You've Ruined My Life, Professor Craig!March 08, 2015 Time: 18:56
A letter to Dr. Craig goes viral!
You've Ruined My Life, Professor Craig!
Kevin Harris: “You’ve ruined my life, Professor Craig!” That is the title of the letter. That was written to you in our question and answer forum at ReasonableFaith.org.Many are, in fact, saying (including myself) this is the greatest letter in the question and answer forum on Reasonable Faith. There are some great ones in there. Not to diminish any of them. But there is something about this one that is very compelling. Rather than read the whole thing, we are going to kind of look at the highlights here because I want to encourage people to go to the website and look at this letter, “You’ve Ruined My Life, Professor Craig!” Did this really strike you as a letter that had a lot of compelling content?
Dr. Craig: Oh, it really did. Jan was the one who read it first, and then forwarded it to me and said, “Look at this letter from this fellow named Adam.” It is a long letter, but as I read it I just grew more and more wide-eyed to see how what I think is evident that God is really at work in this fellow’s life. The degree of philosophical training that he has and his insights into the arguments I thought set him apart from and above many of the popular level sorts of non-theistic responses that we often get.
Kevin Harris: I want to say from the outset that many people who follow Reasonable Faith have looked into this writer and have found him to be genuine, and that this was not a sophisticated troll, to use the vernacular of the Internet. This wasn’t a fake. Because immediately there were some skeptics who said this is a fake – this is too good to be true. This reads like a movie script.
Dr. Craig: [laughter] That is a good idea!
Kevin Harris: There is a point to all of this. We do have to be careful. The Internet contains a lot of disinformation, not just bad information, as well as good information.
Dr. Craig: Right, I have been suckered more than once by things on the Internet that I thought were authentic and then found out later they were not.
Kevin Harris: There are many aspects to this letter, but his love of philosophy and the fact that he considered himself “an ‘evangelical’ atheist, proclaiming the good word of rationality!” He says: “My beliefs were strident at best, and intolerant at worst. I thought I had the ‘God question’ all figured out.” He applied at college to get an MA program. He got accepted.
Dr. Craig: Which is Cal State University-Los Angeles.
Kevin Harris: But the real sticking point seemed to be your essay on The Absurdity of Life Without God. He said, “You were telling me my life, as a direct result of my worldview, was worthless in every possible way. Well, as an ambitious philosophy student, I could not simply let you get away this. Your objections to atheism needed answers.” He really wrestled with your paper. He went on and did come to the conclusion that nihilism is unlivable. He quotes Christopher Hitchens. This letter is very detailed. What do you think was his frustration? What began to emerge as his frustration? He didn’t want to be a nihilist apparently.
Dr. Craig: No, but I think he began to be convinced that the arguments of the so-called New Atheists who want to try to preserve objective meaning, value, and purpose in life were ultimately failures. I really appreciated so much what he says in the paragraph – he says,
I need to say how disappointed I am in the New Atheists, and moreover, the professional philosophers, who do not understand the “moral argument” for God's existence. Why can't they comprehend the ontology of values? Why is this so difficult?
This is something that has baffled me as well. The obviously wrong sort of responses to this argument where people think you are saying you can’t know right from wrong without believing in God or that belief in God is necessary to live the moral life. It is just clearly a misunderstanding of the argument. People ought to know better. I appreciated what he said. He goes on to say,
Sorry, I just had to rant a little, because it bothers me when philosophers, who should know better, don't comprehend the moral argument. I can only imagine how frustrated you must feel. Further, I hate all the nasty comments you get on YouTube. People don't even understand how well thought out your views are. . . . Sorry, just wanted to say that you have at least one atheist on your side, sir.
That was very gratifying, I think, to hear.
Kevin Harris: 90% of the negative comments are sour grapes, very petty, and thoughtful people know it. But it is just everywhere. It is very low-brow. He gets frustrated with that. I know a lot of non-believers who are frustrated with that as well because they are not interacting accurately. He says,
Philosophically, I agree with almost everything you say. Not in a “follower” sense, but in that I find what you say either convincingly true or I find I come to the same conclusions that you do with regards to particular ideas that I have reasoned through on my own. With that said, I am still an atheist. How is this possible? How could my favorite philosopher be a Christian, I agree with almost everything he says, yet I am an atheist? Well, it seems that you make an extremely strong case for the rationality of an “abstract” notion of God . . .
I am not sure what he meant by that, because you don’t teach that God is abstract.
Dr. Craig: No. He has that in scare-quotes – the word “abstract.” I think what he means by that is God as a sort of philosophical conclusion but not as an experiential or existential reality in your life; not something that changes your life. So he can’t seem to make that step from the head to the heart, I think perhaps.
Kevin Harris: He says, “I’m an atheist who hates atheism.”
Dr. Craig: [laughter] Yeah.
Kevin Harris: “I want there to be a God more than anything, yet I cannot get myself to believe in one.” Bottom line, Bill, he says, What do you suggest that I do?
Dr. Craig: He even says, Kevin – and this is strange – “I know the ‘answer’ is Christianity.” He knows it! But he said, “I cannot get myself to believe its truth.” This is a real existential dilemma here. He doesn’t need more arguments, I think. He has already got enough arguments to know that God exists and even that Christianity is true, but there needs to be that existential engagement on Adam’s part with God as a real reality in his life.
Kevin Harris: He says, “PS- Do me one favor? Even if you never have time to respond. Please, do not debate Lawrence Krauss anymore. As with most people not trained in philosophy, it is not even an argument in any sort of philosophical sense.”
Dr. Craig: He doesn’t need to worry. I am not going to engage Professor Krauss in another dialogue because I thought it was just utterly unprofitable.
Kevin Harris: This hits so many wrong nerves especially among atheists. So many of my friends, nothing makes them angrier than the fact that they are told that they are consigned to nihilism. But this whole thing about Don’t consign me to nihilism because I’m not a nihilist. He says, Yes you are.
Dr. Craig: Or you should be. You are inconsistent with your worldview. In fact, I argue it is really impossible to live consistently and happily within the framework of an atheistic worldview. So if you want to be happy you are going to do what your friends do, and that is to live inconsistently. You make a leap of faith and affirm objective values, meaning, and purpose for your live even though you don’t have any basis for it. As for being consigned to nihilism, this is a claim that isn’t emanating simply from Christians or theists. This is what many atheists themselves say. I am thinking of people like Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, and on the contemporary scene people like Joel Marks, Alex Rosenberg, and others who have the courage of their convictions to say what atheism frankly leads to. This is not a sort of accusation that one can pin on theists. This is an implication that many atheists themselves recognize.
Kevin Harris: When you began to answer him, you said first of all, Adam, you kind of remind me of the same route that C. S. Lewis took.
Dr. Craig: Yes. In preparing for the C. S. Lewis Memorial Conference last year at Westminster Abbey, I read Lewis’ biography by Alister McGrath and recalled some of Lewis’ writings. It struck me how similar Adam’s experience is to C. S. Lewis’. Lewis was a scientific naturalist for much of his life. He really thought that all that exists is what is given to us by the natural sciences. But he found that utterly dreadful and such a worldview unlivable, pointless, and meaningless. He, as a professor of literature, loved fantasy and imagination and fiction. His dilemma was that everything that he thought was real left him empty and hollow, and everything that he loved, his intellect told him was imaginary. So how could he come to terms with this? I think that Lewis’ autobiography would be a real help to Adam. That was one of the things that I recommended that he do: read Lewis’ Surprised by Joy and see how Lewis made that gradual transition from naturalism to theism, and then finally from theism to Christianity.
Kevin Harris: The second thing you said is,
Seek experiences that put you in touch with the transcendent. You need to escape the cloying bonds of naturalism by catching glimpses of a transcendent reality beyond the material world. This will help to prepare your heart for belief in God. So open yourself to experiences of sublime beauty.
You suggest several things here. I want to throw one in. One thing that I would encourage – take a sabbatical from the Internet and the online forums and the heat of all the debates. You can literally become distracted by all this coming at you. Do like Paul and stay away three years if you have to.
Dr. Craig: This was something that Pascal recognized as well in talking to the libertines of his day. The way in which we escape dealing with these deep questions of meaning in life and the existence of God is by cluttering our lives with distractions. I think you are absolutely right, Kevin. What I was trying to highlight here was another lesson that really comes out of Lewis’ life – realize that things like beautiful music and art and other experiences where we grasp the beautiful put us in contact with a kind of transcendent reality beyond scientific naturalism. Scientific naturalism can give you a description of the sunset in terms of the refraction of the light rays through the atmosphere and the dust and the geology of the surrounding countryside and so forth, but it can’t do anything to capture the beauty of the sunset. So if we can capture glimpses of this transcendent realm of beauty and value, I think this will prepare our hearts for a transcendent reality like God.
Kevin Harris: You recommended some symphonies and some other things. What did you recommend?
Dr. Craig: I recommended Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which I think is just beautiful. Then Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which has this violin that just weeps. It is so gorgeous when this refrain comes on with the violin. I find this kind of music just sublime. But of course everyone has his own favorites. But these were just some suggestions for Adam.
Kevin Harris: Sure, and you are being one-on-one with him now in this.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, very much so.
Kevin Harris: You said also for him to read the Gospels.
Dr. Craig: Yes.
Kevin Harris: Go back to Jesus and the character of Jesus.
Dr. Craig: Right. There is tremendous attraction in this man Jesus of Nazareth and the authenticity of his life. Such a courageous and bold man who faced his own death because of his radical personal claims and commitments and teachings. There is real authenticity here. There is wonderful wisdom as well. He was a really smart guy who confounded the religious leaders of his day. I think reading the Gospels, reading the life of Jesus, can really open one up to the truth of Christianity.
Kevin Harris: After that you said to go ahead and supplement the power of that with some resources that bolster the historical grounds for the resurrection, and you gave some resources.
Dr. Craig: Right. One of the things that I noticed about Adam’s question was he showed a familiarity with philosophical arguments for theism, but there was almost nothing in the letter that suggested that he had explored the historical credibility of the New Testament records of the life of Jesus, and particularly the central miracle of the New Testament – his resurrection from the dead. So I think Adam would do well to look into that. It really is quite remarkable, as I’ve said before, that the central facts that undergird the inference to the resurrection of Jesus are accepted by the majority of historical Jesus scholars today whether they be evangelical, non-evangelical, Christian, Jewish, or secular.
Kevin Harris: You gave him two more bits of advice. One:
5. Embark on a spiritual experiment. Begin to pray daily. Attend a church where the Gospel is faithfully preached and you can be with Christians to get to know them.
Do I see you saying: Go ahead and just put the ball in God’s court. Give God a chance.
Dr. Craig: Right. It may sound funny for an agnostic to pray to God. But I see no reason why an open agnostic cannot say, “God, if you are there, lead me to yourself. Show me the way.” And hope that that prayer will be answered. I think this is the way in which one opens oneself to this transcendent spiritual reality and to recognize your need of forgiveness and moral renovation by God.
Kevin Harris: The final bit of advice.
Dr. Craig: Right – was to get a copy of Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven.” I think that it describes so beautifully Adam himself – someone who is running from God and God is like this relentless hound pursuing him, after him, no matter where he goes, what he does, this hound is on his tracks and will not let him go until he finally recognizes in God that here is all that I’ve been longing for and never realized it. Although Francis Thompson’s poem is very sophisticated literarily – it is in a sense archaic in its poetry – if you take the time to read it and meditate on it, I think it is just a beautiful poem about God’s relentless pursuit of a lost soul until that person recognizes in God the fulfillment of human existence.
See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/you-have-ruined-my-life-professor-craig (accessed March 8, 2015).
See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god (accessed March 8, 2015).
http://www.amazon.com/Surprised-Joy-Shape-Early-Life/dp/0156870118/ (accessed March 10, 2015).
http://www.bartleby.com/236/239.html (accessed March 10, 2015).
Total Running Time: 18:57 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)
Total Running Time: 18:57 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)