At the post office, when I handed over my Earth Is Not Alone¹ to be sent priority mail to the Harvard-Smithsonian for Astrophysics, I got both the look and the question:
“Does this package contain anything potentially hazardous?”
“Don’t know,” I replied.
The look grew more serious.
“It’s a novel, and you know books…they can go many directions. Reading can be hazardous. Ideas can be dangerous.”
As a teacher and a parent, I’ve long believed and said that reading is risky, but that the alternative—not reading—is usually much more dangerous. This time I’m going to recommend a book, GOD? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist²by William Lane Craig (the Christian) and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (the atheist); and a device, the Kindle, an electronic reader that is mushrooming in popularity.
As to the Kindle³: I still love the feel of paper and the sight of sagging shelves. But also to have in my pocket a thin library of thick books that I can underline and put notes in is very satisfying. As of this writing, Amazon in the past month has sold more eBooks than paperbacks. And they are considerably cheaper.
Enough about that.
The “GOD?” book, published by Oxford University Press in 2004, is not for everyone. These polite, respected, well-trained philosophers take each other very seriously and they disagree strongly. Fortunately, they use words you can understand. If you take a gamble to see what they say, be prepared to “believe,” lose your (head) faith, believe again, lose it again several times. The book follows a standard debate format with six chapters: Craig makes a case for God, Sinnott-Armstrong rebuts it, Craig responds to S-A; then S-A makes a case for atheism, Craig rebuts it, and S-A concludes responding to Craig.
Now with the current explosion in scientific knowledge (I’ve discussed in other articles) that favors “reasonable” acceptance of an intelligent mind behind the Big Bang and all that came from it, information that led the late militant atheist Antony Flew⁴ to reject atheism for theism, such a debate could be constructive, as well as fascinating.
And if some of you have been soured by the deadly and almost exclusively secular and atheistic philosophy of the last half of the 20th century, be aware that the philosophy of today—even secular philosophy—isn’t what it used to be!
Push aside your Cliff Comments and let me offer these Knapp Notes:
Here’s three observations about the risk and reward of your reading this sort of material:
1. Becoming absolutely convinced of the logic of every point on one side or the other probably isn’t going to happen. If it were, two intelligent men probably wouldn’t be putting everything they believed in on the line this way. Some points, though they may sound simple, the issues are anything but. On both sides, the debaters will try to convince you of the logic of certain premises. Do they make sense or not? If only two options compete, which of them makes better sense? You decide. You may put some new things to think about on your back burner. You don’t have to understand everything at once—if ever.
Now let me generalize even more:
2. There are three points many atheists find tough to handle: (1) It’s almost universally accepted today—by atheists as well as by many Christians—that the universe, including the three space dimensions and one time dimension, began about 13.7 billion years ago. The issue is “began,” not the time span. (2) Second, the matter and energy in/on the earth and the creatures on it are “extremely fine-tuned” in dozens of ways difficult to account for by a series of purposeless “accidents” alone.
(3) Third, there’s morality. Although nearly everyone says some behaviors are “absolutely right” and other behaviors are “absolutely wrong,” what is the basis for such judgment? And who is the “lawgiver”? If Darwinism and ethical relativism is the main pressure behind decision-making, that’s scary to many.
3. Two issues are especially thorny to Christians:
(1) How could a good and all-powerful God allow harm, suffering, and disaster to come to innocent people, especially children? How could God seem so unfair and treat people so differently—on earth, or in the hereafter?
(2) How can a person prove something that is metaphysical, such as the real existence of a personal God, his real interaction with people, and real miracles in people or in nature? How can one rationally explain this?
There are many smaller issues as well, but these are the main ones. Realize that it’s possible for intelligent, thinking people to make cases for these concerns, as well as against them. There is, of course, a real explanation somewhere—whether we understand the details or not—that accounts for everything that is, and is going on…
Even why I’m writing this.
As a warm-up to show how modern, well-educated people might look at all this, here are the major points made by Craig (the Christian) in Chapter 1 and Sinnott-Armstrong (the atheist) in Chapter 4. Maybe these, and the book itself, will answer some questions you have—and raise some other questions you should ask. This isn’t an “old-time debate.” Here, using much information from science, math, and philosophy from the last three decades, two men from differing views organize the things they want to say first.
Five Reasons God Exists (Ch. 1)⁵
1. God Makes Sense of the Origin of the Universe.
(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
(2) The universe began to exist.
(3) Therefore the universe has a cause.
2. God Makes Sense of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life.
(1) The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to law, chance, or design.
(2) It is not due to law or chance.
(3) Therefore, it is due to design.
3. God Makes Sense of the Moral Values in the World.
(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Objective moral values do exist.
(3) Therefore God exists.
4. God Makes Sense of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
(1) There are four established facts concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth…[he lists them].
(2) The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
(3) The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that God exists.
(4) Therefore God exists.
5. God Can Be Immediately Known and Experienced.
[No systematic subpoints given.]
Some Reasons to Believe that There Is No God⁶ (Ch. 4)
Sinnott Armstrong’s focus is to take issue with what he calls “Dubious Doctrines” about God that he calls “traditional,” suggesting that they may have originated after the beginning of Christianity although he won’t take issue with when they originated, though it was very early. “When I refer to God, I will mean a being with these defining features” (listed below): He is
(a) All-good (God always does the best he can)
(b) All-powerful (God can do anything that is logically possible)
(c) All-knowing (God knows everything that is true)
(d) Eternal (God exists outside of time)
(e) Effective (God causes changes in time)
(f) Personal (God has a will and makes choices)
[It is not rational, Sinnott-Armstrong argues, to accept these traditional characteristics, so he rejects them. He will do this by advancing three main points.]
1. The Problem of Evil
(1) If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for an adequately compensating good.
(2) There is lots of evil in the world.
(3) Much of that evil is not logically necessary for any compensating good.
(4) Therefore, there is no God who is all-powerful and all-good.
2. The Problem of Action
[Deals with the supposed problem of an eternal God being active within the time dimension that we experience.]
3. The Argument from Ignorance
[Leads to the conclusion that “neither arguments, nor experiences, nor miracles provide any good evidence for the existence of God.”]
[Essentially an expansion of this opening line of his fourth section: “Taken together, my arguments lead to the conclusion that no traditional God exists.”]
So if you order this book—a hardback or paperback copy—will some postal person pause and ask your supplier the “potentially hazardous” question that I faced earlier?
Of course, today you can leap over such confrontation with a Kindle. Five minutes after reading these words you can purchase and begin readingyour own set of the electronic words I’ve been talking about!
And whatever “words” we believers have in any form we are to test for the truth they may carry or challenge (I John 4:1). And as we grow in knowledge of God’s Holy Word, may we be open and articulate sharing it with those around us.
For some, that might mean looking long and hard at the other side.
¹It’s not our subject here, but if you wish to look at my tragedy/adventure/romance Earth Is Not Alone, see two of my previous articles in our archives—“Earth Is Not Alone” (now listed at #26) and “I Sold My Soul on eBay”—book 9 (now # 21.)—This novel, endorsed by astrophysicist and former seminary professor Robert Newman, is available at Amazon in print or eBook form. Reviews there and elsewhere.
²William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, (part of the Point/Counterpoint Series edited by James P. Serba, Univ. of Notre Dame; Oxford University Press, 2004. Perhaps about 150pp. Be aware that I’m operating using the Kindle version, and eBooks have “location numbers” rather than page numbers because you can modify print size and have more or fewer pages. I assume that print copies also can still be obtained…)
³Let me encourage your use of Kindle, or other electronic readers, if you dibble-dabble with thick books, or materials you use primarily for reference, even Bibles. If you’re buying, they’re cheaper, neater, easy to “word search” (as I did for the Bible reference at the end), and are never far away).
⁴For more on Antony Flew, who died in April 2010, see the archives for my comments in “Happy Holidays!” (now #3).
⁵The outline that follows comes only from Craig’s opening presentation in Chapter 1. Additional comments and arguments made in Chapters 3 and 5 are not included. The same procedure follows for Sinnott-Armstrong’s opening presentation in Chapter 4. Nothing is included from his Chapters 2 and 6. Be aware that a “first chapter” and a “last chapter” have special advantages! Comments in brackets are my own.
⁶See the above note.
Author: John Knapp II