Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book Review: God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist.


There's an elegant simplicity to this question and title. It's the most threshold of queries. Worldviews necessarily turn on the answer.

William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong tackled this fundamental question in two live debates and then collected these arguments into a book. "In th[e] first debate, Craig argued for the existence of God, and then Sinnott-Armstrong criticized Craig's arguments and offered arguments to the contrary." (p. x.)

In the second debate, Sinnott-Armstrong opened by arguing against the existence of God, and then Craig criticized Sinnott-Armstrong's arguments and offered arguments to the contrary." (xi.)

In organizing the ensuing book, "Craig developed his opening remarks" from the first debate into Chapter 1 of this book, while Sinnott-Armstrong expanded his opening remarks" in the second debate into Chapter 4 of this book." (xi.)

"After exchanging those chapters, Sinnott-Armstrong polished his criticisms [in the first debate] to produce Chapter 2 of this book, and Craig elaborated his remarks [in the second debate] to create Chapter 5 of this book. Finally, after [they] exchanged Chapters 2 and 5, Craig wrote Chapter 3 in response to Sinnott-Armstrong's Chapter 2, and Sinnott-Armstrong constructed Chapter 6 as a reply to Craig's Chapter 5." (xi.)

As a result of this methodology, the participants created a product that truly represents an engaged debate in book format. I had criticized Dr. Craig's earlier effort to turn a live debate into a book (Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? [reviewed on May 13, 2009]), because it was (through no fault of Dr. Craig) like Grape-Nuts--neither grape nor nuts, i.e. neither a debate nor a book. Fortunately, this effort hits both notes.

Although several arguments were advanced in the process, I want to focus on one that typically emerges when God's existence is debated--the problem of evil or suffering.

I've known Dr. Craig as a usually careful debater. Consequently, I was surprised to read his following concession: "Now we come to a really serious problem, atheism's killer argument, the problem of evil." (112.) "Killer argument"? Dr. Craig concedes too much. It's perhaps a "challenging" or atheism's "strong[est]" argument, but "killer"? As Dr. Craig then proceeds to offer arguments answering it, it appears that Dr. Craig doesn't believe it's a dispositive or even persuasive one. In any event, I found Dr. Craig's turning the "problem" into a proof to be remarkable. Dr. Craig posits: "evil paradoxically goes to prove God's existence, since without God things would not be good or evil as such....But even in the absence of any answer to the 'why' question, the present argument provides that evil does not call into question, but actually requires, God's existence. So although, superficially, evil seems to call into question God's existence, at a deeper level it actually proves God's existence, since without God, evil as such would not exist." (126.)

This book expertly captures the essence of the modern debate about God's existence. Both sides ably represent their respective positions and engage well. Recommended.

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