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Philosophy (part 3)

July 15, 2007     Time: 00:11:32
Philosophy (part 3)


Conversation with William Lane Craig

Philosophy (Part 3)


Kevin Harris: There has been an amazing renaissance – and it’s recent – of Christian philosophers who are very influential and doing terrific work at some of the higher institutions of learning and, Bill, you’ve seen this first hand.

Dr. Craig: Yes. I began to study philosophy of religion really during the late 1960s and 1970s and it was just about that time that I think the corner was turned and the secularism that had been predominate in American philosophy began to unravel. Over the last forty years there has been this tremendous renaissance of Christian philosophy in the Anglo-American realm.

Kevin Harris: What caused this?

Dr. Craig: I think one of the principal causes motivating this renaissance was the collapse of verificationism. Verificationism was a philosophy that dominated philosophy and philosophy of science during the first half of the 20th century. In a nutshell, what verificationism held to was that if you can’t verify something with your five senses then it is meaningless. That would be it in a nutshell. If you can’t touch it, smell it, taste it, feel it or see it, it’s meaningless. Well, since you can’t verify statements about God like “God loves me” or “God sent his Son into the world” these sorts of theological statements were regarded as meaningless. They were thought to be combinations of words that was just like baby talk or like gibberish. To say “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is like saying “’Twas brillig; and the slithey toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe” – just complete nonsense. This theory of meaning dominated philosophy up through the 1930s and 40s. As a result, it meant that the whole project of theology, of religious belief, was a meaningless exercise. So this involved a very condescending attitude toward people who believed in God or thought religious language was meaningful. For the cognoscenti – the intelligentsia – who knew better, they could look down on these people as folks who were just uttering gibberish, just meaningless chatter like a chimpanzee, and therefore were disdained and looked down upon. What happened was verificationism collapsed during the second half of the 20th century.

Kevin Harris: Somebody found a chink in the armor.

Dr. Craig: I’ll say! Big time!

Kevin Harris: Somebody found that that principle refutes itself.

Dr. Craig: They did, Kevin. There were two things that were discovered about this verification principle of meaning. First was that it would not only eliminate as meaningless theological statements but it would also consign to the trash heap of meaningless vast tracts of ordinary language and discourse, such as metaphysical statements, aesthetic statements, and even scientific statements so that science itself (which was the sacred cow for the verificationist) would be undermined by the verification principle. So the principle was seen to be wholly unreasonable; it was too restrictive a criterion of meaning because it would make vast, vast stretches of human language and discourse (which we obviously understand) meaningless.

But then secondly, as you pointed out, it turned out that the principle was self-refuting. Just ask yourself the question, “Is the statement ‘In order to be meaningful, a statement must be verifiable by the five senses’ verifiable by the five senses?”

Kevin Harris: No!

Dr. Craig: No, obviously not. It is just an arbitrary definition and not even a very good one at that.

Kevin Harris: We can hear an expression of it, we can see it written, but that is not the proposition itself. We can’t detect that with the five senses.

Dr. Craig: No, and we can’t do any scientific tests. There is nothing you can do in the laboratory, no experiment you could perform, to prove that in order to be meaningful, a sentence must be capable of being verified by the five senses. It is just an arbitrary definition and therefore, by its own lights being non-verifiable, it is meaningless! So it turned out that the verification principle, by its own criterion of meaning, is itself a meaningless statement, which hardly needs to detains us.  [1]

Kevin Harris: So you are saying the principle of verification failed the principle of verification.

Dr. Craig: Exactly.

Kevin Harris: So you can throw it out.

Dr. Craig: Yes, it became very obvious that as a self-refuting principle this could not be the correct criterion of meaning.

Kevin Harris: Where did that come from? Who was saying that? Who was writing on this?

Dr. Craig: Well, one of the most prominent philosophers who was saying this was Antony Flew. Back in 1948, Antony Flew participated in a symposium at Oxford University called Theology and Falsification in which he argued that statements about God were incapable of being falsified. That was a sort of mirror image of verification – falsification. Therefore, theological statements are meaningless. And Flew created a huge hubbub back in the late 40s and 1950s because of his defense of this falsification principle and his claim that theological language is meaningless.

Kevin Harris: At this recording, Antony Flew has moved away from atheism.

Dr. Craig: This is just one of the manifestations of this renaissance that I am talking about. Now this man who, as far back as 1948 (think of the influence he has had being a prominent atheist philosopher), now within the last couple of years said that he is now a theist and believes on the basis of the evidence that there is a designer of the universe who is beyond the universe and who has designed it and brought it into being.

Kevin Harris: So Professor Antony Flew is one manifestation of this. What are some other manifestations?

Dr. Craig: Some of the other manifestations would be the founding of a number of societies which are devoted to the propagation of Christian philosophy. For example, the Society of Christian Philosophers which now has hundreds if not thousands of members in it, as well as the Evangelical Philosophical Society which is relatively recent and is the only society of philosophers in the world which is devoted to explicitly evangelical points of view on philosophy. I’m currently serving as the president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and our journal Philosophia Christi has now become one of the leading journals in philosophy of religion in the world and our society is now one of the largest societies of philosophy of religion in the world. And it is explicitly and confessionally evangelical. This would just be one manifestation of this renaissance.

In addition to this there would be the founding of numerous other journals for the study of philosophy of religion. Journals like Religious Studies, The International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, and so forth. Many professional journals now are devoted to the integration of philosophy and religion. This has caused tremendous resurgence of interest in university campuses for courses in philosophy of religion. So students are clamoring for courses on this subject and this has in turn evoked a flood of textbooks in philosophy of religion. Almost every major textbook publisher now is putting out a textbook in philosophy of religion. For example, Rutgers University Press, a very liberal Eastern press, contacted me and said, “Would you please edit for us a book of readings on philosophy of religion that could be a textbook at universities for courses on this subject.” And so I said, “You bet I will!” And I put together a very evangelical collection of first rate work in philosophy of religion that is virtually all from a Christian perspective: defending the existence of God, answering the problem of evil, explaining the coherence of theism, defending the Trinity and incarnation. And after I had submitted this to them, I said to the editors at Rutgers University Press, “You know this collection that I’ve put together for you is very conservative.” And they said, “Yes, we know. That is why we wanted it.” And I was just astonished that people want this kind of evangelical work. In fact, if you look at Oxford University Press’ current catalog of offerings, there are far more books now published by Oxford University Press on philosophy of religion than in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science. It is philosophy of religion. And many of those books are written by conservative Christians. Oxford University Press is now starting to publish books on Christian apologetics. Can you imagine that?

Kevin Harris: Bill, this is such good news. One thing that should be pointed out is that although the university is discovering these things, you still run into this on the street among laypeople and freshmen in college, they will say it, “If I can’t see it, taste it, hear it, smell it, and so forth, then it must not be real.”

Dr. Craig: Yes, and they don’t understand that that kind of verificationism has been out the window since the late 1950s, early 1960s.

Kevin Harris: They say, “Show it to me empirically, or I can test it with my five senses, and then I’ll believe it.”

Dr. Craig: Yeah. It’s remarkable. I must say, too, that this revolution has yet to filter down to the man on the street. It is going to, it is starting to. I think, if I may say, one of the indications of this filtering down is that as I speak around the country I find everywhere grassroots interest in Christian apologetics rising up among Christian laymen. People want to know about these things on the lay level. That is a manifestation, I think, that this revolution is beginning to impact and will reshape American culture and society.  [2]