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05 / 06

The Absurdity of Life without God

William Lane Craig speaks at the Veritas Forum in Chicago

Time : 00:42:57

William Lane Craig speaks at the Veritas Forum in Chicago, Illinois. Some people dismiss God far too quickly and do not understand that it is impossible to make sense of human experience and the world without reference to an all powerful Creator. Dr. Craig reveals the dead-ends that modern scholars have run into when trying to make sense of life without God and shows that the God of the Bible has provided what humans have been seeking all along.

Transcript

Thank you very much and thank you for coming out on a cold and rainy evening to talk about this most important of topics with me: The Absurdity of Life Without God.

Our program this evening will consist of some dramatic readings to illustrate the question before us this evening. Then I will speak for about 35 minutes or so on the topic and then we are going to throw open the floor for discussion for your questions and comments. So as I speak, I want to encourage you to be thinking about these issues and to be contemplating what sort of question you might like to ask about this.

But first, I want to invite you to imagine a world without God – a world in which only human beings exist in their tiny corner of the universe.

[Dr. Craig walks off the stage. Lights dim.]

= = =

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with sleep. [1]

= = =

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence. [2]

= = =

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.  [3]

 [4] = = =

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
in secret
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
before morning
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.

I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party
my room is too small for me
suppose I die before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do
and too much
that has to be done
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed. [5]

= = =

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal [6]

= = =

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with sleep.

= = =

[Lights raise. Dr. Craig returns to the podium] [7]

Man, writes Loren Eiseley, is the Cosmic Orphan. He is the only creature in the universe who asks, “Why?” Other animals have instincts to guide them, but man has learned to ask questions. “Who am I?” man asks. “Why am I here? Where am I going?” Ever since the Enlightenment, when modern man threw off the shackles of religion, he has tried to answer those questions without reference to God. But the answers that came back were not exhilarating, but dark and terrible. “You are the accidental by-product of nature, a result of matter plus time plus chance. There is no reason for your existence. All you face is death.”

Modern man thought that in throwing off God, he had freed himself from all that stifled and repressed him. Instead, he discovered that in killing God, he had only succeeded in orphaning himself. For if there is no God, then man's life becomes ultimately absurd. It is without ultimate meaning, without ultimate value, without ultimate purpose. I would like to look at each one of these tonight.

First, life is without ultimate meaning.

If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed or not? Now, it might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But that shows only a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance. If all of the events are ultimately meaningless, then what significance is there in influencing any of them?

Mankind is destined only to perish in the eventual heat death of the universe. Thus, the contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the efforts of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good people everywhere to better the lot of the human race. In the end, all of these come to nothing. They don’t make one bit of difference, not one bit. Therefore, each person’s life is without ultimate significance and because our lives are ultimately meaningless the activities that we fill our lives with are also in the final analysis meaningless. The long hours spent in study at the university, our friendships, our interests, our jobs, our relationships – all of these are, in the final analysis, ultimately meaningless. This is the horror of modern man. Because he ends in nothing, he ultimately is nothing.

Twentieth-century man came to understand this. Read, for example, a play like Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. During this entire play two men carry on trivial, mind-numbing conversation while waiting for a third man to arrive, who never does. Our lives are like that, Beckett is saying; we just kill time waiting – for what, we don't know. In a tragic portrayal of man, Beckett wrote another play in which the curtain opens revealing a stage littered with trash. For thirty long seconds, the audience sat and stared in silence at that junk. Then the curtain closed. That was all.

The French existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus also understood this. Sartre portrayed life in his play No Exit as hell – the final line of the play are the words of resignation, “Well, let's get on with it.” Hence, Sartre writes elsewhere of the “nausea” of existence. Man, he says, is adrift in a boat without a rudder on an endless sea. Camus also saw life as absurd. Life, he said, is like a man doomed for all eternity to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it continually roll back down again – over, and over, and over again. At the end of his brief novel The Stranger, Camus’s hero discovers in a flash of insight that life has no meaning and that there is no God to give it one.

The French biochemist, Jacques Monod, seemed to echo these sentiments when he wrote in his work Chance and Necessity, “Man finally knows he is alone in the indifferent immensity of he universe.”

Thus, if there is no God, then life itself becomes ultimately meaningless. [8] Man and the universe are without ultimate significance.

Second, life is without ultimate value.

If life ends at the grave, then it ultimately makes no difference whether you have lived as a Stalin or as a saint. As the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky put it: “If there is no immortality then all things are permitted.” On this basis, a writer like Ayn Rand is absolutely correct to praise the virtues of selfishness. Live totally for self; no one holds you accountable! Indeed, it would be foolish to do anything else, for life is too short to jeopardize it by acting out of anything but pure self-interest. Sacrifice for another person would be stupid.

But the problem becomes even worse. For, regardless of immortality, if there is no God, then there is no absolute standard of right and wrong. All we are confronted with is, in Jean-Paul Sartre's words, the bare, valueless fact of existence. Moral values are either just socio-cultural by-products of the evolutionary process or else mere expressions of personal taste. In a world without God, who is to say whose values are right and whose are wrong? Who is to judge that the values of an Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a Mother Theresa? The concept of objective morality loses all meaning in a universe without God. There can be no right or wrong. But that means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, brutality, or crime as evil. By the same token, one cannot praise brotherhood, equality, love, or self-sacrifice as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is just the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong.

Thirdly, life is ultimately without purpose.

If death stands with open arms at the end of life’s trail, then to what end has life been? Is it all for nothing? Is there no reason for life? Is there no purpose at all for the human race? Or will it simply peter out someday lost somewhere in the oblivion of an indifferent universe? The English writer H. G. Wells foresaw such a prospect. In his novel The Time Machine Wells’ time traveler journeys far into the distant future to discover the eventual destiny of man. All he finds is a dead earth, except for a few lichens and moss, orbiting a gigantic red sun. The only sounds are the rush of the wind and the gentle ripple of the sea. Writes Wells,

Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives – all that was over. [9]

And so Wells’ time traveler returned. But to what? To merely an earlier point on the same purposeless rush toward oblivion. When as a non-Christian I first read Wells’ book, I thought, “No, no! It can't end this way!” But this is reality in a universe without God. If there is no God, then it will end that way, like it or not. There is no hope; there is no purpose. I am reminded of T. S. Eliot’s haunting lines, “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” [10]

If there is no God, then our lives are not qualitatively different from that of a dog. I know that sounds harsh. But it is true. As the ancient writer of the book of Ecclesiastes put it:

The fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All come from the dust and all return to the dust (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

In this book, which reads more like a piece of modern existentialist literature than a book of the Bible, the author shows the futility of pleasure, wealth, education, political fame, and honor in a life doomed to end in death. [11] His verdict? “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). If life ends at the grave, then we have no ultimate purpose for living.

So I hope you begin to grasp the gravity of the alternatives before us. For if God does not exist, then all we are left with is despair. Life would have no significance, no value, no purpose. And that is why the question of the existence of God is so vital to mankind.

Unfortunately, most people do not seem to realize this fact. Therefore, they go blithely on their way as though nothing has changed. I’m reminded of the story told by Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the 19th century who proclaimed the death of God. Nietzsche tells the story of a madman who in the early morning hours burst into the marketplace, lantern in hand, crying, “I seek God! I seek God!” Since many of those standing about did not believe in God, he provoked much laughter. “Maybe God has gone on a voyage or emigrated!” They laughed. And so they taunted him and mocked him. Then, writes Nietzsche, the madman turned in their midst and pierced them with his eyes,

“Whither is God?” he cried, “I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? . . . God is dead. . . . And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?” [12]

The crowd stared at the madman in silence and astonishment. At last he smashed his lantern to the ground. “I have come too early,” he said. “This tremendous event is still on its way – it has not yet reached the ears of man.” You see, men did not truly comprehend what they had done in killing God. But Nietzsche predicted that someday people would realize the consequences of atheism; and this realization would usher in an age of nihilism – that is to say the destruction of all meaning and value in life.

The end of Christianity, wrote Nietzsche, means the advent of nihilism. This most gruesome of guests is standing already at the door. “Our whole European culture is moving for some time now,” wrote Nietzsche, “with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade, as toward a catastrophe: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.” [13]

Most people still do not reflect upon the consequences of secular atheism and so, like the crowd in the marketplace, go unknowingly on their way. But when we realize, as did Nietzsche, the consequences of what atheism implies, and when we stare atheism unflinchingly in the face as Nietzsche had the courage to do, then his question presses hard upon us: how shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?

It seems to me that confronted with this predicament, we have basically three alternatives.

Number one: commit suicide. Faced with the absurdity of life, one should simply end it now. Camus considered suicide to be the only serious philosophical question: is it worth it to go on living? Sometimes, we hear of people who answer, “no.” In the United States, the leading cause of death among teenagers today is suicide.  [14] But for most of us, suicide is not the answer. The pleasures that life does afford and the fear of the unknown compel us to go on living.

The second alternative is to face the absurdity of life and to live bravely. Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell said, for example, that “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” [15] Camus said that we should simply recognize the absurdity of life and then live in love for one another.

But the problem with this alternative is that it is impossible to live consistently and happily within the framework of such a worldview. Man cannot live as though life had no meaning, value, and purpose. So what people subconsciously do is to assume that their lives have meaning, value, and purpose even though they have no right to since modern man does not believe in God.

What I wold like to do is look again at each of those three areas in which we saw life as absurd without God, and to show how modern man fails to live consistently and happily within this worldview.

First, the area of meaning. We saw that without God, life is ultimately meaningless. Yet philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing some course of action. Sartre himself chose Marxism.

Now this program is utterly inconsistent. It is inconsistent to say on the one hand that life is absurd and then to say on the other hand one may create meaning for his life. If life is objectively absurd, then man is trapped. Without God, there can be no objective meaning in life. Sartre's program is actually an exercise in self-delusion. The universe doesn’t really acquire a meaning just because I happen to give it one. I think this is obvious. Suppose you give the universe one meaning and I give it another. Who is right? Well, I think the obvious answer is: neither one. For the universe in and of itself remains intrinsically meaningless regardless of how we happen to regard it. Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend that the universe has meaning.” This is just fooling yourself.

The point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but mankind cannot live consistently and happily as though life were meaningless; so in order to be happy he invents certain purposes and projects for life and he pretends that these invest his life with meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent – for without God, man and the universe are ultimately without significance.

Turn next to the problem of value. This is where the most blatant inconsistencies occur. First of all, atheistic humanists are totally inconsistent in holding to the values of human love and brotherhood. Camus has been rightly criticized for inconsistently holding to the absurdity of life on the one hand and to the ethics of human love and brotherhood on the other. The two are logically incompatible. As one philosopher has written, “It is impossible to generate an ethic of brotherly love out of a philosophy of nihilism.” Bertrand Russell, too, was inconsistent. For although he was an atheist, Russell was also an outspoken social critic, denouncing war and restrictions on sexual freedom. Russell admitted that he could not live as though moral values were simply the subjective expressions of personal taste, and that he therefore found his own views “incredible.” “I do not know the solution,” he confessed. [16] The point is that if there is no God, then absolute right and wrong do not exist. As Dostoyevsky said, “All things are permitted.”

But Dostoyevsky also showed that man cannot live this way. He shows us, for example, in his novel Crime and Punishment in which a young atheist brutally murders an old woman. [17] Though he knows that on his presuppositions, he should not feel guilty, nevertheless he is consumed with guilt until he finally confesses his crime and gives his life to God. In his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky tells about how a man murders his father because his brother, Ivan, had told him that God does not exist and therefore there are no moral absolutes. The man tells Ivan that it was really Ivan himself who murdered their father since it was Ivan who said that moral absolutes are illusory. Unable to live with the logical consequences of his own system, Ivan suffers a mental collapse.

Man cannot live as though moral values do not exist. He cannot live as though it is perfectly all right for soldiers to slaughter innocent children. He cannot live as though it is all right for dictatorial regimes to follow systematic programs of physical torture of political prisoners. He cannot live as though it is perfectly all right for dictators like Pol Pot or Slobodan Milosevic to ruthlessly commit ethnic cleansing and genocide against their own people. Everything in him cries out to say these acts are wrong – really wrong. But if God does not exist, he cannot. And therefore, he makes a leap of faith and affirms values anyway. And when he does so, he reveals the inadequacy of a world without God.

The horror of an atheistic universe was brought home to me powerfully a few years ago through a BBC television documentary called “The Gathering.” It featured interviews with survivors of the Holocaust who had regathered in Jerusalem to share their experiences and rediscover lost friendships. I had visited concentration camps in Europe and had heard stories of the Holocaust before and I thought I was beyond shocking by further tales of horror. But as I viewed these interviews, I found that I was not. One woman, for example, told of how she was incarcerated at Auschwitz and was forced, because she was a nurse, to become the gynecologist at Auschwitz. She noticed that Dr. Mengele housed all the pregnant women together in a certain barracks. Some time passed, and she no longer saw any of these women. She made inquiries. “What happened to the women who were housed in that barracks?” “Haven't you heard?” came the reply. “Dr. Mengele used them for vivisection.”

A rabbi told the story of a woman at the camp who had a small infant. Dr. Mengele wanted to conduct experiments to see how long an infant could survive without nourishment. So he had this woman’s breasts bound up so that she could not suckle her baby. Every day the baby lost weight, which was eagerly monitored by Dr. Mengele. Desperately, this poor woman tried to keep the baby alive by feeding it bits of bread soaked in coffee but all to no avail. Every day the baby lost weight and each day Dr. Mengele weighed the baby to check its decline. Then a nurse came secretly to this woman and said, “I have brought a morphine injection for you to kill your baby and you can get out of this place. I have arranged a way of escape for you but you can’t bring the baby with you.” The woman protested, “I can’t kill my own child.” The nurse said, “Look, the baby is going to die anyway. At least save yourself.” And so this mother felt compelled to take the life of her own infant.

My heart was torn as I heard these stories. The rabbi at Auschwitz said that it was as though there existed a world in which all the Ten Commandments were reversed. Thou shalt lie. Thou shalt kill. Thou shalt steal. Mankind had never seen such a hell.

And yet, in a real sense, if God does not exist, then our world is Auschwitz: there is no ultimate right and wrong; all things are permitted. But no atheist, no agnostic, can live consistently and happily within the framework of such a worldview.

Finally, let's look at the problem of purpose in life. The only way that most people who deny purpose in life manage to live happily is either by making up some purpose for their life, which amounts to self-delusion as we saw with Sartre, or else by not carrying out their views to its logical conclusions. For example, take the problem of death. [18] According to the psychologist Ernst Bloch, the only way modern man lives in the face of death is by subconsciously borrowing the belief in immortality which his forefathers held to, even though he himself has no basis for this belief, since he does not believe in God. Bloch concludes, “This quite shallow courage feasts on a borrowed credit card. It lives from earlier hopes and the support that they once had provided.” [19] But modern man no longer has any right to that support, since he rejects God. But in order to live purposefully in the face of death, he makes a leap of faith to affirm a reason for living.

We often find the same inconsistency among those who say that man and the universe came to exist for no purpose, but just by chance. For example, feminists have raised a storm of protest over Freudian sexual psychology because they say it is chauvinistic and degrading to women. And some psychologists knuckled under and revised their theories. Now this is totally inconsistent. If Freudian psychology is really true, then it doesn't matter if it’s degrading to women. You can't change the truth because you don't like what it leads to. But people cannot live consistently and happily in a world in which other people are devalued. But if God does not exist, then nobody has any value. Only if God exists can one consistently support women’s rights. For if God does not exist, then natural selection dictates that the male of the species is the dominant and aggressive one. Women would have no more rights than a female goat or chicken have rights. In nature whatever is, is right. But who can live with such a view? Apparently not even Freudian psychologists, who revised their theories when pushed to their logical conclusions.

Or take the sociological behaviorism of a man like B. F. Skinner. This view leads to the sort of society envisioned in George Orwell's 1984, where the government controls and programs the thoughts of everybody. If Pavlov’s dog can be made to salivate when a bell rings, then so can a human being. And if Skinner's theories are right, then there can be no moral objection to treating people like the rats in Skinner’s rat-box as they run through their mazes, coaxed on by food and electric shocks. According to Skinner, all of our actions are programmed anyway. And if God does not exist, then no moral objection can be raised against this kind of programming, for man is not qualitatively different from a rat, since both are just a result of matter plus time plus chance. But again, who can live with such a dehumanizing worldview?

Or finally, take the biological determinism of a man like Francis Crick. The logical conclusion is that man is like any other laboratory specimen. The world was horrified when it learned that at camps like Dachau the Nazis had used prisoners for medical experiments on human beings. But why not? If God does not exist, there can be no objection to using people as human guinea pigs. A memorial at Dachau say “Nie Wieder” – “Never again.” But this sort of thing continued to go on. It was recently revealed that in the United States, after the war, various persons of minority group status were injected unknown to them with a sterilization drug by medical researchers. Mustn’t we protest that this is wrong? That people are more than just electrochemical machines? The end of this view is population control in which the weak and the unwanted are killed off to make room for the strong. But the only way we can consistently protest this view is if God exists. Only if God exists can there be purpose in life.

Thus, as one modern writer has said, “If God is dead, man is dead, too.” Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were without meaning, value, and purpose. The finite world alone is insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life. [20]

But that throws us onto the third and final alternative. And this is to challenge the worldview of modern man. To maintain that God does exist and that life does have meaning, value, and purpose. This is the position of biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity thus provides the solution to the predicament of modern mane. According to the Christian worldview, God does exist, and life does not end at the grave. Therefore, biblical Christianity provides the two necessary prerequisites for a happy and consistent life: God and immortality. According to the Christian worldview, life does have meaning because mankind is made in the personal image of God and our destiny is to know God and enjoy him and his love forever. Life has value because God’s own holy and righteous nature is the absolute standard of right and wrong, good and evil. That nature is expressed toward us in the form of his divine commandments which constitute for us our moral duties. Thus, the moral choices we make now in this life are filled with an eternal significance. Finally, life has purpose. As the Westminster Catechism says, the end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Thus, biblical Christianity succeeds precisely where atheism breaks down. The Cosmic Orphan can come home.

Now I want to make it clear that none of this tonight proves that biblical Christianity is true. But I think it does clearly spell out the alternatives before us. If God does not exist, then life is futile. If the God of the Bible does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two alternatives enables us to live a happy and consistent life. Therefore, it seems to me that even if the evidence for and against these two alternatives were absolutely equal, the rational thing to do is to believe in God. That is to say, it seems to me that if the evidence is equal, that it is positively irrational to prefer death, futility, and destruction to life, meaningfulness, and happiness. As Pascal has written, we have nothing to lose and infinity to gain.

Now at this time we are going to throw it open for your questions and discussion. Ethan is going to assist us in doing that.

=====

DISCUSSION

QUESTION: Can you address the issue of different religions and different gods?

DR. CRAIG: What I have said tonight pertains to the Christian world and life view. But it wouldn’t be exclusively Christian in the sense that any view of the world that gives you those two necessary prerequisites: a personal God who can be known and loved and experienced, and immortality. So this would be consistent with Judaism, for example, and perhaps Islam as well. It would not be consistent with certain Eastern religions which deny that there is any sort of personal God and, in fact, usually deny immortality. The goal is often self-extinction, that the self is obliterated. So those would not meet, I think, the predicament of modern man. At least the three great monotheistic faiths that are in the Judeo-Christian tradition would provide the necessary prerequisites for an objectively meaningful and purposeful existence.

QUESTION: You talked a little while ago about how, without God, we can’t have something like women’s rights when you were talking about Freud. Where do animal rights fit into this? [21]

DR. CRAIG: That is a very, very interesting question. Where do animal rights fit into all of this? Again, I would say the same thing about animal rights. It seems to me that in the absence of God, I can’t understand how in the world any person could support animal rights. Because in nature, as I say, whatever is, is right. The law of the jungle rules. The only law in nature is survival of the fittest. If the species of homo sapiens should decide to exterminate all of the other life forms on the earth, there is no right or wrong in that. That is just the law of survival of the fittest. So, it seems to me that again only the theist, only the person who believes in God, is well posed to defend conservation efforts and efforts to preserve endangered species and to have an adequate environmental ethic. I cannot understand how an atheist or a naturalist can have an environmental ethic. Having said that, I don’t think that I would construe it, however, in terms of animal rights per se. Because I don’t think that animals are moral agents. Persons are moral agents and animals aren’t persons. So, for example, when a lion kills a zebra, it kills it but it doesn’t murder it. Or when a seagull snatches a fish out of the talons of another seagull, it takes the fish but it doesn’t steal the fish, if you understand what I mean. Animals don’t have moral duties or obligations. So I wouldn’t construe an animal or environmental ethic in terms of animals rights. Rather, I would construe it in terms of human responsibilities and human moral duties. That is to say, God, according to the creation narrative in the Bible, has given man charge to steward the earth – to care for the earth and to husband it. As a gardener would care for a vineyard, let’s say. Therefore, to rape and plunder the earth and its resources and its animals, is a violation of God’s command for us to steward and care for his creation. I think that God is wounded so to speak when he sees the terrible blight that mankind has often wrought upon the beautiful nature that God created which in Genesis it says that God saw that it was very good. We often haven’t lived up to that creation mandate. So I wouldn’t see it in terms of animals rights, per se, but in terms of human moral duties to care for these beautiful creations that God has made and provided us.

QUESTION: You said that the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – all would be consistent with a worldview that acknowledges a God and gave meaning and purpose. I agree with that but here is my question: why did you choose to become a Christian as opposed to a Muslim or a Jew? What do you find different about Christianity that you find more fulfilling for yourself or do you find answers to those questions of purpose and value and meaning? What do you find different about Christianity to be more fulfilling and enriching than the other two religions you mentioned?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think you won’t be surprised if I answer: Jesus of Nazareth. He was the difference. And he is what distinguishes Judaism and Islam from Christianity among other things. When as a non-Christian I first heard the message of Christ I began to read the New Testament. I had never read a New Testament before and as I read the Gospels and the story of Jesus of Nazareth, I was absolutely captivated by this person. His words had the ring of truth about them. There was a wisdom there that I had never encountered before and his life had an authenticity about it that wasn’t characteristic of many people who claimed to be his followers in our culture who claim to be Christians. I was just captivated by Jesus of Nazareth. [22] When I understood the message of the New Testament – that I was sinful and therefore separated from God – that rang true in my life. I sensed that, though I believed there was a God out there who existed, I enjoyed no personal relationship with him. He was a distant and unknown entity to me. As I looked into my own heart, I could see the blackness within, the moral selfishness and self-centeredness. So I had no problem with what I read in the New Testament when it said that all people are sinful and fall short of the glory of God. I understood the love of Christ and that drew me. The notion that God himself in the form of his Son would die on the cross as a sacrifice for my sin so that I could be reconciled with him. Then, most of all, perhaps the notion that through Christ I would come into a personal relationship with God, that God can become a living personal reality in my life as a loving Father. This was tremendously appealing. So as I read the New Testament and read Christian books and so forth over a period of about six months I was just convinced that it was true. Since then, nothing that I’ve read or studied has changed my mind about that. When I look for example at Judaism, I think that the Old Testament looks forward to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. I think that believing in Jesus is the most Jewish thing a person can do. When I read the Qur’an, I find that the portrait of Jesus in the Qur’an, I think, is historically inaccurate. It is written 600 years after the events and is demonstrably legendary in many respects whereas the documents of the New Testament were written in the first generation while the eyewitnesses were still alive and thus give a more accurate portrayal of who the historical Jesus was. So, for those reasons, I think that the Christian claim to be true is accurate and therefore I count myself enthusiastically a Christian. [23

  • [1]

    Shakespeare, The Tempest

  • [2]

    T. S. Eliot, “The Burial of the Dead,” The Waste Land

  • [3]

    Dylan Thomas, The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

  • [4]

    5:21

  • [5]

    Audre Lorde, Hanging Fire

  • [6]

    T. S. Eliot, “What the Thunder Said,” The Waste Land

  • [7]

    10:00

  • [8]

    15:14

  • [9]

    H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (New York: Berkeley, 1957), chap. 11.

  • [10]

    T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

  • [11]

    20:20

  • [12]

    Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Gay Science,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1954), p. 95.

  • [13]

    Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Will to Power,” trans. W. Kaufmann, in Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, 2nd. ed., ed. with an introduction by W. Kaufmann (New York: New American Library, Meridian, 1975), pp. 130-31.

  • [14]

    25:06

  • [15]

    Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. P. Edwards (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), p. 107.

  • [16]

    Bertrand Russell, Letter to the Observer, October 6, 1957.

  • [17]

    30:00

  • [18]

    35:01

  • [19]

    Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung, 2d ed., 2 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1959), pp. 2:360-1.

  • [20]

    40:02

  • [21]

    45:16

  • [22]

    50:00

  • [23]

    Total Running Time: 52:45