The End of Apologetics Part 1

The End of Apologetics Part 1

A recent award-winning book declares 'The End of Apologetics'. It critiques Dr. Craig in particular. What is Dr. Craig's response?


Transcript The End of Apologetics Part 1

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, there is a new book out called The End of Apologetics from Myron Penner, who is an ordained Anglican priest and a philosopher. He has written this book with kind of a double entendre meaning – “the end of apologetics” meaning he wants to see modern apologetics, particularly the apologetics represented by Biola, by Norm Geisler, and so on, to end. And he also uses it as the end of apologetics as to what apologetics ultimately ought to be about. Have you heard anything about this book? Has it been brought up to you? It talks about you a lot.

Dr. Craig: Oh yeah. It received an award of merit from Christianity Today, the magazine. So it has gotten some notoriety. He is not saying that apologetics is coming to an end. I mean, you'd have to have your head in the sand to think that. We are going through a tremendous renaissance of apologetics right now. There are so many apologetics organizations that are flourishing like Stand to Reason, Reasons to Believe, RZIM, and a host of others. So obviously apologetics is surging rather than ending. But I think you are quite right in the way you explained it. He thinks it should end in the way that it is practiced today.

Kevin Harris: A friend of Reasonable Faith, Randal Rauser, who is known as the “Tentative Apologist” on his blog, did an interview with Myron.[1] We'd like to listen to some clips from that and get your response, Dr. Craig.

Myron Penner: In the book, I sort of position myself as being against apologetics. That comes out in the introduction. I am against a very particular thing, though, when I say against apologetics. Essentially the way I define it in the book is that I am against apologetics in the sense of trying to establish the rational foundations for faith as the basis on which Christian belief is believable, or Christianity is somehow justifiable or warranted, or something that is worthy of our belief, that we have to somehow describe a rational foundation which makes it allowable for us. That is the kind of apologetics. It is a very particular thing. I describe it as sort of modern apologetics.

Randal Rauser: Let me just jump in here. What you just described – is it something that you are rejecting for Christians that endeavor that would seek to make Christians justified, or would also seek to make a non-Christian justified in becoming Christian?

Myron Penner: That is a good question. As I wrote the book and as I sort of feel it as a message, for me it is directed primarily to myself (because I've gone through a whole journey with faith and had different ways of understanding myself and my faith). So I kind of directed it towards believers in one sense, but I think there is a fundamental problem in modern society and modern philosophy which tries to make everything sort of pass through this narrow pass of a very particular form of understanding of reason. My assumption (because I don't really argue for it) is that that form of reason is being shown and increasingly experienced as not helpful anymore and actually not viable and perhaps never really was. So I find it fundamentally problematic when Christians want to try and recommend Christianity to others on the basis of a rational foundation that itself isn't plausible at the end of the day.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, that is pretty typical of post-modernism. We would refer listeners to past podcasts on post-modernism.[2] Does that sound pretty typical of how a post-modernist feels?

Dr. Craig: I think it is ambiguous, Kevin. I think it is important in talking about the title of the book to look at the subtitle, rather than the title – “Christian Witness in a Post Modern Context.” I think the assumption there is that we live in a post-modern context. I think that is simply false! I think that is a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture. In fact, a post-modern culture would be an impossibility. It would be utterly unlivable. I think the fact is that we live in a culture which is deeply modernist in its convictions and assumptions. If I were to give evidence for that, I would point to the appeal and popularity of the so-called New Atheism. These people are indelibly modernists and even scientistic.[3] If we lived in a post-modern context, the books and works of the New Atheists would have fallen like water on a stone. Instead they have been drunk up as by thirsty ground. I think that is good evidence that he is simply wrong in the assumption that we live in a post-modern context and need to develop an apologetics suitable for such a context.

The way he characterizes the apologetics that he is criticizing is ambiguous. He criticizes apologetics which tries to establish a rational argument or foundation as the basis of belief. Now, the problem with that is, that sounds like it could be a description of what contemporary Christian philosophers call evidentialism. That is to say that faith in the absence of argument is irrational and therefore unacceptable. As you know, Kevin, I am not an evidentialist in that sense. I do not think that apologetics are necessary in order for faith to be rational or indeed in order for us to have knowledge that God exists and that the Gospel is true. I agree with Alvin Plantinga and Reformed epistemologists who say that belief in the great truths of the Gospel are properly basic beliefs which are grounded in the testimony of the Holy Spirit of God to our spirits. This is an objective fact about the world and means that any person no matter where he is located in time and history, whether he is illiterate, whether he has access to library resources, whether he knows anything about arguments for the existence of God or evidences of Christianity, can have a rational belief in the great truths of the Gospel and indeed can know the great truths of the Gospel. So if that is what he means by rational argument as a basis for belief then I reject that view of apologetics myself. I call it theological rationalism and I am not a theological rationalist. I think that there are sufficient arguments and evidences for the truth of the Gospel but they are not necessary.

So I am quite happy to reject that narrow view of reason that is called theological rationalism or evidentialism. But it doesn't follow from that that therefore there are no good arguments for the truth of the great truths of the Gospel or that our faith doesn't have sufficient justification rationally in order to affirm it. I would see us as having double warrant for our beliefs. We have the warrant of the witness of the Holy Spirit and we also have the warrant that is accorded Christian belief by the arguments of natural theology and Christian evidences.

Kevin Harris: Now, would you say you've taken an eclectic approach to apologetics, Bill? Because you are not an evidentialist strictly but you can bring in evidential arguments where appropriate. Is it appropriate to be eclectic like that? In other words, is that a classical apologist?

Dr. Craig: That is what I was going to say, Kevin. Rather than eclectic, I would say this is classical apologetics. There are sufficient arguments and evidence to ground faith rationally, but those arguments and evidences are not necessary in order for faith to be rational or in order for us to know that God exists and has revealed himself in Christ. That is, I think, a classical view.

I also noticed that Penner said that, although he regarded this narrow evidentialist or rationalist view of reason as not helpful or viable, he said that he doesn't argue for that. He just assumes it! That's not a very compelling case. I guess it is no case at all against the evidentialist. I think you've got to say a lot more than that you just think it is not helpful or viable. You need to show that in some way if you are going to reject this particular interpretation of reason.

Kevin Harris: I was going to mention as well, especially Christianity Today, a lot of the editorial staff at Christianity Today seem to have embraced post-modernism. They think it is the cat's meow and where culture has gone. Not all, but it certainly has come out.

Dr. Craig: It is very interesting, Kevin. Recently this past week did an interview with a reporter from Christianity Today on whether or not it is appropriate for players to praise God for making a play in the Super Bowl or to pray for their team to win in the Super Bowl.[4] And I said to the reporter, “Last year I was contacted by Christianity Today about doing an oral debate with Myron Penner about the end of apologetics and I said I would do it. I would be happy to do that, but then I never heard anything further from you folks about that. What ever happened to that?” I said to her, “His book now is out and more important than ever because it got an award of merit from Christianity Today.” Immediately this woman said to me, “Well, you should know that those book awards are not given by the editorial staff at Christianity Today. We hire an independent board of people who determine those awards.” I thought that was very interesting because she was backing away from his receiving this award from Christianity Today, even though I hadn't criticized it in any way. She obviously wanted me to know that it wasn't the editorial staff at CT that determined who got these awards.

Kevin Harris: Let's continue then with the interview:

Myron Penner: So it is really written to both. It is written to Christians who are trying to understand their faith, but it is also written for those who are outside faith and want to find a basis on which to believe something.

Randal Rauser: So what is this type of reason you are rejecting? Can you define what you mean by that?

Myron Penner: I kind of draw it out in terms of three attributes. It is an emphasis on objectivity, universality, and neutrality. It is a decontextualized set of reasons or reason process. So that reason becomes something that is disconnected from both our embodiment and historical process. So it is something that is out there. A shorthand for it could be something like “scientific reason” that sort of just thinks that there are facts out there in the universe and you just sort of cognitively bump into them and recognize them and they just sort of are facts out there.

Dr. Craig: Here we do begin to get this post-modernism, I think, creeping in because while I think we would recognize that as persons none of us is completely objective, neutral, and universal in the sense of not having a historical context from which we look at things (persons, obviously, are contextually located) but that doesn't mean that there isn't any objective truth, that there aren't universal facts or neutral facts that are out there to be known and to be found. There is a difference between the personal contextualization of the inquirer and the truth or the facts that he is looking for. Penner seems to slide from thinking that because we as people are contextualized that therefore there are no facts out there to be found. Now that is obviously a non sequitur, that doesn't follow. But worse than that, here we begin to see this self refuting nature of post-modernism rear its ugly head. When he says, “There are no facts out there” is that just his opinion or is that really true? Is that objectively true? Is that a fact?

Kevin Harris: Is he making a factual statement?

Dr. Craig: Exactly. If it is just his contextual perspectival take on things, well then we have no reason to agree with it. It doesn't represent the way things really are. But if he does think it is really true that there are no facts out there then he has refuted himself because he has just given us one.

Kevin Harris: Let's continue then:

Randal Rauser: Let's talk about somebody who is doing what you don't like. That might help us to put some meat on the bone. Who is there now? Are there people now that are doing apologetics in the way that you describe and that you would critique?

Myron Penner: Yeah. The person who sort of acts as a figurehead and whose face is on the target for most of the book is a guy named William Lane Craig who is extremely well known, in especially Christian circles, as an apologist and who is prolific, and is an extremely bright guy. I would make no pretense to be as bright as he is. He has two PhDs, one in philosophy and one in theology. He is a very bright guy. His book Reasonable Faith is I guess you could almost call it a classic. He describes himself as a classical apologist. He talks about how he came up with this method, and he has a very clear articulation of what his method is and what the grounds of it are and so on and so forth. I actually, in the first chapter after the introduction, talk about his own personal narrative or almost testimony about how he arrived at this method. So he is kind of someone who is a figurehead.[5] Then I discuss other apologetic methods. I don't discuss too many other apologists per se. He is at Biola University. They have really explicitly positioned themselves as defenders of the faith in the terms that I am opposing. So there is a whole host of other people there – I am thinking mostly of J. P. Moreland right now, Doug Geivett. They are kind of, if we can say it, the poster boys for what I guess I am trying to say we need to start to think differently from that.

Randal Rauser: Let's talk about Craig a little bit then. Craig distinguishes between knowing something is true and being able to show that it is true. He would argue that Christian belief can be properly basic, that it is not dependent upon reason or evidence, but that you can also provide evidences for other people to believe it is true – reasons to think it is true. What would you think about that distinction?

Myron Penner: Two things. The first thing I would say is that for Craig both knowing and showing are ways of being rational. It is a shift in epistemology, but it is still a way of making belief rational. Without that, it is illegitimate for Craig. He is really clear about that. Then there is a real fundamental irony in how he tells the story because he talks about his own conversion in which, in his words, he was compelled by the lives of the people who witnessed to him in high school. He immediately started investigating arguments and he found that their basis was faulty and he couldn't understand why they didn't use better arguments. So he started to articulate them. Then he goes off to a college which shall remain nameless because it is a Christian college that he is very critical of. He calls them all rationalists by which he really means they are liberals. He is just shocked when he hears one of his professors say that if the Bible or any of his Christian beliefs were irrational he would change those beliefs. Because in his gut he felt his experience with Christ was so real that he couldn't possibly deny it. So I just find it interesting that for Craig his belief in Christianity was motivated – he was shown the truth of Christianity prior to his being able to rationalize it. That was actually the basis on which he made the move initially. He rationalized later. Now, he can go on and sort of say, yeah, it is rational for these reasons but my problem is that he tries to force it through this rational rubric that is a modern form of reason, as opposed to other forms of reason.

Kevin Harris: A lot to talk about there, Bill.

Dr. Craig: Yes. I think there are some misinterpretations of what I've said that need to be corrected. Randal Rauser is certainly right in saying that fundamental to my religious epistemology is this distinction between knowing and showing. I've already suggested, Kevin, in our conversation that we can know the great truths of the Gospel either through the immediate witness of the Holy Spirit apart from argument and evidence or through argument and evidence. Now Penner is right in saying that these are both ways of being rational. That is right. Both of these show that it is rational to believe in the great truths of the Gospel and I think these are ways of knowing that they are true. But that is not a deficit. I think that is good. Surely if the Gospel is false or if it is irrational we ought not to believe in it. So it seems to me that that is entirely correct what he said – that these are ways of having a rational faith.

Kevin Harris: I've never heard of anybody who would embrace a belief because it was irrational: “That is so irrational I'm going to believe it.” Even a person with no apologetic theological training and not privy to the resources (as you've talked about many times) wouldn't embrace the Gospel because it is irrational.

Dr. Craig: No – well, maybe Kierkegaard, the existentialist. Penner quotes Kierkegaard I think about a hundred times in this book. He quotes Kierkegaard more than Scripture in the book.

Kevin Harris: Ah – the smoking gun!

Dr. Craig: But I am not a Kierkegaardian. I went through a temporary flirtation with Kierkegaard while I was a college student, actually precisely because of what he relates here in a moment that I will comment on. But I couldn't stick with it. It seems to me that we do want to have a reasonable faith.

Kevin Harris: I think there are only two persons who understand Kierkegaard: God and Kierkegaard.

Dr. Craig: [laughter] Well, be that as it may, Penner mentions my personal story and I am perplexed at the spin he puts on it. He rightly points out that I was deeply impressed by the lives of the Christians in the high school who shared their faith with me.[6] They had a peace and a joy to their lives that I craved and lacked. I sensed that they were in touch with a different plane of reality that I was not. I wanted that. I craved that. But I don't know where he gets this idea that I didn't find their arguments convincing. They didn't give me any arguments that I recall. I simply read the New Testament and as I did so I was captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. To me it had the ring of truth about it when I read his teachings and I read about his biography. These things struck me as true. So there wasn't any doubt in my mind about the truth of these things as I read them. My difficulty was sort of translating it from my head to my heart – to having a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit whereby I became a regenerate person. That took some time. I was first convinced it was true and then it took some time for that transition to go from the head to the heart so to speak in being born again or regenerate.

Kevin Harris: Here is the double warrant then. The double warrant is you've got the warrant of the Holy Spirit, but then to get to your head a lot of that which is in your heart you are on this discovery, wow, look at all this supporting evidence.

Dr. Craig: Except that didn't come into play yet, Kevin. That stuff – I don't know where he got the idea that I ever heard any arguments, because I didn't! These folks shared with me the Gospel, I read the New Testament, I read Peace with God by Billy Graham, I read some other Christian books, I went to certain Youth for Christ meetings, and so forth. And God through his Spirit drew me to himself until I had a regenerating Christian experience. But I was convinced it was true sometime before I was actually born again. But argumentation and evidence didn't play a role at this point yet. I think that is one reason, frankly, if I speak out of my personal autobiography, why I'm not an evidentialist or theological rationalist. Because I think you can know the truth of the Christian faith wholly apart from argument and evidence. I did! Moreover, I think there are good reasons, scripturally and otherwise, for thinking that that is the case.

Kevin Harris: Now, he brings up an unnamed Christian school and says that you couldn't stand the fact that somebody could be dissuaded from their faith by facts and evidence and you called them liberal?

Dr. Craig: This is a complete misunderstanding on his part. I'm sorry that I wasn't clearer about this. I was only two years old in the Lord when I graduated from high school. I went off to Wheaton College in Illinois. During the late 60s, Wheaton was infested with what I call theological rationalism. That is not liberalism the way he interprets it! What I meant was the view was that faith is to be grounded in argument and evidence and that if you can't answer rationally the objections to Christian faith you should abandon Christianity; you should in effect apostatize and give up Christ. I was horrified to see some of my classmates do this. Here I was at Wheaton a young Christian for whom Christ was so real, had made such a difference in my life, and I saw some of my classmates who had been raised in Christian homes and for whom Christianity had now become stale and routine walking away from Christian faith and throwing Christ out of their lives, usually because they had heard some argument or question that they couldn't answer. That just seemed to me to be unconscionable.

The incident he refers to is an incident when I was talking to one of my professors who said that if he had been presented an argument which convinced him that Christianity is [false] then he would abandon his Christian faith. I remember thinking at that time that I just couldn't do that. If somebody gave me an argument against Christianity that I couldn't answer, I couldn't apostatize; I couldn't walk away from Christ. He was too real to me. I knew it was true even if I couldn't answer the argument. So my dilemma was, “How do you put this together? How can you be a rational person and yet hold to the truth of the Gospel even though you don't have an answer to the defeaters that are brought against it?”[7] It was only years later that I hit upon this scheme of the difference between knowing and showing, and that the primary and fundamental way in which we know that Christianity is true is through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. If you are presented arguments and evidence to the contrary that you can't answer, that is only due to your lack of education or perceptiveness or learning that you haven't yet found the answer. But that doesn't mean that you should apostatize until you find the answer. You should look into it and try to find the answer but you continue to believe on the basis of the Spirit's witness until you do find the answer. And the answer is out there. I think that is the difference between me and Penner. I recognize that in my historical contextualized situation, I may not yet have the answer. I may not have the insight or the philosophical acumen to know how to answer this problem, but the answer is out there. The truth is out there. How do you know? Because the Holy Spirit witnesses to me that these are true and that therefore if I continue my inquiry long enough I may find the answer.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, there's a difference between something you can't answer – a potential defeater – and an actual defeater.

Dr. Craig: Yes, exactly, Kevin. And I wouldn't suggest that you should hold to faith in the presence of an actual defeater. Rather what I am saying is that given your historical context – here I sound like a better post-modernist than Penner! – and situation you may just not find yourself in a position to answer the defeaters that are brought against you. This conviction became all the stronger when we moved to Europe and I studied in countries that are far more secular than the United States and saw the way, for example, certain theology studies studying under Bultmannian theological professors could only cling to their faith by sticking their faith in one pocket and their brains in their other pocket and not letting them see the light of day at the same time. Or I met Christians in the Soviet Union who had no resources to defend the truth of the Christian worldview. I remember one man I asked, “Don't you have any resources to help you in your Christian life?” And he said, “Well, there is an encyclopedia of atheism that the state publishes, and by reading that you can learn a few things by what it attacks about Christianity.” And I thought God help this dear brother. All he has got is the encyclopedia of atheism to help him understand his faith. It just became very clear to me that in people's historical contexts very often they don't have the apologetic resources to answer the defeaters that they encounter, or to give a rational argument for the truth of the Gospel. Therefore there must be some other way to know the truth of the Gospel apart from argument and evidence.

Kevin Harris: You've said God does not leave them victim to their historical contextual context.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. A loving God isn't going to abandon them to situations in which their only rational recourse is to apostatize. Instead, God gives a witness to the great truths of the Gospel which is universal for every believer at any time in history any place in the world. It is accessible and available no matter what their educational level or the availability of library resources or the amount of leisure time that they have to look into these. Everyone can know the great truths of the Gospel because God's Spirit witnesses to it to their hearts. I think this is exactly what the New Testament teaches.

So my dilemma there at Wheaton was: I knew my faith was true on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit, and so I knew that when these people said, “If someone could give me an argument against Christianity that I couldn't answer then I would abandon my faith” I knew they had to be mistaken. They had to be wrong. But I didn't know why at the time. I knew there was something wrong with that kind of epistemology which I call theological rationalism. Later I found that Reformed epistemologists like Alvin Plantinga called it evidentialism. Plantinga began to lay out in a very rigorous and technical way what I had grasped earlier in a less sophisticated way. Plantinga talks about intrinsic defeater-defeaters. That is to say, a belief which is so powerfully warranted for me that it intrinsically defeats any defeater brought against it.[8] You don't need another extrinsic defeater to defeat the defeater. You have an intrinsic defeater-defeater in the witness of the Holy Spirit which allows you to retain faith rationally even in the face of unanswered objections.

Kevin Harris: This is huge.

Dr. Craig: Oh, yeah. It is.[9]



[1] http://randalrauser.com/2013/07/is-it-time-for-apologetics-to-end-an-interview-with-myron-penner/ (accessed May 19, 2014).

[2] One such podcast is “Postmodernism, Open Theism, and Philosophy” from September 10, 2012 – see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/postmodernism-open-theism-and-philosophy . Also see Q&A #67 “Do We Live in a Post-Modern Society?” at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/do-we-live-in-a-post-modern-society (links accessed May 19, 2014).

[3] 5:01

[4] 9:58

[5] 15:00

[6] 20:03

[7] 25:04

[8] 30:07

[9] Total Running Time: 31:29 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)