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Challenging Christianity on Facebook

October 04, 2015     Time: 18:42
Challenging Christianity on Facebook


A Non-theist group on Facebook asks Dr. Craig some questions about intuition and causation, the problem of evil, and being unconvinced by evidence for God.

Transcript Challenging Christianity on Facebook


KEVIN HARRIS: We’ve been taking questions from groups on Facebook. Today a group mostly made up of non-theists called Challenging Christianity has some questions, Dr. Craig. Let’s start with our friend Scott. He says,

Dr. Craig denies that our intuitions about causality – for example, the causal principle – are reducible to inferences (conscious or subconscious) derived from our empirical experience of the world. Yet at the same time he maintains that without our empirical experience of the world we couldn’t possibly have the intuitions we do. To me this sounds a bit like saying “Just because Bob isn’t married, doesn’t mean he is a bachelor” without further explanation. I’d much appreciate Dr. Craig unpacking his position in a way that sufficiently reconciles these two theses.

DR. CRAIG: I am not quite sure what Scott is talking about here. I think he may be referring to my suggestion that maybe Kant was correct in thinking that the causal principle, which I would express as saying “everything that begins to exist has a cause,” is a synthetic a priori principle. What Kant meant by that was that it is not true just by definition. From the analysis of the concept “begins to exist” you cannot derive by definition that that thing had a cause. So this is a synthetic statement, not merely an analytic or definitional statement. But Kant said it is a priori. What he meant by that is that it is universal and necessarily true. This is not just dependent upon contingent facts of reality. This is a universal necessary truth. That doesn’t mean that you don’t learn about this truth through human experience. Kant would say that 7+5=12 is a synthetic a priori truth, but he would say that you may come to learn about it by your experience of counting, for example. But the universality and necessity of that isn’t based on that experience even if it arises as a result of that experience. I think my suggestion was that could be true (as Kant believed) of the causal principle. Experiencing the world, experiencing things coming into being, in experience this idea arises in one’s mind that whatever begins to exist as a cause. But it isn’t based upon that experience in the sense of its justification depends upon inferences from experience. Rather it is a universal and necessary truth which one comes to apprehend in experience.

I don’t want to insist on the a priori nature of this as being something that isn’t based on experience because in contemporary philosophical thought, especially since the time of Saul Kripke, the idea of metaphysically necessary a posteriori truths has come to be appreciated. For example, take the truth that gold has the atomic number 79. That seems to be a metaphysically necessary truth. As Kant would say it is universal and necessary. If something didn’t have the atomic number 79 it just wouldn’t be the element gold. But this is not something you know apart from experience or a priori. You only know it through experience. You come to know it through experience but then you see that it is necessary in its truth. Or take the statement, “This table could not have been made of ice.” Certainly I could have had a table made of ice that was the same shape and size as this one, but it wouldn’t be this table. The statement “This table could not have been made of ice” seems to be necessary true. Yet we come to know it a posteriori by experiencing the table. I would think in the same way, it is very plausible to say that the causal principle could be necessarily true – it is a metaphysically necessary truth – even though it comes to be known a posteriori. Either way is fine with me. I am not going to insist on it.

In fact, the argument that I give for the existence of God doesn’t even depend on this being a necessary truth. All it needs to be is just true that whatever begins to exist has a cause (whatever might be the case in other worlds). Though I am inclined to think it is a metaphysically necessary truth. I hope that is helpful to Scott in seeing that this should not be a stumbling block for him in accepting the first premise of the cosmological argument[1]

KEVIN HARRIS: On a kind of related note, you’ve differentiated between things which have a cause and events which have a cause.

DR. CRAIG: That is right. You’ll notice that I reworded Kant’s causal principle. The principle that Kant believed was synthetic a priori was actually that every event has a cause. But the kalam cosmological argument doesn’t commit you to so radical a view as that. I wanted to have a more modest formulation of the causal principle, namely, every thing that begins to exist has a cause. That would be perfectly compatible with saying that there are events that are indeterministic, such as quantum decay events or libertarian free choices. One could reject the Kantian principle that every event has a cause and yet hold to the principle that I think is the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument that if anything thing (substance) comes into existence, there is a cause for why that exists rather than not.

KEVIN HARRIS: Christopher asks,

Dr. Craig, for about a year I’ve been interested in the work of a website called New Apologetics. I think among their best work is their theodicy called the theodicy of divine chastity. It attempts to explain the co-existing of God with evil while maintaining that God remains perfectly opposed to every instance of evil and suffering in the world. Their claim is the reason God doesn’t prevent evil is that he isn’t morally free to do so, as to do so would be to hold back his self-gift to created persons of freedom and importance of their actions. This would also contrast with your view of Molinism. As on TDC (this theodicy), God’s focus on creation is on the persons he creates not on outcomes, such as the existence of evil, who does or doesn’t go to hell, etc. He creates persons and in a sense gives them the ability to become co-creators in a way. I am wondering what you think about this theodicy. Is it superior to more popular theodicies that are used that usually involve God allowing evil so he can use it as a means to an end?

DR. CRAIG: I have some questions about this theodicy. They claim that on this view God remains perfectly opposed to every instance of evil and suffering. I certainly would think that God as a morally perfect being is opposed to every instance of evil, but where do they derive the conclusion that he is therefore opposed to every instance of suffering? Why couldn’t God allow or inflict suffering upon people for purposes of, say, judgment upon sin or for purposes of discipline or trial to improve character or something of that sort? Perhaps he has other purposes to achieve. I am not at all confident, in fact I doubt seriously (I am very skeptical of the idea) that an all-good God would not permit suffering. C. S. Lewis once made the point, “What do people mean when they say ‘I don’t fear God because I know that he is good.’ Have they never been to the dentist?” There can be reasons for inflicting suffering on people. I am just not at all confident that the idea that because God is perfectly good that he cannot allow people to suffer or even inflict suffering. Having that kind of natural evil, if you will, would not be to hold back his self-gift to created persons of freedom.

This seems to me to be really just the Free Will Theodicy with respect to moral evil. I don’t see any difference between the Free Will Defense and this theodicy with respect to moral evil. God allows people to make morally evil choices that he is opposed to out of his respect for their freedom. That is the Free Will Defense. But then you have to say something more at least about natural evil and about suffering in order to explain that. He hasn’t done that in this email at least.

I am a little puzzled, too, why he says this would contrast with Molinism as on theodicy of divine chastity God’s focus is on the persons he creates. I think that is true of Molinism that God’s focus is on the persons he creates, and particularly bringing these persons into a saving relationship with himself on their salvation. His focus really is on persons. On Molinism, he creates persons and gives them the ability to become co-creators of the world. We are co-actualizers of the world with God.[2] God places us in a certain set of freedom-permitting circumstances and then he stands back and let’s us choose freely which choice we would like to make. Thereby, we determine which world becomes actual. We are co-actualizers of the world along with God on a Molinist view. So I don’t see any advantages to this view over Molinism. I do see insufficiencies in this view insofar as it doesn’t address the problem of suffering that isn’t due to human freedom.

KEVIN HARRIS: We have time for one more question, Dr. Craig. From this group it says,

Dr. Craig, I found that many Christians who seek out apologetics online are hanging onto their faith by a thread. While the arguments presented help some, a good number eventually fall away despite trying their hardest to hold on. While some might reject their faith for emotional reasons, a significant number of former believers fall away for intellectual reasons, and they experience intense emotional pain caused by the separation rather than preceding it. In other words, they are very reluctant agnostics. Do you accept that there are people out there like this? People who sincerely believed Christianity was true, who wanted to continue believing, but who were ultimately convinced that the arguments for God just don’t hold up? If not, does this mean all apostates are lying when they convey these apparently honest sentiments. If you do accept such people exist, does that mean Paul was incorrect in Romans 1 when he claimed that God has made it plain to everyone that he exists. Because to many of us, it is not plain at all. I think my question has relevance even if the number of people who study and fall away is tiny. Even if one person on earth sincerely tries to believe but can’t convince themselves, that seems to be a problem since they are damned as a result. Kevin, if you and Dr. Craig are committed to what Paul says you must believe that there is not a single person on the entire planet who has sought God through apologetics and remain sincerely unconvinced, but that seems like an extraordinary claim.

DR. CRAIG: What Brian is presupposing here is a religious epistemology of evidentialism. I have made it abundantly clear I am not an evidentialist. Certainly I believe that there are people who sincerely believed Christianity is true, who wanted to continue believing, but who ultimately became convinced that the arguments for God don’t hold up. But what I would deny is that those persons should then become apostates. Rather we have a dual-warrant for our faith – not only the arguments and evidence, but also the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Even if the arguments and the evidence should prove unconvincing because of the historical vicissitudes in which a person finds himself – for example, a believer who goes off to study theology at a German university and so lacks the resources for refuting the liberal professors that attack his faith, or a student living in the Soviet Union during the era of Marxist indoctrination who has no means of refuting the atheistic propaganda against Christianity – such a person would be unconvinced that the arguments for God hold up. They might think they’ve all been refuted. But that would require the person to apostatize only if you presuppose the truth of evidentialism, which is what I think Brian is presupposing. I don’t hold to that. So I am not committed to the extraordinary claim that he makes at the end: there is not a single person on this planet who has sought God though apologetics and remained sincerely unconvinced. Of course, there are lots of people like that. Lots of Christians who are like that who don’t believe in God because of the evidence and arguments. They are unconvinced by those things. But that doesn’t mean that therefore they are unbelievers because they have a different warrant for their belief in Christianity. That warrant is the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Brian needs to engage more seriously with the possibility that an all-loving and omnipotent God would not abandon us to the vicissitudes of time and place in history – the shifting sands of evidence – for our eternal salvation. But would supply to us in addition to that a warrant for the truth of the Christian faith that is independent of the vicissitudes of history and the evidence that may or may not be available at any particular time and place to a person. It is that that I think can enable a person to believe rationally and warrantedly to know that Christianity is true even if he comes to have doubts that any of the apologetic arguments and evidence hold up.[3]

KEVIN HARRIS: It seems like a huge burden of proof that one would bear if one says, “There exists a person who sought God with all his heart and was sincere, and God never responded and God let him die without responding, and that person is condemned.”

DR. CRAIG: If that were the claim Brian was talking about, I would make that claim. There is no single person who has sincerely and earnestly sought God whom God has abandoned to hell and unbelief and would not meet him in some way to give him warrant. But where Brian falsely assumes is that God will do this through apologetics. That is not right. There is no reason to think that whatsoever.

KEVIN HARRIS: Brian could say, “That person is me. I’ve sought God with all my heart.”

DR. CRAIG: It does sound very auto-biographical.

KEVIN HARRIS: The thing is: you are not dead yet!

DR. CRAIG: OK, there are two points you are making here. One is you are not dead yet. God may yet give you good arguments and evidence that will convince you. But then I think the more fundamental point is the one that I am making: you are not cast upon arguments and evidence alone for your eternal salvation and to find the knowledge of God. That is the assumption behind his question – that there is not a single person on the planet who has sincerely sought God through apologetics and remained unconvinced by the arguments. We are not making that claim.

KEVIN HARRIS: More questions that we’ve gotten from various online organizations next time right here on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We’ll see you then.[4]

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    Total Running Time: 17:31 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)