The Toughest QuestionsNovember 17, 2013 Time: 18:30
What are the most fascinating questions Dr. Craig receives? He discusses his new book, A Reasonable Response.
The Toughest Questions
Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, another good book from you called A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible. You’ve got a co-author this time as well.
Dr. Craig: Right, Joe Gorra, who is my teaching assistant at Talbot School of Theology. Joe had the idea of taking some of the best questions of the week that are on the website at ReasonableFaith.org and assembling them thematically; that is to say, putting questions that are on similar topics together into a book form. And so he’s done that, and he’s added a very lengthy introduction as well as some appendices and other notes to the book to help people to see that answering questions is in itself a real ministry, and to help people in this ministry of answering questions effectively.
Kevin Harris: Lee Strobel of The Case for Christ says of this book,
No sincere question about God is out of bounds. Here, one of the world’s foremost apologists offers insightful answers to challenging inquiries sent to him – and models how to help people get past their spiritual sticking points.
I like the way he put that because it’s more than just answering an intellectual objection or question but sometimes there’s a spiritual element involved.
Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s definitely true. You’ll sometimes sense a subtext or a deeper question behind what the person is actually answering. And I think we should have a pastoral interest in the people that we’re dealing with and not simply in the surface question.
Kevin Harris: You’ve been answering questions, doing the question of the week, for several years now. Go over again some of the criteria that you use, and that Joe uses as well, when determining some of the questions to address.
Dr. Craig: Well when I look at questions to put on the website what I’m looking for are questions that are succinct, rather than rambling; which are on a topic that would be widely of interest, not esoteric or too narrow; and then on a wide variety of important questions. I’m especially interested in questions coming from unbelievers, where they have a sticking point that bothers them and keeps them from becoming a Christian. What Joe has done in putting this book together is to take topics like:
· Believing and knowing – what’s the relationship between those two?
· The existence of God – his nature and attributes.
· Jesus and being his disciple.
And he’s collected together these diverse questions, which on the website are sometimes separated by scores or even hundreds of other questions, and he’s put them together into chapters in the book so that you build up a perspective on that question from a variety of viewpoints using real questions that people have actually asked.
Kevin Harris: A ministry of answering questions. A lot of people don’t see it as a ministry, do they? They think it’s just going to be a brief intellectual exercise and that’s about it. But questions are often quite important to the person who holds them; it keeps people up at night.
Dr. Craig: Oh yes, that’s right. And I think Joe does a good job in giving suggestions to, for example, youth pastors or people who are working with young people on how to address their questions in ways that respect them and take them seriously and will provoke further discussion rather than just shut down the conversation.
Kevin Harris: Have you noticed any trends, just off the top of your head, common things that people tend to ask you? Do you detect themes?
Dr. Craig: I can’t say that I have, Kevin. Perhaps the only thing that I’ve noticed is that we do seem to be getting more questions all the time from unbelievers, which I find very interesting. It’s not just Christians that are coming to Reasonable Faith, but agnostics and atheists and others, and I especially welcome those questions.
Kevin Harris: I see a trend from time to time because I’m privy to a lot of these questions that come in and we’ll address them on this podcast. Molinism seems to engender lots of questions, as well.
Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s probably a reflection of my own theological bent. If it weren't for that I’m sure people wouldn’t be asking questions about it, but given my belief that God has middle knowledge and that this supplies a key for understanding divine providence and predestination and sheds remarkable light on so many other theological issues, it’s not surprising that this would elicit questions concerning Molinism.
Kevin Harris: The second line of questioning that I often see is on your primary work, the kalam cosmological argument. When we get questions on that what is the typical sticking point, you think?
Dr. Craig: One question that comes up over and over again is a misunderstanding about creation out of nothing. Many people think that in the statement of the premises of the argument, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist,” that one is talking about a cause which produces things without any sort of material cause, creation from nothing. But that’s not the case. The argument as I’ve framed it leaves it entirely open as to whether the cause works with or without a material cause. I had efficient causes in mind when I stated the argument, but whether that efficient cause uses a material cause is irrelevant. I would say, for example, that if a chair begins to exist then that chair must have an efficient cause – there’s a carpenter who has taken the wood and the nails and assembled the chair. And so the chair begins to exist because there is a cause of the chair, namely the carpenter. He is the efficient cause of the chair. And whether the carpenter used materials to construct the chair is just not germane to the question. So people seem to have a great deal of confusion about that, with respect to the statement of the argument.
Kevin Harris: You get questions, as well, from our Muslim friends. I’ve noticed that from time to time, not only here in America but in other countries as well, that Muslims will ask questions. Anything in particular that comes out on those?
Dr. Craig: No, I can’t say that there is any particular question that Muslims tend to ask, but it is very gratifying to see questions coming in from places like Iran and other Muslim nations. I am really thrilled that folks there are reading this material. And speaking of Muslim countries, too, I have just been thrilled, Kevin, to find how many Coptic Christians are benefiting from Reasonable Faith. I met Coptic Christians in Australia who had come to the dialogues with Lawrence Krauss. One priest, with a long beard and a big cross around his neck and wearing a robe, brought a whole group of people from his congregation and announced that they were Coptic Christians and loved the material. We’ve received correspondence from people in Egypt, as well, and you know what duress those brethren are under in Egypt today. So to have input into their lives in so hostile an environment is just a wonderful privilege.
Kevin Harris: I’ll tell you what else I like about this book, Bill, and that is: sometimes, if a person will go to some of your work or they’ll go to the question of the week, and they’ll see an outline or a syllogism (“one . . . number two . . . number three . . . therefore . . .”) and they’ll see things like “If p then q” and they’ll go, “Oh, I can’t fathom all that. I don’t know what that formula is” and give up maybe before taking a look. There are some guidelines here on looking at logical arguments, and it’s really easier than people think.
Dr. Craig: Yes, the opening section on believing and knowing has a couple of questions that deal with logic and argumentation. And Joe also adds his own footnotes and comments to my answers where he will point out the moves that I’m making in answering the question and what I’m doing. And so the book is annotated with Joe’s comments on the answers saying, look at this point, watch what he’s doing here, notice how Dr. Craig is addressing this. And so he’s alerting the reader, almost like someone looking over their shoulder, explaining to them what’s going on as I answer the questions. So in a sense this is really Joe’s book. I mean, all I did was write the original questions for the website. It’s Joe who has put these things together, written the introduction, annotated the questions, included the appendices, and put it together in this very helpful sort of manual for answering people’s questions.
Kevin Harris: And what’s interesting is that often we don’t think that there are so many aspects to answering questions as Christians – this, perhaps, ministry of answering questions. Joe outlined about four aspects of how we view the ministry of answering people’s questions. In other words, we answer questions as Christ's ambassadors. To be a good ambassador means – what? – to represent someone well. So, being a good ambassador for Christ, and then answering questions as representatives of, perhaps, Christian traditions.
Dr. Craig: It certainly is important that we stand within the broad historic Christian tradition, and that requires some knowledge of Christian doctrine, so that we stand on the shoulders of these giants who have gone before. And we need to, I think, represent the Christian tradition as faithfully as we can.
Kevin Harris: And a third aspect is answering questions as diagnostic soul-care work. When being confronted by someone’s questions, first we should listen well and it may be the case that our initial answer is in the form of a further question. We tend to do a couple of things. First of all, we go, “I think I know where you’re going with this” and then maybe jump to a conclusion. And number two, we might fail to notice some underlying issue that is behind the question.
Dr. Craig: Yes.
Kevin Harris: Perhaps, Bill, it is a good practice, especially one-on-one with someone, to ask them what they believe about a certain thing rather then tell them what they believe because we’ve studied this issue.
Dr. Craig: Yes, I find this is especially important with the use of certain terms. What I find in talking to some unbelievers is they’re talking their own idiolect; that is to say, they are using the words in a very different way than these words are normally used. So, for example, words like “belief.” I’ve heard nonbelievers or non-Christians say they have no beliefs. And that seems absurd. Don’t they believe that their name is John, for example, or don’t they believe that they have two parents, or something of that sort? Of course they have beliefs. But then when you talk to them you find out that for them a belief means something that is held on no evidence whatsoever and that therefore they don’t have any beliefs in that sense. They are evidentialists, and in that sense you could say, “Well then I don’t believe in God either. I have good reasons to think that God exists, and in your funny sense of the word ‘belief’ then I agree with you. I’m not asking you to ‘believe in God.’ But I’m asking you to follow the evidence where it leads.” So it can be very, very important to find out the way people are using these words that often are very idiosyncratic and unusual.
Kevin Harris: And as also kind of a practical tip, I have found that if I am having a conversation with, perhaps, a Mormon – we get into a conversation – I have learned to ask, “What do you believe?” Because the tendency is to go in and say, “Well, you believe this and you believe this and you believe this.” Often I have found with them and other people of other sects that say, “I don’t believe that at all.”
Dr. Craig: Addressing questions by asking questions is a good technique to promote understanding.
Kevin Harris: Joe says that the fifth method of answering questions is to answer questions as heralders, to herald the Kingdom of God; and that is, not only do you want to help someone by answering their question and giving them some background but also show them how God perhaps is at work in their lives and how the Kingdom of God is near them.
Dr. Craig: Yes, I have found occasion to do that where a person is an unbeliever in particular and one can point out the very fact that he’s coming to this website, that he’s asking a question and seeking, is a good sign that God is at work in his life, that God has drawn him thus far, and to encourage him to keep following that lead and not to close his heart against it.
Kevin Harris: This book is very thorough and, you know, it’s a pretty good-sized book. It’s over 400 pages. So thorough. We get a lot of questions at ReasonableFaith.org.
Dr. Craig: Yes, and the funny thing is it would have been even larger. Joe wanted to pick the 100 questions that would be the most interesting. That’s a nice round number, 100 Questions About God, or something. But that book would’ve been 600 pages or so long. It would have been just unwieldy. So I think that he had to whittle it down to around something like 60 questions that he took off of the website. Which means, I hope, that maybe there will be scope for a future book incorporating some of the other questions as well, because it is a real wonderful archive of interesting material in our questions of the week. And if any of our listeners haven’t availed themselves of that yet I hope that they’ll take the time to peruse that archive of weekly questions that I’ve been writing for the last seven years. There’s a lot of good material in there.
Kevin Harris: Oh, and everything from very difficult questions to ones that just need a little background.
Dr. Craig: Yes, and there’s a final section in the book that Joe included just, I think, in a way for fun. It’s practical questions. He’s got questions in there on preparing for marriage, how to maintain physical stamina, and some other personal questions that I’ve taken. So there’s quite a range in the book. It ranges from God to the afterlife, the meaning of life, questions of origins, who was Jesus, and then, as I say, some of these practical matters. It’s a very wide-ranging collection.
Kevin Harris: It really is, I mean, you have material when you answered some of the questions. And people are interested, Bill, in your physical health, in your workout routine. You get a lot of questions on: How do you study? How do you take notes? What is your schedule? They want to know everything that you do. And you’re glad to answer a lot of this, and I’ll tell you a lot of it is a good pattern to follow.
Dr. Craig: Well, good, I’m glad. It’s fun. It’s fun to share some of these personal tidbits of advice that have been helpful to me, and I’m glad to pass it on to others.
Kevin Harris: Some of it is very technical but you try to get to the lay level.
Dr. Craig: Yes, the book is not necessarily a simple book. No one should think, oh, these are the pad answers that we can give to people who ask questions. Not at all. These are not only thoughtful questions but they are thoughtful answers, and some of them are difficult.
Kevin Harris: There’s an educational opportunity. There’s a teaching moment.
Dr. Craig: Right, that’s right. With many people there are. Especially when you are dealing with a sincere questioner and those are the type that I try to take. These are not your abusive questions. These are from people who are genuinely seeking answers.
Kevin Harris: I guarantee that people who think they’ve thought of everything and have thought of every question that there is out there will go through this book and find questions that, “You know, I hadn’t thought about that” They’ve never thought about it.
Dr. Craig: Good.
Kevin Harris: Like, can people in heaven sin? Will we have free will in heaven? And sometimes things like that don’t occur to us, and you think about it, and you go, “You know, that is a good question.” I wonder, as we conclude today, Bill, if off the top of your head you have some favorite questions that come out. I know you get so many, in classrooms, in lectures, after some of your events.
Dr. Craig: Well, I don’t have favorite questions, I suppose, per se, Kevin. But given that my current research interest is on divine aseity and God’s relationship to abstract objects, I do find it almost irresistible when a question comes in that deals with my current research because then I am able to answer out of material that is really fresh, that I’m very excited about, and eager to share. So I do enjoy these questions that come in asking about Platonism and the reality of numbers and other abstract objects, and how God could have created these or did he create them. Those I always find especially stimulating because it relates to my current work.
Kevin Harris: What if our brother-in-law or our college professor or someone asks us a question that we just don’t know the answer to?
Dr. Craig: Then I think it’s an opportunity to learn more and to say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer but let me look into it and get back to you.” And then go to look at some of these resources and see what you can find out, and then go back to the person. Never try to give a person a snow-job and pretend you know the answer to something that you don’t. He will respect you for confessing your ignorance and recognizing your limitations. But then see that as an opportunity to go deeper yourself.
Kevin Harris: The book is A Reasonable Response: [William Lane Craig] Answers To Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible, co-written by Joseph Gorra. Pick up a copy. Go to ReasonableFaith.org.
The entire Q&A section of the website is found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/question-answer (accessed November 27, 2013)
Total Running Time: 18:30 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)
Total Running Time: 18:30 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)