Dr. Craig's response to atheist mom's article on CNNMarch 04, 2013 Time: 23:45
An article on CNN from a Mom teaching her children to not believe in God got nationwide reaction! Dr. Craig weighs in on the article and the increasing coverage of non-belief in major media outlets.
Dr. Craig's Response to Atheist Mom's Article on CNN
Kevin Harris: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig, there's an article on CNN's website that got a tremendous number of hits from a mom who is raising her children not to believe in God. She wrote this article. There have been over ten thousand online responses and coverage elsewhere. You've been asked about this, in fact you addressed it as a question of the week at ReasonableFaith.org, you go to question number 302 in the archives, question 302. And Bill before we discuss some of the things this lady has written it brings up another issue of how news agencies, especially CNN, are starting to give article and opinion space to the growing group of people who categorize themselves as various nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, those who are not affiliated with a particular church, organization or denomination, a very broad group. They're noticing the trends and are therefore recognizing and including this growing group. And I think that's the case rather than someone on the editorial board has an agenda and wants to see the promotion of a radically secular worldview, I mean surely that wouldn't happen. [laughter]
Dr. Craig: I think you're pointing out an important trend, Kevin. The popular media do seem to be deliberately promoting the agenda of the secular subculture. It would be very difficult for someone to get an article with CNN published on how I raised my children to believe in God. [laughter] Nobody would be interested, I suppose, in that. But these secular articles seem to just be everywhere now, and this cannot be coincidental. It seems to me there is a deliberate interest in popularizing this sort of secular material.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, and their instincts, their marketing instincts, on this are apparently very good because it has generated what they want, what anybody would want, what we at Reasonable Faith would want, and that would be traffic to the site, and people coming to see what we have to say. And this is one way to do it, and, boy, did it do it. Well the article says, quoting now,
When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.
For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.
Well I got to stop right there and say, Bill, I don't believe we're going to be walking around without a body either . . .
Dr. Craig: No. [laughter]
Kevin Harris: . . . and some of these other things. So her absurdities that she doesn't believe in are absurdities that we don't either.
Dr. Craig: That's right. It's very clear that this poor women found herself in the circumstance of having no Christian beliefs, and then having to just invent a religion, in a sense, to teach to her little boy. She just made stuff up. And as a result she says things such as you mentioned – walking around without a body, which no orthodox or biblical Christian believes.
Kevin Harris: Yeah. Continuing in quoting:
And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children. I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my community. As a blogger, though, I’ve found that there are many other parents out there like me. We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.
Dr. Craig: I think that's a very significant comment. This women felt marginalized, but now she has found a community on the internet. The internet secular, free-thought subculture is providing a rallying point for folks that is very aggressive, and she has become part of that now – writing this column, trying to convince parents not to teach their children to believe in God – so I think this is a very significant cultural trend.
Kevin Harris: And all of the statistics bear this out; hardcore data. There is a trend in this area, and we'll do some podcasts on that as the data comes in. Some of the objections that she makes to God is first:
God is a bad parent and role model. . . . he is not a good parent. Good parents don't allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don't stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women, and children. [Even if he gives us free will] our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.
So this is an aspect of the problem of evil. But she does try to address the free will issue. Even given free will, she says.
Dr. Craig: Yes, exactly, that's right. But this argument is predicated upon drawing an analogy between God and us, and us and our children, and that God is supposed to therefore serve as a sort of role model, according to Christianity, for us in the way we should treat our children. And I think that's simply grossly mistaken. Although there is a certain analogy that applies there in the sense that God is our heavenly father, nevertheless the disanalogies are so great, Kevin, that we can't say that God is supposed to serve as a role model for human parenting. Just to mention one point: any analogy would have to be between us and our adult children, because we are dealing with moral agents who make morally significant choices. And as any parent who has adult children knows, this is one of the most difficult times because you see your adult children making disastrous choices, even choices that will bring harm upon themselves, and you can do nothing. If you try to meddle in their affairs you will only make things worse, and so you often have to simply stand by and watch your adult children make these disastrous choices. So the analogy, if there is one, would not be between us and little children, it would be between us and our adult children in which we do give them considerable autonomy to make choices that are harmful and disastrous.
But even beyond that the analogy is not a tight one, Kevin, because we and our children are equals, but God is our creator and sovereign. And therefore God is not bound by the same sorts of moral duties and obligations that we have toward our children. For example, I have a responsibly not to harm my children, but God, as the giver and author of life, can give and take life as he sees fit. He's under no obligation whatsoever to prolong a person's existence one second longer, and therefore God is not under the same sort of obligations vis-à-vis us that I am toward my children; the analogy doesn't hold.
Similarly, even though I might be responsible for the moral and spiritual education of my children, God is concerned about directing an entire world of free creatures so as to bring as many of them as he can to salvation with the loss of as few as he can. And this might involve allowing considerable suffering and evil to enter the world.
Moreover there's the afterlife to consider in which God could permit certain things to happen in this world that would involve suffering and disaster knowing that he will recompense that person in a measure beyond comprehension in the afterlife because of some overriding good that he wants to achieve in human history.
So the disanalogies between God and us and us and our children are just so great that this assumption underlying this objection – that God is somehow supposed to be a role model for how to parent little children – is just misconceived.
Kevin Harris: And, Bill, she's not a philosopher, professional philosopher, or anything like that.
Dr. Craig: Sure.
Kevin Harris: However, she has engaged philosophy on a huge forum so we're going to look at her philosophy here and her logic.
Dr. Craig: Right, and that's fair to do; we're not condemning her. She's at least thinking about these things. In fact, Kevin, I want to say one thing about this mother with which I wholeheartedly agree and that is that we ought to teach our children the truth. Her whole column is predicated upon the assumption that when we teach our children to believe in God we are not teaching them the truth, and therefore she says we ought not to do it; we shouldn't lie. And I agree that we should teach our children the truth. Where I disagree with her is that I think it's true that God exists, and therefore to fail to teach your children to believe in God is to commit child abuse of an inconceivable measure because you are trying then to shield your child from the love of God and eternal life, and nothing more cruel could be imagined. So the whole question comes down to: what is the truth? I and the mother both agree we should teach our children the truth, regardless of what it is, but the question then is: what is the truth? And then, as you say, Kevin, we have to engage her arguments for why she thinks that it's true that God does not exist. And this first argument is not a good one; it's based upon drawing an analogy between human beings and God that simply doesn't hold because of the enormous disanalogies between God and us as human parents.
Kevin Harris: I can see where she is really reflecting the easy answers, platitudes, what I call the pontifications, what I call the hillbilly theology, [laughter] and some simplistic or even non-accurate answers, and she is responding to a lot of these here.
Dr. Craig: Yes, it's evident from the straw men that she attacks that she has been given very bad responses by believers.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, because she says, she brings up the shooting tragedy in Newtown as she continues to deal with the problem of evil. I want to make a prediction, Bill, in the same way that 9/11 sent out a wave of secular, non-theistic, atheistic, works, books – the whole New Atheism was really launched out of the works that came out of 9/11 – we're going to see similar things, in fact already are, out of the Newtown tragedy because it's been so horrific.
Dr. Craig: Yes, well with respect to that she thinks that somehow by saying that God has permitted suffering in the world we are somehow abdicating our moral responsibly to try to mitigate the suffering in the world, and that's just silly, Kevin. Christians, historically, have led the way in the fight against poverty, disease, ignorance, slavery, and various evils that beset our world, and simply because the Christian thinks that God has allowed suffering and evil in the world that therefore we don't have a responsibility to try to fight against it is just contrary to Christian doctrine and truth.
Kevin Harris: By the way, I have reached out to this mom, and said, hey, I'm a fellow Texan, great questions, I think there are some great answers here, and would love to be able to email and do some things like that. But I'm sure millions of people have done it because of the scope of this, and so many people have read it. And she goes on to say that God does not protect the innocent, and all of these dovetail into problem of evil, Bill.
Dr. Craig: Oh yes, that's the overriding issue. But my response to this point is, yeah, that's absolutely right, God doesn't protect the innocent. Where in the world did she get the idea that if God exists he's going to protect the innocent. God never promised us an easy life. There is nothing in Scripture that suggests that life is going to be a bowl of cherries for those who believe in God and follow him. And Jesus of Nazareth is the paradigm example for us of innocent suffering. God allowed his own Son to go to the cross and to suffer incomprehensible suffering on our behalf for the purpose of our redemption. I think what we want to say as Christians is that when God does allow the innocent to suffer he does so only with a view toward some morally justifying reason. He has overriding reasons which would justify his permitting the innocent to suffer. And of course, then, in the afterlife, those who have born their suffering in faith and courage will be rewarded with a recompense that is so incomprehensible and incommensurable with the suffering that the suffering will be just infinitesimal by comparison.
Kevin Harris: And, Bill, I want to reiterate what you just said because you really debunked a kind of fatalism that even we as Christians often have. We are to stand against these things, and God can use us in this way, and maybe in a world of counterfactuals because we don't step to the plate more often. [laughter]
Dr. Craig: You know that's so true, Kevin. As I've worked on the problem of suffering and evil in the world it strikes me that what passes as natural evil is often so intertwined with moral evil that if there were no moral evil in the world these natural disasters and things would be greatly reduced in their significance. I mean, for example, the reason that so many people lose their lives in earthquakes is because they've been forced to live in shoddy unsafe housing that's caused by poverty and the acquisition of wealth on the part of the wealthy few in some of these third world countries and the masses live in poverty. And if we lived in a world in which everybody lived according to the golden rule, when these natural disasters occurred there would be a flood of assistance and help to those who are the victims of these tragedies, and these tragedies would be greatly reduced in their significance. I mean, think of the famines in Africa, for example; these don't need to exist. There are plenty of resources to help people in drought-stricken countries but often the resources don't get to them because dictatorial regimes are using food as a weapon to interdict the aid supplies.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, and the infrastructure would be better in a world of the golden rule – people wouldn’t live in these shoddy structures that collapsed on them and kill them. I mean, we've seen it in Haiti, we've seen it in Kingston. Well, here she says God is not present, he's not there. “He's not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense.”
Dr. Craig: Yeah, this is where I was most disappointed in her, this really degenerates, Kevin, to the level of the village atheist who says, I can't see God, I can't hear God, I can't touch God, therefore God doesn't exist. I mean, that's so embarrassingly bad. If you could touch and see and hear God then God would be a finite physical object; he would be in effect an idol, and not the transcendent creator and designer of the universe. So the argument that you can't apprehend God by means of the five senses is foolish because this is exactly what we would expect if God does exist. Now what needs to be said in addition to that is that modern physics teaches us that there are all kinds of realities that exist that are not accessible to the five senses. And one of the most recent examples in the news has been the Higgs-Boson. For thirty years scientists have been looking for this particle, and it's only been after millions of dollars and thousands of man hours of investment that they've finally been able to detect indirect evidence of the existence of the Higgs-Boson. And in exactly the same way with respect to God, you can't apprehend God by the five senses by the very nature of the case, but we have indirect evidence of God's existence in the origin of the universe from nothing, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, the existence of moral values and duties in the world, the existence of states of intentionality in the world, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. All of this gives us good indirect evidence for the reality of this transcendent being.
Kevin Harris: And Bill, by the way, she is one who has only engaged these things on the surface, but then again she's heralded on the front page of CNN, you know, as something profound – “Listen to the profound things this mom is saying.” Well, no, they're not, and, you know, my heart does break.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, you know, I agree with you, Kevin. It's hard to be angry with this young mother. It's rather pathetic. And I feel so bad for her that she hasn't been apparently exposed to good, solid Christian philosophy of religion and thinking.
Kevin Harris: Sure. This “God does not teach children to be good,” it's the old “I don't like God breathing down my neck” argument, it sounds. It's the old country song – “God's going to get you for that.” And she compares it again to Santa Claus: he sees when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake, and he's watching you with a little tally here to see if you're going to be good or bad.
Dr. Craig: It really makes you wonder, again, is she really in contact with believers who are so warped that they use God as a threat to their little children – you better do this or you're going to hell – or is this rather a caricature of the internet infidel community that she's now in touch with and she's mouthing their slogans. But it's just . . . it is a caricature of Christian belief. Of course we should teach our children to do what is right because it is the right thing to do. But the deeper philosophical question is: Why is it the right thing to do? What is the basis for right and wrong, good and evil? And on her naturalism or atheism I don't think there is any basis for objective moral values and duties. What she is teaching her children is really a baseless morality which they may come to see through when they grow up and reject.
Kevin Harris: This final one: God teaches narcissism. And this shows . . . I can always tell when somebody has been hanging out with the internet and all the atheist types, because they pick up this phrase: a big guy in the sky, man in the sky, sky-buddy, sky-daddy. In other words: a material being located in space who therefore would be contingent, and so we're not even on the right [laughter] . . . you know, and all that good stuff. But she says,
God Teaches Narcissism. “God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. “No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special.” The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God’s plan, right?
When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.
And then she says, “I don't want religion to go away, I just want religion to be kept at home or in the church where it belongs.”
Dr. Craig: This claim is just silly – the idea that children raised by Christian parents are narcissistic. I would challenge her to produce a single psychological study that shows the profile of Christian children to be narcissistic. I think that it simply asinine. By contrast, there are numerous psychological studies, as you know, Kevin, that show religious believers to be better in mental health, more psychologically well-balanced, and happier than nonbelievers. So the idea that believing in God teaches narcissism is just silly and, I think, indefensible. What it does do, and she's right about this, it does teach you that every one of us is special; we're all special because God loves us. And that's a wonderful truth that can help you to live a life that is successful and happy and to treat others the way God looks at them – they're special. These are people who are made in the image of God, people whom God loves so much that he sent his Son to die for them, and therefore you will treat them in a way that befits their specialness.
Kevin Harris: Bill, her claim that she doesn't want religion to disappear you find quite the opposite from the thrust of her writing.
Dr. Craig: Yes, I think that's very disingenuous, Kevin, on her part. She's saying, “Oh, I'm not trying to attack religion, I don't want it to go away.” But look at the column. She's trying to convince other parents not to raise their children to believe in God. She's already got the freedom not to raise her own children to believe in God, so what more does she want? She wants other parents not to raise their children to believe in God. In other words, she is trying to exterminate religious belief in the private sphere and not just in the public sphere, and that's why I say this woman is either a part of, or a pawn of, the New Atheism.