05 / 06
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Don't Read That Book!

January 06, 2019
Don’t Read That Book!


An atheist author wonders why Dr. Craig advises someone against reading atheist material.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, an atheist blogger seems a little puzzled, and perhaps even a little miffed, that you told someone not to read his book! This blogger, David McAfee from the “No Sacred Cows” blog, is referring to a question of the week that you presented.[1] The question of the week was your response to a doubting Christian who had read David’s book entitled Disproving Christianity. Let me quote this from the blog[2]:

It all started in 2013 when a Christian read my book, Disproving Christianity, and listened to other secular works. The believer said they “want to believe in God” but they were “having trouble” retaining their faith after being exposed to secular materials.

They pleaded with Craig, asking for suggestions and saying, “I want to believe in God.

He then quotes from the question of the week, and then he says,

Craig’s response… left a lot to be desired. He starts off with a long-winded story, and then explains that the believer who wrote him for help was “not properly equipped” to handle arguments found within the “anti-Christian material.

So right from the start, you're being taken to task here for squelching information.

DR.  CRAIG: Right. Stifling inquiry, not being open-minded, and so forth, when, in fact, what I'm doing here is giving pastoral advice to a young Christian who was obviously ill-informed about the rational foundations for Christianity and therefore easily shaken, and who was imbibing all of this infidel material on the Internet and reading these sorts of books. It's no wonder he was shaken in his faith because he had nothing on the other side to support Christian theism. He was ill-equipped to answer the spurious arguments that are offered in this sort of material.

KEVIN HARRIS: Apparently, when you're approached with a question like this from a doubting person, you seem to have a couple of options. One would be to determine whether a pastoral approach is needed or a scholarly approach is needed, or maybe a little of both.

DR.  CRAIG: Absolutely. For example, suppose he said, Here's the ontological argument and here are Dawkins’ critiques of the ontological argument, and I'm having difficulty understanding where he goes wrong.” Then you address that issue specifically. But instead, what we had here from this young person was a cry for help. He's just feeling overwhelmed by this infidel literature. No specifics were mentioned; no particular arguments. He's just being filled with doubts by reading this sort of thing, and he was not equipped properly before he began to read this.

I want to highlight a couple of the points in my answer here because the blogger, I think, gives a misimpression. First, I encouraged him spiritually to make a recommitment of his heart to Christ. I wanted to be sure that this kid is engaged in the spiritual disciplines that strengthen Christian belief – things like personal devotional reading and prayer, meaningful corporate worship, Christian fellowship. Too often people who are struggling with doubts cut themselves off from the Christian community and from these devotional spiritual disciplines that are their life source and lifeline to God. So the first thing I wanted to do was to encourage him to do a kind of spiritual inventory of his life and make sure that he's maintaining these spiritual disciplines. Then I suggested quit reading and watching the infidel material that you've been absorbing. You've been reckless and irresponsible in looking at this. And then I say, I am not saying quit asking questions. I'm not trying to stifle these questions. I'm saying quit going to the wrong people for answers. He is going to the wrong people to get answers to the questions that he has. So my next point is to begin a program of equipping yourself in Christian doctrine and apologetics. I suggested some ways in which he can do that. The best antidote to this infidel material is to have a robust understanding of Christian doctrine and firm rational foundations for why you believe as you do. Then, in fact, my next point was to put yourself in the way of learning – to attend conferences like the Evangelical Philosophical Society – so that he would come to a degree of sophistication in his understanding of the Christian faith. It is then, I think, that one can begin to read the infidel material and easily spot the errors and missteps in it. I read this sort of material all the time. Indeed, I probably read more of this material than of Christian material. But I do so because I've become equipped to spot the fallacies and the errors in it. The sad testimony is that many, or most, young people who've never studied these sorts of things don't know how to spot logical fallacies or false premises.

KEVIN HARRIS: A quick side issue. I've had two prominent Christian scholars (completely independent of each other) relate to me that they know of people who specialized in the occult, Satanism, the demonic, and so on, who did it as an intent to be better ministers in that area. But everyone who does that, they say, pays a high spiritual price for whenever you absorb that and you just surround yourself in that world. Now, obviously there's going to be a balance here of being informed in what's going on. But I would think it would be like if you're going to study the Ebola virus you better be kind of detached from it rather than right up on it. So while that's a little bit of a different side, there is an issue of protecting yourself spiritually.

DR.  CRAIG: Sure. Of course. To me, this is only common sense. I give the analogy of someone who doesn't know how to swim and you take him and throw him into the ocean surf and expect him to survive. That's madness. You go into the shallow end of the pool first, and you learn to swim before you plunge into the deep end or into the surf. That just only makes sense. What breaks my heart is that you have these young, immature, and uneducated Christians who have questions – good questions – but they go to this infidel material to find the answers to it. And it's no wonder they're filled with doubts and overcome.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another quick issue is that (and I wish I had a nickel for every time, especially since the advent of the Internet) Christians have told me, and I've experienced this myself, you can get burned out interacting doing apologetics online constantly by the onslaught of negativity. If you're not careful you can become depressed. Every once in a while you need to kind of back off and take a break. Because in the battle you take a beating, and you can't constantly take a beating. Now, we're talking in terms of a more mature believer.

DR.  CRAIG: Exactly. What we're dealing with in this blog is somebody who ought not to even be in the battle. This is a raw recruit who needs to go through basic training before you send him out on the battlefield. Again, I don't think this is controversial. This is just common sense.

KEVIN HARRIS: I think so, too. At the end of your letter, David says,

If Christianity is the transcendent truth and superior to all other faithful and non-faithful worldviews, as Craig believes, then why does it need to be protected from criticism?

DR.  CRAIG: I want our listeners to think about that question. I don't think you need me to answer that question. I think this question is so stupid that the answer is obvious. If Christianity is the transcendent truth and superior to all other worldviews then why does it need to be protected from criticism? Well, the answer is because immature and untrained Christian believers are not equipped to answer those criticisms. They don't see the fallacies in them. They don't have good reasons for why they believe. So it's not the transcendent truth of Christianity that can't stand criticism. What can't stand it are these immature believers who aren't equipped to deal with the criticism. The question is misconceived. It should say, If Christianity is the transcendent truth and superior to other worldviews then why do some Christians need to be protected from criticism? And the answer would be because they're not equipped to answer it.

KEVIN HARRIS: Then he says,

My view is the opposite. Where Craig says “believe,” I say investigate. I would never encourage an atheist to avoid the Bible, for example, out of fear that its strong arguments might compel that person to believe. In fact, I frequently encourage the opposite approach: I recommend believers and non-believers alike educate themselves about all of the world’s religions, including a basic understanding of the traditions’ core tenets and Holy Books.

DR.  CRAIG: I think that his open-minded attitude – his ability to be more cavalier, so to speak – about what his atheist friends read is probably because there's a lot less at stake for the atheist than there is for the Christian in this. The Christian believes that if you apostatize and walk away from Christ and reject God and reject Jesus Christ, you are sealing yourself to eternal damnation. You're separating yourself from God and the source of life itself for eternity. For the atheist, if you make a mistake and become a theist, it's not all that big a deal. There's a lot less at stake. So when you put it within the context of a Christian worldview, I think you can see that we have a lot more at stake in protecting our young and immature believers than the atheist does.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

If you study comparative religion, it’s more difficult to be religious because the great faiths are all very similar at the most fundamental level.,


DR.  CRAIG: I had to smile when I read that sentence. He just talked about how he encourages believers and non-believers alike to educate themselves about all the world's religions, and then he makes this howler of a statement – if you study comparative religions, you find that all of the great faiths are very similar at the most fundamental level. Anybody who says that has never studied the world's great religions because these religions are light-years apart from each other. Take just Buddhism and Islam, for example. Islam believes that there is a personal creator of the universe who is omnipotent, omniscient, absolutely holy, and whose forgiveness we need in order to find eternal life, and that by doing good works we can please him and thereby merit eternal life. The Buddhist believes none of these things. For him, there is no personal transcendent reality. There is no absolute right and wrong. We are not responsible to anyone. There is no soul that survives the death of the body. All is ultimately one in the absolute, and the goal of life is self-annihilation. These two worldviews have almost nothing in common on the fundamental level. I'm afraid that David just betrays himself here when he talks about how he encourages atheists to study the world's comparative religions, and then says something like this making it evident that he has very little understanding of them.

KEVIN HARRIS: I have to add that he is indicted in the same way by ending it this way: “Non-believers don’t have to be fearful of theistic material because there’s simply no evidence for the existence of deities.”

DR.  CRAIG: Yes, I love that sweeping generalization. And then he goes on, therefore “every argument is automatically philosophical in nature and regards a general ‘higher power,’ and not any specific deity – like Jesus or Allah.” Thereby revealing his naivete and lack of understanding of natural theology and Christian evidences. Philosophical arguments for God's existence are a form of evidence for the existence of deities, and in particular for the notion of a classical monotheistic creator and designer of the universe who is the locus of absolute goodness. Now, whether this is to be revealed in Islam or in Christianity is a further question. It's not a deficiency of natural theology. That will be a matter of Christian evidences which is a supplementary project to the project of natural theology. So I think that we see, as you say, in this final remark again just one more margin of his slip showing that he doesn’t really understand Christian philosophy and apologetics or the world’s great religions. He has not immersed himself in this literature either.[3]