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Christianity Today Article

June 24, 2008     Time: 00:20:44
Christianity Today Article

Summary

Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript Christianity Today Article

 

Kevin Harris: Christianity Today is a widely read publication, Dr. Craig. It has got a big circulation in a magazine format, and has been around for a long time. You have a cover story in this. [1] 

How did this come about and what is it all about?

Dr. Craig: You are right, Kevin. Christianity Today is really the premier Christian magazine today. It is the voice of evangelical Christianity today. I was contacted by Stan Guthrie at Christianity Today in late May asking me to do an article for them on the renaissance of arguments for the existence of God in our day and age. He said, “It is high time we had something from you in this magazine. We’ve never featured anything by you before and it is overdue.” I said, “Thank you very much. I would love to do such an article.” So I wrote this article on the renaissance in Christian philosophy and arguments for the existence of God. He asked me to also share a little bit about how this is relevant to our postmodern culture today and why this is important and so forth. So I included this in the article, sent it in, and they liked it so much they said, “We want to use this as our cover story for the month of July.” So I was just thrilled that they would be running a story on their cover that features the work of Christian philosophers in our day and age to defend God’s existence.

Kevin Harris: By the way, you mentioned postmodernism. We will explain that for anybody who is not aware of that term in just a moment and what that’s all about. At the same time you address the so-called New Atheism which we address in other resources on ReasonableFaith.org. How do you address this movement?

Dr. Craig: In the article what I say is that although the New Atheism represented by people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others is very popular on the lay level but that in fact this movement is intellectually weak. It doesn’t have a lot of scholarly muscle. This is a popular cultural phenomenon that is really quite out of sync with the direction that scholarship is moving in. In fact, if you look at the last forty years in philosophy there has been a renaissance of Christian philosophy in our day of belief in the existence of God and of arguments for God’s existence among contemporary philosophers. So these so-called New Atheists are really very ignorant of what is going on in academic circles with respect to these questions. This reflects a kind of internet infidel, skeptic inquirer, popular level kind of atheism.

Kevin Harris: What is going on in professional philosophy and academia is actually a resurgence of evidence of God, arguments for God, and so on. You are saying that this New Atheism is more of a pop phenomenon perhaps unaware of these new arguments or unaware of the resurgence of it.

Dr. Craig: I think they clearly are unaware of it because when you read the writings of people like Dawkins and Harris and others, you don’t find them interacting with these figures in their writings. It is clear that they are ignorant of them because they are not interacting with the work of people like William Alston, Robert Adams, Alexander Pruss, Alvin Plantinga, and others. [2]  It is clear from their own writings that they are just out of touch with what is going on in high level scholarship in philosophy.

Kevin Harris: It seems to be an internet phenomenon.

Dr. Craig: Almost. Though Dawkins’ book was published and extremely popular – it was a best seller.

Kevin Harris: There have been about four atheist books that have been surprisingly best sellers.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: A lot of people at this point will hear this and perhaps read the article and use just kind of an appeal to authority; a lot of Christians in saying to their atheist friends and skeptics in their evangelistic efforts, “Well, there has been a resurgence actually in philosophy on arguments for God, and it is very reasonable to believe in God from a philosophical and scientific standpoint.” But you actually delve into some of the arguments here as well?

Dr. Craig: Yes, briefly. Obviously in a popular magazine article you can only give a real sketch of it and, boy, I had to dumb it down. I had to really work with the editors at CT to dumb down some of this material to make it accessible to lay people. But they did, at least, allow me to put in a bibliography where folks who want to go deeper can read some scholarly level work.

Kevin Harris: It is not that lay people are dumb, it is just that some of it requires some training.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, Kevin, and I hope nobody thought that I meant that when I said dumb down. It would be like me trying to read a professional medical journal. I don’t know the medical terminology and so forth to read The New England Journal of Medicine or something of that sort. It is similar with professional philosophy. But what that means is that when you write an article for popular consumption – and this is true in science as well as in philosophy – you inevitably have to compromise on the precision of what you are saying and say things that you would really want to qualify a lot. So I have to do that in the article.

But to address your point more directly, I think an appeal to authority such as you mention is quite legitimate. I don’t think that that is a fallacy at all if you are appealing to bona fide authorities. When an appeal to authority is fallacious would be, for example, when a Hollywood starlet comes on a commercial and recommends that you buy some new automobile or something. That is a fallacious appeal to authority. But when, say, a Francis Collins says something about the human genome, well, then that is a legitimate basis.

Kevin Harris: Because he is an expert in the field, and it is quite proper to quote an expert in the field to lend weight.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. He knows more about it than you do so you go on the basis of his authoritative testimony. So if an atheist comes to the average Christian and says, “You Christians, you are all idiots and nobody believes in this stuff who has any intelligence.” It is quite appropriate to respond, “What about Richard Swinburne at Oxford University? What about Alvin Plantinga at the University of Notre Dame? What about William Alston at Syracuse University? Do you think these people are intellectual nincompoops?”

Kevin Harris: These are respected, highly qualified philosophers.

Dr. Craig: At some of our most prestigious universities. So that kind of appeal to authority is quite legitimate.

Kevin Harris: I think what I am trying to say is that we as believers not only need to know about these philosophers and this resurgence, but we also need to have a basic grasp on these arguments. I think that is what I am trying to say.

Dr. Craig: I agree absolutely. The next followup question that the unbeliever would have would be, “Then what are one of these arguments?

Kevin Harris: “Well, give me one? For example?” “Well, I don’t know. Go read the book. There is a paper somewhere.”

Dr. Craig: [laughter] Right, right. And that is awkward. Whereas, in fact, as I show in this CT article, these arguments are typically composed of only three or four premises. Three or four sentences. And they are easy to memorize and to share with a non-believer. So I would encourage people to memorize these arguments and have them tucked away and ready to share if somebody asks.

Kevin Harris: Now, let’s get into postmodernism because you address that. Postmodernism I find kind of difficult to define sometimes. You want to give it a go?

Dr. Craig: Yes, it is difficult. What it basically says is that the whole project of what is called modernism or modernity which began in the Enlightenment (which said that reason and logic is able to give us the truth about reality), the claim is that has now collapsed and that instead we find there is no absolute truth, there is no overarching as they say meta-narrative about the way the world is. [3] Everybody has his own narrative. The world for me is different than the world for you.

Kevin Harris: It seems to be relativistic. All things are relative.

Dr. Craig: It is. It is relativistic and pluralistic. There isn’t any way the world really is. It fragments, it falls apart, and every person has his own reality.

Kevin Harris: Postmodernism seems to say that it is arrogant to claim that you know some truth.

Dr. Craig: That is right as well. The person who does think there is objective truth is regarded as arrogant and maybe even immoral.

Kevin Harris: I can kind of see it, but how is this an attack in some ways on Christianity, on the Christian faith?

Dr. Craig: The Christian faith claims that there is a privileged perspective on reality, namely, God – God’s perspective. God stands as it were at the peak of a pyramid of diverse perspectives on the world and in the unity of his intellect he grasps the world as it is. Therefore, there is a truth and objective reality to the world that is known to God. That is anathema to these radical postmodernists. There cannot be a peak to the pyramid at which it all comes together in an objective way the world is. Rather, there just has to be this disparate, scattered collection of perspectives with no overarching perspective that pulls it all together. So they reject Christianity.

Kevin Harris: The postmodern view seems to downplay history as well, the historical method. You can’t know history.

Dr. Craig: That is correct, Kevin. And there have been attempts to do postmodern historiography and it leads to historical relativism. This is one of the things that I deal with in the third edition of Reasonable Faith. I talk about postmodern historiography and how this would challenge the objectivity of history and hence our claim to know anything about the historical Jesus. So it does have an impact upon those sorts of things.

Kevin Harris: We know from history that we can’t know history.

Dr. Craig: Well, that is the self-contradiction, you see, of postmodernism. Yeah, it is self-defeating.

Kevin Harris: It is true that there is no truth.

Dr. Craig: Yes. It is self-defeating. For that reason postmodernism, contrary to popular belief, has not made great inroads into philosophy or into history or into science because these people understand there are objective canons of rationality and truth and there is an objective reality out there. So where postmodernism is most influential tends to be in departments of literature and English and religious studies, but not in philosophy and history and the natural sciences.

Kevin Harris: Bill, wait a minute. We are totally led to believe that we are totally postmodern and postmodernism is the reigning paradigm now. Churches are starting to embrace it, have embraced it. Are you saying that is not really the case?

Dr. Craig: That is what I am saying. It isn’t the case, in fact. I am very proud, frankly, of the way philosophy, my own discipline, has rejected postmodernism, at least in the Anglo-American world. It has not prevailed. In history, it has largely become passé. These few postmodernist historiographers are now largely rejected and the study of history has gone on and gotten past them. Similarly in science as well. So it is quite a misconception, I think, perpetrated in our churches by youth ministers that we live in a postmodern culture and that postmodernity is this sort of new reigning paradigm of our age. That is simply false.

Kevin Harris: Very touchy-feely it seems. It is, “How does this make you feel” and “How does this relate to you as a community” and it uses phrases like that. Actually, it is rather fuzzy thinking.

Dr. Craig: That is the inevitable byproduct of downplaying the importance of truth and the objectivity of truth. Because once that is downplayed or gone, then what is left is various communities that have their own truth, their kind of shared narrative. And since rationality and truth are not so important, logic is downplayed and therefore feeling and emotive expressions become more important.

Kevin Harris: Do you think that people are saying that they are postmodern but they are still living as modernists, perhaps? [4]

Dr. Craig: Well, I think that what has in fact happened is that among certain Christian groups, it has become faddish or fashionable to say you are postmodern, but they are really not. It is just lip service to postmodernity. In fact, I think that our culture remains deeply modernist. Our culture is shaped by the Enlightenment and by modernity and we live in a culture milieu which is deeply, deeply modernist.

Kevin Harris: Well, that is good news for apologists and apologetics ministries.

Dr. Craig: It is because it means that we can appeal to rational argument and evidence. When you talk to folks, what you find is that they are not relativistic or pluralistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, or technology. What they are relativistic about is religion and ethics. But you see that’s not postmodernity, that’s modernism! That’s just old line verificationism which says that if you can’t verify something by the five senses then it is just a matter of your personal opinion and your emotive expressions. So we are living in a culture that I think is deeply, deeply modernist at its core. It accepts the scientific naturalistic view of the way the world is and it treats religion and ethics as just expressions of emotions and personal taste.

Kevin Harris: Bill, you realize people are going to throw eggs at your house for writing this.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think a lot of youth ministers might, that’s true, because if I am right they are guilty of a colossal misdiagnosis of our cultural situation today. They are thinking that we live in a postmodern culture and therefore we need to minister to people as postmoderns when in fact I think that is utterly mistaken. We live in a culture which is deeply modernist and we need to minister to people as modernists.

Kevin Harris: I don’t see the apostle Paul as being any way postmodern. He seems to be very . . .

Dr. Craig: I would call Paul a premodern.

Kevin Harris: Premodernist.

Dr. Craig: If people would ask, “What are you?” I would say I am premodern.

Kevin Harris: Would you?

Dr. Craig: Yes. That is what Thomas Oden, the theologian from Duke University, says when people ask him. He says “I am not a modernist. I am not a rationalist who thinks that scientism is the way to get at truth.” He says “I am premodern.” That is to say “I believe in the standards of rationality and logic and evidence but I also believe that there is a God who through his Holy Spirit ministers to my heart and assures me that he exists and I am his child.” So he basically says we need to get back to the views of the church fathers like Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas and these premoderns.

The postmodernists are correct in criticizing modernism and this sort of verificationism – only what can be known through the five senses is meaningful. But where they err is they don’t offer us a good alternative. Instead they offer us this pluralism and relativism which is incompatible with Christianity. What we need to do is get beyond the Enlightenment by going back to the church fathers and a truly biblical worldview.

Kevin Harris: Seems to be a two prong approach in this article then, unless there is a third prong, and that would be the resurgence for arguments of God’s existence and respect for those arguments in professional philosophy in the academy. The effect of postmodernism and the analysis that you just gave of it. Are those the two aspects that you are dealing with in this article?

Dr. Craig: The way I would put it is this. There are the arguments for God’s existence that are enjoying a renaissance today. Then what I try to show is why this is practically important. The reason that it is practically important is because we still live in a modernist culture which values reason and logic, and therefore as Christians we definitely need to be able to commend our faith to unbelievers as a rational faith that is grounded in logic and evidence and therefore can be commended to thinking men and women today.

Kevin Harris: Congratulations on getting a cover story on a well read publication, Christianity Today, July 2008.

Dr. Craig: Praise the Lord.

Kevin Harris: Perhaps, Bill, this may offer a very much needed corrective in a whole lot of arenas today.

Dr. Craig: That’s the hope. [5]