05 / 06
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Has Science Made Faith in God Impossible?

William Lane Craig speaks at the Texas A&M University Veritas Forum

Time : 01:01:55

William Lane Craig speaks at the Veritas Forum held at Texas A&M University.


Thank you very much. It is a delight to be with you today, and to have the privilege of kicking off this Veritas Forum that we are having here at Texas A&M. I am looking forward to a good time, and I think that you have a great lineup of speakers coming with Michael Behe and Paul Vitz. These are first rate scholars that is a privilege to hear. So avail yourself of the opportunity of listening to these men.

Now the question that I have been asked to address this afternoon is the question whether science has made faith in God impossible. Now at one level the answer to that question is absurdly obvious. Sociologically, surveys consistently show that a substantial percentage of professional scientists are self-confessed theists. A survey published recently in the Chemical And Engineering News, for example, revealed that PhD scientists are just as likely to attend church as is the general U.S. population. This past year another survey indicated that the percentage of professional scientists who believe in a personal God who answers prayer is just as high today as it was back in 1900. So sociologically, at least, science has certainly not made faith in God impossible.

Indeed, during the last quarter of this century a flourishing dialogue between science and theology has arisen in North America and Europe. In a recent address entitled “From Entropy To God,” presented to the conference The History and Philosophy of Thermodynamics, the prominent British physicist P. T. Landsberg began his paper with these words,

To talk about the implications of science for theology at a scientific meeting seems to break a taboo. But those who think so are out of date. During the last 15 years, this taboo has been removed, and in talking about the interaction of science and theology, I am actually moving with a tide . . . [1]

Numerous societies for promoting this dialogue, such as The European Society for The Study of Science and Theology, The Science and Religion Forum, The Berkeley Center for Theology and Natural Science, and so forth have sprung up. Especially significant have been the ongoing conferences sponsored by the Berkeley Center and the Vatican Observatory in which prominent scientists like Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies have explored the implication of science for theology with prominent theologians, such as John Polkinghorne. Not only are there professional journals devoted to the promotion of this dialogue, such as Zygon, or Perspectives On Science and Christian Faith, but even more importantly secular journals, like Nature, and The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, also carry articles on the mutual implications of science and theology. The year before last Paul Davies, the author of books like The Mind of God and God and The New Physics, received the million dollar Templeton Award for his work in science and religion. In fact, the dialogue between science and theology has become so robust today that Cambridge University recently established a chair in science and theology.

I say all of this simply to underscore the point that as a simple matter of fact science has not made faith in God impossible. In his book, The Mind of God, Paul Davies reports,

I was astonished to discover how many of my close scientific colleagues practiced a conventional religion. . . . Among those scientists who are not religious in a conventional sense, many confess to a vague feeling that there is “something” below the surface reality of daily experience . . . There is no greater misconception about scientists than the widespread belief that they are cold, hard, soulless individuals. [2]

Indeed, not only has science not made faith in God impossible, but I think it can be plausibly argued that quite the opposite is true – that faith in God has made science possible.

As Thaxton and Pearcy point out in their recent book The Soul of Science [3], for over 300 years, from the rise of modern science in the 1500’s until the late 1800’s, the relationship between science and religion can best be described in terms of an alliance. Historians of science now recognize the indispensable role played by the Christian faith in the rise and development of modern science. [4] You see, modern science did not originate in the Orient, or in Africa, but in Western civilization. Why is this so? Well, it is due at least in large part to the unique contribution of the Christian faith to Western culture. In contrast to Eastern religions and folk religions, Christianity does not view the world as divine or as inhabited by spirits, but rather as the natural product of a transcendent creator who designed and brought it into being, and thus the world is a rational place which is open to exploration and discovery. Did you know that up until the late 1800’s scientists were typically Christian believers who saw no conflict whatsoever between their science and their Christian faith – people like Kepler, Boyle, Maxwell, Faraday, Kelvin, and others.

The idea of a warfare between science and religion is actually an invention of the late 19th century, a cultural myth which was carefully nurtured by secular thinkers who wanted to undermine the cultural dominance of Christianity and to replace it with a worldview of scientific naturalism, that is to say, the view that only the physical world is real and that the only way to truth is through science. Now they were remarkably successful in pushing through their agenda during the first half of this century, but philosophers of science during the second half of this century have recognized that the whole scientific enterprise is based upon certain assumptions which cannot be proved scientifically but which are guaranteed by a Christian worldview. For example, things like the laws of logic, the orderly nature of the external world, the reliability of our cognitive faculties in knowing the world, the validity of inductive reasoning, the objectivity of the moral values used in science. And I want to emphasize that science could not even exist without these assumptions, and yet these assumptions cannot be proven scientifically. They are philosophical assumptions which are, interestingly enough, part and parcel of a Christian worldview.

Thus, Christianity is an ally to science, in that it can furnish a conceptual framework in which science can flourish. More than that the Christian religion historical did furnish the framework in which modern science was born and nurtured. Thus, in a sense, faith in God has actually served to make science possible.

Now maybe at this point somebody will say, alright, alright, granted, clearly science has not in fact made faith in God impossible – but it should. For God’s existence cannot be proved by the scientific method, and we shouldn’t believe anything which cannot be proven by the scientific method. Therefore, science should make faith in God impossible.

There seem to be two assumptions which underlie this sort of objection. Number one, it assumes that the existence of God cannot be proven by the scientific method. But why should we think that? If, by the scientific method, you mean, inference, validly, to a conclusion based on premises which are empirically justified and testable, then I think that this first assumption is simply false. I think that in that sense there is good evidence for God’s existence, in fact I would say that the existence of God is just as plausible as, for example, the Big Bang origin of the universe. Now I am not going to be discussing this first assumption here this afternoon but this evening I will be addressing some of the reasons why I think it is rational and plausible to believe that God exists. [5]

But wholly apart from that first assumption, what about that second assumption, that is, that the only way to discover truth is through the scientific method. And this is the assumption that I would like to examine with you this afternoon. What the objector is really proposing here is a sort of criterion of rationality – what it is to be rational. And he is basically saying that we should not believe anything unless it can be scientifically proven. If you believe in something that cannot be scientifically proven then you are irrational, you are transgressing the boundaries of rationality.

But the problem with this assumption is that philosophers of science and philosophers working in epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, have shown that such a criterion of rationality is hopelessly flawed, and I think this can be shown clearly in two ways.

First of all, there are other types of truth than just scientific truth. In other words, the criterion is too restrictive. It is very easy to show that there are truths which are not scientifically proven but which we all accept and which we are completely rational in doing so. Now we might grant that the scientific method is the best way to get at scientific truth, or even empirical truth. But it doesn’t follow from that that it should be the model for our knowledge of all truth.

I am reminded of a story told by the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle which I think illustrates this point very well. Ryle told of a bursar at Oxford University who claimed to know everything about the university. He said he knew every single thing there was to know about Oxford. And we might respond to this by saying that this is obviously ridiculous. What does that bursar know, for example, about Spinoza’s Tractatus sitting in the library, or what does he know about Professor Swinburne’s lecture last Thursday, or what does he know about the flowers in the garden at Magdalen College. Obviously there are things about the university that this bursar doesn’t know. But the bursar would respond to that, “Oh, no, I know all about these things. I know exactly how much it costs the university to purchase Spinoza’s Tractatus and how much it costs the university to house it in the library; moreover, I know exactly how much the university paid Professor Swinburne for his lecture last Thursday, and as for the flowers in Magdalen College, I can tell you exactly how much we pay the gardener to tend them and how much the seedlings cost. I know all about these things.”

Now, we would simply laugh, I think, at a bursar who said that. It is evident that he knew something about everything at the university, but he only knew it from one aspect, the financial aspect. And obviously he knew nothing at all about Spinoza’s ideas that are expressed in the Tractatus, or about the truth of Professor Swinburne’s lecture last Thursday, or about the beauty of the flowers in the garden at Magdalen College. He knew all about the university from one aspect only, the financial aspect.

Now, in exactly the same way, it is conceivable that there might be some scientific truth about everything that exists, but that would only be one aspect of the truth, the scientific aspect, and there is no reason to think that that gives us the whole truth about reality. The fact is that there other areas of truth as well. This is already obvious, for example, in the areas of logic and mathematics. There are logical and mathematical truths which are part and parcel of the scientific method, but these cannot be proved empirically. And, in addition to that, there are other areas of truth as well that we might mention, for example, ethics.

From a scientific description you can make no inference whatsoever about statements of value, about good and evil, or right and wrong. This is the old distinction between what is and what ought to be. You can describe what is the case scientifically, but you cannot tell us what ought to be done or what ought to be the case. [6]That is a statement of value, or ethics. Thus the whole realm of ethical inquiry is closed to the scientific method.

This has shattering implications for science. For the whole scientific enterprise is based on the assumption that one’s scientific research is carried out and reported honestly. And if that ethical maxim is not followed it will bring chaos to science. For example, recently in this country there have been a rash of incidents where, for example, graduate students have faked reports, or plagiarized reports in order to get their degrees, or even professional researchers have fudged the results in order to obtain funding from the government. And yet this whole area of the ethical code of conduct is something that science cannot determine.

Or to give another example, the whole question of what it is permissible to do to animals in scientific research. Are you allowed to just do anything you want, to torture or kill an animal, in any way you want in scientific research? That is not a scientific question, that is an ethical question that science really cannot speak to. And if one denies that there is any ethical truths about these sorts of things, then there can be no objection to using human beings as human guinea pigs in this sort of medical research. The world was horrified when it learned that at camps like Auschwitz and Dachau Nazi scientists had used prisoners for medical experiments on living human beings. For example, at Auschwitz, Mengele took pregnant women and used them for vivisection. I mean the horror of what went on in these camps is almost inconceivable. And yet what could you do to prove scientifically to these Nazi scientists that what they were doing was wrong? What experiments could you perform, what data could you gather, to prove that this is morally wrong? Moral values are not found in a test tube. The point is this, there are ethical truths and yet these are not open to being proven scientifically.

A second area is the area of aesthetics. Like the good, the beautiful cannot be determined by the scientific method. Imagine you are sitting on the side of a mountain side looking at a beautiful sunset. Now you could give a scientific description of that sunset in terms of the refraction of the sun’s rays through the dust in the atmosphere, you could give a description of the fauna and the flora that populate the mountainside, you could give a geological description of the plate tectonic processes that formed the mountains and the processes of erosion that formed the valleys, and yet you would not have said anything whatsoever about the beauty of that scene before you. Because the whole realm of the aesthetic, of the beautiful, is not open to the scientific method. And yet think of the place that this aesthetic intuition plays in the life of mankind. The whole artistic impulse of man springs from this aesthetic intuition. Music, just think of the realm of music alone, art, painting, sculpture, film, architecture, poetry, and on and on. Try to imagine, if you could, a world devoid of aesthetic intuition and values. That would be the scientific world. And yet even scientists themselves do not shun aesthetic judgments in their work. Very frequently you will hear equations described as being elegant or beautiful. Indeed, as you well know, some scientists actually propose beauty as being one of the main tests for the truth of a scientific theory. Thus there are aesthetic truths, and I think we all intuitively know it. There is an objective difference between the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and the ceiling in this room. And yet this whole realm of the aesthetic is closed to the scientific method and scientific proof.

Number three, metaphysics. There are truths about the nature of reality which we all accept and yet which cannot be scientifically proven. [7] For example, how do you know that you are not a brain in a vat? Maybe you are just a brain in a vat of chemicals being stimulated with electrodes by some mad scientist to make you think that you are sitting here in this room hearing this lecture. In fact, he might even be stimulating you to think right now that it is impossible that you could be a brain in a vat. There is no way scientifically to disprove such a hypothesis. Or take the belief that the world was created five minutes ago; how could you prove scientifically that the world was not created five minutes ago with built-in memory traces in our brains, food in our stomachs from lunches that we never really ate, and other appearances of age? Again, there is no way to prove scientifically such a metaphysical belief. Or what about even the belief that the external word exists – how do we know that the external world is not just an illusion? There is no way to prove that there really is a spacetime world out there, scientifically. Or the belief that other minds exist cannot be proven scientifically. Other persons could just be mindless automata whose behavior exactly mimics your behavior as an organism having a mind. There is no way to prove scientifically that other minds even exist.

Now you might be saying to yourself right now, these are questions which only some sort of crack-brained philosopher could entertain. But then you would be missing my point. I am not at all suggesting that these are serious beliefs that you ought to entertain or that you ought to doubt your beliefs about the reality of the external world and other minds. You would have to be crazy to think that you were a brain in a vat! Of course the world has existed for longer than five minutes. Rather, what I am trying to show is that these are what philosophers call properly basic beliefs, beliefs which cannot be proven on the basis of some other belief, but nevertheless which we are all rational to accept as part of the foundations of our cognitive structure.

Finally, number four, science itself. This is perhaps the most amazing paradox of all, that science itself cannot be justified by the scientific method. So that if you say that you should only believe that which can be scientifically proven, you would throw out science altogether. This can be shown in two ways.

First of all, science is permeated with assumptions which cannot be scientifically proven, and yet which lie at the root of scientific theories. Let me give just three examples.

Number one, the Copernican Principle. The Copernican Principle states that we occupy no special or privileged place in the universe. This principle underlies all of modern astronomy and astrophysics, otherwise you could say that distant galaxies run on entirely different laws of nature than the ones that we know here on earth. And yet the Copernican Principle is something than cannot be proved scientifically, it is simply an assumption that you have to make.

Secondly, the Continuum Hypothesis. According to the Continuum Hypothesis, between any two points on a line there is always another point. This underlies all of modern spacetime theories in physics, and yet again it is a hypothesis which simply cannot be proven scientifically.

Or thirdly, the constancy of the one-way velocity of light. You cannot measure the one-way velocity of light, all we can measure is the round-trip velocity of light as it goes on an out and return journey. But we have to simply assume that the speed at which it travels on its outward bound leg is the same as the speed thta it travels on its return leg, but there is no way to prove that assumption, that light has a constant one-way velocity. And yet this assumption lies at the root of the Special Theory of Relativity, which is one of the main pillars of modern physics.

So in these and many other ways, science has untestable, unprovable assumptions which lie at the very root of scientific theories about the world.

A second way in which science cannot be justified by the scientific method is that the scientific method itself cannot be justified scientifically. This is the old problem of induction. Just because every A has always been followed by B in the past, doesn’t mean that in the future the next A is going to be followed by B. [8] It is possible that we are simply at the beginning of a long series of chaotic A’s and B’s and this first sample in the long chaotic series just happened to be ordered A-B, A-B, A-B and thus there is no way to justify scientifically inductive reasoning. You have to simply assume that there is some sort of principle of regularity governing events and that our sample is typical.

And so in all of these different ways – ethics, aesthetic, metaphysics, science itself – our knowledge is predicated upon truths which cannot be proven scientifically, and yet which are part and parcel of what we know about the world.

Now I want to be very clear that in sharing these things I am not trying to reduce you to skepticism. Rather, what I am trying to do is help you to realize why this criterion of rationality is hopelessly over-restrictive. It simply cannot account for all of the ways of knowing truth and all of the types of truth that there are to be known, and therefore it ought to be rejected.

A second problem with this criterion for rationality is that, in the end, it is self-contradictory. No more damning charge can be leveled against a view than this, for if something is self-contradictory then it cannot be true. And it is evident that this position is in fact self-contradictory. For simply ask yourself the question, “Is the statement, ‘We should only believe that which can be scientifically proven’ itself scientifically provable? Well quite evidently not, it is just an arbitrary admonition, and not even a very good one at that, as we have seen. And therefore by its own lights, since it cannot be scientifically proven, we should not believe in it. And thus either way the statement turns out to be self-refuting: if it is false, it is false, but if it is true, then its false. So either way it is false, we would be irrational on the basis of that criterion to believe in that criterion. And therefore it simply cannot be accepted.

The point is this. Epistemologists today recognize that there are properly basic beliefs which cannot be proven scientifically and yet which we are entirely within our rational rights to accept and believe in. Now the laymen would probably say that we believe in these things by faith, but I think that it would be better to say that they are part of the deliverances of reason itself, they are things that reason delivers to us as part of the foundations of our cognitive structure.

Now, how is this relevant to belief in God? Well, very simply it raises the question: why can’t belief in God also be a properly basic belief? This does not mean that belief in God would be arbitrary or capricious any more than my belief in the reality of the external world or the existence of other minds is arbitrary. Rather, just as those beliefs are grounded in my experience of the world and of other persons, so my belief in God’s existence can be grounded in my experience of God himself.

Jesus of Nazareth said, “if any man’s will is to do God’s will then he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I am just speaking on my own authority.” [9] According to the New Testament, God, by his Spirit, speaks to the heart of every person whom he has created, convicting that person and drawing that person to himself. If you respond to this drawing spiritually of God’s Spirit on your heart with an open mind and an open heart then God will make his reality evident to you. This is an experience which I have had in my own life.

I, myself, was not raised in a church going family or a Christian home. But I always sensed as I looked out at the world around me, the stars at night, that there had to be a God, it all had to come from somewhere. But this God was not real in my experience, it was just a far off concept that was the creator of the world. But when I became a teenager I began to ask what I call the big questions in life: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” And in the search for answers I began to attend the large local church in our community. [10] But instead of answers what I found, frankly, was just a sort of social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate. And the other high school students who claimed to be so religious on Sunday lived for their real god the rest of the week in high school, which was popularity. And that really bothered me because I felt so spiritually empty inside, and yet externally at least I was leading a more moral life than these people were who claimed to be Christians. And I thought to myself, they are all just a bunch of hypocrites, they’re phonies, they must be even emptier inside than I am, but they are putting up this fake religious mask to the world. And I began to become very bitter toward other persons – everybody, I thought, is really a fake and a hypocrite, they are all putting up plastic masks and the real authentic person is afraid to come out and be known, he is cowering down inside. And so I began to become, quite frankly, and very alienated young man. I plunged myself into my studies and into my work in order to escape from other people. And yet at the same time I sensed a need in my own life to love and to be loved, and I realized that I was just as much a fake as they were because I was pretending not to need them but in my own heart I sensed that need for love and companionship as well. And so I realized really that I was a phony as well; I was a hypocrite. And I don’t know if you know what this is like, but this kind of bitterness and despair just eats away at your insides, day after day.

And finally, one day I was feeling particularly miserable, I walked into my German class and sat down behind a girl who is one of these types, you know, that is always so happy that it just makes you sick! And I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around and I said to her, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about for anyway?” And she said to me, “Well, Bill, it is because I am saved.” And I said, “You are what?” And she said, “I know Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” And I said, “Well, I go to church.” And she said, “That is not enough, Bill. You have got to have him really living in your heart.” And I said, “Well, what would he want to do a thing like that for?” And she said, “Because he loves you, Bill.” And that just hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was so filled with anger and bitterness and she said there was someone who really loved me, and who was it but the God of the universe. And that thought staggered me, to think that the God of the universe could love that worm named Bill Craig down there on that speck of dust called planet earth.

And so that began for me a profound spiritual search that lasted about six months. I read the New Testament from cover to cover, and no matter what the people in church said, what I could not deny was that there was an authenticity and a reality about Jesus of Nazareth that I had not seen in these people who claimed to be his followers. And this girl introduced me to other Christians in the high school, and I had never met people like this, it seemed like they were in touch with a plane of reality that I didn’t even know existed and that I wanted to know as well.

Well, at the end of about six months of the most intense soul searching, I simply came to the end of my rope and I just cried out to God and yielded my life to him. I cried out the anger and the bitterness that was in me, and I felt a tremendous infusion of joy just filling me up like a balloon being blown up until it was ready to burst. And I ran outside, it was a warm September night, and it was one of those Midwestern evenings where you could see the stars of the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. I looked up at the stars and thought, God, I have come to know God. And that moment changed my whole life. From then on I realized that if this message were really the truth I could do nothing less than devote my entire life to sharing this message with other people. And it has been now 30 years since that night in 1965 that changed my life forever, and God became for me in that moment a living reality, a reality which has never left me and that I have walked with day by day by day for over those 30 years.

Now in this kind of case, what this means is that, even though there may be proofs and evidence for God, as I think there are, they have to take a back seat to the experience of knowing God personally. To give an illustration, suppose you wanted to know whether the boss was in the office. And so you went to the office where he works and you ask the secretary, is the boss in? And she says, yes, I just spoke with him, he is in his office now, and you see the light under the door, and maybe you hear voices of someone talking on the telephone, and these would give you good empirical grounds for believing that the boss is in fact in the office. [11] But there is something else you could do. You could go up to the door, knock on the door, and meet the boss face to face. And in that case, even though all the evidence is still valid – of the secretary’s testimony, the light under the door, the voices on the telephone – although that evidence is still valid, you would not longer believe that the boos is there on the basis of that evidence because now you have met him face to face. And in exactly the same way, once you have met God face to face the proofs for the existence of God, though still cogent and valid, take something of a backseat.

Well now does this mean, then, that the Christian just believes in the existence of God by faith? Well, I think that would be misleading. I think that, for the Christian, God’s existence is part of the deliverances of reason, it is a properly basic belief, just like belief in the reality of the external world or the reality of the past. Faith, in the true biblical sense of the term, means trust or commitment. In the biblical sense of the word it is entirely possible to believe that God exists but to not reality believe in God, in the sense of having trust or commitment to him. In fact, I think most people probably find themselves in this situation. They believe that there is a God but he is not a reality in their experience day by day. He has not transformed their lives. In the biblical sense of the word, true faith involves not just believing that God exists but committing one’s life to him and walking with him day by day.

So, in conclusion, what we’ve seen, I think, this afternoon is that as a simple matter of fact science has not made faith in God impossible, as is evident from the large number of believing scientists today. On the contrary faith in God has actually make science possible, both historically and conceptually speaking. And finally we have seen that the scientific method in no way undermines belief in God because there are beliefs about the world which cannot be scientifically proven but which we are entirely rational in accepting. The laymen might say that we accept these things by faith, but I would prefer to say they are among the deliverances of reason. And in the same way the person who experiences God as a living reality in his life knows God in such a way that for him God’s existence is a properly basic belief. And thus I think it would be more accurate and less misleading to say that belief in the existence of God is among the properly basic deliverances of reason, and that faith is that relation of love, trust, and commitment which ought to characterize our walk with God.



[The questions are inaudible – Dr. Craig will repeat the questions in his microphone before he goes on to answer each one.]

DR. CRAIG: The question was, are there some parts of the Christian faith that are unreasonable and that your faith needs to overcome that? No, I do not. I think that God is the paradigm of rationality, that the laws of logic and mathematics are simply expressions of the mind of God himself, and that therefore anything that is irrational is something that is not a reflection of God. Logic itself is expressive of the way God’s mind is. So I would say that there isn’t any aspect of Christianity that is irrational and that needs to be overcome by some kind of arational leap of faith or something of that sort. If that is what faith is, then I would say that faith is irrational and that we shouldn’t do such a thing, that we shouldn’t behave irrationally. So that would be in short my answer to that question.

DR. CRAIG: The question was, I don’t believe in blind faith. No, I don’t. I do believe that God’s existence is a properly basic belief, as I have explained. But I differentiate that from blind faith, which would be more like, say, faith in the great pumpkin that Linus has, or some other belief that has no ground for it, and that is not what I mean by a properly basic belief. So I would disagree with those who say that you should make some sort of leap in the dark which is arational and ungrounded and arbitrary. [12]

DR. CRAIG: OK, the question is, how would I answer someone who says that this type of defense of Christianity leads to subjectivism? I suppose what I would do would be to say that if there is someone else who has such a claim, say a counter-Christian claim, and they claim that it is properly basic, then what I would do is say that that doesn’t do anything to undermine the rationality of my own belief. For example, imagine that there are three bottles on the table all filled with a clear liquid, and they are all carrying the label H2O, and yet only one of the bottles has H2O in it, the others have poison in it. Does the fact that two of the bottles have false labels do anything logically to undermine the truth of the label that is on the bottle of water? Well, not at all, as far as I can see. Now in a similar way, the fact that other people might make claims to properly basic beliefs that are inconsistent with mine doesn’t do anything logically to undermine the rationality of my holding to that belief. Now the question would arise, though, how would I show that other person that my belief is true, and there I differentiate between knowing that my faith is true and showing that my faith is true. I know my faith is true because of the proper basicality of God’s witness and work in my life, but to show someone else that it is true it is not enough just to appeal to that experience. There I would appeal to evidence and argumentation, such as I am going to be talking about this evening. And I would invite him to share with me his argument and evidence for his view, and then we would say, all right, now which person has the best evidence and argument. So there is a difference, you see, between knowing your faith to be true and showing your faith to be true, and so long as there is that objectivity of the evidence in showing your faith to be true I think you can overcome the danger of subjectivism that you raised.

DR. CRAIG: The question was, what would you say to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to be true? How would you begin to show this person that the Christian faith it true? Well, just think about this for a minute. Obviously, if this person is not a Christian, obviously he doesn’t believe the Bible is true. I mean if he believed the Bible were true then he would be a Christian.

[person asks a followup question]

All right, now I wasn’t talking about the first type of individual, for example, someone who, maybe, is in a cult, who accepts the Bible and believes it, but interprets it in a bizarre fashion, like David Koresh or Jim Jones or someone of that sort. I was talking about your modern secularist, your modern secular person who is not a Christian and obviously doesn’t believe the Bible because he thinks it is just a bunch of fairy tales or something of that sort. What you have to do is you have to offer some reasons to this individual as to why he should think that the Bible is true. And so what you would have to engage in there would be some historical research. Now this is where the Christian enjoys an advantage that is very unusual compared to other world religions in that the Bible, and the New Testament especially, is not a book of religious philosophy, or a book of mythology, or a book of ethics, it is a history book. It talks about real people, like Pontius Pilate and Herod and Caiaphas and so forth, that you can read about in secular literature, you can read about these people in Josephus, for example, the Jewish historian. It talks about actual places and events that have been excavated archaeologically. It talks about real geographical locales that you can identify and so forth. So that because it is historical in nature you can provide a historical justification. And so what I would do with an individual like that is to say, are you at least open to the possibility that the Bible is historically true? And if they are open to that I would begin to share with them some of the evidence for why I think that the Gospel records of the life and teachings and particularly the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are historical reliable documents. [13] Not appealing to these as some sort of holy inspired documents, but just as documents coming down to us out for the 1st century on the level of Josephus, or Tacitus, or Polybius, or other ancient writers, and say assess them by the ordinary cannons of historiographical inquiry, and I think you will see that they give us a faithful, reliable, life of Jesus. And once you do that then you are confronted with the question, well then, who do you say that this man is? Was he a madman, was he some sort of a blasphemer, or was he actually who he claimed to be, the absolute revelation of God, the only Son from the Father come to reveal God and his new covenant to mankind? And that forces you to come face to face with that question, about the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. That was the question that I faced when I began to read the New Testament and was so captivated by this man and his teachings. So you would just have to do some good historical work here. A good book on this, if you are interested, would be one by R. T. France called The Life of Jesus. He is a British New Testament scholar, it is a wonderful little book, very balanced and very fair, I think, in its assessment of the biblical evidence, the Jewish evidence, the pagan evidence for Christ, and then the extra-biblical Christian evidence for the life of Jesus. The Life of Jesus by R. T. France.

DR. CRAIG: In a sense, to try to repeat the question, it is, can we take the Bible to be in every case, literally true, as it’s stated? And what I want to suggest to you is that the answer is, “no.” You should not take the Bible as what it literally says. And I think that I can show this to you very easily. In the Psalms, for example, the psalmist said, let the trees of the wood clap their hands before the Lord with joy. [14] Now does that mean that the Bible teaches botanical knowledge that trees have hands? Well, obviously not. This is poetry when the psalmists speaks of the trees of the wood rejoicing before the Lord and so forth. Or in the book of Revelation. I remember when I first read the book of Revelation as a young Christian, I thought that it meant that there were literally going to be these nine-headed monsters that were going to come up out of the oceans, you know, up onto the beach and take over the world and stuff. And yet even the most conservative fundamentalists would interpret these as being images of, say, national coalitions of powers, not being literal dragons or dinosaur-like creatures that are coming up out of the ocean. Why? Well because the type of literature that the book of Revelation is is apocalyptic literature, that is to say, it is literature that was common in Judaism at that time where you would use symbols of different things.

So you cannot naïvely just interpret the Bible at face value in every case. You always have to ask yourself, what is the genre of the literature that I am reading here? Now, in one sense, you are at a disadvantage because you are teaching very tiny children, and when you read tiny children, say, Aesop’s fables, you generally do not talk to them about, well, now, can foxes and crows really talk to each other – is this really medically possible for the fox to speak like this? – because that is not what you are trying to communicate. But clearly nobody who understands Aesop’s fables would take them at face value, they are attempting to teach moral lessons, not lessons about animal biology.

So the question is, when you come to something like, say, Genesis chapter 1, is this meant to be a literal sort of report or could this be written in some sort of dramatic or symbolic language or something of that sort. And that is a question which I think Christians differ on, and I think there is latitude here, there is room for interpretation. Some Christians say it is meant to teach a six day, 24-hour day, literal creation week. But a great many Christians would say, no, these refer to, say, long periods of time, and the days are not meant to be 24-hour days, or they might be literary metaphors. This isn’t some kind of concession that has been forced by modern science. If you read the church fathers, men like Origin and Augustine and Basil and other church fathers writing in the 300’s and 400’s A.D., took these in non-literal ways, to be long periods of time. If you read rabbis back in the early centuries, typical rabbinical exegesis did not take Genesis 1 to be teaching literal 24-hour successive creation days. [15] So both Judaism and the church have from time immemorial interpreted these passages in different ways, not just as literal six-day creations days.

So that is a question on which, I think, there is room for discussion and debate, and it would be wrong, I think, for anyone to say that this is the correct interpretation of these passages and unless you fit in this box then I am going to exclude you as being in some way heretical or less then biblical or something. This is the whole science of hermeneutics, how you interpret literature correctly. And the idea that you just kind of open a book, read a verse, and claim it, is just naïve hermeneutically. We need to learn something about literature and how to interpret literature according to the genre in which it is written.

So that would be my answer, I guess, is that it is a more subtle question then what might,, at face, value appear.

[another followed question is asked]

Well, the truth would be what the author intended to communicate. For example, let me give you another illustration. When Jesus says, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds, you can move mountains. [16] He wasn’t trying to teach botany to the disciples. It would be pedantic for someone to say, “Ah-ha! There is some South American fern that has a smaller seed than a mustard seed. Here is an error in the Bible.” Or that faith can move mountains; he is not making a statement about geology there, clearly. That would be to totally misunderstand what Jesus is trying to teach. He is not trying to teach botany or geology, he is trying to teach a lesson about fait – that if you have faith in God, however weak and frail, God can do great things through that faith. So what you need to do is to try to get at, what is the intent of the original author in writing these things, and that is the truth that is communicated there. So you have to do it on a case by case basis.

DR. CRAIG: The question is, what is solipsism? Solipsism is something that nobody believes in. It is the view that I talked about, in a sense, earlier in the lecture. It is the view that I alone am real and that everything else is an illusion, everything else is a projection of my mind. I am the only thing that exists. You understand? One women, I think, commented once to Bertrand Russell about why there weren’t more solipsists about. Well, you know, think about it. [laughter] So this is one of those views that philosophers use more as a foil for arguments than as a serious alternative. In the same way that I used it here today to say, how can you prove scientifically that solipsism is false? Well you can’t scientifically. That would be one of those metaphysical beliefs that are part of the foundations of rationality but can’t be proved scientifically. And so there is no really inherent connection between that and existentialism, I don’t think.

[a followup question is asked]

Yeah, well see, in a sense he is making the same point I am, is that you cannot refute solipsism by appealing to scientific evidence because any evidence that you appeal to, like pain when you touch something, or somebody else you hear them, they will say, well that is illusory too. And what this shows is not that solipsism might be true, you would be crazy to believe that you are the only reality, you know? You would be a very lonely person. But what it shows is that this criterion of rationality that characterizes enlightenment modernism is untenable; namely, that science and science alone is the way to know truth and that you should not believe anything that cannot be scientifically proven. And that is why we are living in what many people are referring to as a post-modern age, because modernism and its criterion of rationality, namely this scientism, has collapsed in the later half of the 20th century and virtually everybody at the university knows it. Now many people think that because of the collapse of modernism that we need to go into a kind of post-modernity which is utterly irrationalistic, that there is no objective truth, that anything goes, so to speak. But I don’t think that follows at all, and I would argue that what we need to do is to go to a theistic kind of epistemology, such as I have tried to outline here today, where God has created us with certain cognitive structures and mechanisms that if they function in the way God designed them to then we will be rational and we will get at truth. [17] But you have really hit on this whole issue of modernism and post-modernism that is so much in discussion today.

DR. CRAIG: If you say some parts of the Bible are literal and some are not then how do you draw the line where those parts are? This is a question, in all due respect, that is almost always asked by people who have never studied hermeneutics, who have never, say, gone and studied a course in literary criticism or something. What you do is you identify the genre of the literature that you are reading and then you interpret it accordingly. When you read poetry, you don’t read it like a police report. But when you read a police report, well then you do read it as being factual. Now when it comes to say something like the book of the Acts of the Apostles, you are clearly reading there history. It is of the genre of history. Luke writes in the same fashion as, say, Thucydides, or Caesar, or any of the other ancient historians. And when you test Acts for the accuracy of its historicity against secular history it passes the test with flying colors. So it is a matter of just determining what kind of literature you are working with, and that is how you will interpret it then. And with respect to the Gospels, I would say the genre of writing that the Gospels most resemble in the ancient world would be the genre of ancient biography, things like the Lives of the Caesars, Plutarch’s Lives, for example, and so forth. And this is important because ancient biography had certain standards by which it was written which are different from modern biography. Ancient biography did not aim to tell the story of its hero from cradle to grave, so to speak, but rather it would tell anecdotes about the hero to illustrate important facets of his character and personality. And thus in the Gospels, for example, you don’t always find birth stories, or a detailed history of Jesus during his childhood. They typically begin with his ministry. And that would be more in line with ancient biography than, say, modern biography. So it is all based on hermeneutics and the kind of literature you are reading. And a good book on this, if you are interested, would be one by Grant Osborne, which is called simply Hermeneutics. I think that is the title of it. [18] He teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has authored a big text on hermeneutics. Grant Osborne, if you are interest in learning more about that.

DR. CRAIG: The question is basically asking between the relationship between hope and faith as a foundation for belief. This is a profound question, and my inclination off the top of my head would be to say that hope has to be based upon facts, otherwise it is hard to distinguish hope from mere wishful thinking, just sort of whistling in the graveyard as you walk past. Biblical hope is a confidence in the future that is grounded on certain facts which are well established. And so I certainly think that hope is an important virtue in the religious life, hope for the future rather than despair, especially in circumstances when things are going bad, to have hope and optimism for the future, but if that is to be distinct from just wishful thinking or self-delusion, it needs to be a well-grounded hope. And there I guess I would go back again, I would go back to the facts that we talked about before, of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, as providing a historical foundation for hope and for faith. So I would see faith and hope both in the same way, both faith and hope have to be based on facts if they are not to be just wishful thinking or delusion. And that is why I would encourage you, if you haven’t done so, to pick up the New Testament and begin to read the Gospel of John and ask God to speak to you as you read this Gospel. I believe that if you come with an open heart and an open mind that God will speak to you as you read this, and that if you are interested in studying further you can study some of the historical grounds for believing that, say, what is written there is accurate and is true. [19] And that will greatly strengthen, I think, your confidence in the accuracy of these lives of Jesus that have been written, when you see how again and again they have been historically verified.

DR. CRAIG: OK, let me be clear about this. Again, the question was asking, can you have hope in something that you are not sure is true? When I talk about faith here as trust or commitment, do not equate that with certainty. I am not implying that you have certainty about these things. I think every Christian goes through periods of his life where he experiences doubt, and he struggles with unanswered questions. Any thinking Christian will have doubts and will have to work through these, and I suspect that in this finite life no one ever has all of his doubts answered. So having faith or trust or commitment to God doesn’t mean that you have some kind of certainty about this. And so in that sense hope can be quite appropriate. To say, yes I believe it, and I also hope that it is true. I don’t see those as being mutually exclusive. Although I think in the biblical sense hope is not so much hope that it is true, as it is that, on the basis of these facts, it gives me confidence for the future that I know my life is not meaningless, that it is not doomed to end only in death, that I will not live in despair and absurdity, but that there is a life for me beyond the grave in fellowship with God and union with him forever. That is my hope, you know, the future that I look forward to. But don’t equate faith or belief in God with some sort of certainty. I don’t think that certainty is necessary at all in order to be a genuine Christian or believer. [20]

  • [1]

    P. T. Landsberg, “From Entropy to God,” in Thermodynamics: History and Philosophy, ed. K. Martinas, et. al. (Singapore: World Scientific, 1991), p. 38.

  • [2]

    Paul Davies, The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 15-16.

  • [3]

    Nancy Pearcy, Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994).

  • [4]


  • [5]


  • [6]


  • [7]


  • [8]


  • [9]

    John 7:17e

  • [10]


  • [11]


  • [12]


  • [13]


  • [14]

    cf. Psalm 96:12; Psalm 98:8; Isaiah 55:12

  • [15]


  • [16]

    cf. Matthew 17:20

  • [17]


  • [18]

    Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (InterVarsity Press, 1991).

  • [19]


  • [20]

    Total Running Time: 1:01:55 (Copyright 2013 © William Lane Craig)