C. Stephen Layman is professor emeritus of philosophy at Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Philosophical Approaches to Atonement, Incarnation, and the Trinity. He talked to us about his new book, God: Eight Enduring Questions (March 2022).
When did you first get the idea to write God?
In the last few years of my teaching career, I found myself wanting to write a series of essays on hard questions about God—questions that come up again and again in discussions with university students. So, I began to write drafts and to put them up for discussion with colleagues.
What are the “eight enduring questions?”
To start with, “Does God exist?” And then a series of questions generally thought to reveal serious problems for theism (the belief that God exists): “Why does God permit evil (and suffering)?”, “Why think God is good?”, and “Why is God hidden?” (i.e., if a God of love exists, wouldn’t he make his existence known to everyone?). The fifth question is: “How is God related to ethics?” Believers have given very different answers to this question and the answers are important components in a theistic view of the world. The sixth question is a classic: “Is divine foreknowledge compatible with human free will?” Here again, believers answer in different ways, and the answers have important implications for views about free will, determinism, moral responsibility, and divine knowledge. The last two questions aren’t directly about God, but they have important (and perhaps surprising) links with theism: “Do humans have souls?” and “Does reincarnation provide the best explanation of suffering?” Maybe I should add that the eight questions I’ve chosen to discuss are not the only enduring questions about God. Of course not. But they are certainly among the most important questions that come up again and again.
Who would you like to read God and why?
I have three main audiences in mind:
- In general, I believe that readers with an interest in philosophical questions about religion will find the book readable and full of important ideas and arguments. Each chapter takes up one of the enduring questions and the chapters are written so that they can be read independently (except when two chapters address the same question). Thus, if a reader is interested in some of the enduring questions but not all, it is easy to see which parts of the book to read.
- I’ve tried to write a book that philosophy instructors will find useful—one that is readable but avoids oversimplifying the issues, and one that is replete with interesting philosophical ideas and arguments. I think instructors will find that the book provides an informative, carefully argued set of reflections on the “enduring questions.”
- University students will find the book to be a helpful guide through complex philosophical territory.
What can readers find in your book that will resonate with today?
For believers and non-believers alike, religion remains an important concern. And God: Eight Enduring Questions provides a thoughtful exploration of contrasting worldviews, focusing mainly on theism (the belief that God exists) and naturalism (roughly, the view that there is no God and that the physical universe is the ultimate reality). Other views are also drawn into the discussion in places, for example, the belief that the universe is governed by an impersonal law of karma. I believe that God: Eight Enduring Questions provides a careful philosophical examination of the most influential worldviews on the contemporary scene.
How did you research this book?
As a philosophy teacher, I have been doing readings related to the enduring questions for many years. But I would like to emphasize two other factors that have shaped my thinking. First, for many years I was involved in weekly, informal philosophical discussions involving both students and faculty colleagues. These discussions were a crucible for trying out ideas and arguments. Second, in more formal colloquia with philosophy colleagues, my written work on the enduring questions has been put to the test; as a result it has undergone many changes and developed substantially over time.
Who is the biggest influence on you and your work?
I had many outstanding teachers, among them Robert and Marilyn Adams, Rogers Albritton, Thomas E. Hill, Jr., Alvin Plantinga, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Others have greatly influenced me primarily through their writings: William Hasker, Thomas V. Morris, William Rowe, Richard Swinburne, and Peter van Inwagen. Discussions with fine colleagues over the years have also influenced me in more ways than I can mention or even recall: Terence Cuneo, Jeanine Diller, Phil Goggans, Ken Himma, Dan Howard-Snyder, Patrick McDonald, Rebekah Rice, and Leland Saunders.