For well over 20 years, William Lane Craig has debated atheists, including the late Henry Morgentaler in 1991. Even the "New Atheist" Sam Harris has said of Craig that he is the "one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists." Craig holds two PhDs, a voluminous publication list and highly refined debating skills. Readers will get a glimpse of his talents in A Reasonable Response, in which he answers difficult religious questions that were put to him by individuals from all over the world.
Co-author Joseph E. Gorra is heavily involved with the graduate Christian apologetics program at Biola University. He also serves as the managing editor for Philosophia Cristi, a peer reviewed journal published twice a year by the Evangelical Philosophical Society.
Gorra has written a lengthy introduction to the book, which contains six parts, a conclusion and three appendices. The first part seeks to overcome obstacles that people often encounter in their search for Christian truth and addresses questions on the certainty of knowledge, the challenge of atheism, the role of the Holy Spirit, criteria for good argumentation, logic and the objectivity of truth. Craig points out that people who do not believe in objective truth will have a hard time accepting the claims of Christianity. Astonishingly, some theologians, through the use of postmodern epistemology, have denied the existence of objective truth while not realizing that, in so doing, they actually affirm its existence. Their position is demonstrated to be incoherent. Nonetheless, Craig recognizes that arguments alone are insufficient to bring people to the faith. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is ultimately what is necessary.
The next sections of the book involve questions about God, origins and the meaning of life. Craig is particularly effective when it comes to providing plausible arguments for God’s existence, defining and defending God’s attributes (also known as the coherency of the concept of God), and explaining God’s relationship to time. He expounds various arguments for God’s existence, including the Kalam cosmological argument, the contingency argument, the fine-tuning argument and the moral argument.
The Kalam argument deserves particular attention as it is simple but persuasive. It can be summarized with the following syllogism: 1) whatever begins to exist has a cause; 2) the universe began to exist; and, therefore, 3) the universe has a cause for its existence. Craig provides both scientific and philosophical reasons to demonstrate the truth of the second premise, arguing philosophically the impossibility of an infinite number of past events, and scientifically the evidence from the standard Big Bang Model. As for the first premise, it seems metaphysically obvious. The simplicity of the argument eases learning and sharing.
The fourth part deals with the afterlife and evil, including Molinism, Creation, Heaven and Hell. Craig provides a systematic way of addressing the problem of evil by distinguishing between its logical and emotional aspects. He acknowledges that the latter aspect can create stumbling blocks to the Christian faith that are serious but not insurmountable. It is worth mentioning that, in general, philosophical atheists have abandoned what is called the "internal problem of evil," namely that the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God is incompatible with the presence of evil in the world.
Having concluded that God’s nature is no longer at odds with the presence of evil, these atheists now focus on what is known as the "external problem of evil," an expression which is meant to signify that God’s nature is inconsistent with the "amount and kinds of evil" that truly exist. This recent philosophical development on the problem of evil has permitted Craig to respond in the particular way that he has. Craig also explains the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. He does so by elucidating a middle knowledge position for God known as Molinism that originated with the 16th century Jesuit priest Luis Molina.
The fifth component contains questions about the Resurrection, divine self-understanding of Jesus, doubt, the meaning of having a relationship with God, spiritual failure and how to face the fear of ridicule and rejection. Craig argues that there is a good deal of historical evidence for the Resurrection, in particular Jesus’ burial, the discovery of the empty tomb, His appearances to the disciples and the determination of the disciples to preach the Good News in the face of martyrdom. He also presents authentic sayings of Jesus that demonstrate His divine self-understanding (Mark 12:1-9, Matthew 11:27). Craig shows that Jesus identified Himself as God’s unique son. Aside from historical claims about Jesus’ self-understanding and the Resurrection, Craig delves into the important issue of discipleship to Jesus.
He responds to a question about the fear of ridicule and rejection in the context of apologetics and evangelism, indicating that it is a blessing when we are ridiculed or persecuted in Christ’s name (Matthew 5:11-12). In many respects, our timorous nature in the West is deplorable considering the great persecutions many have suffered in other parts of the world for Christ’s sake. Craig drives this idea forcefully when he states: "When believers in China and various Islamic countries are being imprisoned, tortured and even killed for their faith in Christ, it is nothing short of scandalous that we in the West should shrink from enduring so much as even verbal abuse or embarrassment for Christ’s sake! How could we dare to look our brothers and sisters in the face when our commitment is so paltry, so weak, compared to theirs?"
The sixth and final part of the book concerns issues of Christian practice such as living in postmodern society, marriage, homosexuality and maintaining physical stamina. Although this is not Craig’s area of expertise, he provides valuable insights gained through personal experiences, in particular failing a comprehensive theological exam at the PhD level and the challenge of living with a hereditary, debilitating neuromuscular disorder. These ordeals have helped shape his character through compassion, empathy, discipline, attentiveness and high intellectual scholarship.
A Reasonable Response is an indispensable pedagogical tool for those who seek to deepen their understanding of the faith. Although rigorous intellectual responses are not what will inevitably bring individuals to faith in Christ, they can indeed serve to remove some stumbling blocks.