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Atheist Virus Memes

October 26, 2020

Summary

Dr. Craig is interviewed by Justin Brierley on responding to atheist "memes" on social media during the pandemic.

KEVIN HARRIS: It's Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Glad you're here. I'm Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig and I are going to be going back into the studio this week to record some podcasts, and there are so many things to talk about. Dr. Craig even has a few things on his mind concerning the upcoming presidential election in the States. So stay close. Very interesting topics are coming up.

Today we want you to check out this interview that Dr. Craig did earlier in the year, earlier in the pandemic, with our friend Justin Brierley of Unbelievable? I hope you're familiar with Justin and his program because it is second-to-none in its scope and presentation. Dr. Craig has been one of Justin's guests many times. In this interview Justin asked Dr. Craig for some insight into the problem of evil surrounding things like a pandemic and to respond to some of the memes that various unbelievers post on social media criticizing belief in God during times of distress. In today's world of social media these little memes you see everywhere are usually very concise and to the point – kind of like a bumper sticker on a car. Yet the answer to the meme may not be as simple, but it still helps to have a brief concise answer in the fast-paced digital world in which we live. So this interview is very important.

Now let's get to Justin and Dr. Craig, but just a quick word. Our annual matching grant is in place right now. That means your giving to Reasonable Faith will be doubled by a generous donor right now. This donor will match whatever you give up to three hundred thousand dollars. So if you give twenty dollars, it becomes forty. If you give fifty, it becomes one hundred. Whatever amount you give will be doubled by this very generous donor. What a blessing this is. So please take advantage of it. The world needs to hear the good news of Jesus and the reasons and evidence that support his claims. Give online right now at ReasonableFaith.org. Here's Dr. Craig with Justin Brierley on Unbelievable?

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: I'm joined now by William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith. It's an international organization which is really about helping to defend the Christian worldview. He's published many books, spoken, debated, and has a popular podcast as well. Many, many videos online, too. Bill, thank you very much for joining me on the program.

DR. CRAIG: Certainly! Good to be with you, Justin.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: Just tell me first of all, Bill, what's life in lockdown looking like for you and Jan at the moment? Have things changed much for you since the restrictions came into play?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I have to say I almost feel guilty that it's had so little impact upon my life. I typically spend every day in my study from morning until evening writing and reading. And that's what I've continued to do. I have had to cancel three speaking engagements that would have required travel, but apart from that this has been a very productive time for me in writing my book on the historical Adam. So I suspect that people like artists, writers, composers, artisans who normally are sequestered in their study or studio or workshop don't experience a great deal of disruption. That's certainly been the case for me.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: Are you missing though being able to meet with church people on a Sunday? Obviously you run your Defenders classes as well on a Sunday.

DR. CRAIG: That is one major difference, yes. We're no longer meeting for Defenders, but in this digital age I am still teaching Defenders every Sunday. We are podcasting it. I record the lesson and we live stream it at the normal time and then post the video as well. Lately we've even added a hymn which we normally sing in class but now we have the music and the words on the screen. So even Defenders class is going forward. We're very fortunate with Reasonable Faith. Being a web-based virtual ministry, all of its activities are going forward pretty much.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: That's great to hear. In a way, what would you say are the opportunities that this particular period enforces on people – this lockdown. For a lot of people that simply means they're at home a lot more than they used to be, probably online a lot more than they might normally be. What opportunities does that present to evangelists and apologists who want to see this time used for good?

DR. CRAIG: Well, of course we hope that it will make people more reflective. It's very sobering to think that you might die. As an older American myself I'm supposedly at higher risk though I have no underlying conditions and am very healthy, but it's a sobering thought to think, “Gee, this could be the way I come to an end through something like this.” And so I hope that makes people more reflective about the ultimate meaning and purpose of their existence and to think about the big questions. I also think this is a wonderful opportunity for Christians and others to do more reading. This is a great time to get those books that you've always wanted to read and to spend a few hours a day in study. I would encourage folks to really use this time to better themselves intellectually through reading some good books.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: Let's talk a little bit about some of the specific apologetic issues that this sort of issue raises. Inevitably a lot of people are going to be asking the question at this point: Why does God allow something like coronavirus to suddenly change everything? Why has God allowed a world in which a virus can run rampant in this kind of way? It's the classic problem of suffering, but in this case it's a specific type of suffering. It's one that to some extent could be argued is not necessarily because of human freedom that we see the coronavirus virus having its impact. It's part of nature, if you like. So where would you begin with that kind of a question, Bill?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I've tried hard to find some philosophical insight from this pandemic, but quite honestly, Justin, it really doesn't add anything new. We already have abundant examples of horrible evils in the world to choose from to illustrate this problem, and so there's not a whole lot really new here that adds to what has already been said. I think in this case we probably have suffering that is the fusion of both natural evil and moral evil because although the pandemic is caused by a virus it seems that human factors were involved in its initial careless handling. So there's both the human factor and the natural factor involved. As I reflect on it, it seems to me that one of the things that we might take away from this is that it illustrates so well the point that I've often made in response to the problem of evil that due to our cognitive limitations we are simply not in a position to judge with any sort of confidence the probability of God's having morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering to occur. I've often pointed out that seemingly trivial events in history can be amplified to have worldwide repercussions so that we have no idea whatsoever why a certain event might have been permitted by God to occur. If indeed it's correct that this virus was unleashed on the world through the careless handling of a lab technician, seemingly trivial tiny events can really have worldwide repercussions. That ought to make us very cautious about saying of any particular evil or suffering that God cannot have or that it's improbable that he has morally sufficient reasons for allowing it to occur.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: I suppose ultimately what we're seeing though is that very often the natural evils that do exist in the world are often exacerbated by our human freedoms – the way we choose to respond. I can think of, for instance, earthquakes typically are a natural evil but they affect those in developing countries far worse than in the West because of the disparity of resources and infrastructure and so on. So there is a degree to which human freedom isn't out of the picture when it comes to these issues.

DR. CRAIG: I think that natural and moral evil are just inextricably intertwined in our experience. If I might say one other thing that occurred to me as I thought about this, I've noticed a lot of snarky comments on the web and social media from unbelievers criticizing believers for taking precautions to protect themselves with regard to the virus. They say, “Don't they trust in God? I thought they believed that God was in control? It shows they don't really believe. They're just like us unbelievers in taking these precautions.” I think that is just opening yourself up to a sucker punch from the problem of evil because the lesson of the problem of evil is that God doesn't exempt Christians from suffering in this world. We of all people ought to know that because we follow a crucified Savior who was innocently tortured and executed. So this idea that Christians ought not to take precautions but trust in God is just extremely naive. Every time we wear seat belts or are careful getting out of the shower onto the wet floor we take precautions because we know God has established a world that operates according to natural laws and that he's not going to preferentially exempt us from the consequences of those laws.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: And you know that those skeptics would equally be quick to blame the Christians if they didn't take precautions!

DR. CRAIG: Oh! My goodness!

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: So you can't win either way, can you?

DR. CRAIG: No, you can’t! That's really true!

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: You've responded to many an atheist Internet meme in your time, Bill, but another one that I've seen doing the rounds whenever I've posted content on my channels from atheists is a picture of Jesus pouring a vial of some sort of virus onto the world and saying, “Now I'm just going to add a little bit of coronavirus into the mix.” There's this sense that many people have this idea of a God who is essentially some sort of sadist willing these acts to happen and for pain and misery to occur. How do you best answer that, and what is the best picture of how we see God despite these kinds of events and circumstances?

DR. CRAIG: I think we emphasize that, according to the Bible, God's overall purpose for the human race is to lovingly and freely bring them into an eternal saving relationship with himself. This life is not all there is, and therefore the purpose of life is not happiness in this life. Rather, God's goal for human history is to freely bring men and women into an eternal love relationship with himself, and that is an incommensurable good not simply because it's eternal and everlasting but because God is himself infinite goodness and love. So to be in a personal relationship with the infinite good is incomparable. So when God permits horrible suffering in this life it is only with a view toward accomplishing his ultimate purposes which is to bring people freely into relationship with an incommensurable good that far outweighs the shortcomings of this finite existence.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: What comfort can we give nevertheless for those who are feeling the sting of the pain and the suffering for those who either themselves or have close ones who are suffering from this virus or the knock-on effects (economically and so on – what it may mean for jobs and so on)? What would be your advice at a pastoral level I suppose for people?

DR. CRAIG: I think here the resurrection of Jesus which we just celebrated at Easter time is the basis for our future hope. The apostle Paul says that even though our outer nature is wasting away nevertheless we have this hope of glory beyond all comparison to what we suffer here. That is not pie-in-the-sky; it is grounded in the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead who was the forerunner on our behalf. And that event, I think as I've argued, is historically credible and well-attested and provides a solid basis for hope for the future even in the face of the terrible limitations and suffering of our finite existence on this planet.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: I've often felt that pain and suffering as much as for some people tends to make them or drive them away from God or to blame God, for others it actually causes them to draw close to God. As C. S. Lewis famously said, “Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” How do you hope that God may yet use this situation to draw people to himself? Do you see that happening even now?

DR. CRAIG: I think that what you just said is very true, Justin, and can actually be, I think, empirically demonstrated. When you read a missions handbook about the growth rates of Christianity around the world, what you find over and over again is that in countries that have suffered terrible natural and moral evils (countries like Ethiopia, El Salvador, Indonesia, China, and so forth), the growth rates of evangelical Christianity are multiple times the population growth rate. Whereas in the comfortable, indulgent, materialistic nations of Western Europe and North America, there the growth rates are basically flat. So that, as one person pointed out to me, it's almost as though God has disfavored these comfortable Western nations by not allowing them to suffer in the way that much of the world suffers. So I think you're quite right. When there is terrible suffering in our lives it does prompt us to turn to God for a source of comfort and hope. But when things are easygoing for us then we tend to be forgetful of God. So, as you say, it's a kind of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situation. If things are going well, people don't think they need God; if things are going bad then they blame God. What's God supposed to do?

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: I suppose my hope in this (and I don't know what yours might be, Bill) is that the church would be ready and Christians would be ready to meet people where they are as they experience these questions. Because for many people I've noticed just in my own social media timeline and as we broadcast services online and so on, lots of people that I wasn't expecting to be watching and to be looking for some kind of hope appear to be suddenly searching. How can churches and Christians be ready, I suppose, in these uncertain times to make sure that we don't miss what God may be asking us to do right now?

DR. CRAIG: I think we need to be equipped with good answers. 1 Peter tells us that we should always be ready with an answer for those who ask us a reason for the hope that is in us. So we need to talk about the problem of evil and try to understand how one might rationally respond to it. But then what you just said, Justin, also brings another very important thing to the fore, and that is the Christians themselves are deeply involved in the social response to those suffering from this virus. Organizations like Samaritan's Purse are building clinics, staffing hospitals, going to nursing homes and helping those who are shut in there. All, I think, around the country and probably around the world Christians are engaged in meeting the medical and economic needs of people. That hands-on kind of Christianity – that tangible demonstration of the love of God for people – I think is a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel.

JUSTIN BRIERLEY: Well, we can pray obviously that it will be an opportunity for many people to be introduced perhaps for the first time to a God who is there even in difficult circumstances. Sometimes it is those circumstances that force us to seek that God out. But for now, thank you very much, Bill. Bless you and Jan as you continue in your ministry. We look forward to hopefully seeing you in person at some point once restrictions are lifted.

DR. CRAIG: I would love that. I would very much like to be back in the UK again. All the best, Justin. Stay safe, and keep up the good work.[1]

 

[1]           Total Running Time: 19:23 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)