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Evidence for Christianity

William Lane Craig speaks in Budapest, Hungary

Time : 00:36:46

William Lane Craig speaks in Hungary on the Evidence for Christianity

Transcript

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I have really enjoyed this conference so far, especially the interesting conversations we have had at table and after the debate last night. It’s just been a delight for me to be here and I hope you have enjoyed it. I want to add one more event to the schedule today, if you are able to make it. After Stephan’s talk at five o’clock I am going to be speaking at the Central European University here in Budapest. This is an English speaking university that exists here in Hungary, and I was at a conference in Slovenia last year on metaphysics and I met some of these Hungarian philosophers from The Central European University, and they said if you are ever in town to come by and give a lecture. And so I got the invitation to come to this conference and so I contacted them and they said that is great. So at five o’clock this afternoon I am going to be speaking to the philosophy department at the CEU on design and the fine tuning of the universe. So after Stephan’s talk is over if you are able to jump on the tube or the metro and come over there I would welcome you to do so. I hope to get directions later in the day. I am going to call them this morning on the telephone to find out exactly how to get there, but that is an opportunity to see some apologetics in action on a secular university campus.

The great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the Judgment Day and God would have asked him, “Russell, why didn’t you believe in me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God; not enough evidence.’” Now as I travel around speaking on university campuses in North America and Europe I think that probably most of the non-Christian university professors that I meet would say much the same thing, there is not enough evidence. And this attitude is in turn communicated to their students who parrot this like a mantra – there is not enough evidence.

But think with me about that for a minute. What do we mean when we say, “not enough evidence?” Not enough for what? Not enough to compel belief? Not enough to coerce someone to become a Christian? Well I think that a lot of people seem to take it this way. I find that most people tend to be spiritually apathetic. They are either just too busy or too unconcerned to be bothered about looking into spiritual things. Or if they are into spirituality they are pursuing false gods of their own making as, for example, in New Age spirituality. But basically they just can’t be bothered to look into the evidence for Christianity. And so in my experience I find that most people are not even acquainted with the evidence for Christianity. And this is particularly true, I find, of university professors.

One of the most interesting aspects of my work is the debates which I participate in on university campuses. Typically I will be invited onto a campus where some local professor has a reputation of being especially abusive to Christian students in his classes, and we will challenge this man to a public debate on some topic like, say, the existence of God, or Christianity vs. Humanism, or Christianity vs. Agnosticism, or some such topic. And you know what I find? I find that while most of these guys are pretty good at beating up intellectually on an eighteen year old student in one of their classes, they cannot even go toe to toe with one of their peers. In their first speech they typically trod out the obsolete eighteenth century objections of Hume and Kant, and after I answer those they are pretty much left with nothing more to say. And so they either just start repeating themselves or else attempt to make emotional appeals to win the students over. I find that they are especially ignorant of the evidence for the Gospels. Most of them turn out to be just big, inflated, intellectual blowhards who have no good reasons for rejecting Christianity or for ridiculing the Christian students in their classes. [1]

Now in one sense this really isn’t surprising because all of us in the academy have to specialize in a certain discipline, and therefore we are largely ignorant of things outside of our given field of specialization. For example, I know something about philosophy. But I know next to nothing about economics, or chemical engineering, or agriculture, or business, or what have you. And thus you see it is possible to have a perfectly profound knowledge of your given area of specialization, and yet to have little better than a Sunday school knowledge of Christianity.

For example I had a debate a few years ago with a professor at the University of South Carolina on Christianity vs. Agnosticism. Now this man was a brilliant philosopher of quantum physics. He was the director of the graduate program in philosophy at USC, and yet the first words out of his mouth when he got up to speak were, I really don’t feel qualified to be participating in tonight’s debate because I don’t know anything about philosophy of religion. And I thought to myself, well then why in the world are you getting up here in front of eight hundred students trying to convince them to become agnostics when you admit that you don’t know anything about the subject? I mean it doesn’t compute.

When you read the biographies of the great atheists what you discover is that very typically these men lost their faith when they were around eleven or twelve years of age, and they’ve never studied it again since. In other words, what this means is that most of these fellows reject God and Christianity based upon the objections of a twelve year old. So when people say there’s not enough evidence, what they really mean is there is not enough evidence to coerce me out of my indifference and make me believe. If I choose to ignore it, the evidence is not going to grab me by the lapels and make me believe. To which I say, well of course the evidence isn’t coercive in that sense. But then, why should it be?

You see the Bible says that the knowledge of God is unique in that it is conditioned by moral and spiritual factors. A spiritually indifferent person can have a perfectly profound knowledge of physics, or literature, or history, or sociology, or even theology. But a spiritually indifferent person cannot know God. According to the Bible the knowledge of God is promised to those who seek him. And thus the prophet Jeremiah declared, “you shall seek Me and you shall find Me, if you seek for Me with all your heart.” [2] And Jesus said, “seek, and you will find; knock, and the door shall be opened; ask, and it will be given you. For he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door shall be opened, and to him who asks it shall be given.” [3] In other words, God doesn’t force himself upon us. He has given us evidence of himself which is sufficiently clear for those with an open mind and an open heart but which is sufficiently vague so as not to compel those whose hearts are closed.

The great French mathematical genius Blaise Pascal, who came to know God through an encounter with Jesus Christ at the age of 31, put it in the following way. Pascal wrote,

Willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, [God] so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition. [4]

In other words, the evidence is there for those who have eyes to see. [5]

So there is not enough evidence, admittedly, to be coercive. But that is not the really interesting question, is it? The really interesting question is, is there enough evidence in order for faith to be rational? And the answer to that question is, yes, there certainly is enough evidence for faith to be rational. The traditional arguments for the existence of God and the evidences of Christianity may not be coercive but they are certainly sufficient in order to make Christian belief rational.

Just take, for example, the question of the existence of God. There has been literally a revolution in American philosophy with regard to this question during the second half of the twentieth century. Back in the 1940s and 1950s it was widely believed among philosophers that talk about God was meaningless, it was literal gibberish. To say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” is as meaningless as saying, “twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe;” just complete nonsense.

This movement reached its crescendo in America with the so-called “Death-of-God” theology of the 1960s. On April 8, 1966 in an infamous cover story, Time magazine carried a cover which was completely black, except for three words emblazoned in bright, red letters against the dark background, and the question read, “IS GOD DEAD?” And it described the then current “Death-of-God” movement among American theologians in the 1960s. Ironically, however, at the same time that the theologians were writing God’s obituary a new generation of young philosophers was rediscovering his vitality. Just a few years after its death of God issue Time ran a similar red on black cover story, only this time the question read, “Is God Coming Back to Life?” Indeed, that’s how it must have seemed for those theological morticians of the 1960s. During the 1970s interest in philosophy of religion continued to grow. In 1980, Time ran another major story entitled, “Modernizing the Case for God,” in which it described the movement among contemporary philosophers to re-establish and re-defend all of the traditional arguments for God’s existence. Time marveled,

In a quiet revolution in thought and argument that hardly anybody could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers, but in the crisp intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse. [6]

According to the article, the noted American philosopher, the late Roderick Chisholm, believed that the reason that atheism was so influential a generation ago is because the brightest philosophers were atheists. But today, he says, many of the brightest philosophers are theists, believers in God, and they are using a tough-minded intellectualism in defense of that belief which was formerly lacking on their side of the debate.

And so today some of America’s finest philosophers at our major universities are outspoken Christians, born again Christians. I think of, for example, Robert Adams at Yale University, William Alston at Syracuse, George Mavrodes at University of Michigan, Alvin Plantinga at Notre Dame, Eleanor Stump at St. Louis University, Dallas Willard at USC, I could go on and on. [7] The idea that Christians are intellectual losers and nincompoops is an idea which is simply rooted in ignorance, and needs to be now once and for all decisively repudiated.

Now my own work, philosophically speaking, is focused upon the implications of contemporary cosmology for theology. There are in the natural word, I believe, what the Swiss astrophysicist Gustav Tammann has called signposts of transcendence pointing beyond the natural world to its ground in a supernatural creator and designer of the cosmos.

For example, one such signpost of transcendence is the evidence of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe which points to the creation of the universe out of nothing. Most laymen and students don’t understand that, according to the Big Bang theory, it is not simply all matter and energy, but physical space and time themselves which came into origin, into existence, at the moment of the Big Bang. In the words of the British physicist P. C. W. Davies, “the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.” [8] But then the inevitable question cannot be suppressed. How can the universe come into existence out of nothing? Out of nothing, nothing comes. So how does the universe come into being out of nothing?

Now notice that this is a philosophical, not a scientific, question. It is a metaphysical question. Out of nothing, nothing comes. So how does something originate out of nothing? The atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen gives the following illustration. Nielsen says, suppose you suddenly hear a loud “bang!” And you ask me, “What made that bang?” And I reply, “Nothing. It just happened.” He says you wouldn’t accept that. In fact, you would find my reply quite unintelligible. Well, what is true of the little bang is also true of the Big Bang as well. It must have been caused. And from the very nature of the case, as the cause of space and time, this transcendent cause would have to be uncaused, immaterial, changeless, timeless, and enormously powerful.

Moreover, and here we come to that second signpost of transcendence that I wanted to mention, the evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to this transcendent cause’s being a personal intelligent mind.

During the last thirty years or so scientists have been stunned by the discovery that the initial conditions present in the Big Bang were fine tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a complexity and a precision that literally defies human comprehension. For example, Stephen Hawking has estimated that if the rate of the universe’s expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have re-collapsed long ago into a hot fire ball. The British physicist P. C. W. Davies has calculated that the odds against the initial conditions of the universe being suitable for later star formation, without which of course planets could not exist, is on the order of one followed by a thousand billion billion zeros, at least. He also estimates that a change in the strength of gravity or of the weak force by only one part out of ten to the one hundredth power would have prevented a life permitting universe. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang’s low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one chance out of ten to the power of ten to the power of one hundred and twenty three. [9] Now these numbers are so enormous that to call them astronomical would be a wild understatement. There is no physical reason why these quantities have the values they do. The inference to an intelligent designer of the cosmos seems far more rational to me than the atheistic hypothesis that the universe, when it popped into being uncaused out of nothing, just happened to be, by chance, fine tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a delicacy and precision that is literally incomprehensible.

Now some people have tried to avoid this conclusion by saying that we really shouldn’t be surprised at the enormous improbability of the fine-tuning of the universe because, after all, if the universe were not fine-tuned then we wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. Given that we are here we should expect the universe to be fine-tuned. But I think the fallacy of this reasoning can be made clear simply by a parallel illustration. Imagine that you were traveling abroad in a third world country and you were arrested on trumped up drug charges, and you were dragged in front of a firing squad of 100 trained marksmen, all with rifles aimed at your heart to be executed. And you hear the command given – “Ready, aim, fire!” And you hear the deafening roar of the guns. And then you observe that you are still alive, that all of the 100 marksmen missed! Now, what would you conclude? Well, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that they all missed; after all, if they hadn’t all missed I wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. Given that I am here, I should expect them all to miss. Of course not. You would immediately suspect that they all missed on purpose. That the whole thing was a set up engineered by some person for some reason. And in exactly the same way, given the incomprehensible improbability of the fine-tuning of the initial conditions for intelligent life, it is rational to believe that this is not the result of chance but of design.

Now much more could and should be said about these matters, but I think that this is certainly sufficient to show that there is certainly enough evidence to make belief in God as a personal creator and designer of the cosmos rational.

But what about belief in the Christian God? Is it rational to belief in Jesus as the Gospels portray him? Well, Jesus of Nazareth has certainly become a storm center of controversy in our day as radical scholars like those in the so-called Jesus Seminar, which is a think tank in Southern California of radical New Testament critics, have said that only 20 percent of Jesus’ recorded words in the Gospels are authentic; that is, actually spoken by the historical Jesus. When you check out the evidence, however, a much different picture begins to emerge than the one painted by the radical critics. In fact, today the majority of New Testament scholars agree that the historical Jesus deliberately stood and spoke in the place of God himself. That he claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and that he carried out a ministry of miracle working and exorcisms as signs of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in his person. According to the German theologian Horst Georg Pöhlmann,

Today there is virtually a consensus . . . that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority, with the claim of the authority to stand in God’s place and speak to us and bring us to salvation. . . . With regard to Jesus there are only two possible modes of behavior: either to believe that in him God encounters us or to nail him to the cross as a blasphemer. Tertium non datur. [There is no third way.] [10]

Thus, Jesus either was who he claimed to be or else he was a blasphemous megalomaniac, which just seems incredible. [11]

But there is more. For we actually have dramatic confirmation of the validity of Jesus’ radical claims about himself, namely, his resurrection from the dead. And again in the second half of the twentieth century there has been a dramatic reversal of scholarship on this score. Back in the 1930s and 1940s Gospel events like the empty tomb of Jesus were widely regarded by New Testament critics as legends which accrued decades and decades later than the events and were really an embarrassment for the Christian faith. Similarly, Jesus’ postmortem appearances alive after his death were widely taken to be hallucinations brought on by the disciples’ faith in Jesus.

This skepticism concerning the resurrection also peaked in the late 1960s and then began very rapidly to recede. It still lingers on today in liberal backwaters like the Jesus Seminar. But today the majority of New Testament critics agree:

1. After his crucifixion, Jesus of Nazareth was interred in a tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

2. The tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers on Sunday morning.

3. Various individuals and groups of people on multiple occasions and under different circumstances saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death.

4. The original disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection was not the result of their faith in him or of wishful thinking, but that, quite the contrary, their faith in him was the result of their having come to believe in his resurrection.

Now, those are the facts. The only question is, how do you best explain them?

Well, here the skeptical critic faces a somewhat desperate situation. For example, a few years ago I had a debate on the resurrection of Jesus with a professor at the University of California in Irvine. [12] And this man had written his doctoral dissertation on the evidence for the resurrection. He was thoroughly familiar with the evidence. And he could not deny the facts of Jesus’ honorable burial, empty tomb, postmortem appearances, or the origin of the disciples’ faith. And so his only recourse was to come up with some alternative explanation of those four facts. And so he argued – are you ready for this? – he argued that Jesus of Nazareth must have had an unknown identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth, who came back to Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, stole the body out of the tomb, and presented himself to the disciples who mistakenly inferred that Jesus was risen from the dead. Now, I won’t bother you with how I went about refuting this theory but I think that this example is instructive because it shows to what desperate lengths skepticism must go in order to explain away the historical facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, did you know that the evidence is so good that one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians, Pinchas Lapide who taught at Hebrew University in Tel Aviv, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. [13]

Now, again, much more deserves to be said about this. But I think, again, enough has been shared to show why, as I say, the Christian is certainly rational in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. So while the evidence is admittedly not enough to coerce you if your mind is closed, I think it certainly is enough to ground faith rationally if a person is willing to look at it with an open mind and an open heart. [14]

Now, our whole discussion up to this point has been based upon the assumption that becoming a Christian is a matter of weighing the evidence pro and con concerning Christianity, and then making up your mind on the basis of the evidence. But when you think about it, surely this assumption is wrong. The great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard gives the illustration of a university student, a non-Christian, who is contemplating whether or not to become a Christian. And in order to make an informed decision he begins to study. He studies Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic so that he can read the biblical texts in the original languages. He studies Old Testament and New Testament backgrounds and history so that he can understand the historical and cultural milieu in which these writings were written. He studies systematic theology so that he can understand the truth claims and the doctrinal system of the Christian faith. He studies philosophy of religion so that he can comprehend the arguments for and against the existence of God. He studies comparative religions so that he is able to contrast Christian truth claims with those in other world religions and assess the evidence for these respective faiths. And on and on it goes, until finally he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Christianity is true. And so at the age of 70 he places his faith in Christ and becomes a Christian. Now Kierkegaard said that such a scenario is insane. Faith cannot be expected to hold its breath indefinitely while reason patiently weighs and reweighs the evidence trying to decide whether or not faith is rational.

Or to give another illustration, imagine a tribesman living in the hill country of Laos who hears a missionary broadcast on the short wave radio and senses that God is speaking to his heart as he hears the Gospel preached. Isn’t he rational to place his faith in Christ and to believe in the Gospel message even though he lacks the education, the opportunity, or the resources for investigating the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, or contemplating philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God? Well I certainly want to say that he is rational in so doing.

A loving God would not abandon us to our own ingenuity and resources to work out by our own cleverness whether or not he exists. Rather the Bible says that God himself pursues us and draws us to himself. And thus Jesus said, “No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” [15] And again Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” [16]

So it wasn’t really quite accurate when I said that in order to come to God we must first seek God. From a human perspective I think that is true. But from a cosmic perspective, it’s really God who is seeking us, and it is up to us whether we will open our hearts to his love and forgiveness or whether we will shut up our hearts against his grace.

I mentioned earlier that when he was 31 years of age Pascal came to know God personally through an experience of Jesus Christ. That conversion experience changed his entire life. When Pascal died, there was found sewn into his clothing a reminder of that event which he constantly carried with him. And this is what it read, “From about 10:30 at night, until about 12:30. FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ . . . Jesus Christ. . . . Let me never be separated from Him.” Arguments and evidence can help. But as Pascal discovered, ultimately we have to deal not with arguments but with God himself. [17]

[The remainder of the audio is the moderator giving instructions to the class.] [18]

  • [1]

    5:13

  • [2]

    Jeremiah 29.13

  • [3]

    cf. Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10

  • [4]

    Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. W.F. Trotter (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1932), No. 430, p. 118.

  • [5]

    10:22

  • [6]

    “Modernizing the Case for God,” Time, April 7, 1980, pp. 65- 66.

  • [7]

    15:06

  • [8]

    P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser.

  • [9]

    20:10

  • [10]

    Horst Georg Pöhlmann, Abriss der Dogmatik, 3d rev. ed. (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1980), p. 230.

  • [11]

    25:19

  • [12]

    This was a 1995 debate with R. Gregory Cavin titled “Dead or Alive?” Audio of this debate (minus the Q&A session) can be found at http://www.philvaz.com/CraigCavinDebate.mp3 (accessed June 22, 2013) or you can purchase an audio CD of this debate at http://apps.biola.edu/apologetics-store/products/audios/item/craig-vs-cavin-dead-or-alive_CD

  • [13]

    See Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Augsburg Publishing, 1983).

  • [14]

    30:09

  • [15]

    John 6:44

  • [16]

    John 12:32

  • [17]

    35:02

  • [18]

    Total Running Time: 36:45 (Copyright © William Lane Craig)