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Q&A on Purpose, Plantinga, and Research Habits

KEVIN HARRIS: Hey, there! Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. It’s Kevin Harris. I'm out in the backyard in Texas on a warm summer night with tons of fireflies flickering everywhere. We call them lightning bugs in East Texas; I don't know what you call them in your neck of the woods. The Big Dipper is overhead. There is a line of thunderstorms that could be heading this way so we may get some rain tonight. And we've all been hoping that the warmer weather is going to slow down the virus or maybe even get rid of it for a while. We're still going to have to wait and see on that. So many voices right now that are vying for the world's attention. We want to make sure that the voice of the cause of Christ is strongly heard from Reasonable Faith, and we want to put our resources to work for you. We appreciate your prayers. We appreciate your financial giving to keep us moving forward to keep us on the front lines. You can donate on our website at any time –

We are going to pick up where we left off last time. We got some questions from all over the globe, and we're going to start where we left last time from the last podcast. Dr. Craig is going to answer some more questions right here. Thanks for being here from Reasonable Faith.

Petre is working his way through On Guard. Actually he's got a lot of questions, but he's working his way through the book; so there it is.

What is the best way to seek answers to these questions? For example, God gives purpose to our life but we still have to determine what that purpose is. Why is God's purpose for our life different from a self-imposed purpose?

DR. CRAIG: Well, that's easy – because a self-imposed purpose is just made up. You didn't create yourself. There is no purpose for which you exist if there is no God. And just giving yourself a purpose is purely subjective. What we're looking for here is an objective purpose that is given to you by your Creator, and God's purpose is for you to know him. That is why he has created you. To know God – the greatest good, the supreme good – is the fulfillment of human existence. It's what we were made for.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

The book clearly indicates that immortality doesn't equal meaning or purpose. So why is God's purpose different from my own self-imposed purpose?

DR. CRAIG: It's the difference between being merely subjective and made-up (pretend) and being objective.

KEVIN HARRIS: Rebecca from the United States,

Hello, Dr. Craig. Thank you for your work. It has been instrumental in building the confidence I have in my faith. My question regards Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. It seems that if evolution were true that the faculty which comes to know the truth would more likely survive thus the discovery of truth would promote survival in reproduction. For example, if I came to know lions were dangerous, I would more likely survive than if I did not. Thus it seems that perhaps our reason can be trusted to inform us of truth if truth is the pressure that weeds us out. I know my thinking is flawed somewhere. Can you help me out with this? Thank you.

DR. CRAIG: I think Rebecca is very wise in saying “I know my thinking is flawed somehow.” In my own life I find that when I find myself disagreeing with Alvin Plantinga, I look for my mistake. And I think Rebecca is quite right in this. I would recommend his book Where the Conflict Really Lies where this argument is laid out in terms that laypersons can understand and also represents his most current thinking on the subject. He addresses Rebecca's question specifically. The question for those who aren't familiar with it is: If our cognitive faculties are selected by evolutionary processes for survival rather than for truth then what confidence can we have in the deliverances of our cognitive faculties including the conclusion that naturalism is true? Thus naturalism carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. If naturalism were true then we would have no grounds for regarding naturalism as true because our cognitive faculties are not aimed at truth but mere survival. Now, it's been said, as Rebecca says, But wait a minute! By having faculties aimed at survival they automatically are aimed at truth because if they're true you'll be more apt to survive. But Plantinga points out that's not right. The content of your beliefs is irrelevant. It is your behavior that matters and is selected for by evolution. So, for example, if when I see a lion I form the belief “There's a lovely kitty. How cute and wonderful. Let me pet him” but then my behavior causes me to run away then I'll survive. It's the behavior that is selected for, not the content of the belief. Indeed, on a naturalistic view, your belief states are causally effete. Mental states have no impact on anything. Everything is physically determined by nerves and neurons and brain states, not by these ephemeral mental states. So the contents of your belief have no effect on anything and hence are not selected for. What is selected for is your behavior, and as long as your behavior is conducive to survival it doesn't matter what you believe.

KEVIN HARRIS: Mike in the United States says,

Dr. Craig, how can God create separate consciousnesses – me and you? Is God consciousness itself? This self that I am – is that God inside of me? I have wondered this.

DR. CRAIG: I would say to Mike that God is himself a self-conscious mind. Just as I am a mind connected with this particular body, God is a mind which is unembodied. God is an unembodied, infinite self-conscious mind, and he can create other minds which are finite and, in our case, embodied minds. So it follows that, no, you are not God. You are not God incarnate. God is a distinct self – a distinct person from you with whom you stand in an I-thou relationship between persons or selves.


Dr. Craig, I recently watched a debate where an audience member asked about your belief in the separation of church and state. In summary, you explained how evangelical Christians vote for policy and not on the character of the individual. I have an extremely hard time stomaching the idea that someone could be a Christian and vote for someone like Donald Trump. Help. Thanks again for all you do and God bless.

DR. CRAIG: I would encourage Joseph to think about the policies of the candidates running for office rather than their personal lives. When Jimmy Carter was running for president, many of us were very excited because here was a man who was one of us – a born-again Christian, a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher, and it was exciting to think about him being president. But then after he was elected, in the opinion of many Carter turned out to be a weak and ineffectual president – a one-term president in the end. I think that many evangelicals saw that what really matters in your voting is the policies that the candidate stands for and will work for if elected rather than whether he shares your faith or he is the type of person that you like. With regard to President Trump, if you support the policies that he supports and you do not find yourself supporting the policies of his opponents then you should simply hold your nose and vote for him because it is the policies that ought to determine how you vote.

KEVIN HARRIS: Otherwise it's just a popularity contest.

DR. CRAIG: Isn’t that right, Kevin? It's like the high school student government election where you elect the popular gal or the popular guy in the school rather than someone who's actually going to stand for positions on particular issues. Obviously, it's not enough just to give lip service to a particular position. You have to be someone who can be counted on to carry through on that promise.

KEVIN HARRIS: One more question today. It says,

Dear Dr. Craig, you said about doubt that if doubt comes then research the matter or topic until you get satisfaction about the topic. So from your own advice, my question is what is your process of research and writing? How do you research, and how do you write? What do you do in pre-writing? What do you do while writing first draft? And what do you do after writing? How do you do analysis and evaluation? How should we think clearly when there are so much information overload, etc.? Please mention your process. This is Munaf from India.

DR. CRAIG: I really appreciate Munaf’s question. I think it's an important one. What I would encourage him to do is to begin the research on his topic of choice by looking at some important reference works on that. So, for example, if it's a topic that deals with philosophy then you will want to go right away to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and read the relevant entry or entries as the case may be. Appended to that article will be a bibliography. You can then begin to compile a bibliography of things that you want to read. In addition to that you'll want to read what are known as the most important works in that area. When you read, for example most recently for me on the doctrine of the atonement, inevitably St. Anselm’s Cor Deus Homo will be mentioned. So you will want to put that on your list to read that. Then other books will come up. What you'll find as you read is that you will find the same sources cited over and over again as the important go-to works. That's what you begin to collect in your bibliography. You begin to compile a bibliography of these works that are so frequently cited that you know these are the mainstays of the subject that need to be read. As you continue to read, what you begin to do is to identify certain questions within the area of research. So, for example, with regard to the atonement there will be biblical material pertinent to how atonement was understood in the New Testament. That will lead you then into atonement in the Old Testament, and so that will be a different bibliography – a bibliography devoted to biblical materials. But then there will also be legal literature pertinent to the theory of punishment, and there you will begin to compile a different bibliography on legal theory. Then there might be another area which would be on, for example, theological reflections on the atonement. What I find myself doing is having multiple bibliographies that are devoted to these separate questions. Currently within my work on the historical Adam I have a long biblical bibliography. Then I have several scientific bibliographies that are related to, for example, population genetics or another area would be archaeology or another area would be fossil evidence. And I have works that are listed under each of those. After you've read for some time and you've begun to master the literature in each area then you'll come to the point where you can begin to write. Now, what you should have been doing while you've been reading these works is taking notes on everything so that you will have extensive notes on your reading. These notes will include your own self-reflections on what you've read where you'll say, “Wait a minute, this doesn't follow logically. This is a mistake,” or some other sort of comment. And these will help you then in writing a first draft. What I would encourage you to do is to take just one of the areas and devote a chapter to that or a section to that and just put the other ones aside. Don't try to do it all at once. Just do one thing. So, for example, in my work on historical Adam I have now completed my biblical exegetical material. That's written up. I have the first draft done. Now I'm working on scientific evidence concerning human origins which is a quite different area. Then when you're done with one question then move to the next one. Write it up then move to the next one. Write it up and then when you're done then you can go back over the whole thing and revise and update and fill it out to bring it to its final form. That's the way I work, and I've found it to be pretty effective.

KEVIN HARRIS: I'm curious. Do you ever listen to any audio books or anything like that? Or are you pretty old school and you like the written page?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, I like the written page. I don’t listen to audio things or watch videos. I read. It’s much quicker.[1]


[1]           Total Running Time: 15:25 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)