An Atheist Reads Reasonable Faith
Chapter 1: Faith and Reason: How Do I Know Christianity Is True?
- “In addition to serving, like the rest of theology in general, as an expression of our loving God with all our minds, apologetics specifically serves to show to unbelievers the truth of the Christian faith, to confirm that faith to believers, and to reveal and explore the connections between Christian doctrine and other truths.” (William Lane Craig, REASONABLE FAITH, p. xi)
- Reasonable Faith, unlike the two works of apologetics I’ve treated previously — The Case for Christ and Mere Christianity — is pitched unambiguously at those who are already believing Christians. Lee Strobel claims The Case for Christ is meant for unbelievers, but it becomes clear very early on that its primary ambition is to reassure Christians, not convince non-Christians. Similarly, while C.S. Lewis pitches Mere Christianity as an introduction to the faith for those unfamiliar with it, most of its arguments strike me as only being compelling to those who already believe the basics of Christianity to be true. Craig’s stated aim is not to convert unbelievers, but to teach Christians how to defend and present a positive case for their beliefs. In this respect, if no other, Reasonable Faith is the most honest of the three books I’ve examined so far.
- In the introduction, Craig divides apologetics into two sub-categories: offensive, which seeks to make a positive case for the truth of Christian claims; and defensive, which seeks to answer objections to Christian claims. (That’s OFF-fensive, not of-FEN-sive, though it might be that, as well — em-PHA-sis is wond-DER-ful.) Though he says that these two types of apologetics can be used together in practice, he limits his focus in Reasonable Faith to offensive apologetics. Why? First, a case offering reasons to believe Christianity is true is very important in our pluralistic age, when various faith traditions make equivalent but contradictory claims. Second, having a strong positive case automatically puts Christianity ahead of other faiths who lack such a case.
- Here we see the first hints in the book of Craig’s childish attitude toward argument and debate. He says of using offensive apologetics to argue for Christianity against competing worldviews, “If your apologetic is better than theirs, then you have done your job in showing Christianity to be true.” (p. xvi) But who decides which apologetic is better? There is no absolute standard — and Craig loves appealing to imaginary absolute standards, as we will soon see — so whose argument is better is a matter of opinion. Your apologetic might be better than theirs as far as the last guy was concerned, but I might prefer theirs to yours. I recently debated a YouTube Christian who goes by the handle shockofgod, who mimics Craig very closely when he debates atheists. And shockofgod’s gimmick is, “I’ve debated however many atheists and atheism has failed every single time, just like it has failed to disprove Christianity for thousands of years!” But this is an utterly meaningless boast for shockofgod to make — how many of the atheists he has debated have gone on to convert to Christianity as a result of being persuaded by his — that is, Craig’s — arguments? Doesn’t the fact that I and the other atheists who debated shockofgod are still atheists mean that the case for Christianity failed? If your metric is how convincing the case was, and I wasn’t convinced by shockofgod and he wasn’t convinced by me, isn’t that a push? How does Christianity win that one? And of course, atheism has only failed to disprove Christianity for thousands of years in the minds of those who have heard atheist arguments and remained Christians. What about those — and their numbers are growing all the time — who were compelled by atheist arguments to reject Christianity? Atheism certainly succeeded in disproving Christianity as far as they were concerned. So this absolutism when it comes to who has the better argument doesn’t really make much sense. And yet Craig talks this way a lot.
- So let’s see about Craig’s positive case for Christianity. Will I find that he has the better case for his Christianity than I have for my atheism?
Chapter 1: Faith and Reason: How Do I Know Christianity Is True?
- Craig begins each chapter with a summary of the historical background of the subject. In the case of this first chapter, Craig reviews how “representative thinkers of the past” have answered the question in the chapter title: How do I know Christianity is true. Craig reviews the thoughts of Augustine, Aquinas, Locke, Dodwell, Barth, Bultmann, Pannenberg, and Plantinga.
- I will mostly be skipping over these historical background sections and moving straight ahead to Craig’s own arguments, presented in the portion of the chapter subtitled ASSESSMENT, unless the historical background information being reviewed is of interest or relevance in evaluating Craig’s own thinking.
- Craig suggests making a distinction between knowing Christianity is true, and showing Christianity is true.
Knowing Christianity to Be True
- Role of the Holy Spirit: Self-Authenticating Witness. Craig suggests that Christians know Christianity is true not through evidence, but through the experience of the Holy Spirit. They know not because they have been convinced, but because they have felt the presence of God, and being in God’s presence provides them with objective knowledge of the truth.
- For Believers, the Holy Spirit dwells within them from the moment they become Christians. The Holy Spirit provides them with the assurance of salvation, and this is backed up by teaching in the New Testament from both John and Paul. The spirit does not, Craig believes, teach believers the finer details of Christian doctrine (the amount of disagreement among Christians is evidence of this). Rather, it assures believers as to the basic truths of Christianity.
- “Thus, although arguments and evidence may be used to support the believer’s faith, they are never properly the basis of that faith.” (p. 34)
- This disagrees with, and makes a lot less sense than C.S. Lewis’s concept of Christian belief as something that is compelled by evidence and argument, and then sustained by faith.
- Also, if all Christians need to be sure of the truth of their beliefs is the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit, if evidence and argument are never properly the basis of faith, why does the field of apologetics even exist?
- What about the Holy Spirit with unbelievers like yours truly? The Holy Spirit does not dwell within an unbeliever, but to Craig this doesn’t mean that unbelievers must rely on evidence and argument to be persuaded of the truth of Christianity. All they need is the Holy Spirit, too. To unbelievers the Holy Spirit delivers a knowledge of their own sins, and an awareness of God’s righteousness and their condemnation before God.
- This is necessary, Craig says, since without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, no one could ever become a Christian. Craig quotes Jesus from John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
- “Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.” (pp. 35-36)
- Before I get into what an arrogant and condescending philosophy Craig is espousing here, let me read you another quote from the next paragraph: “The unbeliever who is truly seeking God will be convinced of the truth of the Christian message.” (p. 36)
- What about the unbeliever who is not seeking God because he doesn’t think God is there? I cannot tell you — and perhaps I don’t have to — how irritating this attitude is, and it’s an attitude held by a lot of Christians about not just atheists, but all non-Christians. Oh, we’re just seekers. We’re lost. We haven’t found what we’re looking for yet. It is an incredibly condescending and stupid thing to say and I couldn’t blame a Christian for being insulted if such a thing was said about them by a member of another group. What if a Muslim, or a Hindu, or an atheist were to say to a Christian, “Oh, you’re just a seeker, you haven’t quite gotten there yet, but keep earnestly seeking and you’ll find the truth eventually.”
- But as insulting as that is, that prior quote from Craig is worse. On the basis of absolutely nothing other than his own subjective experience, Craig declares that if you’re not a Christian, it’s not God’s fault, and it’s not his fault as the apologist — it’s your fault. Because you shouldn’t be basing your beliefs on evidence and argument, anyway — what are you, an idiot? And you shouldn’t be rejecting the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit, either, which you are totally doing if you’re not a Christian, regardless of whether you’ve ever felt anything that could even remotely have been construed as a divine calling or not.
- How big of an asshole is William Lane Craig for not only believing this, but passing it on to others through this pathetic, bullshit apologetics textbook of his? He says every unbeliever — every atheist, every agnostic, every deist, every member of every faith outside of Christianity — has rejected Christ, and has willingly ignored or rejected the call of the Holy Spirit. Everyone.
- What about the people I mentioned a few minutes ago, those who were Christians once but have since rejected that faith? Did they turn their backs on the faith they once thought was true, perhaps alienating themselves from family and friends in the process, because they want nothing to do with a loving God who, according to Craig, they know exists?
- What about those who have tried, desperately, earnestly, their whole lives to believe, who have clung to arguments, searched for evidence, prayed and prayed and prayed with no response? Are they willingly rejecting the Holy Spirit?
- See, an atheist isn’t always someone who has never believed in God. An atheist isn’t even always someone who doesn’t want to believe in God. Those things are the case with a lot of people, sure. But sometimes an atheist is someone who used to believe in God — who sincerely, earnestly thought God was there — who now realizes he was mistaken. And sometimes an atheist is someone who desperately wants there to be a God, but refuses to be deluded by sophistry into believing there is one.
- But the one thing an atheist never is, by definition, is someone who believes they have first-hand, unmistakable knowledge of the existence of a righteous God, who willingly ignores that God.
- Role of Argument and Evidence. Craig cites Martin Luther to differentiate between the magisterial use of reason — where reason is used to judge the gospel using evidence and argument — and the ministerial use of reason — when reason is placed subordinate to the gospel.
- “Only the ministerial use of reason can be allowed.” (p. 36)
- This is only the first chapter, and I’m going to read and respond to the rest of this book, because whatever his work is actually worth, Craig does loom pretty large in popular apologetics and he’s someone atheists are forced to encounter over and over again — but just in case you’d like to skip this whole thing and totally dismiss him and everything he’s ever written and call bullshit on his whole stupid career, he provides you the perfect justification in this next quote:
- “Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.” (p. 36)
- Not only does Craig lack intellect and honesty, we see through that quote that he also lacks courage. What kind of philosopher — and Craig is a professional philosopher, and if you don’t know just ask him — would make a statement like this? He is playing a game with rules designed so that he cannot possibly lose. Is he really this dishonest? Does he really hold his audience in such low regard? Or is it that he’s aware of how pitifully feeble his arguments are and wants to give himself the maximum possible advantage. What he’s saying is this: Christianity is true because the God of Christianity tells me it’s true, and anything — any evidence, any argument, any experience — that suggests otherwise doesn’t count.
- Take a moment to really consider the depth of this man’s delusion, because you don’t find too many people willing to trumpet their willful ignorance this unabashedly. Craig trusts his own subjective experience — that is to say, his senses, his comprehension, his faculties that allow him to perceive and interpret that subjective experience, and the conclusion he has drawn, using those aforementioned faculties, about what a given experience was and what it meant — he trusts them so much that he will reject anything that tells him he might be wrong. And he thinks we should, too! (Provided we agree with him, of course.)
- If you’re looking for a reason to tune Craig out, look no further.
- Moving on: Having asked himself the hypothetical question of how an unbeliever is to determine which holy book is true between the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Bhagavad Gita, Craig responds that argument and evidence are not appropriate tools, because (as he’s already mentioned) the Holy Spirit tells everyone, directly, which teaching is true.
- (So stop making up those crazy stories just so you won’t have to worship the Christian God, Muslims and Hindus!)
- Why else, besides the blah blah blah Holy Spirit, is it wrong to use reason to decide whether or not Christianity is true rather than just accepting that it’s true and using reason only to defend it?
- “First, such a role would consign most believers to irrationality.” (p. 37)
- Is that an admission that Christianity is irrational? Yes and no — Craig asserts that Christians know their faith is true whether they have worked out rational arguments for it or not. See how much thinking the Holy Spirit can save you, Christians? I don’t blame Craig for taking advantage of it — thinking is hard.
- “Second, if the magisterial role of reason were valid, then a person who had been given poor arguments for Christianity would have a just excuse before God for not believing in him.” (p. 37)
- Yes, and we can’t have that! As Craig reminds us, the Bible says that all men are without excuse. There is no just reason for not believing in God.
- Craig’s favorite logical fallacy — and the boy loves him some logical fallacies — is the appeal to consequences. “This can’t be true, because if it were, then that would also be true! And we wouldn’t want that to be true!” You’ll find him doing that over and over and over.
- So the only valid role of rational argument relative to Christianity is that of a servant — arguments for the truth of Christianity are allowed. Arguments against the truth of Christianity don’t count. Seems like an honest and fair way to approach the issue, no?
Showing Christianity to Be True
- So that’s all about how we know Christianity to be true — which, according to Craig, we all do whether we want to admit it or not, and he knows this is true because he knows Christianity is true, so what the fuck is our problem? What about showing Christianity to be true? Well, when it comes to showing, rational argument is actually pretty useful, which we ought to expect given that, in Craig’s world, its only valid use is as Christianity’s bitch.
- Role of Reason: Systematic Consistency. Craig discusses using sound and persuasive arguments to defend the truth claims of Christianity. A statement is true only if it corresponds to reality, Craig says, and he cites as an example the statement “The Cubs won the 1993 World Series.” If the Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1993 (and appropriately enough, they didn’t), then the statement is not true.
- Craig then discusses how to construct a sound deductive argument. (This is like Lindsay Lohan teaching a driver’s ed class.) For a deductive argument to be sound, Craig explains, the premises must be true and the logic must be valid — that is, the conclusion must follow inevitably from the premises. To illustrate this, Craig shares an example of what he believes to be an example of a logically invalid argument:
1. If God exists, objective moral values exist.
2. Objective moral values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
“Although both premises are true, the conclusion does not follow logically from them, because the argument commits the fallacy known as ‘affirming the consequent.’” (p. 38)
- And Craig is right, the argument does affirm the consequent. But the argument is unsound before we even get to the second premise. It has not been demonstrated that objective moral values are a necessary consequence of the existence of Craig’s god or any other god. You can’t just assert that as a valid premise. It’s not a valid premise. Neither is the second premise. So we see how reliable Craig is as an instructor in the basics of logic.
- Craig presents the Lewis Trilemma as an example of an argument that is unsound because of false premises, since it’s possible that Jesus was something other than a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord (but of course, not really possible — Holy Spirit, etc. — just possible for the sake of argument, right, Bill? Can I call you “Bill”?)
- Craig explains that an inductive argument is one where the premises are true and the logic is sound, but the conclusion isn’t necessarily true — the conclusion is plausible, or very likely to be true, but not inevitably true. Every time I’ve ever dropped a book it has fallen to the ground; therefore when I drop this book it will fall to the ground. That’s an example of a sound induction. There’s nothing to suggest that I’m wrong, but I can’t be 100% certain that I’m right. [drops book] I was right, though.
- Craig admits that apologetics can only establish the systematic consistency of Christian claims. They can only show, at best, that Christian beliefs are consistent with what we know about reality and are probably true. There can be no certainty as a result of rational argument. Craig says this isn’t a problem, since 1) argument and evidence can’t provide us with absolute certainty about anything, and 2) Christians already get their absolute certainty about their beliefs from the Holy Spirit.
- “To demand logically demonstrative proofs as a pre-condition for making a religious commitment is therefore just being unreasonable.” (p. 40)
- Yes, shame on all of us who want to have reasons for thinking the things that we think.
- Craig spends the next several pages in a lengthy discussion of how to argue with those who have allowed their reason to be co-opted by the New Age movement, who will admit that their beliefs are irrational but nevertheless insist that they are true. Yes, I imagine that must be frustrating. Craig also complains about the vilification of Western thought in our “politically correct age,” and declares that we in the West should not be apologetic about our intellectual heritage, since it was Western thinkers in Ancient Greece who were able to define the principles of logic and establish them as the best mode of thought for interpreting and understanding the world.
- Craig dismisses (at length) fuzzy, Eastern-influenced claims about God’s indefinability as arbitrary and incoherent (and I agree with him there), then moves on to the similar disagreement between modernism and post-modernism. Modernism, says Craig, is synonymous with the rationalism of the Enlightenment, while post-modernism seeks to reject that Enlightenment rationalism, deny moral absolutes, and exalt pluralism, as he says. Craig insists that the traditional, classically logical view — that a given proposition is either true or false, and that to show that a proposition is true we must present sound arguments for it.
- Fair enough.
- But to be successful, apologetics must present arguments that are not only sound, but persuasive.
- “This raises a difficulty, since persuasiveness is to some degree person-relative. some people are easy to convince, while others simply refuse to be convinced. Plantinga has observed that you can actually reduce someone from knowledge to ignorance by presenting him with a valid argument containing premises he knows to be true for a conclusion which he simply refuses to accept, so that he has to deny one of the premises he knew to be true.” (p. 45)
- Does Craig realize he is describing himself there?
- Craig recommends crafting an apologetic that is as broadly persuasive as possible, while accepting that it will not persuade everybody. This is accomplished by appealing to widely accepted facts and common sense, and by appealing to authorities that are non-partisan rather than overtly sympathetic to Christianity. (I guess Lee Strobel skipped over this part.)
- Role of the Holy Spirit: Because we can’t possibly have a serious discussion about why Christianity is or is not true, Craig brings the Holy Spirit back into things, asserting that the Holy Spirit uses apologetic arguments to convince unbelievers of the truth. The Holy Spirit works not only through preaching, Craig says, but also through rational argumentation, and it is wrong of a Christian to continue preaching to an unbeliever who has raised questions about Christianity. Craig cites Paul as his justification for that, since Acts has Paul arguing with Jews about Christ and the various doctrines of early Christianity, rather than just preaching the message to them.
- More than this, Craig says that Christians are commanded by scripture to have such an apologetic case to present, should they be required to defend against the questions of an unbeliever.
- Craig seems to have changed his tune from earlier in the chapter, when he claimed that one of the reasons why reason must be ministerial rather than magisterial is because “The vast majority of the human race have neither the time, training, nor resources to develop a full-blown Christian apologetic as the basis of their faith.” (p. 37) Quit molly-coddling the brethren, Craig from Page 37 — they are commanded by scripture to have an apologetic case ready to show that Christianity is true — Craig from Page 46 says so!
- Just be sure you don’t let your use of argument distract you from the real goal: winning sinners to Christ. Present the gospel first, then come back and use your apologetic argument if they have any questions.
- Because if you can talk ‘em into the church without ‘em thinking too much, so much the better!
- It is the role of argument and evidence to show that the Christian worldview is true (only Craig uses “Weltanschauung” instead of “worldview” to remind us, in case we have forgotten, that he is a smarty-pants philosopher), and the role of the Holy Spirit to use those arguments to bring people to Christ.
- Craig recommends telling unbelievers some good reasons why Christianity is true, but also that if they still don’t believe after hearing the case presented, then that is only because the apologist has failed, not because the gospel isn’t true. “Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. . . . [U]ltimately you have to deal, not with my arguments, but with God himself.” (p. 48)
- A God I have no reason to think is actually there. But that’s not the apologist’s fault — every apologist is a poor apologist, because they are arguing for something that no one has a single sane reason to believe.
- Craig closes the chapter by celebrating how “liberating” it is to have a faith supported by argument and evidence that is not based on argument and evidence, and to be able to know that Christianity is true, and to tell unbelievers so, without depending on argument or evidence.
- I know, right? Insisting that one’s worldview — pardon me: Weltanschauung — be built on a foundation of reason and evidence is just so goddamn . . . limiting! It’s much easier and more reassuring to just know things, isn’t it?
- Nonetheless, apologetics is important to evangelism, since an unbeliever who has his questions ignored or dismissed might be turned off to the gospel for good — which, because the Holy Spirit is knocking at the door of his heart the whole time, is really his fault, but anyway — whereas presenting an unbeliever with some rational arguments showing that Christianity is true might be just the ticket!
- “At the same time, however, this view reminds us that unbelief is at root a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem. Sometimes an unbeliever will throw up an intellectual smoke screen so that he can avoid personal, existential involvement with the gospel. . . . Tell him lovingly and forthrightly that you think he’s throwing up an intellectual smoke screen to keep from confronting the real issue: his sin before God.” (pp. 49-50)
- Yes, apologists in training, remember above all that honest disbelief in the God of the Bible does not exist. Atheists, agnostics, spirtualists, mystics, and Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. — they are all just willfully denying the truth. And what is the truth? Why, the truth is what you believe — probably because you were taught it by your parents. Lucky you!
Next: Chapter 2: The Absurdity of Life Without God