December 19, 2011

Witness of the Holy Spirit and Defeasibility of Christian Belief

Dear Dr Craig

I think that I have found quite a major contradiction in your beliefs as a christian.

Here it is

You say many times that how you know christianity is true is through the witness of the holy spirit; this implies that it can't be disproved as god has revealed himself to you and so validate your belief.

Here is where the contradiction lies

As well as this, you and many other evangelicals, say that what christianity hinges on is the resurrection. Moreover you say (on faith under fire with Lee Strobel) that if they found the bones of Jesus then this would 'completely falsify christianity'.

How can you believe christianity is true because god told you, as well as believing that christianity could made false

Could you please explain how you would reconcile these two very contradictory views



United Kingdom

No need to worry, Zach! The beliefs you mention aren't even apparently contradictory. Indeed, I wouldn't have chosen to answer this question apart from the fact that there seems to be some confusion in certain circles in this regard that deserves to be cleared up.

On the one hand, we have the factual claim that the fundamental way in which we know that Christianity is true, including the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, is through the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, I've defended the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater for anyone who attends to it.

On the other hand, we have the counterfactual claim that if the bones of Jesus were to be discovered, then Christianity would be falsified. This is because the resurrection of Jesus is essential to the truth of Christianity. So if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity would be false. So if the bones of Jesus were discovered, that would entail that he did not rise from the dead and so Christianity would be falsified.

Now, as I say, Zach, this factual claim and this counterfactual claim are not even apparently contradictory. Of course, if Jesus' remains were to be found, Christianity would be falsified! But we can be confident that no such discovery will ever be made because we have the self-authenticating witness of the Spirit that Jesus is risen.

Such a situation is commonplace. Pick any belief that you hold confidently and then imagine a state of affairs in which that belief would be false if that state of affairs obtained. For example, I am absolutely sure that I am alive; but if someone were to discover a grave containing my bones, then that belief would be falsified. Should I worry?

I'm sure, Zach, that you've confused the counterfactual claim that if the bones of Jesus were to be discovered, then Christianity would be falsified with the quite different claim that if we were to find bones which are purported to be those of Jesus, then we might have sufficient evidence to falsify Christianity. I do deny that latter claim because, given the witness of the Spirit, no such evidence could be forthcoming. But obviously, there's no inconsistency there at all.

So, yes, if the bones of Jesus were to be found, then he did not rise and Christianity would be false; but given the Spirit's witness we will never be justified in thinking that any bones discovered were those of Jesus. You may disagree with this view, but there's no contradiction.