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#611 Response to Comments on NYTimes Interview

December 27, 2018
Q

Actually not a question but a compliment. I thought your answers to Nicholas Kristof's questions were pitch perfect. There are so many misunderstandings in what I would call the secular world about Christianity (and, to be fair, the reverse is probably also true) and you did a wonderful job of bridging that gap.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/21/opinion/sunday/christmas-christian-craig.html?
emc=edit_nk_20181221&nl=nickkristof&nlid=5947292120181221&
te=1&fbclid=IwAR0dq4NjAoOHcCUlj4mWK9yX5S0JwjnF_xRCtAx1rvQQ-Zto3rRcQCyNgH8

Holt

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

Thanks for the encouraging word, Holt!  I was delighted that our all-too-brief interview evoked such a vociferous reaction! I’ll take hostility over apathy any day!

The most striking impression I had of the many criticisms is the ignorance they evince of the whole realm of Christian scholarship, which seems to be invisible to the detractors. They seem to be blissfully unaware that there are thousands and thousands of like-minded philosophers, New Testament scholars, and scientists who share my belief in the tenets of “mere Christianity.” These scholars are active in their professional societies, publish in peer-reviewed journals and with top academic presses, and teach at our universities.  Are we to regard such eminent scholars as Alvin Plantinga, George Ellis, and N. T. Wright as idiots or charlatans?

The fact is that these detractors tend to be living in a world of their own, safely sequestered, not only from Christian scholarship, but from the broad range of scholarship pertinent to the issues discussed. Some of them go so far as to castigate Mr. Kristof for daring to disturb their tranquility by invading their world with his interview. Their intellectual isolation is evident, for example, in

(i) their endorsement of Jesus-mythicism, a view which, having been tried and rejected by scholars, went out with the 19th century;

(ii) their adherence to scientism, a self-defeating epistemology popular during the first half of the 20th century which is now virtually universally rejected by philosophers; and

(iii) their scepticism about the possibility of miracles, despite the almost unanimous recognition by contemporary philosophers that Hume’s argument is a failure.

It’s interesting that many of the detractors are fine with theists’ holding their views by faith.  But they become angry when it is suggested that there might actually be evidence in support of Christian theism. Why the anger? Many of them seemed to have overlooked the modesty of my claims. I’ve argued that belief in Christian theism is reasonable. That doesn’t preclude that unbelief is also reasonable. Why must we impugn the rationality of those with whom we disagree?

Many of the detractors seem to think that theistic belief is intellectually contemptible. They thereby evince their apparent lack of familiarity with contemporary debates concerning the origin and fine-tuning of the universe, which have served to make theism a viable option even among physicists. Today theism is a respected, if minority, position among professional philosophers.  If you’re interested in looking at some of the contemporary developments of arguments for the existence of God, take a look at The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).

As for Christian theism, I wonder if the detractors are aware that mythology is no longer regarded as a relevant category for understanding the historical Jesus. During the twentieth century there was among biblical scholars a movement which has been called “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.”  It came to be appreciated that the proper interpretive context for understanding Jesus of Nazareth was not pagan mythology but first century Palestinian Judaism. With respect to Jesus’ virginal conception, in particular, pagan myths of gods’ assuming human form and having sexual intercourse with human females to sire offspring is precisely the opposite of a virginal conception! 

How one views the virgin birth story will doubtless be affected by whether one thinks that in Jesus God has chosen to decisively reveal Himself. How we assess his alleged resurrection from the dead will be crucial here.  Today the wide majority of historical scholars who have written on the topic affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was executed by Roman crucifixion, that his corpse was interred in a tomb by a Sanhedrist named Joseph of Arimathea, that that tomb was discovered empty by a group of Jesus’ women disciples early Sunday morning following his crucifixion, that various individuals and groups had experiences of seeing Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead despite having every predisposition to the contrary.  Now the detractors may disagree with these facts, but then they need to refute the evidence that convinces the majority of scholars otherwise.  These facts seem to make belief in Jesus’ resurrection and in his radical personal claims quite reasonable—unless you’ve got some overriding argument for the impossibility of miracles. Given theism, the burden of proof falls on the sceptic’s shoulders.

So I stand firmly by my claim that belief in Christian theism is a reasonable faith and would invite its detractors to look once again at the evidence in its support.

- William Lane Craig