God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist. By William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Version of Record online: 7 APR 2009
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 3, pages 538–539, May 2009
How to Cite
Bullivant, S. (2009), God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist. By William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 538–539. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00484_26.x
- Issue online: 7 APR 2009
- Version of Record online: 7 APR 2009
Pp. xii, 156 , Oxford , Oxford University Press , 2004 , $19.95.
This slim volume comprises the edited scripts from two public debates between Craig and Sinnott-Armstrong – the eponymous Christian and atheist respectively. Both are professors of philosophy: Craig at the Talbot School of Theology in southern California, Sinnott-Armstrong at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Since the book is, however, intended for non-specialists, overly-technical topics and terminology are (generally) avoided. In fact, both participants write well, presenting their arguments in a clear and inviting manner. The debates' lucidity is further helped by their fair and well-planned structure. The first (given originally at Dartmouth College in November 1999), is initiated by Craig, with a response by Sinnott-Armstrong, and then a final counter-response from Craig. This order is reversed for the second half (delivered at a Minnesotan church in April 2000). As such, while ‘Christianity’ gets the first word, ‘atheism’ is accorded the last.
Craig offers and defends five arguments for the existence of God: (1) God makes sense of the origin of the universe; (2) God makes sense of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life; (3) God makes sense of objective moral values in the world; (4) God makes sense of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; and (5) God can be immediately known and experienced. Of these, the first two are undoubtedly his strongest. His version of the cosmological argument, drawing widely from contemporary physics, is powerfully argued. If, as Big Bang theory posits, the physical universe began to exist, and if, as appears to be the case, nothing can begin to exist without being caused, then there must have been a non-physical, uncaused ‘Cause’ which did not itself have a beginning (pp. 8–9). Not surprisingly, Craig equates this ‘Cause’ with the Christian God. He is on similarly persuasive ground when discussing ‘fine-tuning’, again citing a wealth of scientific evidence. That said, in neither case, as Sinnott-Armstrong later points out (pp. 31–2), do his conclusions follow so obviously and inexorably as Craig suggests. He really falls down, furthermore, with his argument from the objectivity of moral values. Such values are, he claims, only possible if there is a God. And since moral absolutes evidently do exist, then so too must God. According to Craig, furthermore, ‘On the atheistic view, there is nothing really wrong with your raping someone’ (p. 18). Sinnott-Armstrong's extended rebuttal, grounded on the principle that ‘What makes rape immoral is that rape harms the victim in terrible ways’ (p. 34), is compelling and decisive; the highlight of the debate.
Sinnott-Armstrong's counter-attack consists of three ‘reasons to believe that there is no God’: the problem of evil; the problem of action (i.e. how can a timeless God act within time?); and an argument from ignorance (i.e. there is simply insufficient evidence to believe in any god). It is to the first of these that he devotes most attention. Presenting a version of the ‘evidential’ problem of evil, he proceeds systematically to refute eleven possible ‘solutions’. His arguments here are careful and circumspect, and he indeed presents a strong, prima facie case that theists ‘cannot … face the evidence of evil in this world and still believe in the traditional God who is both all-powerful and all-good’ (p. 98). Craig is, however, right to criticize his ‘‘divide and conquer’ strategy’ (p. 116). After all, very few modern theodicies rely on only one of Sinnott-Armstrong's suggested models. On the other hand, one of the Craig's own responses is arguably a far better advert for atheism than anything offered by his adversary. According to Craig, an omnibenevolent God might well permit genocides and natural disasters because of the salutary affect such disasters apparently have for conversions to (evangelical protestant) Christianity (pp. 121–23)!
All in all, God? is a fine short book. While necessarily lacking in depth, it nevertheless presents an array of contemporary arguments for and against the existence of God. Both protagonists are engaging, and offer persuasive arguments and counter-arguments. Hopefully, first-time students of the philosophy of religion, having read this stimulating volume, will find themselves eager to enquire further.