Customer Reviews: Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology (Clarendon Paperbacks)
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VINE VOICEon February 26, 2000
This is not the easiest book in the world to read. Then again, its subject matter is recondite enough to warrant its difficult essays. It is recommended that anyone who wishes to take on this monster first be acquainted with philosophy as well as contemporary 20th century cosmology. Stephen Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes" and Timothy Ferris' "The Whole Shebang" would be good places to start before attempting to read this book. It would also be helpful for one to have read at least one book on quantum mechanics ("Taking The Quantum Leap" by Fred Alan Wolf would be a wise choice) as a pre-requisite. Even having read these books beforehand, this is STILL not an easy book.
What this book deals with is the First Cause argument which St. Thomas Aquanis borrowed from Aristotle & then modified for Christianity. The question it confronts is "Why is there something rather than nothing?" The Creationist's answer is that the answer lies with God, the cause of all things. The atheists counter that this does nothing but push the question back, as then one must ask "where did God come from?" (if, indeed, the universe "came" from anywhere at all). If one cannot answer this, then why not just skip a step and say that nobody knows where the universe came from? (as opposed of taking the seemingly superfluous step of inferring a God or gods). William Craig Lane defends the theistic side of the argument while Quentin Smith takes the helm for the atheists. Both are quite erudite & it makes for a very good match.
In the 20th century, scientists used to adore the "steady state" theory, which was invented by Sir Fred Hoyle, the famous Cambridge astronomer. Why? you ask. Well, in the 1920s Edwin Hubble confirmed what Einstein's theory of Relativity had already predicted: the universe was either expanding or contracting (expanding, as it turns out). Due to the redshift, if one were to "run the film backwards" the universe must have been at a single point sometime in the remote past. However, if this were true, it would suggest that the universe had a beginning. However, if this were true, one could say that that was the moment of "creation" that Aristotle & St. Thomas Aquanis were talking about. This became known as the Big Bang theory.
Enter Hoyle. Hoyle speculated that there must constantly be matter "created" (for lack of a better term?) that "fills in the gaps" between galaxies as they rushed away from each other. This became known as the "steady state theory." The theory was very ad-hoc, but it did preserve an infintely old universe and was adopted by over 90% of the scientists on the planet.
The story took a decided turn in the mid 1960s when Arno Penzias & Ralph Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which was radiation left over from the first instants of the incredibly hot Big Bang. Almost overnight, Big Bang passed the steady state theory in the HOV lane. Today, steady state is a dead theory.
To many scientists' horror, they once again had to grapple with the First Cause argument as applied to a finite universe. Sir Arthur Eddington once said "I find the idea of a beginnig to the universe repugnant. I should like to find a genuine loophole." Oscillating universe theory became the favorite "loophole" of atheists. However, it suffers from significant faults (as William Craig Lane describes in this book).
This is a wonderful book as the polemics of the First Cause argument are presented on the battlefield of cosmology rather than straight-philosophy these days. That is as it should be. The book is filled with paradoxes of infinity as well as the possiblity of the entire universe being a quantum fluctuation (virtual particle) gone awry. Although the book dabbles with the Anthropic Principle a wee bit, it is primarily focused on the question of causation. Did God create the universe? Or is it, as they say, turtles all the way down? Or did the universe LITERALLY appear out of nowhere (and nothingness)? Read this book & you will be much more informed to decide for yourself.
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on September 1, 1997
There are no easy answers to questions about the existence of God, especially when such questions are framed around the very unobserved origin of our universe. Drs. Craig and Smith provide helpful insight into the theistic and atheistic viewpoints on matters pertaining to the much-neglected "kalam cosmological argument." This work is a valuable resource for those seriously interested in a scientific and philosophical analysis of one of the greatest questions of all time: Does God exist? The book's point-by-point debate format gives the reader anticipated answers filled with rich information no one can do without
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on January 2, 2001
According to Big Bang cosmology, the universe began to exist about fifteen billion years ago with an explosion called `the Big Bang'. But was this explosion created by God, or did it occur without cause? In Part I, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig defends the theistic interpretation of Big Bang cosmology. In Part II, atheist philosopher Quentin Smith defends the atheistic interpretation. Part III contains Craig's and Smith's interpretations of Stephen Hawking's cosmology, and its implications for the existence of God.
An excellent scholarly resource for anyone interested in the debate over Big Bang cosmology. Readers unfamiliar with Big Bang Theory may wish to consult other works before reading this one.
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on September 28, 2004
Recent developments in the field of cosmology have caused it to become increasingly topical in the theism - atheism debate. Theoretical and empirical work during the last century has shattered the common modern belief that the universe was temporally infinite. Indeed, these developments have made a compelling argument for the universe having an actual being. Obviously, if one accepts the finitude of the past this view has profound philosophical and theological implications. Why is there a universe? Is God the only viable hypothesis? In Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology, philosophers Quentin Smith and William Craig discuss these and other fascinating questions.

The book has three parts. It is laid out in a debate style format wherein one author puts forth their case that is subsequently followed by a series of rebuttals and responses. In Part 1 Craig makes the theistic case. In Part 2 Smith makes the atheist case. In Part 3 the authors discuss some of the cosmological musings made by Stephen Hawking in his popular works such as A Brief History of Time.

The first two parts of the book provide a comprehensive analysis of the implications of modern cosmology. Though well done, this discussion may be best suited for readers who possess some familiarity with modern physics and philosophical thought. An abbreviated and simplified overview of this topic can be found on Craig's website as part of a public debate between himself and Smith. For readers who have been exposed to Hawking's philosophical musings Part 3 should also be enjoyable. Smith in particular is helpful in reformulating and correcting some of Hawking's often muddled thoughts in this area.

Although some of the argumentation can seem rather esoteric the book is worthwhile for anyone seeking a better understanding of modern cosmology
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on October 3, 2007
In this advanced work, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debates atheistic philosopher Quentin Smith in a series of technical essays. The book is separated into three main sections.

In the first section, Craig and Smith debate the possible existence of the actual infinite in the real world. Craig contends that the infinite is applicable only, if at all, in the realm of the mathematical. While admitting the applicability of Cantor's set theory, he tries to show that an actual infinite instantiated in the real world would lead to contradictions. He also argues that it is impossible to create an infinite by successive addition. He therefore concludes that the universe had a beginning. Smith counters Craig by attempting to resolve the supposed paradoxes, and establishing the reasonability of an actual infinite.

In this section Craig also attempts to argue from the beginning of the universe to the necessity of a personal cause. Smith contends that, although the universe did begin to exist in the Big Bang, it is impossible to prove that it requires a cause and is therefore reasonable to assume that the universe began to exist without a cause.

In the second section, Smith attempts to construct an atheistic cosmological argument. He claims that the Big Bang singularity will emit all configurations with equal probability, and, therefore cannot be guaranteed to result in a life-permitting universe. He concludes that the unpredictability of the first states of the universe is incompatible with divine creation, since God would want to ensure a life-permitting universe. Craig addresses this by denying the actual existence of the singularity and by countering that God's interaction in the world to ensure a life-permitting universe is compatible with His attributes.

In the final section, Craig critiques Hartle-Hawking Cosmology, which purportedly eliminates the need for a Creator. Craig shows that this cosmology only averts the need for a Creator by utilizing metaphysically absurd concepts such as "imaginary time." Smith agrees that the cosmology needs some changes in order to remain coherent, and in the final essay he attempts to improve the metaphysics of the cosmology in order to construct a plausible alternative to Divine Causation.

This book, while extremely informative and interesting, was also very technical. Thus, it is recommended only for those who have a great interest in the topics discussed and who are looking for an advanced treatment of the issues.
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William Lane Craig (born 1949) is a Christian apologist formerly associated with Campus Crusade for Christ; he currently holds the position of research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He has written many books, such as God?: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist (Point/Counterpoint (Oxford Paperback)),Hard Questions, Real Answers, etc. Quentin Smith (born 1952) is professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University; he has written books such as Time, Change and Freedom: An Introduction to Metaphysics,Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language, etc. This 1993 book consists of alternating essays by the two men.

Craig argues, "if an actual infinite could exist in reality, it would be impossible to add to it. But it obviously is possible to add to, say, a collection of books; just take one page from each of the first hundred books, add a title-page, and put it on the shelf. Therefore, an actual infinite cannot exist in the real world." (Pg. 14) Later, he adds, "I have argued that scientific evidence concerning the expansion of the universe indicates that the universe is finite in duration, beginning to exist about 15 billion years ago. This is a truly remarkable confirmation of the conclusion to which philosophical argument alone led us." (Pg. 56)

Smith states, "[Craig] writes that the causal proposition 'is so intuitively obvious, especially when applied to the universe, that probably no one in his right mind REALLY believes it to be false.' His point here seems to be that this is self-evident, that it cannot be conceived to be false. But this claim itself seems obviously false; I find it quite easy to conceive of the universe beginning to exist without a cause." (Pg. 182)

This is one of the best Christian/Atheist debate books out there---particularly in its detailed treatment of cosmology. It will be of considerable value to anyone interested in Christian apologetics, or the philosophy of religion.
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on December 19, 1997
The book is a debate between two well-informed philosophers who debate the implications of big bang cosmology on the issue of God's existence. I recently re-read the book and was amazed at what I missed the first time around. The technical nature of the book will make it difficult to understand for those who are unfamiliar with both philosophical argument and big bang cosmology. I recommend one read Robert Jastrow's _God and the Astronomers_ and Hugh Ross' _ Creator and the Cosmos_ before embarking on this heavy dose of technical philosophy. I consider Craig's Kalam cosmological argument for God's existence to hold more weight than Smith's interesting but weak cosmological argument for God's non-existence.
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on June 21, 2006
Contemporary science presents us with the remarkable theory that the universe began billions of years ago with a cataclysmic explosion, the `Big Bang' But was this explosion created by God? The question of whether Big Bang cosmology supports theism or atheism has long been a matter of discussion among the general public and in popular science books, but has received scant attention from philosophers. This book sets out to fill this gap by means of a sustained debate between two philosophers.

William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith take turns defend opposing positions in alternating chapters. In Part I, Craig argues that the past necessarily is finite and that God created the universe, and Smith presents his criticisms of these arguments. Part II consists of Smith's arguments that Big Bang cosmology is inconsistent with theism and that the Big Bang has no cause, with Craig's criticisms of Smith's argument. Part III presents both philosophers' interpretations of Stephen Hawking's new quantum cosmology and its bearing upon theism.
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on June 29, 2015
Dr. Craig never disappoints!
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on May 2, 2008
I read the reviews before ordering the book. But I didn't read that this is the most important event in later philosofical literature (Amazon review).
So I decided to give five stars in the hope they publish my review
I read every book's single page in three days. It is a real page turner.
And after came the headache. But it's over.
What happens when science reaches its limits? Science of cosmology reached its limits in which concerns the origin of the universe. For good or for the moment. "We can't find what caused the big bang explosion since the explosion destroyied prooves" quoting freely some poor science soul.
And then appear the philosofers and retired phisycs building models and killing each other about these models. Well you can drink a botlle of whiskey but never drink a model of one.
Cosmological models are abract structures of relationships between inexistent objects. Frames and wind. Kites.
Do you know what I mean? When Craig says that a point with no dimensions containing all the matter in the universe with infinite density is somewhat abstract, Smith answers "do you deny that it existed?"
And if you after reading the book, visit Craig's personal page in the net, you rub your eyes looking at the books about Jesus and the Trinity.
They postulate their arguments and list immediatly the possible counter arguments and answer them. So fantastic.
A theater of shadows.
Craig says in the first essay (I'm not quoting) that the cause of the universe is god but, he straightens immediatly, a god who only sets the big bang in motion, but doesn't hang around the universe to keep his laws.
A few essays later if you have good memory, you notice that Craig moved from that deist standing to the one that god participates constantly in creation, the traditional theistic standing-a theist standing.
I have to be fair. At least Quentin Smith doesn't do that.
Trying to remember what I read, I think that Quentin Smith is the winner. Let Craig sell his Jesus books.
I recommend this book to everyone interested in the subject, it helps with your mental agility.
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