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VINE VOICEon 6 January 2009
The question of whether God exists has been debated probably since the emergence of mankind. Unfortunately many such debates "degenerate into simplistic rhetoric or mutual misunderstanding...(or) become so technical that only experts can follow them". The authors' aim is the worthy one of presenting arguments for and against the existence of God in light of scientific and philosophical developments but in a spirit of intellectual freedom too often denied by atheistic and religious fundamentalists.

To achieve this objective both participants agreed the debate would be restricted to an examination of the idea that God, as defined within the Judaeo- Christian tradition, exists. They engaged in public debate then refined their arguments in literary form, with concrete examples and common language, leaving the reader to form their own opinion.

Craig argues that the existence of God makes sense of the universe, its origins, its fine tuning for intelligent life, the existence of objective (rather than relative) moral values in the world, the Christian message of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, all of which can be known and experienced. In later essays he raises questions about the cosmology of the university maintaining the traditional first cause argument and claiming that it has a teleological purpose which is evidence of design.

Sinnott-Armstrong claims that many of Craig's arguments are logically unsound, they attacked too many differing views and quoted too many sources rather than depend on original ideas. He claims morality exists whether God exists or not, denied the validity of miracles (especially the resurrection) and attacked the premises on which Craig based his case.

In a chapter entitled, "Some reasons to believe there is no God" he raises the perennial problem of evil (how can evil exist if God is good?), expounding his case on a point by point basis and reaching an agnostic conclusion which permits a diversity of religious practice in the world at large.

The title of the book is misleading. Craig rightly concludes that Sinnott-Armstrong opines that God does not exist but reaches an agnostic rather than an atheistic conclusion. Underlying Sinnott-Armstrong's position is the materialistic notion that we can only prove what we know and until we prove it we cannot know it. Yet scientists and philosophers have often taken a leap of faith in the pursuit of knowledge.

Both Craig and Sinnott-Armstrong fail to meet each other part way because their arguments are based on incompatible premises which neither seems willing to acknowledge. Neither of the participants manage to get beyond the immediacy of their own arguments to understand the mind of the other. They argue about God rather than understand what arguments about God really mean. Ultimately we are left with the same differing opinions with which each of the participants started.

Neither of them understands the politics of religious belief and while they express themselves in a reasonably simple and understandable manner - which serves as a good introduction to both sides of the debate - they do not, to my mind, progress that debate in the neutral manner they seem to have wished for or intended.

The book is easy to read but has a disappointing, if predictable, outcome. As I was taught as a child, "Never argue about religion or politics, you're not going to change anyone's mind". This one didn't. It's received four stars because of its ease of reading rather than any satisfaction with its contents.
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