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Does God Exist?: The Craig-Flew Debate Paperback – October 23, 2003
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'In the debate in 1984 on the existence of God between Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell, it is generally agreed that Russell won. Copleston could find no convincing arguments for his relief in a creator God; and Russell was content to assert: 'The universe is just there, and that's all.' Fascinatingly, a rerun of that debate, 50 years later, between William Lane Craig and Anthony Flew had a quite different outcome. The reason for this is the current consensus among scientists that the universe had an absolute beginning, and that the universe appears to be 'finely tuned' for the emergence of life and mind. This is accepted by Craig and Flew, and by almost all those who discuss their arguments in Stan Wallace's book... ' Church Times 'For those less familiar with the field it is an excellent introduction... it could be used in philosophy of religion courses to analyze the different arguments and the assumptions underlying them... A book that makes one think.' ESSSAT 'This will be a useful volume to all those interested in the current state of the debate concerning arguments for the existence of God.' Theological Book Review 'Largely nontechnical and well organized, this work could serve as a textbook in college classes on the philosophy of religion.' Choice '... the book offers an accessible doorway into a very important discussion and for this reason it is worth buying.' Reviews in Religion and Theology '... this volume provides an interesting discussion from both a theistic and atheistic perspective on the status of arguments for and against the existence of God... An excellent resource for all those interested in the questions central to apologetics and philosophical theology.' Religious Studies Review
About the Author
Stan W. Wallace Contributors: Keith Yandell, R. Douglas Geivett, William Rowe, William J. Wainwright, Michael Martin, Keith M. Parsons, David Yandell, Paul Draper, William Lane Craig, Antony Flew.
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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. This book contains the transcript of the debate between Flew and Craig on Febuary 18, 1998 at the University of Wisconsin---the 50th anniversary of the famous BBC debate between Bertrand Russell and Fr. Fredrick Copleston (reprinted in The Existence of God). Then follows written comments on the debate by eight philosophers, and a final response by Flew and Craig.
Craig argues, "if a person committed an infinite number of sins, then he would deserve eternal punishment... Insofar as the damned in hell continue to hate and reject God, they continue to sin, and thus they incur further punishment. And thus, in a real sense, hell is self-perpetuating: because the sinning goes on forever, the punishment goes on forever." (Pg. 28)
Craig said in his summing-up, "In the original Copleston-Russell debate, Russell got away with sitting back, folding his arms, and playing the sceptic, thereby giving the impression that Copleston alone had to bear the burden of proof. I was determined that Flew should not escape so easily... If Flew was prepared to answer [the debate proposition] negatively, as opposed to confessing, 'I don't know,' he had to justify his answer." (Pg. 155)
Craig also concludes, "My final reason for theistic belief is that belief in (Christian) theism is properly basic... for a person who has experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and so come into personal relationship with God... My main differences with [Alvin] Plantinga are that I ... [am] in favour of reliance solely on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit..." (Pg. 179)
Flew, surprisingly, even has nice things to say about "the rank-and-file Jehovah's Witnesses coming to my door," who illustrate "the realized possibility of a dynamic and dedicated Christian faith ... rejecting traditional teaching about hell and promising salvation not from an eternity of torture but from an eternity of death," and praises their organization's "courage and committment" during WWII persecution by the Nazis. (Pg. 214-215)
Flew's performance was quite disappointing for skeptics and atheists; but the commentaries on the debate (including one by Michael Martin) help make this a very interesting book for anyone interested in Christian apologetics or the philosophy of religion.
The quality of the post-debate comments, though, was extremely high. Craig was pushed to try to clarify his arguments in ways that he often fails to do, and a couple of the commentators did a nice job of pointing out the sillier rhetorical tricks Craig uses on a regular basis. Definitely something to read if you have a serious interest in debates about the existence of God.
The layout follows a common format for debate-type books. First, a transcript of the debate is provided, followed by comments from subject matter experts representing both sides of the argument. Finally, the debaters are given an opportunity to make closing comments and respond to points raised by the other contributors.
The debate itself was quite good with the discussion covering all the major arguments, cosmological, teleological, existence of evil, etc. In fact, the 1998 debate was superior to the Russell-Copeston debate wherein Russell was largely evasive and did not actively engaged in debate (still an interesting read though). For those new to this area William Craig is the preeminent contemporary Christian apologist (arguably also one of the finest current day philosophers). In addition to his impressive intellectual abilities Craig is a seasoned debater and excellent communicator. Anthony Flew is also a well-known philosopher who has written and debated on the existence of God and other related philosophical questions. Although I respect Flew as a philosopher, he was overmatched by Craig both intellectually and rhetorically in this encounter.
In my opinion the weakest part of the book was the commentary by the subject matter experts. This is unfortunate, because quite often it is one of the more enjoyable aspects of this format. Michael Martin's comments were interesting, however, the others particularly David and Keith Yandell were weak and added little.
In summary, good book that provides a strong overview of contemporary arguments for and against the existence of God. If someone were to read just one book of this type, however, I would recommend God? God? is a debate on the same issue between Craig and Walter-Sinnott-Armstrong. Craig is outstanding in both these efforts, but Sinnott -Armstrong presents a stronger case than Flew for atheism.