Landon's Reviews > God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing In God Is Reasonable And Responsible

God Is Great, God Is Good by William Lane Craig
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May 24, 2010

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Chapter 1: William Lane Craig does a good job of responding to Dawkins on arguments for the existence of God. If you are under the false impression that "The God Delusion" adequately showed that theistic arguments fail, this chapter will help show that Dawkins' treatment was sometimes incompetent, and sometimes embarrassingly simplistic. Elsewhere Craig shows that Dawkins' central argument for atheism is a bad argument: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/N...

Chapter 2: J.P. Moreland makes some sort of an argument for Biblical theism based on the compatibility of that hypothesis with certain features of the human person that, he thinks, "scientific naturalism" has difficulties accounting for: (1) consciousness, (2) free will, (3) rationality, (4) unified selves, and (5) intrinsic, equal value and rights of humans. An interesting chapter, but barely seems to scratch the surface on the issue. I think there is a problem with the way he sets up his argument, and I think when the issue is properly framed it doesn't overwhelmingly support theism over naturalism.

Chapters 3-5: Relatively unnoteworthy. Paul Moser has a chapter in which he promotes a different approach to thinking about evidence for the existence of God, but the reasoning is difficult to follow and sometimes seems to be special pleading--e.g. if God is morally perfect, as he allegedly is, we should expect that he would give good convincing evidence to those who are willing to devote their lives and love to him. This would explain why the rest of us aren't given the convincing evidence that we require before we become believers. Then John Polkinghorne has a somewhat boring chapter on God and physics, in which he suggests that various aspects of what physics tells us points to something beyond the universe (i.e. a rational creator). The discussion was a bit dull, and the arguments were again hard to follow. One would think that if you are trying to argue for the existence of God based on good evidence, the line of reasoning that gets from point A to point B should be easy to follow, but it is apparently shrouded in rhetoric, if it's there at all. Then Michael Behe has a better chapter about God and evolution. The chapter is too short to really digest the argument he is trying to make, but essentially he argues that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection (which almost every professional biologist accepts) cannot account for things we know about the complexity of living organisms at the microscopic level. He briefly gives a bit of history of the issue, then quickly covers his irreducible complexity argument (from "Darwin's Black Box"), and then finishes the discussion by reviewing the main line of thinking that comes from his most recent book--"The Edge of Evolution." Only this chapter is really worth taking the time to read, though one would be better off just reading Behe's book rather than trying to learn the material from this all-too-short summary.

Chapter 6: Better than the previous few chapters. Michael Murray gives a pretty helpful summary of the basic positions that sociologists of religion have taken regarding the ultimate cause of religious belief in human beings. He explains some basic terminology and outlines the reasoning of those who argue that religion is an adaptation (or a byproduct of an adaptation) of natural processes. Of course the chapter is yet again too short for him to get into the problems he alludes to that all of these views have, but his other work is cited in a footnote, so the reader can explore the information there. Dawkins and Dennett (in "The God Delusion" and "Breaking the Spell" respectively) both endorse one of these accounts, and both of them think that it does something damaging to religious belief to point out how religious belief got started in the first place. Murray does a good job briefly responding to that idea.

Chapter 7: Chad Meister turns the table on the atheist. Many atheists are fond of the problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God. Meister argues that atheists themselves need to come up with a foundation for objective morality. This is essentially the same material covered by Craig when he discusses the moral argument for the existence of God, and Paul Copan, who similarly argues that atheism does not allow for objective morality. Meister does a good job of discussing this familiar issue, and he claims (probably correctly) that the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens) do not adequately outline a moral theory. (Harris will release a book in the fall of 2010 which will hopefully address this issue.) I should note that even if the New Atheists themselves fail to addrses this criticism, there are others who have. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong's book "Morality Without God" is an example, as is the more sophisticated "Atheism, Morality, and Meaning" by Michael Martin.

Chapter 8: Alister McGrath argues against the New Atheist contention that "religion is evil." Just what does the atheist mean when he talks about "religion" as a universal category? There is no clear definition, which makes the claim "religion is evil" a bit naive. Also, McGrath argues that there is something more fundamental about the evils in the world--they don't need religion, but can express themselves in forms of political extremisim as well. Fanaticism of any type can be dangerous; even the fanaticism of atheist regimes (such as Stalin's Soviet Union) does not always lead to a peaceful enlightenment, but can instead be quite evil.

Chapter 9: Paul Copan takes on the New Atheist claim that "Yahweh is a moral monster." The Old Testament is full of divinely sanctioned laws and moral rules that today we think are outrageous. God commands his people to kill homosexuals, to kill every man, woman, child, and animal in a certain region, etc. In response, Copan agrees that this is not the pinnacle of moral wisdom, but he claims that it does not need to be. God could not dramatically change the moral context of the Ancient Near East, but these rules are a clear improvement and helped guide the way toward the ultimate goal that God had in mind. I think Copan did a pretty good job of making that point, though I'm a bit skeptical of the content of this chapter right now because I know that Hector Avalos has a rebuttal chapter in the recently released boko "The Christian Delusion," so I'll have to see if he makes a good case there. When Copan gives his concluding remarks he makes a bunch of unsubstantiated claims (but, of course, he didn't have the room to substantiate them). For example, the claim already discussed in earlier chapters that naturalism does not allow for value (or objective morality). He also claims that Western civilization owes many of its advances to Christianity, though he doesn't get into any details about what contributions he has in mind. He mentions the rise of science as something motivated by Christian theology, but Richard Carrier has a chapter on this in "The Christian Delusion" also.

Chapter 10: Jerry Walls has a well-written chapter on how it is that God could have created hell. One of the first stumbling blocks I encountered when I was a believer was the apparent incompatibility of a loving God sending people to hell for eternity. Walls does not think of hell as a place of actual fire and brimstone, but he does think that the people there will be miserable. The reason God allows it is simply because he gave us free will, and some of us freely choose to reject him. And rejecting God is akin to rejecting love, joy, and happiness, which means that we build a hell of our own and lock the door from the inside, so to speak. This chapter was enjoyable to read, but it did not convince me. How, for example, am I rejecting God if I simply do not have the requisite evidence to believe that he exists? If I seek the evidence by reading books such as this one, and I'm not convinced by the arguments (because, for example, I think they are flawed), how does that constitute a rejection of a loving God worthy of damnation? Of course he could follow a number of other Christians in claiming that my reasons for rejecting God are not intellectual after all, but are simply psychological--I don't want there to be a God, for example. But as soon as he tries to take that path he has insultingly ended the conversation. I think there are other worries about hell also, but there is further reading listed at the end of the chapter so maybe I'll have to read one or more of those books to get some answers.

Chapter 11: Charles Taliaferro has a decent chapter about how it is reasonable to recognize divine revelation in the Bible. There were some interesting points in the chapter, but nothing I care to really talk much about.

Chapter 12: Scot McKnight's chapter simply sketches certain characteristics of the Biblical Jesus: he was free, confident, a "lightning rod", an activist, preachy, charismatic, spiritual, etc. With each of these characteristics, the author presents some scriptural evidence. To be honest, there's not much more to the chapter than this.

Chapter 13: Gary Habermas has a good, clear chapter outlining the historical case for the claim that Jesus' followers were proclaiming the resurrection shortly after his death. This combats the notion that the stories of Jesus' resurrection were legendary developments that came years later. Instead, Habermas argues that very shortly after Jesus died, people were already claiming to have seen him risen from the dead. He argues for this based on things that Paul writes in some of his New Testament epistles. This argument (whether you read this particular chapter, or read Habermas' treatment of the issue elsewhere) is necessary reading for those who wish to combat resurrection apologetics. I recall listening to an internet radio show which was essentially an hour long debate between Habermas and skeptic Robert Price about this very issue, so readers should keep in mind that there is a response to the argument that they should take into consideration.

Chapter 14: Mark Mittelberg brings the main section of the book to a close with his chapter "Why Faith in Jesus Matters." First, he argues that everyone has faith in something--of course supported by a particular definition of "faith". Then he seems to equivocate, because he says that since everyone has faith in something, you might as well have faith in Jesus. But for many people, the kind of faith we'd have to have in Jesus would be a "blind leap" as opposed to the more mundane kind of faith that he began his chapter discussing--trust in something which you can't prove or know in an absolute sense. In a footnote Mittelberg tells us that there is overwhelming evidence that the Bible is historically reliable, and even that it is a supernaturally inspired book. On this basis, he argues that faith in Jesus makes good sense, since Jesus was powerful (he controlled nature according to the Gospel stories), he was knowledgeable (he could read minds according to the stories), he was eternal (Jesus made a vague claim in the Gospel of John that suggests he thought of himself as eternal), and he is a paradigm of goodness. The author claims that the things we fill our lives with to give us happiness are fleeting, and that we need Jesus to give us true meaning and lasting joy. The chapter ends with a plea to come to a relationship with Jesus.

The appendix consists of two items. First is an interesting interview between Gary Habermas and the late atheist-turned-deist Antony Flew. Flew was a very influential atheist philosopher during the course of the second half of the twentieth century, but early in the 2000s he apparently became convinced that God does exist after all. Habermas, a longtime friend of Flew, interviewed him to pick his mind about this and related issues. This does help a bit to understand what his state of mind was. It is bizarre how he seems to avoid answering questions at times; skeptics may take this as more confirming evidence that his mental health was in decline in his later years. The controversy over Flew's conversion, and his book "There Is A God" has been detailed by Mark Oppenheimer (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/mag...) and Richard Carrier (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/20...).

The final item in the appendix is Alvin Plantinga's review of "The God Delusion." Plantinga is a notable philosopher, often considered the greatest Christian philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century (or longer)--though the same has been said, I think, of Oxford's Richard Swinburne. Plantinga's review of Dawkins' book is a very good read.

Overall, the collection was a mixed bag. Some of the chapters are worthy of recommendation, and some aren't. Craig, Moreland, Murray, Meister, Copan, Walls, and Habermas all wrote some interesting chapters. However, some of it can be found elsewhere. Craig says the same things he's always said--the trouble is that Dawkins (and Dawkins' apologists) don't even bother listening. He also has a paper up online somewhere which is basically the same material as the chapter in this book. Moreland covered some interesting ground, so it's worth reading and thinking about. Murray is good at explaining the issues, and made a good point in his chapter. Meister's discussion of objective morality is a relief to read when all you ever hear is Craig's repetitive coverage of that material. Copan's chapter was informative, but should be supplemented with the chapter by Avalos I mentioned above. Walls' chapter was just fun to read, and Habermas presented a clear argument. The appendix was also a bonus. The rest of it was not so great. Behe's chapter was somewhere between the good chapters listed above and the rest of them.
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