Book review: God? A debate between a Christian and an atheist, by William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

There has been a lot of discussion in the media (and elsewhere) recently on the question of the "New Atheism". Simply put, a lot of new books have been recently published that make the case that we should *not* believe in God. I find these books depressing, mainly because of the general lack of theological and philosophical sophistication that they contain. Sadly, I also find the Christian responses to these books equally depressing, for much the same reason. It was, therefore, with some interest, that I began to read God? A debate between a Christian and an atheist, because this book represents the results of an actual debate, where each side not only presents its views but has the chance to actively respond to its interlocutor. Imagine, a book co-authored by opponents! In fact, this is where the book's greatest strength can be found: while they arrive at divergent conclusions, both authors are united in at least one thing — regarding the existence of God, they are seeking the *truth* of the matter, and that is no small thing.

This book has an interesting structure. Each author first wrote a chapter in which he presented his main arguments for or against the existence of God. They then exchanged copies, and each author then wrote a second chapter responding to the other's first chapter. Finally, those copies were then exchanged and each author wrote a final, third chapter, responding to the responses. Of course, they could have continued to another iteration, but they stopped there.

On the level of argument, it is hard to say who "won" the debate. In my opinion, Sinnott-Armstrong (the atheist) presented the strongest opening argument, but Craig (the believer) had the strongest responses. Ultimately, however, the debate itself was problematic, because on some level it was very difficult to establish a reasonable burden of proof. Sinnott-Armstrong can poke holes, for example, in Craig arguments for the existence of God, but when he puts forward his own positive arguments for atheism his case is extraordinarily weak. In each case, there is a problem of burden of proof, and neither meets that standard for the other. This, of course, should not be surprising, but it does render the debate somewhat unsatisfying.

As I read the book, I found myself living the frustration of an informed spectator. I felt rather like the stereotypical sports fan who shouts suggestions at his TV as he watches his favourite team play a game. Sinnott-Armstrong (the atheist) would put forward his rebuttal, for example, of some of Craig's points, and I could tell that he just didn't understand those points in the first place. So I'd sit in my chair, mentally "shouting" into the debate by writing notes in the margins, trying to refine the issues to make them clearer. Of course, neither party could "hear" me — just like the favourite team cannot hear the sports fan — but, in this case, it did not take away from the value of the experience. I'm beginning to suspect that maybe, just maybe, the frustration of being an informed spectator is the most important contribution this book has to make. After all, if it spurs others to write better books as a follow-up, then the debate is truly well-served.

There is not much point going into all the arguments each party presents in their text — at least, not in this book review! What this work has ultimately helped clarify — at least for me — is that the debate about the existence (or not) of God, as it is presented today, is fundamentally a cosmological problem. Both the theologian and the atheist philosopher (not to mention scientist) are attempting to understand the world around them. One holds that this being called "God" is a necessary part of a true cosmological model, while another says the opposite. It strikes me, then, that the next book to be written on such a topic could be less a debate and more of a mutual exploration of world-views. I'd be willing to engage in that myself.

In conclusion, suffice it to say that an atheist who reads this book will not likely come away convinced that God exists, but neither will a Christian come away with his faith shaken. Each party just might come away, however, with a little less of his smugness intact — which is a good thing. While not a watershed work in the ongoing debate between Christians and atheists, this book has the virtue of at least contributing the clarification of some of the issues involved, thanks mainly to the original form of its composition. For this, we can all be grateful. My rating: B.