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Counter Apologist Changes Tactics

An atheist blogger says he'll now attack Christianity at the weakest point. Dr. Craig is not impressed!


KEVIN HARRIS: We’ve talked about Counter Apologist before, Dr. Craig; some of his work we’ve interacted with. A thoughtful atheist who says that countering Christian apologetic arguments with logic, evidence, and reason is his main goal. But in a blog a couple of months ago[1] he is wondering why he should bother this whole enterprise. He says,

I'll be honest, lately I've been wondering about why I stay in the game.  I've gotten a bit sick of hashing through arguments that can never really be answered, which is what the overwhelming majority of arguments really hit on when it comes to philosophy of religion.

That's an opening salvo right there that you might want to address.

DR. CRAIG: I think that this is the nature of the discipline of philosophy. These are open-ended questions which are never finally and decisively resolved but which can be explored again and again in every generation. People who have inquiring and restless minds are eager to explore the deep intellectual issues. That's not just true of philosophy of religion but metaphysics as well. Theories about the nature of material composition, for example, or philosophy of mind for another example. These are open-ended questions which philosophers enjoy exploring because they think they're worth asking.

KEVIN HARRIS: If you'll pardon the pun, he's fine-tuning his approach. He says rather than just these vague theism or broader theism arguments that he's always running into, he wants to narrow that down to just the claims of the Christian faith as we’ll see as he says here at the end of this. But I think what got him frustrated is something that he read on Capturing Christianity or saw on their YouTube channel about divine hiddenness. In a sense we could go through the whole divine hiddenness of God – why isn't God more obvious, why doesn't God put a big glowing cross in the night sky, and things like that. He's using it as an example as to why he thinks it's the case that you can never get to the end of these arguments. He just says that Christian apologists are always going to find a way to get around whatever you come up with. And he's just getting tired of it.

DR. CRAIG: That in itself is not a bad thing. I mean, if you can find defeaters for ostensible defeaters of your position, that's what you should do. That's the way science works as well. But I think his real complaint is with a particular answer to divine hiddenness that has been, according to him, suggested by Michael Rea, a good Christian philosopher and friend of mine. I haven't read Rea on this so I can't testify to the accuracy of this blogger’s exposition, but what he says is that Rea responds to divine hiddenness basically by saying that God is so transcendent that his love and goodness are very, very different than love and goodness as we understand them. So God can do things like withhold knowledge of himself from people and still be loving and good in this sense that has a quite different meaning than what we would say a loving and good person would do. I personally don't think that's a good response to the divine hiddenness argument and would never use it. I have a quite different response to the argument, and so I'm inclined to agree with this blogger that if your solution to divine hiddenness is simply to affirm that God is not good and loving as we understand and use those terms then you've really shot yourself in the foot. That isn't a good response. I would tend to agree with him on that. I would want to disagree though where he says that this appeal to divine transcendence is familiar because it's the same kind of appeal that theists make in dealing with the problem of evil. He thinks that if God doesn't comport with our understanding of the concept of goodness then we just amend our definition of the concept so that it will apply to God and we just can't understand what it means to say God is good. That's not what the theistic responses to the problem of evil that he mentions here. Rather, in the work of a Christian philosopher like William Alston, what he points to are our inherent cognitive limitations like our limitedness in time and in space, in intelligence and insight. So we're simply not in a good position to make the sort of probability judgments that the atheist wants to make: namely, it is improbable that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing my daughter to get leukemia, or it's improbable that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing the Holocaust or any evil that you might want to pick. This is not an appeal to mystery. Not at all. It is an appeal to our inherent cognitive limitations that prevent us from making these kinds of extravagant probability judgments with any sort of confidence. That's a very good point. That's a good response to this probabilistic argument from evil – a response that atheists themselves recognize as legitimate in other contexts. For example, one of the most powerful objections to utilitarian ethical theory (which says that you should do that action which will bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people; that's what the right thing to do is – bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people) is that we are in absolutely no position to divine what would contribute to the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Something that in the short run really looks great, could in the long run set in motion forces that would be absolutely ruinous for mankind. Something that in the short term looks terrible might turn out to be a great boon for human flourishing. So utilitarian ethics it's just impossible because we're not in a position to make those kind of probability judgments. That's the same point that the theist is making in response to the problem of evil. So while I agree with him that the solution that he ascribes to Michael Rae is not a good one to the problem of divine hiddenness, I think he's quite mistaken in his representation of how theists typically respond to the problem of evil.

KEVIN HARRIS: Since we've kind of gone there, maybe we can just discuss Schellenberg's argument just a little bit. He says,

Schellenberg's argument is pretty straight forward - if god is supposed to be maximally loving as theists so define him, he would be open to a relationship with any human being who wants to be in a relationship with god. Problem is that there are beings who are non-believers who would be open to a relationship with god, and so that means no loving god exists.

On the face of it, you're going, well, okay, that tends to make sense. Then the second thing to ask is: does any such person exist? Is there a person that wants to have a relationship with God truly and yet God says no?

DR. CRAIG: There are a couple of weaknesses with Schellenberg's argument. One is that he assumes that we have no good evidence for God's existence. Philosophers who talk about the hiddenness of God are typically very weak on natural theology. They don't have cosmological, fine-tuning, moral arguments, ontological arguments for God's existence. But for the person who has a robust natural theology, as I do, God's existence is anything but hidden. The evidence is there for anyone who has eyes to see. So you've got to understand that the presupposition tacitly of this objection is that there is no evidence for God's existence. He's completely hidden, and I think that's just false. Now, if there is evidence for God's existence, as I think, then the question is to what degree is it probable that if God exists he would give more evidence of his existence than what he has given? If God exists, how probable is it that he would give more evidence than what he has given? Now, what this means in practice is if there is a God then how probable is it that he would give more evidence than the origin of the universe out of nothing at a point in the finite past, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life with a complexity and delicacy that defy human comprehension, the existence of a realm of objective moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us, the applicability of mathematics to the physical world enabling modern science to operate, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, as well as religious experience? I don't see that there's any great probability that if God existed he would give more evidence than that. That makes the argument from divine hiddenness, I think, very, very weak indeed because he can't demonstrate that it is highly probable that God would give much more evidence than what he has indeed given. But the second problem with the argument is that it seems to assume that people's station in life is simply the haphazard result of accident rather than divine planning. From a Christian point of view, that's false. God wants people to come to know him and build a relationship with him, and so he knows what gifts of grace, what evidences, what arguments to give to people that will be conducive to their coming to believe in him. I think that if there were someone who would come to know God personally if he were to get more evidence, God would give him that evidence because he loves him and he wants him to come to know him. The fact that there are many people who don't get more evidence would simply be indicative of the fact that God has so providentially arranged the world that anyone who would get more evidence than what he has wouldn't come to believe even if he had it, and so God knows it wouldn't do any good to offer such a person more evidence. God knows what amount of evidence to give everyone he creates the most conducive opportunity to come to know him. So once again you see the atheist finds himself saddled with probability judgments that are way, way beyond his kin. He would have to show that it is probable (highly probable) that if God were to offer more evidence of his existence that more people would come to freely know him and find salvation than those who do in the actual world. There's no way he can know that. It's pure conjecture.

KEVIN HARRIS: We could leave it right there and just build from there on contemplating the divine hiddenness argument. Another thing about it that occurs to me though is that Schellenberg and others who say that there exist people who want a relationship with God and yet God has denied them – it presumes that you have pulled back the curtain on everyone's heart and mind and you know what's going on to every person on the planet. The fact is we don't. It is a mystery, but there's something there in biblical theology that is shutting a person off from the love of God. They're shutting themselves off from the love of God.

DR. CRAIG: The Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish but that all reach repentance, that his desire is that everyone be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. So the only reason that people would fail to come to that knowledge of the truth and salvation is because ultimately they freely reject God.

KEVIN HARRIS: Real quickly, another one of his complaints from Counter Apologist, he says in the middle of page three,

Show a theologian a contradiction in their theology and they will not become an atheist, they will genuinely thank you for contributing to their work and accordingly amend their theology to avoid the contradiction.

DR. CRAIG: Now what's funny about that is that seems to be a compliment to theology! People like Lawrence Krauss boast of the grandeur and the greatness of science because it's always tentative, it's always provisional, and open to revision. So if a theory like Newtonian mechanics is refuted then science will develop a better theory. I think it's wonderful that theology exhibits this sort of flexibility in the face of argument to the contrary. I can think of examples in my own work. For example, divine eternity. Traditionally, God's relationship to time has been understood to mean that God is timeless – that he transcends time. But my argument is that since the moment of creation God has, in fact, entered into time and therefore God is temporal. God exists right now. If he offers arguments against, say, the timelessness of God in relation to events in the universe or God's knowledge, he's right. I'll say thank you. That helps me to understand better the nature of divine eternity. I guess what I'm saying here is that the concept of God is under-determined by Scripture. So Christian theologians enjoy a great deal of latitude in crafting their doctrine of God and having a rational and coherent view. That's not a weakness. That's a strength.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, I forgot to mention that he was saying that in context of you and mentions you. The line ahead of it says,

This is especially apt when it comes to debates about "does god exist"? Apologists like William Lane Craig claim that theism can be falsified if we were to show a logical contradiction in the concept of god, except that's not quite true.

Then he goes on to say, Show a theologian a contradiction and they'll say thank you, I'll revise my concept of God.

DR. CRAIG: And I think that he's quite right that in that case a theism that holds to a timeless God is falsified. I agree. It's not trying to weasel out of anything. I agree that some concepts of God are inadequate and there are good arguments against them. I don't hold to divine simplicity or divine immutability either. I would agree that those concepts of God are falsified.

KEVIN HARRIS: There is such a thing as making progress in philosophy, in your philosophy.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, absolutely. In that sense theology is like science. As Lawrence Krauss says, it's an open-ended inquiry that develops over time. I think that's what bothers me about this blogger. I sense a certain lack of intellectual curiosity on his part. He doesn't really care about these questions. He's just looking for a good refutation of theism or Christianity. So if these arguments go on endlessly, he says what's the point? Here's what he says: “The real winning move [that is, the real winning strategy] is just not to play.” You just don't think about these things. Well, yeah, if you are intellectually brain-dead or stagnant, yeah, don’t think about these things. Then you won't be troubled. But I'll tell you as a Christian philosopher and theologian that's not a piece of advice that I want to take. I don't care if these questions are open-ended and difficult to resolve. They're important (and interesting to boot), but I think it's so obvious for this fellow he has no interest, no intellectual curiosity, in the issues itself. He's just looking for a refutation.

KEVIN HARRIS: I do get the impression as well that he's saying, Look, I'm trying to get you guys to be atheist, and you're not doing it. So I'm taking my toys and going home. Anyway, he says,

This is why I believe it's time to switch gears and hit apologists where they are weakest.

A lot of these guys see this as a hobby (I got to find a new hobby).

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, right.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is of utmost importance.

Atheists have been too focused on trying to undercut all of religion by arguing for atheism.  The prize is so big that we are getting lulled into a game that cannot be won.

It's time to question what we want. I don't quite care so much if someone is a theist. I want to stop harmful beliefs prevalent in my culture that cause harm.  For me here in the US, that means undermining Christianity specifically.

DR. CRAIG: Right. He seems willing to give in the towel now about arguing against theism. He admits that the concept of God is too elastic to afford easy disproofs. So it's futile. Your disproofs are going to fail so let's just forget about arguing over theism. Let's go after Christianity.


So what's the goal? Don't aim at disproving god, aim at showing how poor an apologists justification is for believing in their specific religion. Attack the arguments for the resurrection and Christian specific doctrines. That's where they are at their weakest, and in any fight you always end up winning by hitting them where it hurts the most.

That's where I want to focus my attention going forward.

DR. CRAIG: He's certainly welcome to do so. It really surprises me, honestly, that here's a fellow who is willing to admit that the arguments for theism are stronger than the evidences for Jesus and for the resurrection! He thinks that's the weak link. Well, he's really put himself in a difficult position because if you argue for theism successfully, you're more than halfway there to getting Christianity. If you've got theism then your choices are going to be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or maybe deism of some sort. And of those I think Christianity is clearly the most plausible. I think the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus and the historical reliability of the Gospels are such that Christianity is very defensible against this fellow’s sort of skeptical attacks. So he has really adopted a losing strategy, I think, here. You give up on theism – yield on theism – then just try to fight the remaining parapets to prevent Christianity from being established. The problem is it is going to be much, much easier to establish Christianity if you’ve already got theism in place.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 22:18 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)