The Resurrection, Fideism, and CircularityNovember 09, 2020
Dr. Craig interacts with a philosophy blog on whether the Christian exercises "blind faith" and circular reasoning when it comes to the Resurrection of Jesus.
KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, good to see you. We want to talk briefly, as we get into today’s podcast, about the matching grant that is available right now to supporters of Reasonable Faith. This is very generous. Someone will match whatever people give up to $300,000.
DR. CRAIG: Exactly. It’s the largest matching grant we’ve ever offered. The reason for the size of it is that it will help to fund a monumental new project that we're starting at Reasonable Faith which is the establishment of a William Lane Craig Center for Christian Philosophy, Theology, and Apologetics that will be affiliated with an accredited university or seminary which will offer credit for a full curriculum of coursework based upon my work. This is going to cost us around $120,000 a year for two years to establish such a curriculum, and this matching grant is going to go a considerable distance to helping to fund that center. All of this is above our ordinary budget, and so we're hoping and praying that folks will capture this vision and give generously and have their donation doubled.
KEVIN HARRIS: Very good. Go to ReasonableFaith.org and give today. This is going on throughout the month of November and December. We covet your prayers and your giving and we thank you for blessing us. ReasonableFaith.org – more information is there. We've talked a few times about the Tippling Philosopher blog – atheist blog – from Jonathan MS Pearce in the UK. Apparently he's writing a book on the resurrection, and I wanted you to take a look at a couple of things he's written as he's preparing to write this book on the resurrection. What is interesting, I think, is that at least he sees – he's an ardent opponent of the Christian faith – that if he wants to take on the Christian faith he needs to take on the resurrection.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. Right. He sees the centrality of that in any case for the truth of Christianity historically. I understand from what you tell me that this man is in fact a professional philosopher. Is that right?
KEVIN HARRIS: Yes. It seems so. His blog says that he is, “a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion . . .”
DR. CRAIG: In that case that raises the level of expectation, I think, for this work. We would expect this not to be the work of a mere popularizer but of a scholar with some academic credibility, and therefore would expect to find a very powerful case raised by him against the evidence for the resurrection.
KEVIN HARRIS: A couple of his articles we’ll scan and take a look at. They're short. This one's called, “Resurrection, Fideism, and Circularity.” Well, that got my attention. Fideism – is that a view that's at bottom blind faith?
DR. CRAIG: Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: I'm sure there are nuances.
DR. CRAIG: But basically you're right. It's believing in Christianity or believing in God is simply a blind leap in the dark without any kind of rational basis.
KEVIN HARRIS: Despite whether Jonathan believes that, I think we've always been accused of fideism.
DR. CRAIG: Now, by “we” you mean Christians, I take it, not Reasonable Faith because that assertion is just rooted in ignorance. No informed person could say that. Arguments for God's existence have been offered all the way back to the church fathers and through the medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and on into the modern period with people like William Paley and Samuel Clark and then on the contemporary scene philosophers like Stephen Davis, Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, and so many others have defended theistic arguments. Then, in terms of the evidence for the resurrection, again people like William Paley, before him Hugo Grotius, on the contemporary scene people like Dale Allison, N. T. Wright, Michael Licona, and many others have defended the resurrection of Jesus as an event of history. So it's only the ignorant that say that believing in God or Christianity is based on blind faith.
KEVIN HARRIS: This article begins,
The few times that New Testament claims intersect with history – namely, the Nativity accounts, and to a lesser degree, the Resurrection accounts – the claims fail, historically speaking.
Well, there's the opening salvo. You might want to mention that.
DR. CRAIG: What we want to do now is see whether or not our expectations are met for this academic in his critique. What is he going to give by way of evidence to support this bold claim?
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
What epistemic right does the Christian then have for believing in Jesus, for being a Christian?
If you ask the Christian “Why do you know that the Resurrection accounts are true?”, they will likely reply “Because I have faith (in Jesus).” Faith, in any meaningful sense, is belief absent of evidence.
DR. CRAIG: Immediately, one has to protest. I certainly know many Christians who, if you ask them, “How do you know the resurrection accounts are true?” will give you a detailed historical argument in support of the factuality of things like Jesus’ death and burial, the discovery of his empty tomb by a group of his female followers, the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to different individuals and groups of people, and the very origin of belief in Jesus’ resurrection among his earliest followers. In fact, the majority of New Testament scholars today who have written on these subjects, whether they be conservative, liberal, or secular, agree with the historicity of those facts. So the idea that if you ask the Christian as to what basis he has for believing in the resurrection that he'll say “Because I have faith” – that may be a minority of Christians, especially those who are ignorant of the historical evidence, but that's by no means universally true. Moreover, when Jonathan goes on to say that faith is belief in the absence of evidence, that is almost a joke. That is a caricature of faith that comes out of the Miracle on 34th Street movie. It’s silly. Faith is placing your trust in what you have good reason to think is true. So there's absolutely no opposition between faith and reason. You can have good reason to believe something is true, and therefore on that basis place your trust in that thing or person.
KEVIN HARRIS: Boy, it feels like we've been fighting this battle for a long time.
DR. CRAIG: I know.
KEVIN HARRIS: I hope we're making some headway on the definition of faith.
DR. CRAIG: I think we are. I think that this blog reflects astounding ignorance of the contemporary discussion.
KEVIN HARRIS: Anecdotally, I see evidence that we are making some headway, too. Just from some of the interactions that I've seen and some of the public debates that I've seen online. He continues to write,
The faith in Christianity comes predominantly from the New Testament, and faith that the New Testament is true comes from faith in Christianity qua Jesus. Here we have a circularity.
DR. CRAIG: Again, [one is] astonished at this claim. The claim here is that you have faith in Christianity because of the New Testament, and you have faith in the New Testament because you have faith in Christianity. That's simply not the case, and if Jonathan would read any books on Christian apologetics he will find that faith in Christ is based upon the credibility of the New Testament documents and their witness to the life and teachings of Jesus, and that belief in the credibility of the New Testament documents is based upon the historical credibility of those documents when weighed by the standard criteria for assessing historical documents such as you would apply to Tacitus or to Herodotus or Suetonius or other ancient historians. And when you approach the Gospels in that way they turn out to look like very credible sources for the life and ministry of this man Jesus of Nazareth. So there's no circularity there whatsoever.
KEVIN HARRIS: I think he's referencing another article, if you want to look at it quickly, on supernaturalism and motivated reasoning – another article he wrote – where he outlines what he believes is this circularity. Here's the circularity:
* I believe in a world where resurrection is possible.
* Because I believe in a world in which Jesus was resurrected.
DR. CRAIG: Let's stop right there. That's obviously false. “I believe in a world where resurrection is possible because I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” I have never met a person in my life who thinks that – who reasons that way. At best you would say, “I believe in a world where resurrection is possible because I believe that God exists – because there is a supernatural, transcendent creator and designer of the universe who is above the laws of nature and who can therefore bring about miraculous events which are naturally impossible.” Therefore, a resurrection of the dead is possible. I remember the Australian philosopher Peter Slazak in one of our debates commented that if you believe in God, the creator of the universe, then the odd resurrection is child's play. So the question will be then: Do you have good grounds for your theism? And here Jonathan has nothing to say about the arguments of natural theology that support belief in a creator and designer of the universe.
KEVIN HARRIS: That pretty much breaks the circularity right there.
DR. CRAIG: It does right there.
KEVIN HARRIS: As you've said, the resurrection hypothesis only needs one additional hypothesis and that is that theism is true.
DR. CRAIG: I don't even contend that it needs it. There are those, like my friend Gary Habermas, who will argue for the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the facts even without arguments of natural theology. But my claim, and the claim of people like Steve Davis and Richard Swinburne, is that it will be vastly easier to establish the resurrection of Jesus as an event of history if you already know that God exists. Once you've gotten across the Grand Canyon from atheism to theism then it's easier to jump the little gulch separating theism from Christian theism.
KEVIN HARRIS: I'm trying to see if there's anything else in this former article on supernaturalism and motivated reasoning that we ought to look at.
DR. CRAIG: I might comment on one thing on that. He talks about what he calls motivated reasoning. This is just a fancy label – sometimes called confirmation bias, another fancy label – for saying that people tend to accept arguments for what they already believe in. You'll be skeptical of arguments for conclusions you don't already believe, but if it's an argument for something you already believe you'll tend to accept that argument. I have never met people who are more prone to confirmation bias or motivated reasoning than atheists. I remember talking with a Campus Crusade staff member at the University of British Columbia who was so frustrated by this he said it's almost like students have a kind of inner skeptical dial which they turn way up when it comes to Christianity but then which they turn way down when it comes to their own views. I think that is so true. The atheist will believe the most absurd hypotheses like that the universe sprang into being uncaused out of nothing rather than admit that there would be a creator of the universe, or that the applicability of mathematics to physical phenomena is just a happy coincidence rather than the result of a divine plan. Over and over again I have seen this kind of motivated reasoning or confirmation bias among atheists with whom I've dialogued who have usually almost no good arguments for atheism. Just ask them: What justification, what arguments do you have for your own view? And they've typically got almost nothing. And yet they accept that. And they are skeptical then to the Nth degree concerning theistic arguments or arguments for the resurrection of Jesus.
KEVIN HARRIS: I might just give you a quick example on a side note. I've found myself hoping that in eschatology and end times that post-millennialism is true because it's so much more positive than rapture theology. I've been hoping that the rapture and all of this (a lot of pre-mill) is not true because it is so negative and it's going to be horrible. But that's not a reason to embrace a view (because you like it). It has to have good grounds – good biblical grounds. I just wanted to mention that. He's been accused as an atheist: do you have a little motivated reasoning? And he says, “No, I don't, because the skeptic doesn't generally accept any miracle claims without substantiation.”
DR. CRAIG: Right. And that's not where I'm claiming they have motivated reasoning. Granted, the skeptic will be skeptical of all miracle claims. Rather, what he has motivated reasoning about is his atheism or his denial that God exists or his skepticism about God's existence. He will resist tooth and nail any sort of evidence or argument for God's existence, but will acquiesce very readily to skepticism about miracles, belief that the problem of evil disproves the existence of God, or other sorts of arguments, even the arguments in this blog … arguing for the resurrection of Jesus is circular. That's such a patently false argument that only motivated reasoning could lead someone to accept that argument.
KEVIN HARRIS: We'll finish up today looking at the other article on fideism and circularity. I wondered what you thought about this. After we dealt with the circularity, he says,
Perhaps the Christian can draw on personal revelatory experiences. However, an Amazonian tribesman will never have a revelatory vision or appearance or some kind of experience that will point to Christianity if he has never heard of or come across Christianity. Religious experiences of Christians concerning Christianity come about precisely because they already have knowledge of the Bible, of the New Testament. In other words, Christian religious experiences supervene on (depend upon) knowledge of the Bible. These experiences do not really break the problematic issue of circularity, but actually feed into that circle.
DR. CRAIG: Here I'm afraid Jonathan just shows his naivete with regard to contemporary work on religious epistemology. It may well be true that in order to have a Christian religious experience you have to have some knowledge of the Gospel first. But that in no way shows that your Christian religious experience is non-veridical or illusory. Indeed, part of the major thrust in religious epistemology today – that is to say theory of knowledge with respect to religious matters – is that, in fact, belief in God can be what is called a properly basic belief which is grounded in the experience of God. Jonathan, if he's going to do his philosophical duty here, cannot simply ignore these major currents in religious epistemology. He needs to take time out, do some reading in this area, and interact with the work of people like William Alston and Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff and others on this score.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He mentions you toward the end of the article. He says,
Even given critical historical analysis such as the book I am writing (The Resurrection: A Critical Analysis of the Easter Story) that points to the claims not having veracity [which he would like to prove], the Christian can still rely on mere faith, because the epistemic circle is not really sound, just relying on itself. Indeed, the process ends up looking like a presuppositional stance where the Christian might as well just presuppose the truth of the New Testament to sure up faith in Jesus.
DR. CRAIG: Here he evidently doesn't understand the difference between that school of apologetics that is called presuppositionalism and other schools of apologetics like evidentialism (for example, Richard Swinburne would support this point of view) or this notion that I just spoke of a moment ago of belief in God and the great truths of the Gospel as properly basic (which is defended by Alvin Plantinga). So it is simply not true that the Christian apologist on the contemporary scene is reduced to presuppositionalism which in fact represents a very tiny minority of Christian thinkers today.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He says here,
This is precisely why apologists like William Lane Craig try so hard to get away from mere fideism (the doctrine that knowledge depends on faith or revelation) because they know this is not convincing to a third party.
DR. CRAIG: Can I just interrupt at that point? He's got my motivation all wrong. He says that I don't embrace fideism because this isn't convincing to a third party. I don't embrace fideism because I don't think it's true. I think there are good reasons to believe that God exists and that he's revealed himself decisively in Jesus. This is wholly independently of whether some third party finds it convincing. So he's really misread or mis-psychoanalyzed me with respect to my motivations.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He says,
[blockquote]Craig sets this out in his book (and resultant website) A Reasonable Faith that tries to establish an evidential and rational basis for his belief, intending it to be ammunition to convert third parties.[/blockquote]
DR. CRAIG: Again, I do want these arguments and evidence to be used to convert third parties. That's true. I'm committed to evangelism and to the use of apologetics in evangelism, but that is not my motivation for rejecting fideism which I think is simply a false view of the relationship between faith and reason.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
And this is why he is absolutely intent on establishing the Easter story and the Resurrection historically. I can understand this. He (and others, such as Gary Habermas with his Minimal Facts approach) does this because he has everything to lose by not doing so (or merely resorts to believing the whole kit and caboodle based on personal revelation alone).
DR. CRAIG: Now, again, let me just interrupt at this point. It is not true that the Christian who defends the resurrection of Jesus historically has everything to lose by not doing so. I think that Alvin Plantinga is absolutely correct in saying that belief in the risen Jesus can be rationally grounded by experience of the risen Lord today. I think that that religious epistemology is perfectly fine. For vast numbers of people in history (for example, a medieval peasant or an illiterate worker in an oriental rice field) has no access or leisure time to library materials to study the evidence for the resurrection. But I think that he can know, and know rationally, that Jesus has risen from the dead based upon his experience of the risen Lord. So it is not true that one has everything to lose if you don't have historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection, as an event of history, is not dependent upon the evidence that we have for it. It is independent of whatever evidence we might happen to have. And moreover, belief in the resurrection of Jesus can be entirely rational and warranted even for those who don't have the luxury of historical evidence.
KEVIN HARRIS: I guess we could conclude the article. He goes to Bayes’ Theorem. He says if we look at it in terms of Bayes’ Theorem,
This is where the naturalist atheist will diverge, before we even get started, from the supernaturalist theist.
The naturalist will conclude (i.e., not presuppose), based on pragmatism and inductive observation, that there is no recourse to supernaturalism.
DR. CRAIG: Wow! Now, I wonder what that looks like. Pragmatism and inductive observation is going to justify either atheism or agnosticism. I'd like to see him pull that off. I think he's quite right to appeal to Bayes’ Theorem, but there's no circularity involved here. What one will say is that when you assess the probability of the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” one of the elements of that calculus will be the probability that God exists. And here you have arguments from the beginning of the universe, the existence of contingent beings, the existence of objective moral values and duties in the world, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, and on and on. Good grounds for believing that that is probable – that there is a God. That then is going to increase the probability of the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead when you consider the historical evidence for the credibility of those facts that I mentioned earlier.
KEVIN HARRIS: What do you think about this? He says,
We can’t assess eyewitness accounts (there are none), we have never experienced a god becoming a man, we have never experienced any living organism dying and being resurrected, we have no evidence of a heaven, so on and so forth.
DR. CRAIG: Again, it just strikes me as confused. Is he assuming that there is no eyewitness testimony contained in the Gospels to the life of Jesus? If so, that's a very substantive skeptical claim about the credibility of the Gospels that would be rejected by the vast majority of New Testament scholars today. Even a scholar so skeptical as Bart Ehrman would not accept the idea that we have no credible testimony to the life and teachings of Jesus. We shouldn't assume that the only person who can write a historically credible and reliable account is an eyewitness. Just to give an example from ancient history. The earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch over 300 years after the death of Alexander. And yet classical historians still regard these biographies as largely reliable historical accounts of the life and exploits of Alexander the Great. With respect to the Gospels, we have first century biographies, a multiplicity of them, written within the first generation after the events while the eyewitnesses were still alive to either confirm or disconfirm them. So most scholars consider the Gospels to be quite credible accounts of the life and teachings of this man Jesus of Nazareth.
KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion, maybe an overview of everything. You've addressed the fideism issue. You've addressed the circularity. And you've addressed what your motivation is in your work.
DR. CRAIG: I think the main problem here that Jonathan has is his lack of understanding of Christian apologetics. If he's going to write a book on the resurrection he has got to inform himself much more thoroughly with the views of the persons he criticizes. In particular, he needs to acquaint himself more with the arguments of natural theology for the existence of God. He seems to think that Christians believe in the Bible because they believe in Jesus, and they believe in Jesus because they believe in the Bible. He simply doesn't understand that there are independent arguments and evidence for the existence of God, and that there is historical evidence for the credibility of these New Testament biographies of Jesus. Therefore, belief in Jesus is philosophically and historically well-grounded.
 https://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2020/09/29/the-resurrection-fideism-and-circularity/ (accessed November 10, 2020).
 https://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2020/10/17/supernaturalism/ (accessed November 10, 2020).
 Total Running Time: 28:59 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)