Top Five Questions University of Iowa Students Ask about ChristianityWilliam Lane Craig responds to University of Iowa students
Time : 01:28:34
William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias answer questions from the University of Iowa students about God.
INTRODUCTION: Tonight we are going to be talking about the top five questions that University of Iowa students ask about Christianity. But before we get to the questions I want to briefly introduce both of our speakers.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias is an internationally recognized Christian apologist and lecturer. He was born and raised in India and has spoken in over fifty countries, including numerous universities such as Harvard and Princeton. His book Can Man Live Without God? was awarded the 1995 gold medallion for the best book in the category of doctrine and theology. His radio program Let My People Think is broadcast on 256 stations nationwide, and he is president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. William Lane Craig holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Birmingham in England and a doctor in theology degree from the University of Munich in Germany. He is also a member of the American Philosophical Association and the American Academy of Religion, and currently is Research Professor at the Talbot School of Theology.
The top five questions that we gathered, we actually had, among other things, over 900 hits on the email. So there were a lot of different questions, and even though many of the questions were phrased in slightly different ways, they tended to fall, at least the majority of them, into five broad basic categories of questions. And so we’ve rephrased the questions a little bit so that it tries to meet those five main areas.
In addressing those questions Dr. Zacharias is going to go first, followed by Dr. Craig, and they’ll switch off every other question. But with each question each speaker will address them with the first speaker speaking ten minutes and the second speaker giving an additional two minute commentary.
The number one question that University of Iowa students asked about Christianity is one that’s pretty broad and that’s the question “What is the meaning of life?” How do we know if there is any meaning of life, and what would the basis or foundation be for asserting that there was a meaning? The number two question is a question concerning the existence of God; namely, how can we know that the Christian God even exists? What reasons or evidence are there for thinking that there is a being such as God? The number three question deals with the problem of evil. How can the Christian God who, according to the Bible, is all-powerful and all-good allow such injustices as the Holocaust or various natural disasters to occur? The fourth question is a question concerning the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. How can we know that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really occurred and wasn’t instead a legend that was made up by some of his followers as a way to start Christianity as a movement later on? And the last question is a question having to do with the exclusive claims of the Christian Gospel. Christians claim that only those who place their faith in Jesus of Nazareth will attain salvation. So the question is: how can this be fair to the millions of people both in the historical past and in the world today that are Hindus or Muslims or atheists for that matter that are good people. How is the justice of God embodied in that? So with that I will hand the mic over to Dr. Ravi Zacharias.
DR. ZACHARIAS: Thank you very much. It really is a delight to be here, although I’d rather be sitting where you are listening to the answers, than standing up here purporting to give some profound new insight to age-old questions. I couldn’t help but think as the questions were being narrated to you and watching the expressions on your faces wondering, “Is this what we are going to get answers to tonight?” I remember when I was in graduate school doing my doctrinal examination for the denomination for which I am affiliated, and the opening question was, “God is perfect – explain.” [laughter] And I turned to my wife and said about the only more difficult question I could think of would be: define God and give two examples. [laughter] Now the marvelous thing about that question was that there was just this much space in which to do the answering, and therefore the possibility of heresy was minimized.
But we are dealing with some very, very tough issues here. We wrestle with them, we think about them. Even at this stage in my life while I literally crisscross around the globe, and have done so for the last 25 years now, these questions are often in my mind when I am sitting in a plane trying to work through a new approach to these struggles because they are legitimate. And I believe it was Voltaire who once said that all of humanity’s miseries are a further reflection of its grandeur. Because of who we are in the grandness of our thinking we are even able to discuss our miseries with some sense of reason. And the reason we raise those issues is because we look for coherence in our lives and something that would point us to a valid conclusion about who we are and why we are here.
If you are to take all of the questions that ultimately come before you, you will find this and they are reduced to four. There may be nuances or offshoots of them; I have concluded that fundamentally they are four: questions of origin, questions of meaning, questions of morality, and questions of destiny. Origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. And it’s interesting that those four questions are somehow hinted at here. Please bear in mind one other thing, that when a question such as this is raised it is not only for the Christian to attempt an answer. A Hindu, for example, has to give an answer to these same questions, so does a Muslim, so does a skeptic, and what you have to recognize is that when you give answers to those questions that your worldview provides the coherence for those four issues of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. It’s not good enough to be right on one and wrong on the other three. Individually the answers must correspond to truth, and then corporately there must be a coherence in those answers. If you follow what I am saying, someone might give you a very clever answer on meaning, but does it tie in with that person’s philosophy of origin or that person’s philosophy of destiny? Aldous Huxley, for example, in his book Ends and Means made the comment, he said, “I want this world not to have meaning. I want this world not to have meaning because it frees me to my own erotic and my own political pursuits.” The breakdown of meaning lent itself to an autonomous lifestyle and all the indulgence with which he wanted to live.
So let me give to you a summary answer. Obviously in a few minutes we can’t give you a comprehensive one. But I was just checking through because the book was released about three years ago, in the second half of the book Can Man Live without God? I have dealt with the question of meaning and that was a lecture delivered at Ohio State. But let me tell you how I have approached the subject. Since it is an existential one the logical basis will emerge in the other questions.
I believe there are four components that a person must have in order to say, “My life is meaningful.” Now you will have to bear with me, because as soon as I begin you are going to say, where is he going with this answer? Because there may be a little struggle you may have with the first thought, but give me a hearing until I pull the four of them together.
Shakespeare is the one who said in As You Like It, that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely actors; they have their entrances and their exists; and each one in his life plays many parts.” He takes you from infancy to schoolboy to solider to middle-age, all the way to old-age, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything,” as he said. But after you’ve lived through those stages you realize that there is a part that you have played, so said Shakespeare. Let me take you through four stages that an average human being will live through, to show you how this concept of meaning emerges in the Christian life.
When you are a child, when you were a child, what is it that brings a little child meaning? Because a child lives with a world of enchantment, a world of wonder, a world of enthrallment, a world that wows that little one. You can take a one-year old and put that one-year old on your lap, and just press a button and a ping sound comes out of it, and the child’s eyes just get wide. It is getting involved with her new world, and the enthrallment is absolutely awesome to that little one. I remember talking to a very well-known Christian musician Steve Green, and he had just become a new father. And about a year after that when I met him I said, what’s so exciting about being a new dad? He said, watching the wow expression on my child’s face whenever anything new is introduced. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis were masters at understanding the world of imagination in the life of a child. And Chesterton is the one who said that he came to more of his conclusions in life from observing children than from any volume in philosophy he had ever read. In his book Orthodoxy he has an extraordinary chapter called “The Ethics of Elfland” – if you haven't read that book, Orthodoxy, I urge you to pick it up, I think it’s one of the greatest pieces of work ever written – “The Ethics of Elfland.” In that he makes this comment. He said have you ever seen, when you’re reading a fairy-story to a child, that at some point you may read something like this, you may say, “And the fairy-godmother said to so-and-so, if you do not come back by twelve o’clock you will become a pumpkin.” He says, do you notice two things in every fairy-story? Number one, there’s always a condition. If you do not come by such-and-such you will become a such-and-such. But have you noticed the child never says to the fairy-godmother, how come? And Chesterton says the reason is if you say to the fairy-godmother “how come?” the fairy-godmother might well turn to you and say, “If that’s the way you want it, tell me how come there is a fairy-land in the first place?”
That’s the point, I think, God was making with Job. When Job was saying, “Only that which I can comprehensively understand in my mind will I fully accept” God says, “All right, Job, since you want that kind of comprehensive understanding, tell me, where were you when the foundations of the earth were laid? Where were you when such and such happened?” He nailed Job with sixty-four questions back-to-back to show him that the many wonderful concepts he had imbibed he did not have a full and a comprehensive understanding of those. This sense of wonder in childhood is vital for that child’s meaning and the sense of awe that will hold that young life.
I was introduced to that with my little boy Nathan, when he was fairly young. One day he was playing with a helium balloon in our living room. And he would leave that helium balloon and it would go up to the ceiling, he would jump up on the sofa, grab the string and pull it down; get off the sofa, leave it again, watch it go to the ceiling, jump up on the sofa, grab the string and pull it down. I think it is Chesterton who said, part of a child’s infinity in capacity to enjoyment is reflected in its ability to enjoy the repetitive and the monotonous. You throw a child into the air, what does it say? Do it again, do it again. So let the balloon, it goes to the ceiling, jump up on the sofa, grab the thread, bring it down. He did this a dozen times and then even his monotony was wearing thin. He decided to go outside and let it go. [laughter] And now it was gone. And all of a sudden, just complete despondency overcame him. And he was crying his heart out when he saw me coming out, watching that balloon way up there. As soon as I came out he stopped and said, “I know what, Daddy. Just, next time you’re in the plane, you can bring it back for me.” [laughter] The worst thing I could have told him was, they don’t open the door when you’re up there for me to reach out and bring it back. That world of wonder, we all go through that. But that’s when you come to a sudden stop at a certain stage and you know the fairy-stories are just that, they are merely fantastic.
When you come into your youth there is a second component that you look for, and that is the component of truth. How do I know what is true? How do I put my life in trust of that which is true? I remember being at a court case in the Old Bailey where two young girls had charged an older man with having raped them. And we were sitting there watching this in London, overwhelmed by the fact that this man had subjected these two girls, about twelve and thirteen, to that horrid experience. And as we listened to the testimony they were giving, and they weren't in the courtroom because they were minors, it was coming through the medium of television screens, but the man charged was sitting in the room. And then the person defending the man stood up and he said to the two young women, he said, “I have some questions, and I only want one thing from you. Please believe me, I want the truth; nothing more, nothing less. If what you are telling us is the truth we want to charge this man, but if what you are telling us is a lie, then we want to find that out also. Please, tell us the truth when we ask you. If you don’t understand the questions we will explain them to you.” And patiently he began to probe, one question after another. And all of a sudden he threw one little question in. And he said this, he said, “Isn’t it true that you told your parents about two months after you actually said this incident happened?” The two girls sort of struggled with that and said, “Yes, that is correct.” Then he said, “Tell us, on the day that you told your parents, weren’t you in a bus earlier on in the afternoon and this man came over to where you were seated, he saw you up to a certain mischief that he challenged you with, and told you that he was coming to your home that evening to tell your parents that he saw what you were doing that afternoon. Did that happen that day?” There was silence; and one of the young girls said, “I can’t remember,” and the other one just refused to answer. Question after question came, and I had my daughter with me, she was not even in high-school then, and the reason we were there was because she was interested in studying law, and my colleague who is here with me tonight was with us in that courtroom, and about five of us walked out of there. I have never felt so frustrated in my life because we walked out of there in the middle when the testimony was getting more and more graphic, and the question in our mind was, what is the truth here? Because if those two girls were telling the truth there was a wretched individual sitting there who needed to be dealt with. But if he was being framed for some other reason there was an indelible mark going to be put on that individual's life, and the horrible thing you felt was, how will I ever know what happened here?
Ladies and gentlemen, if in one incident like that in life it is important to know the truth, how much more it is for life itself. And what is it that brings life meaning? We can go through the days of infancy with wonder, but then we’ve got to find out what is true. Who made me? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?
Thirdly, it is the sense of love and belongingness – wonder, truth, love and belongingness. I will go beyond this concept of love in my message in my talk to you tomorrow night, but let me just say this, that that sense of belongingness is so real, and that longingful belongingness is a hunger imprinted upon our hearts. If there was anything the story of Princess Diana told this world it was the longing for acceptance and the longing to find love. And if there was anything Mother Teresa’s life told us it was the love and acceptance she gave to the most destitute on the streets, and gave them a sense of belongingness. We hunger for this. Even Bertrand Russell said, out of the three great longings in his life, this one was the most unfulfilled: the longing for love and the longing to belong.
So what brings life meaning? The three components I have given to you: wonder, truth, love; and lastly, security when we get to old age. In our infancy, the sense of wonder; in our youth, the understanding of truth; in our middle years, the experience of love; and in our old-age, the confidence of security. And we have found out through life that many of the things we give to each other as security do not really add up to much. We want something that goes beyond these three score years and ten.
My time is up, and so let me just summarize it with this simple little illustration that I borrow from Chesterton, again. And I apply it in my own life. When three of my children, who are now twenty-two, nineteen, and sixteen, if I were to take you to their lives, say at the age of seven, four, and one, and I were to tell them the same fairy-story. If I were to tell the seven-year old something like this: Little Tommy got up and walked up to the door, and Tommy opened the door, and a lion jumped in front of Tommy; all of a sudden my seven-year old’s eyes would have become wide. Had I told my four-year old Naomi, “Nimmi, Tommy walked up to the door, and Tommy opened the door;” Nimmi’s eyes would have become wide. If I had looked at Nathan at age one, and said, “Nate, Little Tommy got up and walked up to the door;” Nathan’s eyes would have become wide. What’s the difference? At age seven, Sarah needed the dragon or the lion to jump up there. At age four it was all you needed the suspense to open the door and wonder what was going to jump up in front of you. At age one it’s a pretty big deal just to walk up to the door [laughter].
The older you get the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to fill it. Meaning comes from wonder, truth, love and security. And God, who is the perpetual novelty, who gave us a Son who is the way, the truth, and the life, who loved you and gave himself for you on the cross, and says, “Because I live, you shall live also,” that’s when meaning comes in, when these four components deal with the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny, and bring that coherence into your life. Thank you.
DR. CRAIG: As I explained to the folks to whom I spoke last night, I am still recovering from a bout with the flu, and so my voice is somewhat hoarse, and I just beg you to give me your indulgence. I think I can be understood by the use of this microphone tonight, however. I want to thank the Veritas Forum for allowing me, also, to participate in the forum. It has been a delight to be here and especially a privilege to share the platform with Ravi tonight.
As someone raised in a non-Christian home I struggled as a teenager with the issue of meaning to life. And it seemed to me that there are two fundamental prerequisites if life is to have meaning, and those two prerequisites are God and immortality. If there is no God and immortality then it seems to me that life ultimately becomes absurd, because then life ends simply in death and there is no transcendence to infuse meaning into the lives that we do have. It seems to me that life ultimately becomes without significance, without value, and without purpose.
I remember the first time that my father told me as a little boy that someday I was going to die. Somehow the thought had just never occurred to me. But when he told me that it filled me with terrible sadness and horror, and I just cried and cried and cried. He tried to comfort me by saying that my death was a long way off, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter. In time of course I grew used to the fact and managed to live with it. But reading later in life the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre I think I realized that the child’s insight was the correct one. Sartre said whether it’s a few hours or a few years makes no difference once you have lost eternity. And I think that’s very true. If all we do is live to die then ultimately our lives have no more significance than a barnyard of pigs or a swarm of mosquitoes. If we live merely to die then our lives ultimately have no purpose. All of the achievements of mankind, all of the sacrifices, all of the great things are ultimately buried in the midst of a universe in ruins. It ultimately makes no difference. Our lives are ultimately without value. Why live as a Mother Theresa rather than as a Stalin, or as a Hitler? Ultimately everyone’s fate is the same, and the contributions that good people make ultimately make no difference to the fate of the universe.
But it’s not just immortality that we need, I think, if our lives are to be significant, it’s also God. Because if we have mere immortality but without God there is no one to say what is the absolute standard of right and wrong, of good and evil. We would still be purposeless byproducts of the matter plus time plus chance, with no reason for living. There still wouldn’t be any ultimate significance to our lives just in virtue of its having infinite duration. But if God exists then as in the Christian world and life view our lives here on earth are infused with an eternal significance because our end is not death, it is eternal life, to know God, and to enjoy him forever. And there is an absolute standard of right and wrong, in God himself and his nature, and that makes the moral choices that we make in this life tremendously significant.
And so basically I found in the Christian world and life view those necessary prerequisites for meaning to life, namely God and immortality.
MODERATOR: Our second question, which will be initially addressed by Dr. Craig, is the question of the existence of God. How do we know that God exists? What reasons or evidence or arguments could a person put forward to make belief in God rational?
DR. CRAIG: Back in the 1960s, the death of God movement was current in American theology. On April 8th of 1966 Time magazine carried one of its most famous cover stories in which the cover was completely black except for three words in red letters: “Is God Dead?” And it described in that article the movement among American theologians to declare the death of God. Just a few short years after that death of God issue Time magazine in 1967 carried another red on black cover story only this time the question read, “Is God Coming Back to Life?” And it described the movement among contemporary American philosophers and intellectuals to rediscover the vitality of God. And indeed I believe that in my own discipline of philosophy there has been within this last half century literally a revolution in this respect. Several decades ago it was widely believed among philosophers that talk about God was literally meaningless, just gibberish. And yet today I think hardly any philosopher would defend such a point of view. Instead many of America’s finest philosophers at our best universities are outspoken Christians who are using philosophical argumentation in defense of a theistic worldview.
Alvin Plantinga, who is certainly one the greatest Christian philosophers writing today, gave a lecture a couple of years ago entitled “Two dozen or so arguments for the existence of God.” And it was a dazzling lecture in which Plantinga carried his audience through more than two dozen different arguments that he believed makes it more plausible to believe that God exists than that atheism is true. Let me just share a couple considerations with you this evening why I believe that on balance the evidence makes it more plausible that God exists than that he does not.
1. God makes sense of the origin of the universe. Have you ever looked out at the sky at night at the stars and asked yourself, “Where did it all come from? Why does anything at all exist? What does matter and energy or space and time exist instead of just nothing?” Well typically atheists have said that the universe is just eternal and uncaused and that’s all. But I think that discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics during this century have rendered that view less plausible. According to the best astrophysical evidence, the universe is not eternal but began to exist in a cataclysmic explosion called the Big Bang about fifteen billion years ago. Not only were all matter and energy but physical space and time themselves were created in that event. And therefore the Big Bang marks the creation of the universe out of nothing. There was literally nothing prior to that event. Now that raises a profound metaphysical question: How can something come into existence out of nothing? Surely that is impossible, out of nothing nothing comes. That points to the existence of a transcendent cause beyond the universe which brought the universe into being. And by the very nature of the case this cause would have to be a being which transcends time and space, is therefore immaterial and changeless and is enormously powerful; already some of the central attributes of what the theist means by God.
2. God makes sense out of the complex order in the universe. Scientists have been stunned by the discovery in the last thirty to forty years that the initial conditions of the universe were fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a complexity and delicacy that literally defies human comprehension. It’s been shown that there are about fifty constants and physical quantities simply given in the Big Bang themselves that if they were altered even to one part in a hundred million million million the universe would not have permitted the existence of life. And it’s not just one of these or each one of these that needs to be fine-tuned, but the ratios between them need to be fine-tuned. The ratio between the weak force and the gravitational force has to be just a certain proportion in comparison to the ratio of the mass of the neutron to the electron, for example. And the odds against a life-permitting universe are literally incomprehensible. It seems to me that it makes far more sense to say that the universe is therefore the result of intelligent design. As Fred Hoyle, the Cambridge astronomer says, a common sense approach to this would be to say that some super-intellect has monkeyed with physics. In other words we are not here by accident, we are here by design. And that means that this cause of the origin of the universe is not simply an impersonal cause or being but rather a personal intelligent creator who brought the universe into existence.
3. God makes sense out of objective moral values in the world. If God does not exist then it seems to me that objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values I mean moral values which are valid whether anybody believes in them or not. For example, if the Nazis had won World War II and had either exterminated or brainwashed anybody who disagreed with them, anti-Semitism would still be objectively wrong, even if the Nazis had convinced everybody it was right. That’s what I mean by objective values. And what I am arguing is that if God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. Many theists and atheists alike agree on this point. The common evolutionary atheist will tell you that moral values are either just the byproducts of socio-biological evolution, the means by which the selfish gene propagates itself, or else they are simply expressions of personal taste, analogous to saying, “I like broccoli” or, “I don’t like the news.” Similarly someone will say, “Well, I like killing innocent people” or, “I don’t like murder and rape.” They’re just expressions of personal preference. So that if God does not exist I think it’s plausible that there are no objective moral values; these are all just subjective. Frederick Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the advent of nihilism, that is to say, the destruction of all meaning and value in life. And I think that Frederick Nietzsche was right.
Now we’ve got to be very careful here, though. I am not saying that you have to believe in God in order to live a good moral life; I am not saying that at all. Nor am I saying that you have to believe in God in order to learn what good moral values are; I’m not arguing that either. Rather what I am saying is that if there is no God then there are no objective moral values. Moral values are just socio-biological byproducts of evolution or else expressions of personal taste.
But it seems to me that there is simply no reason to deny that objective moral values do exist. I think deep down we all know that objective moral values exist. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Some things like torturing innocent people, child abuse, rape, and murder are objectively wrong. Similarly, things like love, sacrifice, equality, are objectively good. If an atheist says that he doesn’t believe in God then ask him, “Do you really think that the Inquisition was a good thing? That it’s morally neutral to persecute people because of their religious beliefs and burn them at the stake? Were the Crusades morally neutral, to wage war upon other people because they are of a different religion?” I think people will intuitively recognize if they are honest with you, yes, there are some things that are objectively right and objectively wrong. But if moral values cannot exist without God, and objective moral values do exist, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.
Now those are just three reasons that I think it’s plausible to believe that a personal intelligent creator who is the source of objective moral value exists. There are many more arguments that I could share but my ten minutes are up. Perhaps in the question and answer time we can discuss some of these further.
DR. ZACHARIAS: Thank you, Bill. I really have very little to add to that and so I will add very little. But I just want to point out one very interesting facet of the very question, does God exist? I think it was Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the famed English missionary, who came to India and lived there for most of his life right into his eighties and become a very personal friend to Mahatma Gandhi and won the respect of Gandhi, too. E. Stanley Jones made a very profound comment once. He said people in the West spend their time wondering if there is a God while the people in the East spend their time wondering which God to believe in. And I can just say this to you as one who has now lived in the West for a little over half of my life – I came to the West when I was twenty, and America has now become home for me where I treasure my residence; this is my home, this is where my children are being raised. I just want to make a very definitive statement here. The future of this entire nation hangs upon how they answer this question: does God really exist? Because what Bill has said, the extensions from what he said, about particularly the moral nature, the moral struggles with which we all live. This nation right from its inception struggled with reconciling liberty with law. How does one establish law if there is no longer even natural law that is accepted as having a point of reference? And so the issue of a transcendent being from whom our moral order and our moral law comes, I think, is a very significant one.
Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy at University of Southern California, gives a three-staged argument – I think it’s a very well-stated one – why he presents his reasons for the existence of God. Let me just read them for you as he’s worded it, because if I were to start expanding on it it’ll just take me more time. He gives you three stages.
Stage number one: however concrete reality is sectioned the result will be a state of affairs which owes its being to something other than itself. However concrete reality is sectioned the result will be a state of affairs which owes its being to something other than itself. That means every physical state has some specific time preceding it, and then whatever precedes that would have to be something that is non-physical if it is at the same time to be postulated as uncaused.
Stage number two: this is an important step, he calls this not an argument from design, but an argument to design. Evolution, whether cosmic or biological cannot, logically cannot, be a theory of ultimate origins. Its operation presupposes the existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors and an environment of some specific kind that operates upon those entities in some specifically ordered fashion. The type of structure found in evolution did not itself come through evolution. If you want to see an expansion of this see Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box, professor of biochemistry at Leheigh University. I was with him two weekends ago. Just a tremendous analysis as he is dealing with biochemistry and molecular biology to talk about the irreducible complexity which evolution itself cannot explain.
So stage number one, that no matter how you section physical concrete reality it has something outside of itself that needs its explanation. Stage number two, that the very starting point evolution cannot explain because the specified complexity is there.
Stage number three: the course of human events historical, social, and individual.
So when we are talking about God as he exists we are looking at a non-material, an intelligent, and a personal first cause. And when you look at these three stages I believe there is a very persuasive argument made for why the God that we talk about as non-material, personal, and intelligent, the God of the Bible, does exist. Thank you.
MODERATOR: The third question, which will be first addressed by Dr. Ravi Zacharias, is the problem of evil. How can the Christian God who is claimed to be all-good and all-powerful allow there to be evil in the world? And isn’t there a contradiction implicit in claiming on the one hand that God is all-powerful and all-good and on the other hand claiming that evil exists?
DR. ZACHARIAS: I think of all questions this may be the most difficult one to deal with. I have just finished responding to it in the latest book I have completed which will be released in January, the title of that is Cries of the Heart, and I have tried my best to approach this question from various angles, not just philosophical, which much has been written, but particularly the existential aspect of it.
When you are looking for an answer to something as significant as this let me just present to you three areas that I will look to in order to find satisfaction for myself. First, I stated these this afternoon, you’re looking for logical consistency in whatever is presented. You’re looking for empirical relevance here; you are looking for that which can be empirically tested. And certainly you are looking for the existential relevance just as well. So that the logic of it, the empirical adequacy, and the existential relevance. Those three will be brought to bear upon the answer.
Let me expand upon the question so that you can see its assumptions. I stated it very briefly in this afternoon’s Q and A time, but I think I need to give to you the context in which it was raised so that you see how important it is for the questioner to understand the question.
It happened to me many years ago in the early years when I was beginning to do such things as trying to defend the Christian faith in particularly hostile environments. And I was at the University of Nottingham in England when a student did not wait for me to even finish my talk, and he leaped out of his seat and he said, there cannot, there cannot be a God when there is so much evil, so much gratuitous evil. He was obviously agitated by it. I understood how he felt. One of the issues we’ll be dealing with at some time, I remember walking through Auschwitz some years ago before the Cold War had thawed out, and I was asked to do some lectures in Warsaw in Poland. And my host who was a medical doctor asked me if I would like to go and visit Auschwitz before I left. I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see. I had seen Buchenwald in East Germany, but that was not a death camp, and it somehow did not stir up the same horror and the same unrest within you when you stood there. So I understood how this man felt, I understood fully the passion with which he felt it. There cannot be a God, he said, when there is so much evil, especially such gratuitous evil in this world. And I said, can we interact and can we do our best to talk about this without offending each other in the process, but dealing with this with importance because it is important to you, sir, it is important to me. I don’t want to check my brains out at the door, either. I want to have an answer to it just as well.
I said, but help me understand where you are coming from. When you say there is such a thing as evil aren't you assuming there is such a thing as good? He paused and he said, yes, I am assuming that. I said, when you say there is such a thing as good aren't you assuming there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil?
If you remember the famous debate between the Jesuit philosopher Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell, at one point Copleston had Russell pinned on this question. He said, “Mr. Russell, do you believe in right and wrong, do you believe in good and bad?” And Bertrand Russell said, “Yes, I do.” He said, “How do you differentiate between good and bad?” And Russell said, “The same way I differentiate between yellow and blue.” Copleston said, “Wait a minute, you differentiate between yellow and blue by seeing, don’t you?” He said, “Yes.” “How then do you differentiate between right and wrong, good and bad?” Russell shrugged his shoulders and said, “On the basis of feeling, what else?” Now, you know, Copleston was a kind man and carried on the discussion but somebody ought to have stopped and said, “Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors, in other cultures they eat them, both on the basis of feeling. Do you have any personal preference on the matter of feeling here?” How can you decide such monumental issues of life on the basis of feeling, whether something feels right or feels wrong?
So here it is. When you say there is such a thing as evil aren’t you assuming there is such a thing as good? Yes. When you say there is such a thing as good aren’t you assuming there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. He says, I suppose so. I said, but when you assume there is such a thing as a moral law, you must posit a moral law giver, but that’s whom you are trying to disprove and not prove. Because if there is no moral law giver there is no moral law; if there is no moral law, there is no good; if there is no good, there is no evil; what is your question? I said. He paused and looked at me and said, what then am I asking you? [laughter]
Now I knew what he was asking me, he knew what he was asking me. He was basically saying, help me to make some sense out of this, are you [inaudible] by this slight of the hand logic that you have brought in here. No, I wasn’t cheating him, but I was just trying to explain to him that the very framing of the question raises a philosophical dilemma for the questioner as much as it does for the one trying to answer it. How do we resolve this? And so logically the question only intensifies the dilemma because the questioner has to assume a capacity or a law by which to differentiate between good and evil.
So this then moves us to the empirical adequacy part of it, and that is this. When we talk generally of the best of all possible worlds, philosophers have given us four possibilities. Would it not have been better for God to have created nothing rather than creating this kind of a world, no world at all. Number two, would it not have been better for God to have created a world where there was no such thing as good or evil, an amoral world. Number three, would it not have been better for God to have created a world where people would only chose good, a kind of robotic world. Why did he create a world like this, where there was the possibility of good and evil? As soon as you use the word ‘better’ for God to have created the first three, once again you are invoking a moral law and an ability to decide what better would have been. C. S. Lewis points this out constantly. The moment you use the word better you are assuming a way to measure what would have been morally better or superior. So why then this world?
I think in this empirical adequacy slant to the question I want to make this simple comment: Love is known in our experience to be the greatest of all ethics. Love is the supreme ethic. I don’t think it was accidental that when somebody like Theresa was being buried in Calcutta that Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, people from all over the world, including the atheist president of Albania, stood silently beside her corpse in recognition that a life had been beautifully lived and a life that had loved. It is the supreme ethic. So when they look at her will and look at the fact that nothing to her name, a life spent in love. The world of every perspective recognized the supremacy of love. Love is only possible where the opposite is possible, too – to reject love and to choose something contrary to it. So in the best of all possible worlds, if love is the supreme ethic, this is the world that makes it possible.
In the logical case, the question can become self-defeating. In the empirical adequacy, love is made possible. In the experiential relevance, think of it this way now. If I were to take a life, just whimsically, it would obviously be something evil for me to do it, for the simple reason that I cannot restore that life. But if the author of life and the creator of life takes my life has he really taken it, when he also has the power to restore it to the very purpose for which this life was originally created, to enjoy that relationship with him and to glorify him?
So take the standard example: why does a five-year old suddenly die? How can a God of love and a God of goodness justify that? When that child loses that life, in the Christian frame of reference, that life is not lost to God. That life will spend eternity with God as that child is drawn back to God himself who made that child, who made that little one. Now you’ve got the bereaving father or the bereaved mother, the surviving loved ones. God says he gives them strength, gives them sustenance, gives them peace through all of this struggle and through all of this turmoil.
One of the best-known hymn-writers Annie Johnston Flint wrote,
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
This was not written by a successful Hollywood film actress. It was written by a women who was orphaned very early in life. A women who was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and spent most of her life in bed, and had eight pillows cushioning her body from head to toe because her body was covered with sores for all those years. A women who was incontinent, who’d lost control of her internal organs. And a women for whom cancer was sapping away her life. He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater.
So not only is he able to restore the life that is lost, he is able to sustain the one in weakness and in deprivation. What about the skeptic who looks at the tragedy of that lost life, and raises the question? It may be a strong reminder to the skeptic, to awaken the moral reality of the nature of this universe, and to help the skeptic understand that the very raising of the question reflects a moral law and a moral law giver. So that all involved in witnessing this tragedy have some witness of God in the process of raising the question. The one who loses the life, to have it restored; the one who is bereaved, to have the sustenance; and the one who asks the question, to recognize that the question is only valid if God himself exists.
Let me tie it together, which were are left with it as this: the fact of evil, the face of evil, and the feeling of evil. We see this all around us. The fact of evil: the only way to justify it is if there is an objective moral order. The face of evil: the accountability, the personal responsibility. God talks about this in his Word. The feeling of evil: the reason we react the way we do is because something within the heart says this is wrong or this is painful or this is grievous. How does it fit into a scheme of coherence and morality?
A classic example of this in two contrasting illustrations, very quickly here in a moment or so. I remember doing a lectureship in Hong Kong on this subject, and a man who was a lover of Nietzsche and followed Nietzsche’s writings stood up in the middle and said to me: life was meaningless, life had no purpose, he did not think even evil had any valid point of reference. The world was just sort of spinning along, a kind of a Sartrean type of a thrustness. We were in there – empty bubbles floating on the sea of nothingness. No moral judgment was pertinent. After the talk was over and I had responded to his question I asked him to see me afterward. He came to the platform and I was surrounded by a whole lot of people. I said, sir, I want to ask you a question. If I took a two-year old child and put that child on this platform, and took a sword and cut that child up ruthlessly to bits, would you think I had done something wrong? And he paused and he said to me, I would not like it, would not enjoy it, but I can’t really say you would have done something wrong. The people standing around were aghast. I said, my dear friend, even you, while denying the fact of evil and denying the face, the responsibility, of evil, find it inescapable to run from the feeling of evil. Even you would not like it. You had better find out why you don’t or you will live in world of complete chaos and complete cruelty.
The reality of evil points us to the existence of God and his answer on the cross. Thank you.
DR. CRAIG: There are so many things that one would like to say about this profound question. Let me just add a couple of points. I think that one of the reasons that we tend to find the problem of suffering and evil in the world so intractable is because we just sort of naturally assume that if God exists then his purpose in life for us must be human happiness in this life, that God’s purpose is to make us happy. And the suffering and the gratuitous pain in life don’t seem to contribute to that end. But you see on a Christian world and life view that assumption is false. The purpose of life is not human happiness as such, but rather the knowledge of God, which in the end will lead to ultimate human fulfillment and happiness. And there are many evils and sufferings in this life which I think are utterly gratuitous with respect to producing human happiness, but which may not be gratuitous with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God, either on the part of the sufferer or on the part of those around him. And I strongly suspect that it may well be the case that only in a world involving a great deal of gratuitous natural and moral evil that the maximum number of people would come freely to a knowledge of God and his salvation. And I say this not simply by faith but really on the empirical basis of the demographics of the world today. If you read around the world where the Gospel is increasing and multiplying at its most rapid rates, there is almost a one-to-one correlation with countries where intense suffering is occurring. And where the growth of the church is moribund, and the church is flabby, and the growth rates are flat, is in the West where we are so comfortable and so content. But the countries like El Salvador, China, Ethiopia, countries in Africa where the Gospel is growing at amazing rates, it is precisely those countries where intense moral and natural suffering has occurred. So I think that we constantly need to keep in mind that God’s purposes in life are much broader than what is merely conducive to our happiness. His ultimate purposes are to establish the Kingdom of God, and what we suffer should always been seen in light of that greater over-arching purpose.
That leads me to a second comment that I want to make: that our suffering always needs to be seen, I believe, in light of the cross because God shows us in the cross that he is not a distant ground of being or an impersonal creator who coolly sits by and watches us suffer. When people ask, when they go through intense suffering, “Where is God?” then we ought to point them to the cross and say, “There is God.” God is a God who enters into our world of suffering, and takes upon himself the unimaginable suffering of bearing the penalty of the sins of the whole world. Even though he was completely innocent – if anyone could complain of the problem of innocent suffering it would have been Jesus of Nazareth – and though he was innocent he took upon himself the death penalty of sin that you and I deserve. And therefore, seen in light of the cross, the problem of evil takes on an entirely different perspective. When we see his suffering we now realize that the problem is not how God can justify himself to us. The problem is how I, filled with wickedness and sin and morally guilty before God, can be justified before him. And I believe that when we look at the cross, we can say to ourselves as we go through times of suffering, if God would go to that extent, if his love would carry him to those depths for me, then surely out of my love for him I can bear this burden that he has asked me to bear through this short life that I am enduring now. And I believe that this can give us the grace and the strength to endure what God calls upon us to endure during this life.
MODERATOR: Fourth question, which will be fielded initially by Dr. Craig, is the question of the historicity of the resurrection. How can we know that Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead is actually an historical fact and not simply a legend or myth or a story that was created by his followers in order to advance their own movement?
DR. CRAIG: The resurrection of Jesus is one of those events that most folks would say you just either take by faith or not – you just believe in it or you don’t – but it’s not something to which rational inquiry and investigation would be relevant. But I spent two years in West Germany working under one of the leading scholars on the historicity of the resurrection and I found that the historical grounds for believing that event are really quite good, indeed remarkably good. I have written three books on this subject, I’ve talked a thirty hour course on this, so obviously in ten minutes I can only very briefly summarize some of what I found.
It seems to me that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus can basically be grouped under four broad headings.
1. Jesus of Nazareth, after his crucifixion, was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his personal tomb. This fact is highly significant because if the burial site of Jesus was known to both Jew and Christian alike then when the disciples began to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem the tomb must have been empty. It would have been impossible to proclaim the resurrection of a dead man in Jerusalem if everyone knew that the body still lay interred in the tomb in the hillside. And therefore the burial story and its credibility is a very important facet of the evidence for the resurrection.
Unfortunately for skeptical critics who deny the resurrection of Jesus, the burial story is one of the best established facts about Jesus. There are numerous reasons that have led scholars to accept the credibility of the burial account. For example, the burial is mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 in the old information that he hands on that goes right back to the earliest time after Jesus’ crucifixion. It is independently verified in Mark’s source material that he used in writing his Gospel. So we have duel attestation of this event. The fact that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus is highly probable in view of the fact that he is described as a member of the Sanhedrin, the very council that condemned Jesus. Given the resentment in early Christian circles toward the Jewish authorities for their condemnation of Jesus it is highly unlikely that they would have invented a fictitious character like Joseph of Arimathea as a Sanhedrin member who did what was right by Jesus by giving him an honorable burial. Moreover there are no other independent burial stories in existence. If the burial story were a legend you would expect to find traces of competing burial legends. There is none. The only one we know of is the burial by Joseph of Arimathea. And thus John A. T. Robinson, the late New Testament critic at Cambridge University, has summarized it by saying that the burial of Jesus in the tomb is one of the earliest and best established facts about the historical Jesus.
2. On the Sunday morning following his crucifixion the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers. This fact is also agreed to by the majority of New Testament scholars today, whether conservative or mainstream or whatever, on the basis of evidence such as the following.
First of all, the empty tomb story was probably also part of this early source material that Mark used and therefore goes right back to close after the events themselves and couldn’t be a legendary byproduct that arose decades and decades later.
Second, it’s also implied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 where he talks about the burial of Christ and then how Christ was raised.
Thirdly, the fact that women discovered the tomb is very plausible in light of the fact that the testimony of women was regarded as worthless in first century Jewish culture. Women couldn’t even serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law because their testimony was regarded as having zero credibility. In light of that fact any legendary story of the discovery of the empty tomb would have certainly made male disciples to have discovered the empty tomb. The fact that it is women who are the discoverers and chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that, like it or not, they were the discoverers of the tomb and the Gospel writers faithfully record what was for them a very embarrassing and awkward fact.
Fourth, the earliest Jewish polemic presupposed the empty tomb. When the disciples began to preach the resurrection of Jesus what did the Jewish authorities say in response? Did they say, these men are drunk with new wine, or, his body is still there in the hillside? No. They said the disciples came and stole away his body. Now think about that: the disciples came and stole away his body. The earliest Jewish polemic in response to the Christians itself presupposed that the body was missing, that the tomb was empty. And thus they involved themselves in a hopeless series of arguments trying to explain away the emptiness of the tomb by the theft hypothesis.
And thus we have evidence from the very antagonists of the Christians themselves that the tomb was empty. For these and many other reasons the majority of critics agree that the tomb of Jesus was in fact found empty. As Jacob Kremer, who is an Austrian specialist in the resurrection, has written, “By far, most [scholars] hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements [about] the empty tomb.”
3. On various occasions and under different circumstances different individuals and groups of people saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. This fact has been firmly established on the basis of the list of eyewitnesses given by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians where Paul is quoting an old tradition or information that had been handed on to him which probably goes back to within the first five years after the crucifixion. And when you look at these appearances, they are remarkable. Jesus appeared not just once, but many times; not just to one person, but to different persons; not just to individuals, but to groups of people; not just at one locale and one set of circumstances, but at various locales and under different circumstances; not just to believers, but to unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies. Secondly, these appearance traditions are confirmed in the Gospel accounts of the appearance stories, so that again you have multiple attestation of these appearances. And therefore even the most skeptical critics agree with this point. For example, Gerd Lüdemann, who is a very skeptical radical critic from Göttingen University in Germany, admits that it is historically certain, this is a direct quotation, it is “historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
4. The earliest disciples came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. I mean, think of the situation the disciples faced following the crucifixion. Number one, their leader was dead, and Jews had no belief in a dying much less rising Messiah. Secondly, according to Jewish Old Testamental law, anyone who was executed by crucifixion was thereby shown to be a heretic, a man literally under the curse of God. Thirdly, the Jewish belief had no expectation and hope of anyone’s rising from the dead before the resurrection at the end of the world. And yet these earliest disciples indisputably came to believe sincerely that Jesus of Nazareth was risen from the dead, and they were willing to go to their deaths for that belief. C. F. D. Moule, a Cambridge University scholar, has said that we have here a belief which literally nothing in terms of antecedent historical influences can account for apart from the resurrection itself.
Now those four facts are broadly recognized by the majority of New Testament critics today. The only question is: how do you best explain them? And I would simply argue that the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of those facts when you compare it to any other explanation that you can think of – hallucinations, theft hypothesis, swoon theory, whatever. If you compare the historiographical criteria for the best explanation – like explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, not being ad hoc, not contradicting accepted beliefs, and far exceeding its rival theories in meeting those first several conditions – I think you can show convincingly that the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” best meets those criteria for being the best explanation.
And therefore I think the rational man can hardly be blamed if he concludes on the basis of the evidence that a divine miracle occurred on that first Easter morning.
DR. ZACHARIAS: It’s interesting to go even beyond the biblical narrative because one might say there was a vested interest, although there is so much that Bill has already presented that would rise above that criticism. But I find it utterly fascinating, as one who studied and taught world religions, to see how those worldviews, particularly religions at that time that were emerging or subsequent to that that were even antithetical in character to the Christian faith, have responded to this. I think particularly of the Qur’an. Here is a completely different belief in the Islamic worldview, and yet the Qur’an identifies two of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. Number one, the virgin birth of Christ, and number two, that Christ had the power to raise the dead. In two different places in the Qur’an that power is given to Christ – the very power to raise the dead. That power, I think, obviously showing that he was Lord over life and over death, and then raised again to life by his own Father as it was predicted and prophesied in the Scriptures.
There is a common-sense question I had as a younger man studying this and that was: in the milieu in which they lived, had the disciples really wanted to fabricate a claim, and now had been beaten and having seen the Messiah crucified, why would they not have fabricated something that was unfalsifiable – i.e. he said he would spiritually rise again. How would the antagonists have proven them false? They would have said, “Well, he’s lying here, the body is here.” They’d say, “Ah, but he spiritually rose again.” What would you say to that kind of a doctrine? They went the hard route and said that he bodily rose again, so that all the skeptic would had to have done to have completely decimated their case, even years after it was first propagated, was to find the body. And once that body would have been found the whole case for Christianity would have been collapsed. As the apostle Paul himself said, if Christ be not raised from the d