- The question of whether or not God exists has been debated vigorously for millennia. It's easy to see why so many people remain intensely interested in this issue. According to traditional believers, human existence finds its ultimate fulfillment only in relation to God. Moreover, in the minds of many, eternal life hangs in the balance. The effects of belief or disbelief in God can also be dramatic in this world. Beliefs about God often influence positions on important and controversial issues, such as sexual behavior, abortion2, medical research using stem cells, and, of course, prayer in public schools and government support for religious schools and charities. Many decisions in daily life — not just on Sunday — also depend on belief or disbelief in God. Social action has often been motivated by belief in God. Friendships, communities, and political alliances frequently form or break down because of common or conflicting beliefs about God. We all need to decide where we stand on the issue of God's existence.
- Despite the antiquity of this question, new aspects of this debate have arisen recently, partly because of developments in science and philosophy. Big Bang cosmology is the best-known example, but each year brings new results of research into the origins of life and of our universe. Novel philosophical theories of causation3, knowledge, and morality also bear on the arguments for and against the existence of God. Ongoing psychological research and the quest for the historical Jesus by biblical scholars also introduce relevant considerations. That is why these debates must be renewed continually. Unfortunately, many debates about God overlook such recent developments and degenerate into simplistic rhetoric or mutual misunderstanding. Other discussions of God's existence become so technical that only experts can follow them. Neither of these extremes serves the needs of those who are sincerely concerned about whether or not to believe in God.
- Our goal in this book is to steer a middle course between these extremes. We have formulated our positions in light of recent science and philosophy, but we have also avoided technical details that would be confusing or distracting to most readers. We try to focus on the arguments that are uppermost in the minds of non-specialists. For example, instead of investigating modal4 versions of the ontological argument, which even professional philosophers find obscure, we discuss religious experience, the Bible, evil, eternity, the origin of the universe, design, and the connection or lack of connection between morality and the existence of God. These considerations are what most people want to understand when they are deciding whether or not to believe in God.
- We also try to avoid the mutual misunderstandings that plague debates about God. Many discussions get confused because theists defend non-traditional accounts of God that atheists do not deny or because atheists deny outmoded views about God that theists no longer defend. To avoid such misunderstandings, we agreed from the start that we were going to talk about God as He is usually defined within the Judaeo-Christian tradition. This ensures that what one of us claims is what the other denies. Moreover, our debate is not just about whether God can be known to exist. Agnostics deny that we can know that God exists, but agnostics do not deny that God exists. In contrast, Sinnott-Armstrong denies that God exists, whereas Craig claims that God exists. Our disagreement is not about the limits of knowledge but, instead, directly about whether God exists.
- The style of our book results from its origin in live debates.
- Craig had already debated the existence of God with several philosophers around the United States, when he was invited to participate in another debate at Dartmouth College on November 4, 1999.
- Sinnott-Armstrong had never publicly debated or written on this topic, but he had expressed his views to students, one of whom asked him to face Craig.
- In that first debate, Craig argued for the existence of God, and then Sinnott-Armstrong criticized Craig's arguments and offered arguments to the contrary. The ensuing discussion was both fun and illuminating.
- The return match was held at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota on April 1, 2000. There Sinnott- Armstrong opened by arguing against the existence of God, and then Craig criticized Sinnott-Armstrong's arguments and offered arguments to the contrary.
- The extremely positive reactions to both of these debates were what made us decide to expand them into this book.
- To retain the lively character of the debates,
- Craig developed his opening remarks at Dartmouth into Chapter 1 of this book, while Sinnott-Armstrong expanded his opening remarks in Minnesota into Chapter 4 of this book.
- After exchanging those chapters, Sinnott-Armstrong polished his criticisms at Dartmouth to produce Chapter 2 of this book, and Craig elaborated his remarks in Minnesota to create Chapter 5 of this book.
- Finally, after we 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.
- Although we did later change a little wording and a few details in the chapters that were written earlier, we agreed not to change anything significant that would affect the other author's main criticisms in the chapters that were written later. Revisions and responses were saved for the closing chapters of each Part, Chapters 3 and 6.
- This order of composition means that, although each of us might prefer to make some changes in the chapters that were written earlier, our book as a whole should read more like an ongoing conversation where positions emerge and qualifications accumulate, much as they do in a live debate.
- This origin in live debate also explains our conversational style. We do not pull our punches or go off on technical tangents. We give concrete examples and use common language. We are both aware that many details would need to be added if we were writing for an audience of professional philosophers of religion, but we chose to simplify our writing in order to increase our book's accessibility and liveliness. We are also committed to fairness. That is why Craig gets to set the terms of the debate by going first, but Sinnott-Armstrong gets the last word. Also to ensure fairness, just as speakers are limited to the same time in real debates, we agreed to limit ourselves to approximately the same total number of words in each corresponding chapter. This plan forced us to make some of our points very concisely, but our brevity should enable our book to keep the attention of even the most impatient reader.
- Or so we hope. Whether we succeed in these goals is, of course, for you to judge.
- William Lane Craig would like to thank … Walter Sinnott-Armstrong for being such a charitable and engaging partner, not only in each debate but also in the production of this book.
- Walter Sinnott-Armstrong would also like to thank the sponsors of our two live debates, as well as William Lane Craig for providing such spirited and genial opposition. In addition, Sinnott-Armstrong is very grateful to all of his colleagues in various departments at Dartmouth College who helped him with details in their areas of expertise … Finally, Sinnott-Armstrong would like thank … the reviewers for Oxford University Press, especially Edwin Curley, for their detailed comments.
Footnote 1: Truncated somewhat towards the end.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)