Professors debate the existence of God

by Ithan Peltan | 11/5/99 6:00am

More than 400 community members packed Cook Auditorium last night to witness two philosophers Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Dr. William Lane Craig engage in a lively and passionate debate on the timeless question, does God exist?

Throughout the forum, both Craig and Sinnott-Armstrong emphasized that the purpose of the lectures was to inspire an exchange of ideas rather than rationally determine God's existence.

"They are very passionate, which made for very provocative conversation and dialogue," Interim College Chaplain Reverend Gwendolyn King -- who served as moderator -- said.

Sinnott-Armstrong, who argued against the existence of God, and Craig, who argued in the affirmative, restricted their debate to the existence of an omnipotent, good, eternal and personal God, as traditionally defined within Christian theology.

Craig -- a research professor of philosophy at Talbot Theological Seminary in La Mirada, Calif. -- began the debate by citing five reasons for God's existence.

He argued that God's "super intellect" was required for the origin and development of the universe, which were scientifically improbable.

In addition, he noted that universal and objective moral standards also require a divine influence in the form of God.

The resurrection of Jesus and the rapid rise of Christianity were also cited as examples of God's work. Craig encouraged his audience, as well, to reflect on immediate, personal experience as proof of God's existence.

"We must not so concentrate on the arguments that we fail to hear the inner voice of God in our hearts," he said.

Sinnott-Armstrong -- a professor of philosophy at Dartmouth -- began his segment of the debate by enthusiastically refuting portions of his opponent's logic.

His light-hearted response to his opponent's arguments -- which he termed the result of "bloated conclusions" and "excessive footnotes" -- drew laughter from the audience, as well as highlighted the differences between his energetic speaking style and Craig's more polished manner.

Presenting three arguments against the existence of God, Sinnott-Armstrong challenged the personal character of God. He also questioned the lack of evidence supporting God's existence, suggesting that if God existed, it would necessarily be obvious.

Sinnott-Armstrong focused, however, on his third argument -- that if God existed, being both good and all-powerful, he would not allow the existence of evil which was not "adequately compensated by good."

He gave the example of an infant who is born with birth defects and suffers and dies. He argued that if God can stop suffering but doesn't, he's not good, and if he cannot stop it, he is not all-powerful.

Whether such "gratuitous" evil, as Craig termed it, exists, formed the basis of an energetic dialogue between the two speakers during the conversational portion of the debate. Craig argued that humans cannot always understand the God's infinite reasoning, and therefore, cannot understand the existence of evil.

Craig earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, England and his Doctorate of theology at Universitat Munchen, Germany. He has published several books and articles on philosophy and religion.

Sinnott-Armstrong received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Yale University. He has published many books and articles on topics ranging from ethics to epistemology.

The debate was the second in a series presented this term on the existence of God and was sponsored by Voces Clamantium, the Navigators Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ.

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