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Questions on the Universe, Time and Prayer, and God's Justice

July 22, 2019     Time: 21:26
Questions on the Universe, Time and Prayer, and God’s Justice


Dr. Craig joins a panel discussion and takes tough questions from the audience.

KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Hey! It’s Kevin Harris, and you are in for a rousing, entertaining, and informative podcast today as Dr. Craig joins a panel discussion with Mike Licona, Mark Mittelberg, and Leighton Flowers who also is moderator of this panel, and just fields a variety of questions like whether the universe is a hologram (maybe it’s just a projection and not really real), how prayer and time work together, and God’s justice. This is part one of a panel discussion that occurred at an apologetics conference not long ago.[1] Here’s part one, from Reasonable Faith.

MODERATOR: I want to open the floor for questions. You can start making your way to the microphone if you’d like to ask a question. If you have a specific person you would like to address the question to, please let us know that as well. We’ve already got one. Go ahead.

QUESTION: This is probably for Mike and probably for Bill, too. In the Bible we had the stoning of the woman caught in adultery or the attempt they were going to stone that woman caught in adultery. When I read a lot of scholars they debate whether or not this was an actual text or whether this was a later addition added by a scribe. I was going to ask what your opinions on this particular matter were, and how do you deal with questions about that? How to deal with it?

MIKE LICONA: That's a great question, and the answer is we don't know a whole lot. What I can tell you is that the majority scholarly opinion right now is that the story of the woman caught in adultery that Jesus said, He who is without sin let him cast the first stone, that that was not in the original of John. That's why the brackets are there and it says this is not found in the oldest or the most reliable manuscripts. Now that is not to say that the story never occurred. A lot of scholars who think that it didn't appear there in John do think that the story is authentic. But at the end of the day we just don't know. I have a friend who did his PhD – his doctoral research – on this text, and he went into it wanting to show that this was in the original Gospel of John. And he came out saying, I just don't know. It's hard to say. Maybe it wasn't in the original Gospel of John. Maybe it was in a second edition of the Gospel of John. I'm reading a story right now by a guy named Sid Phillips. He passed away a couple years ago; he was in World War II, a vet. I started reading it on the plane ride down here. And he said, As I'm going through this and I'm writing this book and some other stories come to mind and I throw it in there so I go back and I insert these in, he said. So maybe John wrote the Gospel and then later on he thought, Oh, I forgot about this story, and in the second edition he included it in. I don't know. Even some people think that the way that this is laid out is more Lukan and there are some manuscripts where the story is in Luke, not John. So we just don't know. We just don't know.

QUESTION: Do you believe in Sola Scriptura?

MIKE LICONA: Do I believe in Sola Scriptura? And by that you are saying what? Because there are a lot of people who may not understand what you're saying.

QUESTION: All of Scripture is God-breathed and there are no errors. I guess the better way to phrase it would be: what is your definition of Sola Scriptura?

MIKE LICONA: If you're asking: Do I believe the Bible is divinely inspired? I'd say yes. Do I believe it's without any error? I'd say yes. It's without error in all that it teaches and all that it affirms. So that's how I would answer that.

MODERATOR: Dr. Craig, did you want to add anything?

DR. CRAIG: Except that that's not what Sola Scriptura means. Sola Scriptura is one of the watchwords of the Reformation which means Scripture alone is the authority in matters of faith and practice, not church tradition as the Catholic Church held. Catholic Church placed church tradition on equal ground with Scripture, and the Protestant reformers affirmed sola – only – Scripture. Scripture alone is authoritative in faith and practice. So that's the proper meaning of the term. You were using it to designate something different.

MODERATOR: Are there others that would like to come forward and ask a question?

QUESTION: I really enjoyed your presentation there, Dr. Craig. I really like the aspect of the fine-tuning. I thought that was fascinating. That was really neat. It seems as our scientific knowledge and understanding is increasing, it seems like scientists are twisting themselves more and more to find explanations beyond what you're saying. I don't know that this is a new one but it seems now that there's kind of this idea that all of this is a simulation. I'm hearing this and reading about this. I think it's baloney but it seems to be an idea that some people are embracing just because it's an explanation without being an explanation. I wonder if you have any answer or any thoughts on that.

DR. CRAIG: I think what you're referring to is the idea that the universe is some sort of hologram.

QUESTION: That none of us actually exist.

DR. CRAIG: I think that that's philosophically absurd. As Descartes taught us long ago, I, at least, exist because if I doubt that I exist then who's doing the doubting? I think Descartes is absolutely right in saying that it's impossible to deny one's own existence because in denying that you exist you affirm that you exist. So I, at least, exist. Even if the world, as the video says, is a projection of my brain – that I am all that exists – nevertheless that still cries out for some explanation. I think that we would never have good reason for believing such a hypothesis. In order to deny the reliability of our senses (that there is a world of external objects around us) we would have to have a very, very powerful defeater of that belief – a defeater that is more powerfully warranted than the belief that the world is real. And I cannot imagine what sort of a defeater would fit that condition. So one would never be justified in believing such a thing.

QUESTION: I guess my follow-up question would be why do these things persist? They seem self-evidently ludicrous.

DR. CRAIG: I do think, to be honest with you, that part of this is the popular press’ coverage of science. The popular press does not understand science and as a result it systematically promotes the sensational, the outrageous, the outlandish because this is what is a headline-grabber. I think many professional scientists themselves despair of the way in which contemporary science is handled by the popular press. It's an attempt at having sensationalism. Very often the things that the popular press is touting are not really taken with great scientific seriousness.

MARK MITTELBERG: I would just add to that on a more personal level I think a lot of times it's just people are looking for interesting theories that kind of take you off on rabbit trails of philosophical speculation rather than letting the truth get to them. Romans 1 says even though they know what is true they suppress the truth and they look for other beliefs and other theories. I know as I share my faith with people often they will raise what seems like a good objection, and I give what I think seems like a good answer. And rather than going, Oh, OK, that’s really helpful, they realize that's not working so they throw out something else. I give what I think is a good answer to that, and they go to the next thing. And about four or five levels into this I sometimes just go, Timeout. Can I just be really honest with you? And they go, Sure. I say, I feel like you're working harder at finding excuses not to consider what I'm talking about than you are at finding the truth. The Bible says we should be lovers of truth. I think that's a good philosophy for anyone whether they believe the Bible or not. Let's love what's real; let's pursue what's right and what's true. I think I'm giving you a lot of truth, and it seems to me like you're trying to dodge it. I've actually asked people, Can I just ask you honestly – is there some reason you don't want this to be true or is there something in your life you're afraid you'd have to give up or change if it is true? And I've had people admit to me that, I know that if I admit God's real or that the Bible's true that God's going to want to change my sex life or he's going to want to change this or that. I'm going, You're probably right and I'm pretty sure this is the real issue now, not whether we're some projected experiment from some mind somewhere or whatever their theory was. I think sometimes it's just a dodge, and I think sometimes we just have to kind of pull it back and get honest and get real with people. Some of them will go with us on that. I think that's helping to remove barriers and get back to the real mission which is to present Christ and the Gospel to them.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One is a follow-up on biblical inerrancy and how that is authoritative. I'm thinking of the passages in the Bible that said that God actually commanded them to kill and all that. I'm trying to understand how the Bible is still inerrant and presents this God, and if it's not inerrant – they're actually errors in translation or in the way it was reproduced – how is that fully authoritative in our lives?

MODERATOR: Let me restate the question to make sure that we're following it. It sounds like what you're saying is if the Bible is true and inerrant and there's passages in Scripture that talk about God commanding people to be killed (in the Old Testament, for example) how do we reconcile things like that? Mike, do you want to start by answering that one?

MIKE LICONA: Sure. Why would that negate the inerrancy of the Bible?

QUESTION: How is that reflected in the character of God?

MIKE LICONA: OK, well, that could reflect on the character of God. That would just mean we might not, at very worst, if we couldn't explain some of that, we'd say we may not like the character of God but it wouldn't mean the Bible has an error in it. It would mean that we might have an erroneous view of God. It wouldn't mean the Bible is not inerrant.

QUESTION: But it is not consistent in the passages. You can have conflicts within the Bible.

MARK MITTELBERG: Are you saying that one of the Ten Commandments says “thou shalt not kill” but then if God kills then he's breaking his own commandment? Is that kind of what you are saying?

QUESTION: In a way it would be a conflict that would show some sort of error within the way we have the Bible right now. If we accept there are some errors in the Bible then how is that authoritative in our lives?

MODERATOR: It sounds like what you are arguing is it seems inconsistent. It is maybe not necessarily an error but it seems inconsistent (from what you're saying) for God to say not to kill and for God to be good but yet on the other hand have passages where he is commanding people to wipe out a particular country and those kinds of things.

DR. CRAIG: Have you had a chance to read what I’ve written on this yet?

QUESTION: Yes. It was quasi-clear so I was hoping you would give me an explanation.

DR. CRAIG: On the website, Question of the Week number 16[2] addresses this. I try to lay out a model of God and his commands that would make sense of this and would make it consistent. I've never received to date a refutation of this from any atheist or Internet Infidel (that's what they call themselves). In our dialogue in Australia, Lawrence Krauss raised this issue. In the course of the dialogue he finally admitted that, yes, I had succeeded in showing that there's no inconsistency between God's being all-loving and all-just and his issuing these commands to annihilate the Canaanites. So I'd invite you just to look at that and ponder what I say there and see if it doesn't remove the inconsistency. I returned to that issue around Question of the Week number 331[3] or so and treated it a second time. I don't want to take our time now going into it, but look at what I've said there and see if it doesn't make sense of this.

QUESTION: The other question I had was I'd like to know your opinion on God's relationship with time and how that impacts the way we see prayer and how we relate to prayer. So what is God's relationship to time and how do we see God . . .

MODERATOR: God's relationship to time and how that relates to prayer. In other words, if God's outside of time or his relationship to time . . .

MARK MITTELBERG: I should warn you he's written like a three-volume book on this, so how much time do you got? [laughter]

DR. CRAIG: Let me say this. I think that prayer changes things. Not in the sense that it changes God's mind, but in the sense that God knew whether we would pray or not, and if we would pray he may have providentially decided to do certain things that he would not have done had he known we would not pray. In that sense, our prayers really make a difference in the course of world history because God's actions can be contingent upon how he knew we would pray. He can know how we would pray whether he's in time or timeless. I think that's not germane to the question. The question is: Does God know how we would act in any situation in which he might put us? I think he does have that kind of knowledge. Using that sort of knowledge then he can providentially order the world so that your prayers really do make a difference.

QUESTION: OK, so let me make sure that I understood. So no matter if God is outside of time or not, he would in all his knowledge know that I'm going to pray, and he decided based on his previous knowledge of the fact I will pray tomorrow?

DR. CRAIG: No, no. You're talking about foreknowledge. You said “his previous knowledge of how you will pray.” I'm talking about a very special kind of knowledge. It's a knowledge of what are called subjunctive conditionals. These are if-then statements in the subjunctive mood, not the indicative mood. We English-speakers aren't very good with the subjunctive mood, but it would be conditionals like this: If I were rich, I would buy a Mercedes Benz. If I had not pulled out into traffic, I would not have been hit by the oncoming car. If I were to ask the boss for a raise, he would raise my salary. Those are if-then statements in the subjunctive mood. They're called counterfactuals because typically what they envision is not factual. It's a condition that if it were like this then this is the way it would be. What I'm saying is whether God is in time or out of time, because he's omniscient he knows if you were to pray or if you were in this situation you would pray for this. So he can set things up so that that prayer has consequences that he would not set up if he knew that you would not have prayed in those circumstances.

MARK MITTELBERG: So, in other words, pray. [applause]

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. Prayer makes a difference. That’s the bottom line. Prayer makes a difference.

QUESTION: Depending upon who you ask or who you talk to, you'll find out the Earth is so many years old. If you read the Bible you might literally take it as six, seven, eight, maybe ten thousand years. If you ask a science teacher, they might say two or three million. But every person I talk to, regardless of where they come from, always has some number random that's out there. No two people agree. And to follow-up with that, you are starting to hear the stuff about Earth is flat. What's up with all this? I mean, why can't we come up with what the answer is and then be done with it?

MARK MITTELBERG: I'll take the last part. The Earth is not flat. [laughter] The only place I’ve ever seen that is on the Internet. I'll just take the first stab at this. On the very specific, I know a lot of people believe based on adding up the genealogies in the Old Testament which Bishop Ussher did a long time ago and he added up the ages and that's how he got to what is typically called the Young Earth position – that the Earth is like 8,000 years old. You may know this, but for those of you that don't, there's real problems with trying to add up the age of man alone, never mind the Earth or the cosmos, based on genealogies. Because in the Bible the way they would record genealogies they often would say so-and-so begat so-and-so but they skipped generations. They would just sometimes hit high points in the different eras of that bloodline. So when it says so-and-so begat so-and-so, it doesn't necessarily mean that was father and son. It may be great-great-great-great-grandfather with great-great-great-great grandson. So that's a faulty way to add up and determine . . .

MODERATOR: Almost like calling Jesus “the Son of David” in a sense.

MARK MITTELBERG: Exactly. It means he's in the lineage of David not necessarily, in that case clearly not, “the son of.” Besides all that, there's a separate question of how old the Earth is and how old the cosmos is and so on. I'm pretty sure we're probably all on similar pages on this that we would not hold that Christians need to hold a Young Earth view, and that there's a lot of reasons probably not to (biblical and scientific), though I don't try to talk people out of it. I guess I'll say one more thing about it and then hand the baton to the other guys. I think one of the problems is Christians aiming their guns at each other and wanting to attack each other over the age of the Earth. I think that's aiming the guns the wrong way. I think our real enemy is not each other and debates on the age of the Earth. I think it's scientific naturalism which tries to say somehow it all got here without God. I think that's the enemy. I think that's where we need to focus our efforts and our energy to defeat this idea that somehow it all came about with any intelligence, without design, without a Creator. We would be wise to go after that rather than fighting each other on the age of the Earth.[4]