Two Deaths, Two Worldviews

Two Deaths, Two Worldviews

Two noted philosopher recently died. Dr. Craig contrasts Stuart Hackett and Paul Kurtz and offers important definitions while recounting personal encounters with both men.


Transcript Two Deaths, Two Worldviews

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, two prominent deaths, lately: Dr. Stuart Hackett and Dr. Paul Kurtz. We want to talk about Stuart Hackett at first who just passed away who was a major influence on you and apparently a major influence on Christian philosophy.

Dr. Craig: Yes, very different men – weren’t they? – one a deeply Christian philosopher and the other a humanist philosopher and atheist, so representing opposite ends of the spectrum.

Stuart Hackett was my philosophy teacher in college. When I arrived at Wheaton College as a young Christian – only two years old in the Lord having become a Christian my junior year in high school – I took Intro to Philosophy the fall semester of my freshmen year and had Stuart Hackett. And he was eccentric. There is simply no denying the fact that Stuart Hackett was an eccentric. And he relished it; he reveled in going against the grain and doing things oddly. I didn't know what to make of the man at first, he was such an oddball. He would come into class every day sort of discombobulated, sort of a kind of uncoordinated motions. And he would open his brown briefcase and he had a green plastic glass, the ugliest color, bright green plastic, with a big red, white, and blue STP sticker on the side of it, and he would fill that with water and he'd drink out of it during the lecture. And then he would give his lectures.

And when he spoke, Kevin, he spoke in such long Germanic sentences with one qualifying phrase upon another, one subordinate clause after another, that by the time he got to the end of the sentence I didn't know what he had just said, I couldn't understand him. And at first I thought, who is this showoff using all these big words, trying to use long sentences to convince us how smart he was? It was unlike any other teacher I had. But after several weeks I began to realize that he wasn't showing off, that this is just the way he talks, this is his natural way of speaking. And as he spoke he would constantly think of things to qualify what he had just said and so would be introducing all these subordinate clauses along the way, which made it very difficult to listen to. And when you would ask a question in class, he would look at you and then he would rephrase your question into some long convoluted technical inquiry, and then he would say: “Is that what you meant to say?” And I didn't even understand what the rephrase was! So all you could do was just say, “Well, yeah,” or, “Yeah, I guess so.” You didn't even have a clue what he just said. And then he would answer this long convoluted sentence that he had rephrased your simple sentence into.

So he was really, really a character in class, and actually he became even more eccentric as the years went by. At that time he wore neckties to teach in because his wife, Joan, who was very traditional – she was a missionary to India, or her parents were missionaries to India and she was raised there; very traditional lady – and she insisted that Dr. Hackett wear a necktie to class. But as a sort of measure of defiance he would wear the most absurd neckties. Many of them were homemade affairs that his daughter Becky would make for him, and they were the most outlandish and absurd sorts of ties that he would wear. Later in life he finally prevailed over Joan and he just quit wearing neckties altogether, and he would typically wear a big cross around his neck. He had a belt that he would wear that his son David had given to him that had a marijuana pipe for a buckle. But, not wanting to offend people, he would wear the belt buckle upside down so people wouldn't recognize that it was a marijuana pipe. [laughter] But this is the kind of guy he was. He was just wacky.

Kevin Harris: He used to say, “I'm going to lay this stuff on you like one great big metaphysical egg.” He would say, “and we'll have Sara Lee sweets for those of you who want to provoke an early death.” He says, “I don't want to talk to anyone before 9 A.M. except God, my wife, and my dog.” And in the classroom at Trinity Seminary he said, “You can drink whatever you want in this class just so long as it conforms to the most rigorous demands of the evangelical subculture.” [laughter] So he did make those funny statements.

Dr. Craig: Yeah.

Kevin Harris: Apparently his book The Resurrection of Theism has gone rather under-appreciated. Is it becoming more appreciated now? Because when you read it you were stunned.

Dr. Craig: Well, you have to understand that while I was at Wheaton College I didn't major in philosophy. I took some philosophy, took a lot of theology, but I wasn't a philosophy major.[1] And it wasn't until just before graduating that I was passing by the college bookstore and they had a clearance table of books they were getting rid of. And on this clearance table was Stuart Hackett's book The Resurrection of Theism. It was published in 1957 with Moody Press and had been long out of print. I had graduated in 1971 so you can see how long it was out of print. And I saw that book and I had heard of it before, students had talked about it. But I had no idea of what its contents were. And to be honest, Kevin, I didn't even understand the title – The Resurrection of Theism. What is that? But I thought, well this is this famous book that Hackett's written and it's on sale, so I'll get it. So I bought the book. And then later that fall I began to read it. And as you say it was like someone tearing the veil away from my eyes. At Wheaton my theology professors had taught me that there are no good arguments for God's existence; that all of the arguments for God's existence had been refuted. And although I found that sort of difficult to believe I accepted it on the basis of their authority. I figured they were the experts, they knew, and so if they knew the arguments had all been refuted I guess that was right. And so the only sort of apologetic we had at Wheaton in those days was a kind of Francis Shaeffer negative apologetic; namely, you would show that if God does not exist then here are the disastrous consequences for human life and society and culture; it all goes down the drain once the theistic assumptions are jettisoned. But that doesn’t do anything positively to show that theism is true, it just shows how awful the mess is if theism is false. And yet as I began to read Hackett's book I was absolutely stunned to see him defending the traditional arguments for the existence of God like the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, and so on. Moreover as he would present the arguments I would think of objections to them in my mind, I would turn the page and he would refute these objections, devastating refutations.

Kevin Harris: So he anticipated them?

Dr. Craig: Anticipated every criticism under the sun, and showed how they failed. So this work was a tour de force, I had never read anything like it. And the centerpiece of his case was the argument for the existence of a first cause of the origin of the universe at some time in the finite past. He didn't focus his case upon the cosmological argument from contingency, though that was part of his case. The centerpiece of his case was the cosmological argument against the infinitude of the past, and the necessity of a chronologically first cause, an argument that I knew had been despised by philosophers and rejected. And yet here was Hackett boldly defending this argument and refuting every criticism against it that I could think of that was in the literature. And that just lit a fire under me. I thought, this is incredible; if this is right this changes everything because now it means you have rationally persuasive grounds for believing that God exists that you can present to an unbeliever. And so I felt I've got to find out if he's right about this. I didn't just accept it on his authority; I thought, I need to find out of he's right. And that was what caused me to go into philosophy. As I say, I was not a philosophy major in college, I'm a late bloomer. And it was after graduating, then, that I began to read and prepare to go to graduate school in philosophy. And as I read through Frederick Copleston's magisterial nine-volume history of Western philosophy I discovered that the argument that Hackett was defending actually has a very ancient history and a wide inter-sectarian appeal, having been defending by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, and eventually became ensconced in the first antimony concerning time in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. So this argument has a long and noble history in the history of Western philosophy. And I saw that it was central to the case for creation presented by medieval Muslim theologians and philosophers, and I thought if I could ever do a doctorate in philosophy I would want to do it on this argument. And eventually after graduating from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that dream came true, and I was able to pursue doctoral studies in philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham writing my thesis on the cosmological argument for the existence of God.[2]

Kevin Harris: Did your professors really tell you that at Wheaton?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, that was the view.

Kevin Harris: That all of the arguments for God were refuted. Well, would they say, then, that you just can't use them?

Dr. Craig: Yes, you can't use these arguments. You would just use a kind of Shaefferian negative apologetic such as you have in his books The God Who Is There and Escape From Reason, that if God does not exist then human life and culture goes to hell in a handbag, basically.

Kevin Harris: Did this resonate with you or did you say this can't be right?

Dr. Craig: Well the negative apologetic resonated with me. At first I found it hard to believe that moral values would not exist if God does not exist. But on the other hand I couldn't think of any basis for objective moral values and duties if there is no God. If atheism is true then naturalism seemed to be the most plausible worldview to me, and on naturalism it is difficult to see how human morality wouldn't be just a sort of spin-off of the socio-biological evolutionary process. So I was convinced that the Shaefferian critique, the negative critique, is right, and I still use it as a kind of prolegomenon to apologetics. I'll typically talk about the absurdity of life without God as a kind of way of getting the unbeliever to think about this question, to care about it, to try to stir him out of his apathy. I think that's the proper role of Shaeffer's negative apologetic.

But then in order to give a positive apologetic you need to move into the arguments of natural theology for theism. And I became convinced, as a result of reading Hackett's work, that this cosmological argument (as well as the other arguments) were sound arguments. And because of its eminent place in medieval Muslim thought, I gave it the label: the kalam cosmological argument. So Stuart Hackett is the person who is responsible for resurrecting the kalam cosmological argument in our day and age. He is the one who did it in his book The Resurrection of Theism. It was the resurrection of the kalam cosmological argument.

Kevin Harris: Do you attribute some of the work of Stuart Hackett to the renaissance in Christian philosophy that's come about?

Dr. Craig: I can't do that, Kevin, because he published The Resurrection of Theism, if you can imagine this, with Moody Press, from the Moody Bible Institute. Now you can imagine what a book on philosophy that is interacting not just with the great figures of philosophy like Immanuel Kant and David Hume but also with contemporary analytic philosophers like W. V. O. Quine and his two dogmas of empiricism. I mean this was written in the fifties just after Quine's essay, epical essay, was published. And here is Hackett in this book published by Moody Press interacting with Quine's attack on the analytic/synthetic distinction. I mean, it's astonishing, and yet being published with Moody Press, it fell moribund from the presses immediately.

Kevin Harris: Why?

Dr. Craig: Well, because there's no audience for it, with Moody Press.

Kevin Harris: Ah, that's what I want everybody to understand.

Dr. Craig: Moody readers, see, read little devotional books. I mean, think of what it was like back in the 1950s. There weren’t any Christian philosophers. At best you had Gordon Clark and Cornelius van Til and that was about it.

Kevin Harris: Did Plantinga start any of his work in the sixties?

Dr. Craig: No, see the renaissance in Christian philosophy began with the publication of God and Other Minds by Alvin Plantinga in 1967 when he published this book with Cornell University Press. Hackett's book had appeared ten years earlier in 1957 but it was published with Moody Press, and therefore was never read. And I have said, and I really believe, that if Hackett's book had been published by Cornell University Press instead of Moody Press the renaissance in Christian philosophy would have begun ten years earlier than it did. But unfortunately I think Hackett's work went unnoticed and therefore had little effect upon the renaissance of Christian philosophy that really began with Plantinga's work ten years later.

Kevin Harris: So Christian publishing has it's place, but if an academic or a university looks at it, they're going to look at the title, “Oh, it sounds interesting,” and then look at who published it and go, “Ah, I don't want to read it.”

Dr. Craig: I sadly think that's still true today; now that's changed to a certain degree, it's changed to a great degree, I think.

Kevin Harris: But in the fifties . . .

Dr. Craig: But in the fifties, it was hopeless. You would just turn to a press like that for devotional sorts of works or for theology but certainly not for a book in philosophy.[3] Fortunately things have largely changed today. Today Oxford University Press is clamoring for books by Christian philosophers. They even are publishing popular level books in Christian apologetics. So the situation in Christian publishing has greatly changed.

Kevin Harris: Okay, you had some interaction with Stuart Hackett in his later life, after studies?

Dr. Craig: Yes, after graduating from Wheaton we went off to seminary and then to Europe to do my doctoral studies. In the meantime Dr. Hackett had been hired in the philosophy department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where I had done my M.A. work. And he was then colleagues with Norman Geisler at Trinity in the philosophy program there. Well, Norm Geisler then left Trinity in about 1979-1980 to go to Dallas Seminary, and thus left a vacancy at Trinity. And they approached me where I was in Germany finishing up my theological doctorate in Munich and said, “Would you take Norm's place in the department here at Trinity as a colleague of Stuart Hackett?” And so I took the position and now found myself as departmental colleagues with my former professor. And during those six years that we taught at Trinity, Jan and I started our family, Charity and John were born, and we got to know Stu and Joan as personal friends, and they became very dear to us during those years that we were at Trinity.

Kevin Harris: Norm Geisler must have thought Stuart Hackett was a nut, because Norm is so straight laced and has that dry sense of humor. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is very true, they're very opposite. But Norm Geisler recognized Hackett's brilliance.

Kevin Harris: Yes, he did; he paid a tribute to him.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that's right. Norm said that Hackett was one of the most brilliant professors at Wheaton College. Kenneth Conser, who was the former dean at Trinity when I was a student there, had said the same: that Hackett was the best mind that Wheaton College had. And then he came to Trinity where the students just loved him. They loved his off-center style and his eccentricities; he was a very popular teacher at Trinity among the students.

Kevin Harris: Paul Kurtz was 86, very influential in the humanist community. You've had an interaction with him, as well. He recently died.

Dr. Craig: Yes, he helped to write the second Humanist Manifesto as I recall, and so was a very prominent apologist for humanism in our day and age.

Kevin Harris: You had a debate with him that became a book?

Dr. Craig: Yes, Michael Murray who was a Professor of Philosophy of Franklin and Marshal College in Pennsylvania had a grant where they could put on debates on an annual basis. And one year they had Alan Dershowitz and Alan Keyes hold a debate and then one year they invited Paul Kurtz and me to debate at Franklin and Marshal on the topic “Goodness without God is Good Enough.” And Kurtz defended the affirmative and I defended the negative, arguing that if God does not exist then in fact there is no basis for objective moral values. And so Kurtz and I had the debate, and then it was turned into book form by Robert Garcia and published under the same title, Is Goodness Without God Good Enough? And includes, then, responses from various other philosophers, both theists and non-theists, to our debate, and then we have a final say at the end.

Kevin Harris: There was somewhat of a transition, it seems, from secular humanism to what they call neo-humanism. And neo-humanism had more of an atheistic philosophy to it; it brought out the atheism a little more. Neo-humanists doubted the claims of theism and there was a declaration drawn up and things like this, and so, a little bit of an evolution, I think.

Dr. Craig: Well, the second Humanist Manifesto is at least agnostic about the existence of God, and I think that many of them were in fact atheistic about God. They thought God does not exist. But the centerpiece, I think, of humanism was the claim that human beings are the locus of objective moral value even though God does not exist. They wanted to affirm the objectivity and intrinsic value of human beings in an atheistic universe. And it seemed to me that that was just a gratuitous move on their part. That given atheism, given naturalism, the most plausible view is to think that human beings have no intrinsic value. They're just like other animals, they're accidental byproducts of the evolutionary process here on this little planet doomed to perish in a relatively short time compared to the length of the existence of he cosmos,[4] and there was just no reason to think they had objective moral worth or objective moral values and duties. These were just subjective impressions that arose in them as a result of social conditioning and the need for cooperative behavior in the struggle for survival. And so that was where I would challenge Kurtz. And he never really seemed to have a good comeback to this argument. In fact, as I recall in one his books, he says the moral values that guide our lives are rooted in habit and custom, in feeling and fashion. And that is exactly what I think if atheism is true. So it was difficult for him, I think, to justify his humanism given his atheism.

Kevin Harris: His influence is going to be felt for quite some time. Prometheus Books is a publishing arm that he began. The magazine Free Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism.

Dr. Craig: Yes, all of those very influential in the free-thought subculture.

Kevin Harris: His work seemed to affect social/civil matters.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think that the humanists were very concerned with that, though Kurtz himself was a philosopher. But many of the books that he wrote would be what you would call popular level books that would be apologies for humanism, in a sense. He would be the sort of equivalent of a Christian popular apologist who would be arguing for a Christian worldview, and Kurtz was arguing for his humanist worldview.

Kevin Harris: As we close today, Dr. Craig, you've pointed out in the past that humanism is something that we should all aspire to. But there's a difference between the various branches of humanism. There's secular humanism and there's Christian humanism.

Dr. Craig: I'm glad that you brought that point out, Kevin, to close on because it is true that Christians do affirm the intrinsic worth and objective value of every human being made in the image of God, a person for whom Christ has given his life and therefore of infinite value and significance. So Christianity is a humanism in the proper sense of the term; namely, we believe that human beings are intrinsically valuable, ends in themselves, not merely to be used as means to an end. They are ends in themselves, and they have this intrinsic worth because they are created in the image of God and are persons just as God is personal. So Christian humanism is not an oxymoron. Christian humanism is something that the church has affirmed and which we want to affirm. What I think is incoherent is atheistic humanism such as Paul Kurtz stood for.[5]



[1] 5:01

[2] 10:12

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:02

[5] Total Running Time: 22:37 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)