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More Questions from Facebook

April 13, 2015     Time: 21:03
More Questions from Facebook


A group on Facebook called Christian Apologetics Alliance offers questions for Dr. Craig on a variety of topics.

Transcript More Questions from Facebook


Kevin Harris: There is a great group on Facebook called “The Christian Apologetics Alliance.” From time to time I ask them to post some questions for you, Dr. Craig. Today we are going to run some of these by you. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I am Kevin Harris. This is really a great group, Bill. They study your work. There is lots of good discussion there. Let’s look at a few of these questions. Looking at the comments, Tim Davis asks, “Who do you think are the most formidable challengers to the Christian faith? What philosophers are, as you put it, scary-smart?”

Dr. Craig: That is the description I use for Graham Oppy who is an Australian philosopher at Monash University. He is, I think, the most formidable atheist philosopher writing today. If you want to really be challenged philosophically, I’d say look at Oppy’s work. The other person that I would name would be the late J. Howard Sobel who was at the University of Toronto – a Canadian philosopher. Again, he is a sort of classical philosopher, so broadly read, so knowledgeable in all the areas of philosophy, and a real gentleman, too. When I met him he was always congenial and good to talk with. He has written a massive book called The Logic of Theism which is an enormous tome and I think is one that repays study. Those would be the two that I would name as being the most significant challengers philosophically.

Kevin Harris: Daniel asks, “I’d like to know if Dr. Craig views scholastic realism as a form of conceptualism, and why he finds nominalism more plausible than scholastic realism?”

Dr. Craig: This is really a difficult question to answer because it is not at all clear what scholastic realism is with regard to so-called abstract objects like properties and propositions and numbers and so forth. The medieval scholastic Christian theologians took their cue from Aristotle. But there seems to be disagreement among neo-Aristotelian philosophers as exactly what constitutes an Aristotelian view of things. On an Aristotelian view properties that are not exemplified by something do not exist. There are no properties, for example, of being a unicorn because there isn’t anything to exemplify that. Properties are supposed to exist immanently in the things themselves. But the difficulty is understanding what that means. Usually this is metaphorical language. To say that the property exists immanently in the thing is to say the thing exemplifies that property. But then the property is an abstract object which stands in this odd and undefined primitive relation of exemplification to the thing.

Or you could think of the property as an aspect of the thing which is isolated by the mental act of abstraction. For example, I could think about the color of your shirt, and I would abstract everything else away from the shirt – its style, its material, and its size. Finally, I would have nothing left but the color. That abstraction could be thought of as the universal or the property that exists in the shirt. But in that case it is hard to see how this is really an existing thing – this property. It seems to be merely an abstraction formed by the mind. Maybe in that sense he is thinking that these are merely conceptual realities.

Or some Aristotelian philosophers that I’ve read seem to think of the properties as being actual physical things – concrete things. They would say that these universals or properties are concrete constituents of things. But in that case it is really hard to understand how they could be multiply exemplified by different things. How could different things share the same color if the color is a concrete object that exists in one of those things. The whole point of saying these are universals is to say that a universal, unlike a concrete object, can exist in multiple places at once. So if you think of them as concrete universals it is really hard to understand how they could be multiply instantiated or exemplified.[1]

Then, again, when you read these medieval theologians someone like Augustine will say that the Platonic forms or ideas are not really abstract objects. They are thoughts in the mind of God. Now, if you take that seriously, that would make them concrete things. They would be, not abstract Platonic objects, they would be mental events in the mind of God. They would be thoughts that God has of various sorts. Thoughts are concrete, not abstract. Is that what you believe? The difficulty there is that when you get somebody like Aquinas, he denies that there really is a plurality of thoughts in the mind of God. He says we represent God’s knowledge to ourselves as a multiplicity of thoughts or ideas. But in God’s own mind, insofar as God is in himself, there isn’t a plurality of divine ideas. God is simple, and therefore just grasps all truth in a sort of undivided intuition. To me, what that sounds like is anti-realism. That is saying that these ideas and propositions and possible worlds and things like that don’t really exist at all. They are just ways in which we represent what God knows to ourselves. But, in fact, they are just useful fictions.

It is just really, really difficult to understand what so-called “the” scholastic view is of these objects because it seems to be differently interpreted by folks.

Kevin Harris: What is the terminology for useful fictions? What is that view called? If these are just useful fictions?

Dr. Craig: That is broadly speaking an anti-realism. There just aren’t any such objects. But within anti-realism there are various types of anti-realism. For example, fictionalism might say that these are useful fictions and that all of these statements referring to these sorts of things are really untrue or really false. On the other hand, a pretense theoretical approach to such objects would regard them as make-believe. You pretend or you imagine that there are such things. That isn’t incompatible with saying that statements referring to such things are true even though they don’t actually connect with real objects in the world. So 2+2=4 can be true even though there really isn’t any such object as 2+2 and 4, much less that these are the same object. It would be a matter of making believe that there are such objects. Then once you do that you can enunciate certain truths about them. Another anti-realism would be figuralism that might refer to these sorts of things as useful fictions because figuralism would say these are metaphorical. These are existential metaphors when we refer to these sorts of things. But they shouldn’t be taken literally. So there is a wide range of these anti-realist views. As I say, on some interpretations this scholastic realism really looks like anti-realism since it denies that there actually are a plurality of divine ideas.

Kevin Harris: You are going to have an exchange with Peter van Inwagen soon. Are you going to talk about some of these issues?

Dr. Craig: Yes, because the third person involved in this dialogue is J. T. Bridges at Southern Evangelical Seminary who is a Thomist and will be defending some version of this scholastic realism. I take heart in the fact that van Inwagen, in interacting with this tradition, says he doesn’t understand it either. I don’t understand what it means to say that these things exist in the concrete objects.

Kevin Harris: A two part question from Glen Richmond. He says, “Of those whom Dr. Craig has not debated, who are three he would most like to debate. Secondly, what would be the topic of his next debate?”

Dr. Craig: This may come as something of a surprise but there isn’t really anybody that I am eager to debate. I am not out there looking for opponents to debate. I do it when it comes my way and I feel like it is a worthwhile thing to participate in, but I am not hankering to debate people or planning such events. So there isn’t really anybody that I am champing at the bit to have a debate with.

Kevin Harris: You don’t have a hankering for it? What about the topic of your next debate, he asks?[2]

Dr. Craig: The next debate that I have will be in October. It will be in Germany with a German philosopher named Ansgar Beckermann. Beckermann is very conversant with Anglo-American philosophy of religion. In his little book on philosophy of religion he interacts with the work of Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and even me. So he knows the English literature as well as the German literature. I think this will be a formidable challenge, especially since the debate will be in German. The topic of the debate is “Existiert Gott?” - “Does God exist?” In order to facilitate this debate, we are actually exchanging our speeches in advance so the entire debate will be scripted. We will then simply get up and read our respective speeches. This should be a good debate because that means that each speech will be written only after weeks of reflection and thought on what the opponent has just said. It is not going to be off-the-cuff or extemporaneous. So it should be a very substantive and reflective debate, I think.

Kevin Harris: Chad asks that we do a podcast on the UK actor Stephen Fry and his comments which are sweeping the Internet. The answer to that is, yes, we will do a podcast. Consider that and take a look. “Any thoughts on the growing movement in support of Dr. Craig’s beard resurrection?” [laughter]

Dr. Craig: I do not understand this, frankly. The fact is that if I were to grow my beard back in it would come in gray or white. I would look even older than I look now! I just have no desire to look like an old man in a white beard going around. And I don’t want to dye it; I don’t want to color it. So I’m not going to do this.

Kevin Harris: I think they are just ribbing you a little bit because this started a whole chain of talk on the resurrection of the beard and the ontology of the beard.

Dr. Craig: Yeah. Oh to be young again, Kevin! It would be great.

Kevin Harris: There is the problem of the beard: when is it stubble and when is it beard? At what point does the small group become a pile?

This is a question about counterfactuals. Zachary says, “I am curious about the most plausible ontology for counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, and if a creature has to have actual existence?”

Dr. Craig: As an anti-realist about abstract objects, I don’t think that there are any counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in terms of propositions. I think there are sentences that are counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. You can utter or write down such counterfactual sentences, and I think they have truth values, but I don’t think there are any propositions. I don’t think we need them in order to have a correspondence view of truth. In terms of ontology, I just don’t think there are these sorts of abstract objects. Similarly, the persons who are referred to in these counterfactuals don’t exist until God creates them. When God explanatorily prior to his creation of the world is contemplating all of the various possible worlds that he might actualize and all of the possible individuals he might create and put in various circumstances, there just are no such people or circumstances or possible worlds at that point. Nothing but God exists at that point, but he just knows that if he were to create such-and-such a person in such-and-such circumstances then that person would do such-and-such a thing. He would then exist. If he were to exist and be in those circumstances, this is what he would do. But in that explanatorily prior moment, there isn’t anything other than God. There is just God alone with his thoughts.

Kevin Harris: It is difficult to use in that state of affairs words like contemplate – God contemplating. If I contemplated something, it takes five or ten minutes.

Dr. Craig: Oh, I see.

Kevin Harris: It is not linear like we think?

Dr. Craig: Right, it is not as though this is something that takes time to do. God’s omniscience alone precludes that. Because he already knows the conclusions of any arguments leading to those conclusions. So he doesn’t think discursively.

Kevin Harris: It is difficult to escape the language sometimes. We are limited by language sometimes.

Dr. Craig: Sure.

Kevin Harris: It is like we have to use words like that - “prior.” Not chronologically prior but logically prior. That is an area to get a handle on. Similarly here, “I am curious why Dr. Craig isn’t an idealist.”

Dr. Craig: I guess because I take seriously the creation story that God has made a material world and that everything is not just ideas in God’s mind. I think you would have to have some pretty strong arguments for idealism – to say that there are no material objects and that everything is simply in the mind of God.

Kevin Harris: This next question is from Curt:

I was wondering if Dr. Craig would address a question I had about the relationship between apologetics and the Holy Spirit. I know that he has said that apologetics isn’t necessary to have justified belief because he affirms a Reformed epistemology view where in the Holy Spirit’s witness in a person’s life is sufficient. My question is this: is apologetics broadly speaking not necessary but sufficient for justified beliefs in the truths of Christianity? That is, couldn’t someone base their faith upon the truth of the arguments? This seems different than the debate of what is necessary for justified belief and I don’t want to discredit the testimony of people like C. S. Lewis who became Christians because of the arguments.


Dr. Craig: Did Lewis become a Christian simply because of the arguments, or was the Holy Spirit at work in his life convicting and drawing him to God? I doubt that Lewis would say after he was converted that he came to Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit on his heart. But in any case, I do think the arguments are sufficient to warrant Christian belief. In my work, I have defended various arguments for the existence of God and then for the historicity of God’s self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth by raising him from the dead. I think that gives warrant for believing in what Lewis called “mere Christianity.” So, yes, I do think that the arguments and evidence are sufficient to ground faith rationally for the person who is fully informed about them.

Kevin Harris: Paul Copan asks a question here. He says, “I’ve gotten questions recently concerning the Big Bang, the Wave, or Wrinkle, in the universe’s early expansion and cosmic inflation.” He references an article that we have not looked at but it is dealing with star dust. The article is “Star dust casts doubt on recent big bang wave result.”

Dr. Craig: I am pretty sure I know what this is talking about. You may recall some months ago a team of scientists working in Antarctica on a project called The BICEP Project claimed to have detected gravitational waves in the microwave background of the early universe. This was thought to be confirmatory of the inflationary model of the universe. This caused a great hubbub among scientists and in the popular press as well. Now apparently these results have been drawn into question. It seems that their results could have been simply due to the contamination of interstellar dust so that in fact they had not detected these gravitational waves as they had formerly thought. That result now has been withdrawn.

Kevin Harris: There is other evidence for the expansion.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, right. This is about inflationary models and these gravitational waves. They thought they had evidence for this but now that has been called seriously into question because of the possibility that intergalactic dust had contaminated the observations.

Kevin Harris: Final question here from Sam: “To my understanding, if I am correct, Dr. Craig is finishing up his research and writing this year on abstract objects. I would love to hear about where he plans to turn his focus next.”

Dr. Craig: I don’t know yet. That is a good question. Having drawn this study of divine aseity to a close, I need to embark on a new research project. I haven’t picked one yet. I don’t know.[3]

Kevin Harris: Thanks, Dr. Craig. Hey, stay close because coming up soon in a podcast we will let you hear what happened when Dr. Craig spoke at a bar – a pub – right in the middle of downtown Dallas, Texas. He was invited to speak on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus at a place that attracts all kinds of people – many who would never go to a church but were interested in what Dr. Craig has to say on a Friday night in downtown Dallas. It was interesting to say the least, and we will have that coming up so stay close.[4]

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    Total Running Time: 21:05 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)