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Questions on Discouragement, Free Will, and Martyrdom

August 26, 2013     Time: 27:56
Questions on Discouragement, Free Will, and Martyrdom


A young man is burned out on internet evangelism! And questions about Free Will and the martyrdom of the disciples.

Transcript Questions on Discouragement, Free Will, and Martyrdom


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, our inbox at Reasonable Faith is just full of questions that people send in from all over the world. Let’s look at some of these; put you in the hot seat again. This says,

Hello Dr. Craig, as with many others here I’ve been following your work for many years. Thank you for your diligence to the Kingdom. I’ve been studying utilizing apologetics in my evangelistic work for years. Currently I am enrolled in Biola’s M.A. apologetics program, but lately I’ve come to an apparent impasse in patience. I find myself becoming increasingly angered, flustered, and frustrated by, not only the responses of atheists with whom I debate, but even more so with the overt lies and personal attacks against the people and the message of Christianity. The abundance of poor reasoning coupled with the outright misrepresentation of the Christian position has got me on the verge of just, frankly, giving upon on evangelism. I know that the Bible explains a coming time of apostasy, when people will be unwilling to hear and unable to reason the truth of God. It just seems like we’re making very little headway. In fact, sometimes it feels like we’re losing. My question is personal: as an apologist and a human how do you maintain a steady keel against the attacks? How can I improve my viewpoint so as to continue my forward movement in apologetics? How can my heart be changed to one of love rather than one of frustration? Any help would be appreciated.

Dr. Craig: Answering this question on a purely personal level, I try to maintain a steady keel against the attacks that come against my person by keeping in mind the example and teachings of Jesus. Jesus ministered to a hard-hearted people among whom he won, really, very few followers when you think about it. Ultimately the crowds called for his crucifixion. And yet Jesus wasn’t discouraged. He believed in God’s plan and providence that would change the world through the few that he won and discipled. And he taught us that when we’re reviled and people speak evil of us unjustly and slander us, we’re to rejoice and be glad because our reward is great in heaven because this is the way men persecuted the prophets before us. So I think we need to look at it as a great blessing, frankly, when we’re reviled and persecuted for the name of Christ. We need to keep in mind that this is what they did to Jesus, this is what he predicted would happen to those who are his followers and spokespersons, and we need to rejoice in that, that our blessing, our reward, is great in heaven, he says, for bearing this kind of insult and abuse. Now, what can Dave do to help? Well, honestly, certainly not give up on evangelism. And maybe Dave is confusing evangelism with apologetics. It might be that Dave needs to take a moratorium from apologetics. He may not be doing evangelism so much as just arguing with people – I don’t know his situation – but maybe he needs to do less apologetics and get into just sharing the Gospel. I remember when I was first taught how to share the four spiritual laws with someone. We were told that if you tell someone that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life and that person says, “I don’t believe in God,” well, don’t get bogged down at that point in trying to prove the existence of God to them. Say something like this, “Look, at this point I’m not trying to convince you that what the Bible says is true. I’m just trying to share with you what the Bible says. Then after I’ve done that perhaps we can discuss whether we have any good reasons to think that what it says is true.” And that enables you to complete your Gospel presentation. Very often you’ll find that by the time you get done the person has forgotten those questions that he had originally, and no longer has those objections, and you may have a very good, personal, honest conversation about that person’s spiritual need. So Dave might be running the danger of letting apologetics supplant sharing the pure Gospel, and so I would advise him to perhaps pull back from apologetics and to simply be involved in evangelism and sharing the work of the Gospel.

Kevin Harris: I would add to that quickly, Bill, that sometimes one must take a moratorium from the internet, too, as far as going on and getting into these intense things, these intense debates and struggles. And doing evangelism can lead you down into these areas in apologetics. Sometimes you do have to kind of get away from it, or limit it, or you will quickly get burned out.[1]

Dr. Craig: Yeah. There’s another word of Jesus, too, that’s a hard word but one that I think we need to take seriously, and that is when he said, “Do not cast your pearls before swine lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” And I have been in conversations with unbelievers who I sensed were not sincere, who were just throwing up intellectual smoke-screens, objections without merit; they were mean-spirited and just wanted to argue. And at that point I will often simply say, “I don’t think that you really are seeking sincere answers to your questions; I’d rather discontinue this conversation.” And then go talk to somebody who really is sincerely interested. I see no reason to pursue a discussion with an argumentative, insincere person, and so there is plenty of fruit out there that’s ready to be picked and we’ve got to be careful not to bruise the fruit by trying to pick it before it’s ripe.

Kevin Harris: I know what he means when he says sometimes it feels like we’re losing. But I got to tell Dave we’re not. I mean, when I began a lot of online activity when the internet first came online in the nineties you can look back then and then look at today – when I go via research or evangelism or apologetics work to the major forums that deal in this area, for years now, Bill, the answers from followers of Christ have been fantastic. They’re interactive and spot on.

Dr. Craig: That’s right. From a previous podcast, Kevin, you may remember we looked at some of the statistics, for example, from Campus Crusade for Christ on university campuses. They’re seeing unprecedented numbers of people coming to Christ more and more every year. So I think progress is being made, and we mustn't allow ourselves to despair or give up because we will run into opposition. That’s to be expected.

Kevin Harris: It’s going to be all right, Dave. This next question,

Dear Dr. Craig, does the ontological argument prove that God exists only as a concept? I was talking with an atheist friend about the ontological argument model of Alvin Plantinga, and he said that, indeed, the argument is sound, but the problem with the argument is about what it meant with the word “existence.” He says that if I change the words “maximally great being” by a tautological word I get the same result. For example, it is possible that a triangle exists. If it is possible that a triangle exists then it exists in some possible world. If a triangle exists in some possible world then it exists in all possible worlds. If a triangle exists in all possible worlds then it exists in the actual world. Therefore there is a triangle. Here the problem is, what do you mean by the conclusion that a triangle exists? Obviously it does not exist as real but only as a concept, and the same goes with God. The argument proves that God exists only as a concept; it does not prove to be real. This same would happen if I put any number in place of God, and this is the problem. Because according to you such entities as numbers do not exist. Does not this same thing happen to God?

Dr. Craig: This is related to my work on God and abstract objects. If you take the word “exists” in its normal meaning then if you affirm that it’s possible that this abstract object like a triangle or the number two exists, and you think that this is a necessary being, as most philosophers would if they do exist, then the conclusion does follow, yes, there is a triangle or there is a number, and not merely in the conceptual sense, but in the full, real, full-blooded sense of existence. That’s what Platonism affirms: that abstract entities like numbers and geometrical objects are just as real, exist just as robustly as do concrete objects. So it doesn’t prove that God’s existence is conceptual; what it would prove is that the existence of these abstract objects is real, it’s just as real as God. So it doesn’t pull down God down to the level of these conceptual things, rather it pulls these conceptual things up to the level of reality. That’s what Platonism is. Now, not being a Platonist myself, I would deny premise one. I’d say it’s not possible that a triangle exists in this full-blooded sense. Certainly I have an idea or a concept of a triangle or a number, but I would deny that it is possible that there be such beings. They don’t exist in any possible world and therefore not in the actual world.[2] So if you’re a Platonist the argument he offers is unproblematic and doesn't affect the ontological argument. If you’re not a Platonist, then, again, there’s no problem because you will deny premise one of this argument – that it’s possible that a triangle exists – but you can accept the truth of premise one in the ontological argument, that it is possible that a concrete object like God exists.

Kevin Harris: Another question on the ontological argument:

Dr. Craig, I wanted to write to you today about the ontological argument after watching a recording of one of your lectures on it. While I have had good success with the kalam cosmological argument, I have my own issue before using the ontological argument. Here is the argument:

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world then it exists in every possible world.

4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world then it exists in the actual world.

5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world then a maximally great being exists.

6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

My question is: why does this not lead to polytheism? For instance, if it is even possible that multiple maximally great beings exist then they must exist. Even if you take away one attribute of maximally great – all-knowing, for instance – and you keep the attribute of exists in every possible world, wouldn’t you have an infinite number of beings?

Dr. Craig: I would respond to this that the premise “It is possible that multiple maximally great being exists” is false. It is not possible for there to be multiple maximally great beings in existence. Why? Well, because a maximally great being would be a being which is omnipotent, and therefore nothing could be outside the scope of its power. Anything else that existed would have to exist only by the permission of this maximally great being, otherwise it could have the ability to destroy this other being. And so it’s impossible for there to be multiple maximally great beings; there can only be one.

Kevin Harris: Wow, they kind of cancel each other, don’t they? If you had more than one maximally great being they would limit one another.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, one of these beings can’t be maximally great if there’s multiple ones.

Kevin Harris: It’s like the old “What if an unstoppable force met an unmovable object?” Well, both those things can’t exist at the same time and in the same sense because if something is unmovable then something is not unstoppable, then there can’t be something unstoppable. Why? Because something’s unmovable . . .

Dr. Craig: Yeah, so basically we’re saying here that there can be at most one truly omnipotent being.

Kevin Harris: Okay.

Dr. Craig: Now he then, in his last paragraph, says, “But suppose you take away one attribute of a maximally great being, for example, omniscience, and you keep its attribute of existing in every possible world, then couldn’t you get an infinite number of these, what I call, quasi-maximally great beings?” These are beings which are very, very great but they just lack, as he says, maybe one property of maximal greatness so they’re quasi-maximally great. And, again, I would say something very similar. Any quasi-maximally great being would have to depend for its existence upon the maximally great being because the maximally great being is omnipotent and therefore this other thing can’t be outside the scope of its power. So if an omnipotent being is possible, if a maximally great being is possible, it turns out that these quasi-maximally great beings are impossible because they would have necessary existence and so exist independently of the omnipotent, maximally great being, which is impossible. So it turns out that quasi-maximal greatness is not really possible after all.

Kevin Harris: This is a question on Molinism, free will, and middle knowledge.

Dear Dr. Craig, with his middle knowledge God knows what I would freely do if I was in certain situations and would so create the world in a way that it works out to fulfill his will. My will, now, would actually affect the way God created the universe, which means that I have some indirect control over the state of the world before my birth. Therefore determinism and free will are not necessarily incompatible since God can create a world in which determinism is true but our every action is determined to be what we would do if we were given free will.[3] From your published work I see that Molinism is a very powerful idea, applicable to a wide range of difficult theological problems. For a lot problems, for example, the problem of evil, the Molinist position seems to me the most appealing. However, when I think more deeply about it, the notion of free will under this view seems a bit counter-intuitive to me. For example, it is highly counter-intuitive that free will and determinism are compatible, but it seems to be true under Molinism.

Dr. Craig: I agree with him that it is counter-intuitive that free will and determinism are compatible, but I don’t think that Molinism implies that free will and determinism are compatible. His suggestion here, as I understand it, is that if God has middle knowledge then he could create a world in which determinism is true, he causes everything to happen that is caused to happen, but what he causes to happen is what we would do if we were given free will. And so he thinks this shows that determinism and free will are compatible. Well, I don’t think it shows that at all. In fact, from his very statement, in such a world we would be causally determined to do what we do, but it would be what we would do if we were given free will which implies that we don’t have free will. So the very sentence, the very statement, implies that we don’t, in fact, have free will but that God determines us to do what we would do if we did have it. So I don’t think it shows the compatibility of determinism and free will, it at most would say, well God could causally determine us to do something that he knew we would freely do if we did have free will. But in any case I don’t think that that is always the case. For example, what about sinful actions? In many circumstances in which we find ourselves what we would do if we had free will would be evil, and these cannot be caused directly by God because if he determined us to do evil then God would be the author of sin. So in the case of sinful acts it cannot be that God is determining us to do what we do. At best what God can do is actualize the state of affairs in which he knew we would do some evil act, and then stand back and let us do the sinful act without causally determining it himself.

Kevin Harris: This is interesting what he says here, that we actually have some indirect control over the state of the world before we’re born.

Dr. Craig: Yes, now I think that's worth commenting on because I don’t think that follows from what he’s saying. He’s assuming that the notion of having control is transitive: that if A has control over B, and B entails C, therefore A has control over C, and that I don’t think is clear. For example, suppose I have control over whether the rocket ship is painted red, and the fact that the rocket ship is painted red entails that the rocket ship exists. Does that mean I have control over whether the rocket ship exists? Well, obviously not. I’m no rocket scientist, I can paint the rocket red, I can do that, that’s within my control, and that entails that the rocket exists. But that doesn’t mean that I have control over the existence of the rocket. So he’s made a mistake here in thinking that this idea of control is transitive or closed under entailment, as philosophers would say. Just because I have control over my actions, and God, knowing this in advance, can then set up the world in a certain way, doesn’t mean that I have control over the world prior to my birth. That is to make the same mistake as the mistake in the case of the rocket.

Kevin Harris: If you would paint it red, given the circumstances, that doesn’t create a red rocket prior to your birth.

Dr. Craig: Well, no, but I mean more importantly it just shows that this notion of being in one’s control is not a transitive notion that you can automatically infer that just because something is under your control and that entails something else that that other thing there is is also under your control. I would say that you don’t have any control over the state of the world prior to your birth. God does.[4] God has control over that, and he can set it up in such a way that you will be in circumstances in which he knows that you would act this way or that, that’s all true. But that doesn’t mean you have control over that prior state of the world.

Kevin Harris: Not even indirect control?

Dr. Craig: No, not even indirect control any more than I have indirect control over the existence of the rocket. So this doesn’t suffice to show that I have control over the world prior to my birth, and it does not show that free will and determinism are compatible. Indeed it actually presupposes they’re not compatible because he’s saying that God can determine you to do what you would freely do if you did have free will, which you don’t in this case because you’re determined to do it. So I don’t think that this argument, though provocative and thought provoking, succeeds in showing that determinism and free will are compatible under Molinism.

Kevin Harris: One more question today:

Dear Dr. Craig, first of all I would like to thank you for your work in Christian apologetics. As someone who grew up in a Christian home, you and other apologists have helped to make my faith certain. My question concerns the martyrdoms of the apostles and other early Christians. Typically this is used as one of the strongest evidences for the resurrection as the apostles died believing they had seen the risen Jesus. It is one thing to die for something you believe to be true but it is quite another to die for something that you know is either true or false. One common rebuttal I see to this by skeptics is that we have almost no non-Christian sources that say that the apostles died violent deaths. The skeptic charges that the martyrdoms of the apostles’ deaths were made up by Christians and used as propaganda to get people to believe that Jesus was risen. They accuse the Christian apologist of using circular reasoning when they quote Christian sources as evidence of the apostles’ martyrdoms. How would you respond?

Dr. Craig: Well, I would say that this question is multiply confused, Kevin. It is talking about popular heuristic arguments for the resurrection that really play no role in scholarly discussions of the issues. I think it’s wrong-headed to try to argue that because the apostles and other early Christians died this somehow shows not simply that they believed it to be true but that it was something they knew to be true; that’s just misconceived.

The argument that I think is relevant is that the early Christian movement after Jesus of Nazareth’s crucifixion hinged upon their belief that God had raised him from the dead. Apart from that belief there’s no way that they could have believed that Jesus was the Messiah because Messiah was supposed to triumph over Israel’s enemies, reestablish the kingdom of David in Jerusalem, and have Jew and Gentile alike submitted to his authority. Not be humiliatingly executed by his enemies as a common criminal. So the only way the disciples could have believed in Jesus’ Messiahship following his crucifixion would be if they believed that he was risen from the dead. Now the question then becomes: how did they come to hold that un-Jewish and very outlandish belief? That apart from the general resurrection of the dead and within history, this isolated individual had been raised from the dead, a belief which heretofore had no connection whatsoever with the identity of the Messiah? Now the fact that they were willing to die for the truth of this belief is simply meant to show that they sincerely believed it; that they really, really did believe that Jesus of Nazareth is risen from the dead, and therefore was who he claimed to be: he was the Messiah.

And to show that you don’t need to show the apostles all died martyrs’ deaths. All you need to show is that they were willing to die for the truth of the message they proclaimed, and that’s evident from the pages of the book of Acts and the letters of Paul in the New Testament itself where they suffered terrible persecution and some of them did die, some of them were killed, for the truth of this proclamation. And therefore one cannot write this off as just a lie that they had made up. They sincerely believed it to be true, and that’s all it proves. It doesn’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead. All it proves is that they were sincere and that they really believed this. Then you need to go on to argue, “Well, how did they come to have this belief?” And one would argue that the best explanation of the origin of this belief is that it actually was true, that it actually happened.[5]

But you’re not arguing from the sincerity of their belief to the truth of the belief. That’s a popularistic misconception. The willingness of the apostles and other Christians to die only shows the sincerely of their beliefs.

So the fella here has just got the argument wrong, and the skeptics are equally inept in saying that Christians made up the martyrdoms of the apostles to use as propaganda to believe in the resurrection – that’s just silly. The martyrdom of early apostles could arise in church history because they want to celebrate and extol the sacrifices and the greatness of these men who died heroes’ deaths for the faith. It’s not an attempt to get people to believe in the resurrection of Jesus – that’s just a very naïve view of martyrology and the role that martyrs play, I think, in the early Christian church. So that just is irrelevant.

The issue is: did the early Christians sincerely believe that Jesus was the Messiah because God had raised him from the dead? And one good piece of evidence for that is their willingness to suffer terrible persecution and to die for the truth of that belief. And that’s abundantly attested in the pages in the New Testament itself. So we have good grounds for thinking that these early followers of Jesus sincerely believed that he was risen from the dead and therefore was the Messiah after all.

And then the further question for the historian to answer will be: how do you best explain the origin of that belief? Did it come from pagan sources, mythological influences on these men? Was it from Christian sources, was it a later retrojection of the Christian church back into the narratives? Or did it derive from Jewish sources? Is it a result of Jewish beliefs? And what I’ve argued in my published work is that none of those three counter-explanations is a good, plausible explanation of the origin of this very peculiar belief that these people held and were willing to die for. The best explanation of the origin of that belief is that Jesus, in fact, did rise from the dead and that’s why they came to believe it so tenaciously.[6]

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    Total Running Time: 27:55 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)