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Contending with Christianity's Critics (part 1)

January 18, 2010     Time: 00:12:47
Contending with Christianity’s Critics


Conversation with William Lane Craig.

Transcript Contending with Christianity's Critics (Part 1)


Kevin Harris: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. Today we are going to have a conversation about Contending With Christianity's Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors, a book edited by Dr. Craig and co-edited with Dr. Paul Copan. Bill, talk a little bit about Dr. Copan.

Dr. Craig: Paul was actually one of my students, Kevin. I don’t know if you are aware of that. When I taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School between about 1980 and 1986, Paul passed through Trinity as a student, took apologetics from me, and then went on to do pastoral work in the Presbyterian Church before taking a doctorate himself at Marquette University in philosophy and has since gone on to become a quite good philosopher and is now teaching at West Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. Paul and I have cooperated in a number of books together, editing essays or debates. This is the latest thing that we’ve done.

Kevin Harris: I’ve got to tell you, he is something. Where does he excel? He excels in the moral argument?

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is one of his area’s of specialization – the moral argument. What Paul is especially good at in a way that few other Christian philosophers are is that he really knows biblical history and culture well. He has an admirable familiarity with commentaries on the Bible. So if you would want to know something about the background of the ancient Near East, for example, with respect to the Levitical laws, say, in the Old Testament, or the invasion of Canaan. Paul really, really knows that sort of historical background well. He also knows the range of interpretations of various biblical passages and doctrines that are offered by commentators today. So he is very, very good at integrating what I guess I would call biblical theology with philosophical theology.

Kevin Harris: Contending With Christianity's Critics is available; you go to Let’s talk about section 1. There is part 1 on the existence of God. You open up the chapter with “Dawkins’ Delusion.” This evaluates Richard Dawkins’ arguments from his book The God Delusion.

Dr. Craig: That’s correct. The focus of my brief essay in this book is what Dawkins calls “the central argument of my book.” And that is that there cannot exist a designer of the cosmos because that simply raises the further question “Who designed the designer?” So in this essay I respond to that argument.

Kevin Harris: James Daniel Sinclair talks about “At Home in the Multiverse.” The multiverse often comes up; that there are many universes and this is just one of many Big Bangs.

Dr. Craig: Yes, in fact this is the solution to which Dawkins adverts to explain away the argument for design from fine-tuning of the universe. The idea that we live in a multiverse or a world ensemble of universes. Jim Sinclair works in cosmology and is very conversant with current cosmology and so offers a refutation of this attempt to avert the force of the fine-tuning argument through appeal to a multiverse.

Kevin Harris: Victor Reppert – “The Argument from Reason.”

Dr. Craig: This is a kind of transcendental argument that Vic Reppert defends. It is the idea that rationality and the mental itself – that is, the intentionality, thinking about things, having mental causes of effects – requires some sort of ultimate mind or source behind the cosmos. If scientific naturalism is true, it is really self-refuting because then one’s mental faculties and thought processes would be causally impotent. They would just be at best a kind of epiphenomenon as it is called; a sort of spinoff of biological processes in the brain that don’t really do anything themselves and don’t have any causal effects. So naturalism is self-defeating. It undermines its own rational credentials by its view of the self and the mental life.

Kevin Harris: Do I understand that Alvin Plantinga has something similar along these lines.

Dr. Craig: Yes, yes. Plantinga has developed this argument against naturalism in great detail. Reppert offers another version of that. He studied C. S. Lewis who had a similar sort of argument from reason for the existence of God or against naturalism. Reppert takes off on what he calls the argument from reason. [1]

Kevin Harris: Chapter 4 is very fresh and very cutting edge in that there has been so much in the news lately that we are hardwired to believe in God. That there is a God gene, a God portion of the brain. Michael J. Murray takes this on.

Dr. Craig: Michael Murray is a terrific Christian philosopher who has familiarized himself with brain science and current cognitive psychology. He shows about five different views that cognitive psychologists have taken with regard to belief in God. What some of these people believe is that far from being a sort of Freudian projection of an infantile and neurotic consciousness, belief in God may be actually hardwired into the human brain so it comes naturally to us to believe in God – even in cultures and societies that have no overt sort of Christian tradition. Murray assesses the evidence for this claim, but then also assesses that if the claim is true, what significance would this have for theism. He thinks in fact that God may have hardwired us to believe in him. This would fit very much in line with Alvin Plantinga’s Reformed epistemology which says that God has constructed our cognitive mechanisms so that when they function properly we automatically and immediately form the belief that God exists and to fail to believe in God is therefore a symptom of cognitive dysfunction. That is Plantinga’s view. Michael Murray points out that this accords very well with some of the current theories in brain science and cognitive psychology.

Kevin Harris: Bill, I’ve looked at many articles in the popular press on this, and they all point toward that God doesn’t really exist. This is a trick of the brain.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and Murray, I think, just explodes that superficial take on these theories. His is a very, very nuanced and careful discussion of what the evidence really says and what significance it would have.

Kevin Harris: Chapter 5 was written by Mark D. Linville, a guy who I have just really come to like on the moral argument. He takes on the moral poverty of evolutionary naturalism.

Dr. Craig: Yes. Mark also was one of my students at Trinity. It is so gratifying when you see former students go on and become fine Christian philosophers themselves. I think of all of the people writing on the moral argument today, I would think Mark Linville is right at the top. That is why J. P. Moreland and I tapped him to do the argument in the Blackwell Companion for Natural Theology.

Kevin Harris: Which is also available at, by the way.

Dr. Craig: It is! [laughter] He wrote the chapter on the moral argument there. Here he presents a lay person’s version of the moral argument showing that if scientific naturalism is true we have no reason to trust our moral sense when it tells us that certain things are right and others are wrong, that we ought to do certain things and ought to refrain from others. He argues that on naturalism, again, naturalism defeats itself. It points out that this sense of ought is something for which we have no objective basis.

Kevin Harris: Rounding out part 1 of Contending With Christianity's Critics is Gregory E. Ganssle. He evaluates Dawkins’ best argument against God’s existence. Is this one similar to your chapter?

Dr. Craig: No. Greg Ganssle’s chapter is different from mine. What I attack is what Dawkins calls the central argument of his book which is sort of the “who designed the designer” argument. What Greg does in his chapter is take a very sympathetic view of Dawkins’ book and tries to reconstruct what he would take to be Dawkins’ best argument. It is not one that Dawkins offers explicitly, but it is how a sympathetic reader would reconstruct Dawkins’ case to make it into a good argument. Then Greg evaluates that and tries to show that even though certain phenomena that Dawkins appeals to do make God’s nonexistence more likely. These are simply outweighed by other factors which make God’s existence on balance more likely.

Kevin Harris: We will look at Part 2 next time – the Jesus of history. Takes on the critics of Christ. Everything from his existence to his claims and so on. Then the coherence of Christian doctrine, which brings up common questions like “Is Christianity even coherent?” “Is it self-contradictory?” “Is theism coherent or is it contradictory or irrational?” These are really some current issues. I’m sure that that was part of the thought process of putting this book together. [2]

Dr. Craig: These essays, Kevin, actually flow out of the annual conference that is put on by the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Every year in connection with our annual scholarly meeting, we hold a concurrent conference in a local church in the city we are meeting in in which we give lay people training in the defense of the faith. All of these papers flow out of those lay conferences. So these are absolutely cutting edge essays on current thought. They are cast in a lay level so ordinary folks can understand them. But they are fresh, they are up to date, they are cutting edge. So that is definitely part of the plan behind this sort of program.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, the preface of the book really addresses an issue, and that is distinguishing between good arguments and dealing with arguments and then dealing with people who are just angry and sarcastic and combative because we find on the internet and among this so-called New Atheism people who are just mad. That doesn’t take a lot of homework, that just takes patience quite often. But then there are others who are scholarly and they are going to launch augmentation against the Christian faith, so we have two things it seems to deal with here.

Dr. Craig: Very much so. It is not merely anger, too, Kevin. I believe a lot of these people are hurting; that there are some really emotional scars and pain, especially from folks who have come out of Christian backgrounds and have left it and find themselves carrying a lot of emotional baggage. When you sense you are dealing with that type of person, I think that the arguments and the evidence become really quite secondary and more pastoral concerns emerge to the fore. But this book is on the argumentative issues and how to answer some of the tough criticisms that secularists offer of the Christian faith. [3]