What Would it Take For You to Change Your Mind?

What Would it Take For You to Change Your Mind?

A UK Student asks Dr. Craig what it would take to convert him to atheism. Also, a question on the Moral Argument, and a surprising question about sex and dating!


Transcript What Would It Take for You to Change Your Mind?

Kevin Harris: Welcome back to the podcast of Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris, and I wish you could have been in the studio with me to see Dr. Craig's face when I asked him a question about a Christian view of sex and dating. Priceless. You know, it's hard to throw Dr. Craig a curve ball but I try to do it as often as possible, and we don't usually deal with relationship advice but occasionally we will, and so I asked a question from a listener at the end of today's podcast; so stay close. Dr. Craig also unpacks some questions on what it would take for him to change his view on God's existence, and the genetic fallacy when it comes to the moral argument.

Dr. Craig, this question comes from an eighteen year old student from Birmingham who plans to study philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

Dear Dr. Craig, my question is simply put: what would it take for you to become an atheist? Do you have a limit on how much evidence it would take for you to abandon belief in God? I ask this question because I often find both atheists and theists claim that if there was good evidence they would convert to the other set of beliefs, but never clarify what it would take for them to convert, which seems to be a key issue if one is to persuade another to their point of view. Thus I think answering this question would be helpful to budding apologists out there.

Dr. Craig: I hear this question asked all the time, Kevin. And I think that it is based upon a real misunderstanding. I do not see it as a key issue at all, if one is to persuade another person as to their point of view, of what it would take for you to change your mind. That is a question about a person's personal psychology. And that's just irrelevant to the worth of the arguments and the evidence that one is offering in favor of one's point of view. The question about what would it take for you to become an atheist is an autobiographical fact that is of no philosophical significance, or evidential significance. So for example, I don't know what it would take for me to become an atheist. Maybe if some criminal were to break into our home and were to disfigure my wife and torture her and kill her, that that would cause me to lose my faith in Christ – I don't know. Maybe if I were in a car wreck that left me a paraplegic for the rest of my life, that that would destroy my faith in Christ and I would no longer believe. I have no idea about what sort of things would lead me to become an atheist. And I think that we should be very careful about asserting that, “Well, we would never change our minds, we would never fall away.” That's exactly the presumptuousness of the apostle Peter when he said “even though all others fall away I will never fall away,” and Jesus said, “Peter, tonight you're going to deny me three times before the cock crows.” And Peter found that he did deny Christ.

So these are questions about your personal psychology that just are irrelevant to the worth of your philosophical arguments. So I don't think they're answerable and I don't think they're relevant. I want to emphasize here, I'm not just talking about suffering, Kevin. We're talking here about, suppose you were given some powerful argument for atheism – what would it take for you to be convinced? Well, as I say, that is a matter of your personal psychology.

Kevin Harris: What would serve as a defeater for your view.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, you don't know.

Kevin Harris: I will say this, quickly, that when there are dorm room type dialogues on this, and online and things like that – what would it take? - I have found that it is very personal, especially on the atheist side because that's usually what I am asking. “Well, what kind of evidence are you looking for? What would serve as a good criteria for you?” It's usually things that fall very short of what God has already done. It's things like, well, if God would levitate that object, if God would spell out Yahweh in the stars, and things like that. And all of those things, Bill, could be done by alien life, hallucination, all of those things fall short of things that just can't be faked, like the Big Bang and the creation of the universe. I find the criteria very silly sometimes, very limited, and not getting a bigger ontological picture.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I mean, let's be honest; I think that these sorts of criteria, Kevin, are usually self-engineered to protect or insulate one's own beliefs so that one won't have to change. One imagines that these conditions will never obtain and therefore one won't be called upon to change one's beliefs. But this is all just psychology.[1] It is a way of avoiding the arguments and looking at the premises for the arguments and the evidence for those premises. The value of the arguments is unaffected and independent of the objectivity of the person offering those arguments. And I think many, many times people don't understand this. I know this is true, that atheists will say, “He's closed-minded, there's nothing that would cause him to change his mind. He's totally biased and dogmatic.” And they think thereby that somehow they've refuted his position or that they have somehow shown his arguments to be unsound. And that's just not true. If you were arguing with some atheist, Kevin, and he was so utterly closed-minded that no amount of evidence would ever convince him, that has no impact at all upon the soundness of his arguments, whether they're logically valid, whether the premises are true, and whether the premises are more plausible in light of the evidence. His closed-mindedness or open-mindedness is just an irrelevant psychological fact that has no bearing on the augments. And it's the same for the theist. Even if I am utterly closed-minded and would never change my mind, that gives the unbeliever no grounds whatsoever for ignoring the evidence and arguments that I offer.

Kevin Harris: This next question:

Dr. Craig, thank you for your apologetics ministry. It has really helped me to grow in my Christian faith. I am also considering starting an apologetics course for the youth ministry of my church.

Let me stop here and say, don't just consider it; do it!

Dr. Craig: And I hope he would consider using the On Guard curriculum with his youth group. We've got the book, the study guide, the DVD, that make a nice set for taking a youth group through the basics in apologetics.

Kevin Harris: Oh, do it. Get it at reasonablefaith.org. “Okay, now to my question,” and his question is long; let me just parse it down, Dr. Craig. It deals with free will and heaven, will there be free will in heaven? There was free will in the garden in Genesis, but will there be free will, will we be able to choose against God, in the beauty of heaven just like we could choose against him in the beauty of Eden?

Dr. Craig: Yes, and then he has a follow-up, too. If you have an answer to that question, the second question would be: why didn't God create that heaven-like condition in the first place? There's no overt biblical answer to this question so we can only conjecture on what the answer might be. Here's one possible conjecture. I think that it's possible that God has created us at a kind of arm’s length, or what philosophers call an epistemic distance. That is to say his existence now is hidden and veiled so as not to overpower us. And this gives us the freedom to choose for or against him during this veil of decision making. But someday that epistemic distance will be removed for those who know Christ, and as Paul says, then we shall see as face to face. And when we see Christ in all his glory and attractiveness and magnificence I think it's not at all implausible that that vision of Christ will be so overwhelming that the freedom to sin will be effectively removed. So that in heaven we will not have the freedom to sin, the freedom to fall away. We'll have freedom to do various righteous acts but not the freedom to fall way because the vision of Christ, which medieval theologians call the beatific vision, is so overwhelming for those who have it. Now, why didn't God create that heaven-like condition in the first place? Well, the answer is obvious. Because there needed to be this veil of decision making during which we have the freedom to choose for or against God and so go to heaven of our own free choice, rather than be determined causally to go to heaven or to hell.

Kevin Harris: Norm Geisler says this may not be the best of all possible worlds, but the best way to the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps that's a succinct way of putting this?

Dr. Craig: So long as you include in that what I just said about freedom of the will, or freedom to sin being a part of this way to this idyllic existence.

Kevin Harris:

Dear Dr. Craig, I love your work. I've been fighting with a question for a few months now. In your books Reasonable Faith and On Guard you mention how attempts to explain away the reality of moral values by means of how they came to be known[2] – that is saying that natural selection did it – commits the genetic fallacy. I agree with you, however, are you not also stating that if morals are nothing more than social-biological byproducts then morals are illusory or not real. Why couldn’t a nonbeliever say you are committing the genetic fallacy, Dr. Craig, because you are stating the origin of morals to negate their reality? You are saying that morals are just socio-biological byproducts and therefore morals are illusory without God. If morality is a natural byproduct like our arms and legs, why couldn't morality be true regardless of God? We wouldn't say arms are not real or reliable if there is no God, or that we need external justification for the use of our limbs. Limbs are real regardless of any external transcendent factor. If I misrepresented your position regarding morals please let me know so that I can use the moral argument with more confidence. Thank you and my God bless you in your work.

Dr. Craig: This is a very good question, and I'm glad to see a student who's really wrestling with the argument and trying to understand it's ramifications. Now, let's explain first what is meant here by the genetic fallacy and where I think objectors sometimes commit it. The second premise of the moral argument as I frame it is that objective moral values and duties do exist. And very frequently unbelievers will respond to this by saying, “Well, moral values and duties are just the natural byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning. They're ingrained into us by evolution and societal and parental training. But they're not really objectively true.” And I argue that that commits the genetic fallacy. What is the genetic fallacy? That is trying to invalidate a point of view by showing how that point of view originated, by how that came to be. For example, someone might say, “you believe that democracy is the best form of government just because you were born in the United States; and therefore your belief is invalid or unjustified or false.” That would be to commit the genetic fallacy. Even if it were true that the reason I think democracy is the best form of government is because I was raised in the United States doesn't mean that my belief is therefore false. You can't falsify or invalidate a position by showing how a person came to believe that position. So similarly here: you can't invalidate the objectivity of moral values and duties simply by showing how our moral beliefs originated.

Now the question is, then, aren't I doing exactly the same thing in premise one which states that if God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist? Aren't I committing the genetic fallacy by saying, well, moral values originate through biological evolution and social conditioning therefore they're not objective? Well I hope that the answer is clearly no; that's not the argument. The argument is that if God doesn't exist then there isn't any foundation for objective moral values. If you pull God out of your ontology then it seems you have pulled out any sort of transcendent grounding for objective moral values and duties. And so in the absence of God then moral values and duties become just socio-biological spin-offs. It's not that you infer their non-objectivity from their being socio-biological spin-offs, it's that they're just that because there is no God; that's the point. So it's the existence of God that is critical.

Now he says, “But why couldn't the nonbeliever say that even though moral values and duties originate through the influence of evolution and social conditioning, still they are objective?” Well, I respond to that in my arguments. Look at what I say in Reasonable Faith or in On Guard. I deal with, for example, Atheistic Moral Platonism which tries to ground objective moral values and duties in some sort of abstract Platonic realm which says that truth and justice and goodness and loyalty and mercy just exist as abstract objects.[3] And I offer a three-pronged critique of why that is not a sufficient basis for objective moral values and duties. I discuss the alternative of stubborn humanism, as I call it, where the humanist just stops with human beings and says, “human beings are the source and the grounding of absolute and objective moral values.” And I argue that stubborn humanism is an unsatisfactory moral theory because to pick human beings as your stopping point is number one, premature, and number two, arbitrary. And therefore it's very difficult for me to see on atheism what adequate explanatory ground or ontological ground there would be for objective moral values and duties, and if that's right then it follows that moral values and duties are just illusory byproducts of the socio-biological evolutionary process.

Kevin Harris: Okay. Bill, you ready to take off your philosopher hat and put on your counselor hat, again, for this next question?

Dr. Craig: Alright.

Kevin Harris: Let's give it a try.

Dr. Craig, a friend and I were recently having a discussion about dating relationships and how an unmarried couple ought to conduct themselves as Christians. There are a lot of interesting questions raised that are still weighing heavily on my mind, but I will only ask you one of them. What are appropriate restrictions on a couple's physical interaction? I feel that some restrictions are obvious such as no pre-marital sex, and others seem appropriate as well like no heavy kissing like the kind I've come to expect from young couples around my age. But there are some restrictions that I've heard some Christians advocate that aren't as immediately clear for me. For example, is lighter kissing permissible? Some say couples should wait until their wedding day for their first kiss. Are cuddling and holding hands permissible, and things like this? Well, what do you think? I'm at the age where dating is serious and these questions concern me greatly.

Bill, I know you'd rather be answering philosophical questions and theological questions rather than this one. [laughter] But here you go. Take a stab; what are your opinions?

Dr. Craig: Alright, Kevin, you've asked me to be a philosophical Ann Landers or something here, but, I suppose that every young Christian couple, single person, has asked himself this question, and you do need to have some standards to guide your life by. I am astonished that anyone would be as conservative as this person is, and I'm really thrilled that someone would be so sensitive in his conscious that he would be so circumspect in his behavior as is described in this email. My fear is that for most young Christians they don't behave any differently than their non-Christian peers with regard to sexual intimacy and do violate clear teaching of Scripture. Let's say first and foremost, very clearly, that the Scripture, that the New Testament, prohibits pre-marital sexual intercourse. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians in giving advice to the unmarried says that if you cannot keep your betrothed as a virgin, if your passions are strong and it has to be, he says, then let them marry. There's no sin in that. But it would be sin for single couples to engage in sexual intercourse. So if there are listeners who are Christians and they are engaged in this kind of activity they need to cease immediately because they are outside the will of God and they are flouting God's commands and therefore not under the umbrella of his protection. And I think that in a Jewish context a first century Jew would have clearly understood other forms of sexual intimacy that simulate sexual intercourse, would also have come under this prohibition as well. In fact there's a very interesting passage, I think it's in Ezekiel, where God describes the immoralities of certain people groups, and the way in which he does it is by describing them as allowing their virgin breasts to be handled and fondled. It really is comparing their rebellion against God, their unrighteousness, which was detestable to God, with heavy petting, with fondling breasts. So this would be, again, something that would be clearly thought to be within the realm of sexual immortality that the Bible is prohibiting.[4] And so I think he's quite right in saying this kind of heavy necking and petting and so forth would also be proscribed or prohibited by the biblical commands against sexual immortality. But I don't see any basis in Scripture for saying that you can't kiss, that you can't hold hands, you can't snuggle up with each other; so long as you have the restraint to not go further. The difficulty is having that restraint and not going further. That's the real problem, obviously, that young couples face. And so it might be that a young couple, because they want to keep themselves pure, will pull back from even these permissible forms of behavior just so they don't get on that slippery slope that will lead to something that would be truly inappropriate. And I have tremendous respect for couples who can exercise that kind of self-restraint.

Kevin Harris: Send all your dating and relationship questions to Dr. Craig.

Dr. Craig: Oh, no!

Kevin Harris: Here at Reasonable Faith. [laughter] Thank you for going outside of what we usually deal with on the podcasts, Dr. Craig, and answering this important question. We appreciate it. More questions next time on Reasonable Faith.[5]



[1] 5:00

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:05

[4] 20:08

[5] Total Running Time: 21:44 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)