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Blackwell Companion Book

July 27, 2008     Time: 00:27:00
Blackwell Companion Book


Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript Blackwell Companion Book


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, I think that one of the most rewarding studies is the study of philosophy and the great philosophers. People often think that it is just a bunch of boring stuff but far from it. Whether people realize it or not, we all ask the big questions. We all think hard about things, and that is philosophy.

Dr. Craig: It is. Alvin Plantinga, who is the premier Christian philosopher living today, once defined philosophy as “just thinking hard about something.” I think that is a good definition.

Kevin Harris: You’ve got a new Companion to Natural Theology from Blackwell which is the publisher that publishes a lot of philosophy. We need to talk about this new work. We need to talk about what natural theology is, what we mean by that. And some of the very colorful personalities who are involved in this. This is put together and going to be edited by you and J. P. Moreland.

Dr. Craig: That’s right. My good colleague J. P. Moreland at Talbot School of Theology actually conceived of this idea himself and approached me about co-editing the volume. We approached Blackwell of Oxford, England about it. What this is is a volume which collects together essays on arguments for the existence of God from the top proponents of those arguments today. That is what natural theology is. Natural theology is the attempt to demonstrate God’s existence without appeal to authoritative special revelation, like the Bible or things of that sort.

Kevin Harris: In other words, what we can grasp about God or recover about God’s attributes and know about God strictly from nature, strictly from natural means apart from revelation.

Dr. Craig: Right, apart from special revelation. So it will appeal to things like philosophy, science, history, psychology, things of that sort. What can we learn about God?

Kevin Harris: What is the value in that? Aren’t we supposed to have both?

Dr. Craig: Well, for one thing, it shows people who don’t believe in the Bible that there are very good grounds for believing in the existence of God, and that therefore they need to really think about whether or not there is such a being as God whether they believe in the Bible or not. Of course, if they do come to believe that there is a God then the next question will be, well, has he specially revealed himself in some way as Jesus claimed he did? Jesus claimed to be the special revelation of this creator and designer of the universe. So this is a first step toward someone’s coming to become a Christian.

Kevin Harris: How did you get these articles, these essays, together and the scholars that were involved?

Dr. Craig: J. P. and I sat down together and said, “Who would be the very best people, if we could get them, to defend or write on these various arguments?” We made a list of the arguments and then we began to brainstorm about who the top defenders of these arguments are today. What we wanted to offer these folks was the opportunity to not write just a little, say, 25 page chapter in a book which is very customary. We wanted this to be a large volume – 600+ pages – in which each person would have a very large allotment of space to develop his argument in detail. So this would not be just like the many books that are out there where you have little brief treatments of these arguments. [1] These would allow these top experts to really go into great detail in laying out a systematic, sustained defense of this argument. So we began to brainstorm and write down folks that we would like to get. And for the most part, we were able to get the top folks that we were looking for for these arguments.

Kevin Harris: What are the arguments? List them out. What are some of the things that we look at?

Dr. Craig: We are going to look at the cosmological argument from contingency that has been defended by people like Leibniz and Samuel Clarke and others. We will look at the kalam cosmological argument for a first cause of the beginning of the universe. We have a design argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. There is a chapter on an argument from consciousness for God – that God is the best explanation for the existence of mind in the universe. There is an argument from reason. That is to say, in order to even rationally think there needs to be a God behind the universe who guarantees that our cognitive faculties do apprehend truth. There is a moral argument for God’s existence as a ground for moral values and duties. We have a kind of defensive chapter on the problem of suffering and evil – why this does not constitute a good argument against the existence of God. Why the theist can answer this. We have a chapter on religious experience and how this points to God. There is a chapter on the ontological argument for God’s existence on how the very concept of God shows that God exists. And then finally there is a chapter or an essay dealing with the argument from miracles, particularly the resurrection of Jesus and how this points to God’s existence.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, you’re considered the foremost defender and proponent of the kalam so I guess you were a shoe-in for that one.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, we got me to write that one! [laughter] But I have a collaborator with that. My collaborator is James Sinclair. He is an interesting character. James works for the Air Force in computerized air-to-air combat analysis. He is a very fine cosmologist. So for about four years he spent researching contemporary cosmological theories concerning the origin of the universe. In the essay we put together I handle the philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe and Jim handles the current cosmological evidence for the beginning of the universe. Together it is a tour de force; it is a very strong chapter.

Kevin Harris: The argument from contingency – a branch of the cosmological argument. What is it and who is the go-to guy?

Dr. Craig: Basically the argument says that there needs to be an explanation or a sufficient reason for why anything at all exists. This has to be found in a necessarily existing being – that is to say a being whose non-existence is impossible. Because if this being’s non-existence were possible then you’d need an explanation for why he exists or it exists, too. So in order to answer this question “Why does anything exist rather than nothing” you have to finally get to a being whose non-existence is impossible – a metaphysically necessary being. And this would be God. The go-to guy here is Alexander Pruss who is a young Catholic philosopher. He was at Georgetown University for many years and now has recently been acquired by Baylor in their philosophy department. Pruss, he is a real character. He is your typical image of a philosopher. Wild hair, kind of poking out in all directions. He is so smart. I mean, everybody thinks he is a genius. He has a doctorate in mathematics and a doctorate in philosophy. So when he does philosophy, it’s like reading mathematics. He is so smart; he is one of those guys who is kind of on the edge, you know? He is just so brilliant that it is hard to even talk with him sometimes. He is the guy who has defended this argument for the existence of God.

Kevin Harris: Let’s go down your list. What is next after contingency?

Dr. Craig: We have a nice introductory essay by Charles Taliaferro of St. Olaf College on the whole project of natural theology. [2] Charles is a very fine historian of philosophy. So he takes the long perspective of what is natural theology, how is it developed, and is it a valid project to even undertake in our day? He has recently written a book on philosophy of mind in which he defends the view that the mind is not identical with the brain, that the mind is distinct from the body. In this introductory essay, he shows how important this whole mind-brain distinction is for the project of natural theology. Because if you don’t think there can be an unembodied mind, well, then the existence of God is not even a possibility. Your theology can’t even get off the ground. So this introductory essay is a very fascinating study of the whole duality of mind and body and its impact upon questions of God’s existence.

Kevin Harris: Are we more than our brains?

Dr. Craig: That is what he argues. Or at least he argues that it hasn’t been proven that we are nothing but our brains.

Kevin Harris: Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology – it is a big volume. Does this serve as any kind of corrective you think?

Dr. Craig: Ah, well, thanks for asking because, yes, it does! There is nothing else like this. The Blackwell Companion series is a very prestigious series of reference volumes in philosophy to various fields of philosophy. There is a Companion to Metaphysics, there is a Companion to Epistemology, there is a Companion to Ethics. But there has never been published by Blackwell or anybody else a Companion to Natural Theology. So the book is unique in bringing together these top authors to write on these arguments for the existence of God. Our hope is that this will become the standard reference work in the area where, if you are going to dispute the existence of God or you are going to affirm it, you’ve got to go to this volume and take account of what these authors say.

Kevin Harris: The argument from consciousness. What is that? The conscious?

Dr. Craig: This is related to the mind-body issue. J. P. Moreland wrote this. J. P. is an expert in philosophy of mind, which is a subdiscipline of philosophy, which specializes in trying to understand the human person. Are we just a bag of chemicals on bones or is there a mind, a self, that is distinct from the body but in some way closely wedded to the body so that the mind and the brain cooperate together to think? J. P. argues that naturalism, or materialism, or reductionism, is at a complete loss to explain consciousness and intentionality – that is the fact that our thoughts are about things, that I can think about something. No physical object like the pen or the desk or the table is about something else. And yet we have thoughts about things. J. P. argues that this requires a self which is distinct from the physical organ, the brain. Freedom of the will is also something that seems to require an immaterial self. Because if you are nothing but the brain then everything you do and think is just the result of electrochemical impulses determined by your make up and the stimuli that come to you through your five senses. So he is arguing that there is such a thing as mind, it is distinct from the brain, and that this is best explained by the fact that there is an ultimate mind which is distinct from the universe and has created the universe with all its material objects; namely, God.

Kevin Harris: Skeptics of the Christian faith, or opponents of the Christian faith, don’t like this argument because it undergirds the existence of the soul.

Dr. Craig: Right. That is exactly right. “Mind” is the philosophical synonym for the theological word “soul.” You are talking about exactly the same thing. One is just philosophy, the other is theology. So this is really an argument for the existence of the soul and saying that the soul is best explained by the fact that God exists, that the natural physical world is not all there is.

Kevin Harris: Name some of the chapters. What else do we have?

Dr. Craig: There is Robin Collins’ chapter on the design argument. Robin Collins is an expert on the fine-tuning of the universe. He was a student of the great physicist from the University of Texas, John Wheeler. Wheeler, by the way, was I think the closest thing to a mad scientist that has ever come about. He was a very creative and cutting edge thinker. One of the great physicists of the 20th century. Robin studied under him and did a doctorate in philosophy as well at the University of Notre Dame. [3] Alvin Plantinga told me that Robin Collins’ doctoral dissertation that he read and was on the examining committee for at Notre Dame was one of the finest dissertations he had ever read in philosophy. Robin is a brilliant guy. He is writing a book called The Well-Tempered Universe, which is about the fine-tuning of the universe and how this is best explained by an ultra-mundane designer. That is to say, a designer that is beyond the world. A consciousness, a self, an intelligence, that has designed the world and brought it into being. So we got Robin Collins to write this chapter on the fine-tuning of the universe. I would say that Robin is the top thinker in this area of the fine-tuning of the universe today.

Kevin Harris: This is very necessary because many Christians are kind of behind on offering design type arguments. Not aware of all the fine-tuning.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, you are right, Kevin. You’ll notice here that we chose to have our design argument not be based upon biological complexity but rather upon the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe for intelligent life. This enables us to do an end-run around all of this emotionally laden and charged debate over evolution and creationism and to go right back to the beginning and say in order for evolution to even take place you first had to have this fine-tuning of the cosmos that cries out for intelligent design. So any improbability of biological systems will only layer on more improbability that this could have happened by chance. That this requires a designer.

Kevin Harris: In other words, we need to take a step even further back than just what we see in our solar system and what we see in biosystems here on earth.

Dr. Craig: That is exactly right.

Kevin Harris: You need to go further back before all that.

Dr. Craig: And so it enables you to just avoid that emotionally charged issue of creation and evolution.

Kevin Harris: Did you have anything in there on biology?

Dr. Craig: No, we did not. We thought about it. The problem was convincing the publisher to allow us to have a volume this large. They asked about this and we said we’d be glad to add another chapter that would deal with design in biological systems. And they said, no, no, the book is already large enough. So we do not have anything in the book on biological complexity.

Kevin Harris: The argument from religious experience.

Dr. Craig: This chapter is written by a Chinese philosopher interestingly enough. His name is Kai-Man Kwan. Kai-Man teaches at a university in Hong Kong. He was a student of Richard Swinburne at Oxford University. He traveled to England to do his doctorate in philosophy. He wrote under Swinburne on the argument from religious experience. So we were able to tap Kai-Man’s expertise in this area to do a chapter on how the fact of religious experience is best explained by there being a God.

Kevin Harris: Now the naturalistic explanation of that would be man feared lightning and therefore concocted the gods.

Dr. Craig: Right. Or maybe some sort of Freudian psychology theory.

Kevin Harris: Father figure.

Dr. Craig: Yes, or a projection of a neurotic individual because of the father figure and so forth. Kai-Man will show how all of these naturalistic attempts to explain religious experience are not as plausible as the view that in religious experience we really do come into contact with an objective reality.

Kevin Harris: Does Alvin Plantinga make a contribution?

Dr. Craig: Sadly, no. Plantinga is currently involved in other projects that are taking his whole time. He is also now in his seventies and therefore time is precious to him. He needs to devote himself full time to his current pursuits and so could not take time out to write on something. I had wanted to get him to do the ontological argument. But, having said that, Plantinga hasn’t really worked on the ontological argument for over 25 years now. His defense of that was back in 1974. So the person we have for this is a man named Robert Maydole. He is at Davidson College. He is working right now on the ontological argument. He has published some really good work in the American Philosophical Quarterly as well as in the secular journal Philo[4] I remember when his article came into Philo on the defense of the ontological argument, Quentin Smith, the atheist philosopher from the University of Western Michigan was or is the editor at Philo, and Quentin told me, “None of us know how to answer Bob Maydole’s ontological argument.” He said it seems like it is sound. So they were rather taken aback by this. So we’ve got him to do the argument for us on the ontological argument.

Kevin Harris: What is interesting about the ontological argument is a lot of people assume that it has been put to bed, it has been put to rest, and is no longer even used. It seems to have made a real comeback.

Dr. Craig: It really has. And as I say, Maydole’s work is right on the cutting edge.

Kevin Harris: Let’s talk about some more chapters.

Dr. Craig: Well, we have one on the argument from reason. This is by Victor Reppert who is out in Phoenix. I don’t know this chapter as well because this was one that J. P. edited. We divided the editorial responsibilities. But this is an argument that Alvin Plantinga has developed and that Reppert has also defended in a book that he has written. Basically the idea goes like this: if naturalism is true then our cognitive faculties are the product of biological evolution – blind evolutionary processes. But that means that these cognitive faculties are therefore not aimed at truth, they are aimed at survival. The reason that we have them is because they are effective in helping our species to survive. But, there are all kinds of ways in which our cognitive faculties could be conducive to survival but wouldn’t necessarily arrive at truth. It could in fact arrive at all sorts of falsehoods that happen to have survival value. So on naturalism, the argument is, we have no good grounds for trusting the reliability of our cognitive faculties in getting at truth. But what that means is that therefore the naturalist has no good basis for thinking that naturalism is true because on his view they were formed by cognitive faculties that are unreliable. Darwin himself expressed this fear. He said, “I fear that I can have no confidence in conclusions that are the result of a monkey’s brain.” Basically meaning his own. His own theory is a result of an advanced monkey’s brain coming up with this. But how can you have any confidence in that? So the idea is that naturalism is incapable of being rationally affirmed. It is only if our cognitive faculties have been designed to be reliable that they can be counted on to be trustworthy, that they are designed to aim at truth. That of course then requires a designer and therefore God.

Kevin Harris: The moral argument. Who handles that?

Dr. Craig: This is handled by a little known philosopher named Mark Linville who was a former student of mine who is teaching at a small Christian college in Atlanta. Mark, though not well known, has been working on the moral argument for years, and I don’t know of anyone who has presented a more convincing moral argument for God’s existence. What he basically argues again is that if naturalism is true then there is no reason to trust our moral intuitions that something is good or evil, that something is right or wrong. Why? Because those moral intuitions are just the product of evolutionary selection. In baboons, for example, you can see certain kinds of behavior where they will help each other get along, not because they think it is morally right but because that kind of behavior is conducive to survival. It helps the species to perpetuate itself. So similarly, he would say the naturalist can have no basis at all for thinking that our moral beliefs really latch on to something objective rather than are simply behavior patterns ingrained into us because they are conducive to the survival of the human species. So if you do think that our moral beliefs are objectively true, if there really are right and wrong, then you should believe in God as a foundation for moral values.

The final chapter of the book that constitutes the crown to it so to speak is the argument from miracles. This is written by Tim and Lydia McGrew. Tim is a philosopher at the University at Western Michigan. Lydia, his co-author, is not actually a professional philosopher. She is a housewife who is homeschooling her kids. But, Kevin, you couldn’t underestimate Lydia. [5] She is a brilliant philosopher who, because Tim is bringing home the paycheck, has time to be at home and study and do work on probability theory and Bayes Theorem and its application to the problem of miracles. She is just a tiger. She is, I think, only about five foot tall. She is just a little bit of a thing, but she is a tiger and co-authors with Tim McGrew this article in which they apply the probability calculus to the resurrection of Jesus and show that the most probable explanation of the facts of the case is that God raised Jesus from the dead. This essay is an awesome display of philosophical ability in probability theory and reasoning using what is called Bayes Theorem – the probability calculus, written by these two.

Kevin Harris: That is very encouraging because it shows that all of us can engage these very fascinating questions.

It is the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology and it is edited by yourself, Dr. Craig, and J. P. Moreland. We look forward to getting into this book. [6]