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Scientists Discuss Reformed Epistemology

November 10, 2019     Time: 16:05
Scientists Discuss Reformed Epistemology


Scientists try to understand Dr. Craig's view on Reformed Epistemology.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, I was checking out the website “Peaceful Science” and there are some scientists there who would rather discuss philosophy when it comes to you and some of your philosophical views.[1] It seems that from time to time Reformed epistemology always tends to come back up, and some of the things you have said in your book Reasonable Faith, on our podcast, on Defenders, and so on. So they do bring up your Reformed epistemology. This molecular biology technician who says he’s an atheist says,

Expecting a man with the following viewpoint to come to a rational conclusion when the tenets of his religion are contradicted by evidence is a fools errand:

Then he quotes you from Reasonable Faith:

A Danger

Now there is a danger in all this so far. Some persons might say that we should never seek to defend the faith. Just preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit work! But this attitude is unbalanced and unscriptural, as we shall see in a moment. For now, let us just note in passing that as long as reason is a minister of the Christian faith, Christians should employ it.

An Objection

Some people disagree with what I’ve said about the role of argument and evidence. They would say that reason can be used in a magisterial role, at least by the unbeliever. They ask how else we could determine which is true, the Bible, the Koran, or the Baghavad-Gita, unless we use argument and evidence to judge them? Now I’ve already answered that question: The Holy Spirit teaches us directly which teaching is really from God. But let me suggest two other reasons I think those who support the magisterial role of reason are wrong.

First, such a role would consign most believers to irrationalism. The vast majority of the human race have neither the time, training, nor resources to develop a full-blown Christian apologetic as the basis of their faith. Even the proponents of the magisterial use of reason at one time in the course of their education presumably lacked such an apologetic. Otherwise, they would be believing for insufficient reasons. I once asked a fellow seminary student, “How do you know Christianity is true?” He replied, “I really don’t know.” Does that mean he should give up Christianity until he finds rational arguments to ground his Faith? Of course not! He knew Christianity was true because he knew Jesus, regardless of rational arguments. The fact is that can know the truth whether we have rational arguments or not.

Second, if the magisterial role of reason were valid, then a person who had been given poor arguments for Christianity would have a just excuse before God for not believing in him. Suppose someone had been told to believe in God because of an invalid argument. Could he stand before God on the judgment day and say, God, those Christians only gave me a lousy argument for believing in you. That’s why I didn’t believe"? Of course not! The bible says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no good reason to believe, and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit.

That's from your book Reasonable Faith, page 37.


KEVIN HARRIS: Well, here's his response. He says,

As long as reason is a minister of the Christian faith, Christians should employ it. The corollary of that one is obvious. When reason is not a minister of the Christian faith, Christians should stop using it and then do what… be unreasonable?

You should believe in something when you have been given no good reason to, and only many persuasive reaspons [sp] to disbelieve? Uhh no, then you really should not believe.

The mindset advocated in that book is nothing short of insane.

DR. CRAIG: That’s a pretty unsympathetic response, isn’t it? [laughter] I think what he fails to realize is that on the view enunciated by Reformed epistemologists we have a dual source of warrant for our Christian beliefs. One would be the arguments and evidence which is what I mean here by reason. It's important to understand that the word “reason” here is a shorthand term for arguments and evidence. The view that I'm defending is that arguments and evidence are not necessary in order for Christian belief to be rational and even warranted, and, in fact, it can be rational and warranted to believe in Christian truth even when the arguments and evidence appear to be against it. It all depends upon whether or not there is this other source of warrant besides argument and evidence. And I think that the Scriptures clearly teach that there is this other source of warrant, namely it is the witness of the Holy Spirit. This is not a subjective feeling, something you concoct yourself – a religious experience. This is an objective testimony of God himself to our spirits that the great truths of the Gospel are, in fact, true. While the sands of arguments and evidence may be shifting and vacillating over time and geography and with differing educations and backgrounds of different people, there is this more fundamental witness to the truth of Christian faith which is the witness of the Holy Spirit. So, in answer to his question: When reason is not a minister of the Christian faith, what should we do? (I take that to mean, When we don't have good arguments and evidence for the Christian faith, or when perhaps even the arguments and the evidence are against us, what should we do?) Be unreasonable? No, I'm not saying be unreasonable. I'm saying that rational belief isn't based exclusively on arguments and evidence so that you are reasonable. That's the whole point! You are reasonable in believing on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit. And I give a couple of arguments for this view that are intended to appeal to my fellow Christians – this is not apologetics for non-Christians, this is to persuade other Christians to adopt this epistemology. The first is that if you adopt this other view that rational belief requires the support of argument and evidence then you are going to consign most believers in the history of the world to irrationalism or unbelief (take your pick). The fact is that down through history over the millennia that the vast majority of Christian believers have not had access to good evidence and arguments for Christian belief. The historical method wasn't even developed until the Renaissance. In vast tracts of the human population on this planet the poverty, the illiteracy, the lack of access and absence of leisure time, prevent people from assessing arguments for God's existence or the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. So if you hold to this evidentialist epistemology, you are going to consign most of the world's Christians to either unbelief or to irrationalism, and that seems to me to be unconscionable.

KEVIN HARRIS: Oh, that makes so much sense. It makes so much sense. Fortunately, we have God! We have God's grace.

DR. CRAIG: Exactly. He cares about whether or not we believe or not.

KEVIN HARRIS: We have the witness of the Holy Spirit throughout history in all cultures.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Then the second point was that if you adopt this view (called evidentialism or theological rationalism, which is again the view that belief is rational only if you have adequate evidence and argument) then I point out a person who had been given bad arguments would have a just excuse before God for his unbelief. He could say, God, those Christians only gave me this lousy banana argument from design for your existence; that's why I didn't believe. But the Bible is very clear in Romans 1 that all persons are without excuse before God for not believing in his existence. Therefore you cannot be excused even if you've been given bad arguments and evidence for the truth of the Christian faith because there is this other warrant for the truth of the Christian faith which you have to ignore and suppress in order to remain in unbelief.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. A couple of the scientists on this website who are Christians come to your defense and try to straighten this guy out who said this. One says,

I don't know [William Lane Craig] well, but the only question I have from his setting is whether he intended to say something like “where there is lack of information, one can make a leap of faith.” However, this doesn’t sound like what he’s saying. It’s odd, because 20 years ago, someone explained to me the best stance of a Christian apologist as “I believe Christianity as I understand it is true. However, I am willing to examine all the evidence and change my mind if the evidence contradicts it.” How can any non Christian take us seriously if we don’t take the facts seriously?

DR. CRAIG: I am not saying that where there's a lack of information you can make a leap of faith. Believing on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit is a rational decision – it is not a leap of faith. We have another source of warrant for our Christian beliefs that makes that belief rational. So I'm not advocating a leap of faith. Now, I disagree heartily with this nonchalant stance of the Christian apologist who says, I am willing to change my mind if the evidence contradicts it. That makes me tremble. That is saying I am willing to renounce Christ and commit apostasy if the evidence that I have should turn against Christianity. It seems to me that the Scriptures would say you would never be justified in taking such a step. Never would you be justified in renouncing Christ and outraging the Holy Spirit of grace that is within you by committing apostasy. Think of the book of Hebrews and what it says about those who commit apostasy. So I think people who say this are just foolhardy and thoughtless. It can never be justified to commit apostasy. I think we can see why, namely because the indwelling Holy Spirit gives us rational warrant for belief in the truth of Christianity even when we don't have good arguments and evidence for it, or if, at a particular time and place in history, the evidence and arguments would be against it. I think, for example, of young believers that I met in the former Soviet Union. I asked them, What materials are available to you to help you in your Christian faith? One of them said to me, Well, there is a state-sponsored encyclopedia of atheism, and by reading the views they attack you can learn something about the Christian faith. But that's about it. My heart went out to this man. His only source for Christian instruction was the state-sponsored encyclopedia of atheism attacking his beliefs. Here is a man for whom the evidence and arguments were overwhelmingly against Christian faith because he was being taught at university by Marxist propagandists, and yet I believe in the providence of God, the witness of the Holy Spirit, sustains him even though at this temporary time and place in history the evidence and arguments were against Christian belief for that man.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another person comes in here and says something about Alvin Plantinga's Reformed epistemology. He says,

I think it helps to keep Plantinga’s reformed epistemology in the background with everything Craig says.

I think Craig’s main concern is that the God would never put us in a position where we would be MORE rational to reject Christ.

DR. CRAIG: That’s absolutely correct, and obviously this atheistic molecular biology technician is wholly unfamiliar with Alvin Plantinga and Reformed epistemology. This is just a knee-jerk reaction against what he perceives to be authoritarianism or irrational fideism. But this author, Randy I guess his name is, is quite correct in saying this is just Plantinga’s Reformed epistemology.

KEVIN HARRIS: Something else interesting that he says here. He says,

Platinga’s reformed epistemology saved me as a teenager from making my faith too intellectualized and never actually having a relationship with Christ.

DR. CRAIG: You know, I have to agree that when I read Warranted Christian Belief by Plantinga I was so struck with the spiritual insights and implications that his Reformed epistemology has. It really is spiritually a very encouraging and edifying read.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues. He says, backing you up here,

The inner witness of the Holy Spirit MAKES IT RATIONAL to be a Christian because it’s irrational to go so strongly against what we have no reason to doubt (the deep impression of God’s presence in our life, for example). I’ve read enough of Craig to be pretty sure he would agree with me here.

DR. CRAIG: Right. It’s rooted in the dual warrant that we have: not only arguments and evidence but more fundamentally the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that makes belief in Christ not only rational but warranted.[2]


[1]           See discussion thread at (accessed November 11, 2019).

[2]           Total Running Time: 16:05 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)