial. The corny dad jokes fly fairly often in the book, which I actually enjoyed.
Overall if you like interfaith exchanges and the kind of cordial atmosphere that comes with it, you’ll find a lot to like in this book.
This is not to say that the book lacks any intellectual heft, or even some innovation that you’d not normally see in a book aimed at laypeople. Both Randal and Justin are quite thorough in laying out the exact terms of their debate, making sure to define the kind of god they think does or does not exist. This is good because far too often debaters end up talking past each other.
The innovation comes by way of the types of arguments offered in the book. Each person brings three main arguments to the proverbial bar:
For the existence of a god:
1. Faith and Testimony
2. God and Moral Obligation
3. God, Mathematics, and Reason
Against the existence of a god:
1. Problem of massive theological disagreement
2. Problem of the hostility of the universe
3. Evolution and the biological role of pain
While 6 arguments may not sound like a lot for a debate book, both Randal and Justin engage with each other’s rebuttals in good detail. As a reader you’re not really left feeling as if one person hasn’t tried to address the others points.
In the last debate book review I did, I asked “So who won?” which is the kind of inevitable question you get with these kinds of books. I’m sure some theists will read it and say Randal clearly came out a head, and atheists would say Justin had the better of the exchange. Biases going into this kind of work are going to be a major part of what makes you think there was a “winner” at the end.
However the idea that there was a winner doesn’t even feel like an appropriate question to ask after reading this book. I feel that this is a testament to both the skill of the authors and to the very nature of the question being debated. In each case, they’re arguing about metaphysical principles. These are the kinds of things that when you run the argument aground it eventually boils down to competing intuitions. Unsurprisingly the theist’s intuitions lead them to accept the metaphysical assumptions that build towards theism, and the atheist’s intuitions lead them to metaphysical assumptions that lead towards atheism. In fact, both authors are refreshingly frank about the fact that this happens.
It’s the kind of stalemate that makes an engineer like me go crazy, but that’s the nature of metaphysical debates in general.
While frustrating, it does allow two fine people like Randal and Justin to make a very enjoyable book, and a decent amount of follow up content. In fact if you wanted to get a taste for what you get in the book, you could read or listen to Justin and Randal have a debate about the existence of god and finite creatures on Episode 3 of Justin’s Real Atheology podcast.
Furthermore, Randal and Justin will be doing two live debates in March 2017 that I believe will be recorded and made available on YouTube.
To sum things up, I recommend this book. It’s both entertaining as well as intellectually stimulating, which is exactly what you want to get in a book like this. I gladly purchased the Kindle version myself (ie. I didn’t get a copy just for a review) and I feel my money was well spent.
Both authors are willing to concede points and give credit to the other when that is deserved. Both are able to take criticism and come back with a joke and move on when all points have been made and there is nothing left to add. For me, it ended in a draw to some degree, but that doesn't mean I am leaning any more toward Christianity than I was before. I don't think that was the point of the book. I hope Christians are able to read it and come away with just as much respect for the atheist arguments, without feeling compelled to change their minds or feeling like their side was not given a fair hearing.
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Talking about God, the Universe, and everything
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