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#40 Stuart Hackett

January 20, 2008

Dr. Craig,

Please share your best memories of Dr. Stuart Hackett and his influence on your thought.



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Dr. craig’s response


I was surprised to receive this question! (It does not come from Dr. Hackett’s son David!) Too often we wait until someone is dead to memorialize him. But I’m glad to do this while Stu is still with us.

My first acquaintance with Stuart Hackett came during the first semester of my freshman year at Wheaton College. Wheaton required an Intro. to Philosophy course of all students, and since it fit my schedule, I signed up. I have to confess that I didn’t particularly like the class. It was basically a course surveying the history of western philosophy. Looking back, I think that this is the wrong kind of course to require of Intro. students. With no background in philosophy, I was bewildered by the parade of thinkers—Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Leibniz, and so forth—all spouting these weird, contradictory, and equally unsubstantiated opinions on things. Tragically, even though I got an “A” in the class, I came away thinking that philosophy was just irrelevant. I think it would have been far better to have taught such a course thematically, focusing on several of the “great questions,” such as freedom of the will, the nature of knowledge, the existence of God, and so on, and showing the relevance of such questions to Christian theology.

Dr. Hackett was a character! He always arrived with his brief case and green, plastic water glass with an STP sticker on it. He informed us that he wore a necktie only because his wife made him; but as a gesture of independence, I suppose, he wore the goofiest ties you could imagine, including homemade monstrosities sewn by his daughter. He challenged anyone in the class who wasn’t on an athletic team to a push-up contest (it was rumored that he had lost only once in his career). When he lectured, his sentences were so long and prolix that by the time he got to the end I’d had lost my way in the maze of subordinate clauses and caveats. He had the habit of re-phrasing our simple questions, beginning with something like, “By that, do you mean to say. . . ?” and off he’d go into a long, convoluted re-formulation, leaving the poor, benighted student unsure of exactly what it was that he had asked! At first I thought that he was showing off, but it gradually dawned on me that he just naturally talked in long, Germanic sentences. I tried hard to understand him, but I fear with little success.

I think that Stu’s finest moment that semester came one day when Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life Fellowship spoke in morning chapel. His text was Acts 17 on Paul's address to the Athenian philosophers assembled on Mars Hill. Wyrtzen noted that the philosophers called Paul literally a “seed picker.” But, in fact, Wyrtzen said, it is philosophers who are really the seed pickers, and he went on to ridicule philosophers for what they do. This slap was especially awkward and embarrassing because it came the very week that Wheaton’s esteemed annual fall philosophy conference was taking place. Hackett’s class followed immediately after chapel, so all of us students were on the edge of our seats to see how Dr. Hackett would respond. When he came into the classroom, he said in a loud voice, “Are all of you seed pickers ready?” When the laughter subsided, he said, “Here’s what I’ve got to say about today’s chapel message. When I’ve brought as many people into the Kingdom of God as Jack Wyrtzen, then I’ll criticize.” Without further ado, he launched into his lecture. I thought, “Wow.”

I never dreamt that many years later Stu and I would become faculty colleagues in the same department. But when I was wrapping up my doctoral studies in Munich, I received a call from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School offering me a position as an assistant professor of philosophy. During our time in Europe Stu had left his post at Wheaton, where he had spent the bulk of his career, to teach in the Philosophy of Religion department with Norman Geisler at Trinity. Norm was now leaving Trinity for Dallas, creating the opening now offered to me. Jan and I talked it over and decided to take the position. So in January of 1980 I joined Stu in the department at Trinity.

Stu definitely didn’t fit the mold of your typical seminary professor, and the students loved his eccentricities. His dear wife Joan had by this time given up on trying to get him to wear a tie, so he usually sported a large cross. He had grown a beard, but (to compensate, he said) shaved his head down to a stubble. He wore clashing colors like purple and maroon with a leather belt given to him by his son featuring a marijuana pipe on the buckle (which he wore upside down so people wouldn’t recognize what it was and take offense). He served as the chair of the department, and since he hated administrative work, he was extremely efficient at it. Since Stu and I were the only full-time members of the department, we never had departmental meetings—he’d just call me up on the phone, and we’d dispatch the departmental business in a few minutes.

I discovered that Stu and Joan were such a loving couple and have a wonderful marriage. Talk about opposites! She was always so proper and conservative in her appearance and demeanor. You couldn’t help but wonder how they ever got together. But together they modeled for the students what a Christian marriage looks like. The students loved them and were often in their home, whether for get-togethers or just hanging out. During the seven years I taught at Trinity Jan and I became good friends with Joan and Stu. Their friendship never meant more to us than during the very difficult days in 1986 when Trinity’s administration decided to eliminate the Philosophy of Religion program and close our department. Stu was disgracefully shunted over to the undergraduate college and I found myself out of a job, now with two small children to support. Joan was like a mother to Jan during this time, always there with words of counsel and comfort. They encouraged us and prayed for us, as we looked for employment elsewhere. In some ways it was actually easier for us than for them, for losing my job at Trinity catapulted us into a whole new career, as we returned to Europe and spent seven years at the University of Louvain, while Stu and Joan had to remain there with the constant reminder of an administration that no longer valued a man who was arguably their most brilliant professor. Yet Stu and Joan bore this trial with grace and charity.

They’ve now moved back to the Wheaton area, where they can be near their children. Stu is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. His final book on Ethics remains unpublished, and I’m currently seeking to find a publisher for it. Pray for this.

Just prior to graduating from Wheaton in 1971, I picked up a copy of Stu’s book The Resurrection of Theism on a clearance table at the college bookstore. Later during the fall, when I got around to reading the book, I was absolutely stunned by what I read. In contrast to what I had been taught in my theology classes at Wheaton, Dr. Hackett, with devastating logic, was defending arguments for God’s existence and providing refutations of every conceivable objection to them. The centerpiece of his case was a largely ignored vision of the cosmological argument: it is rationally inconceivable that the series of past events be infinite; there must have been a beginning of the universe and therefore a transcendent cause which brought it into being. Reading Hackett’s book was a shocking, eye-opening experience for me. I had to find out if he was right.

In 1973 I enrolled in the Master’s degree program in Philosophy of Religion spearheaded by Norm Geisler at Trinity. One of the program’s entrance requirements was the Graduate Record Exam in philosophy, so in preparation for the exam I read and took detailed notes on Frederick Copleston’s nine-volume History of Philosophy. It was there that I discovered the long history of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian thought about the argument which Hackett was defending. I determined that if I could ever do doctoral work in philosophy, I would write my Ph.D. dissertation on this argument.

Through a series of extraordinary providential events, I did write on the cosmological argument under John Hick at the University of Birmingham, England. Eventually three books flowed out of that doctoral dissertation. I was able to explore the historical roots of Hackett’s argument, as well as advance his analysis. I also discovered quite amazing connections to contemporary astronomy and cosmology.

Because of its historic roots in medieval Islamic theology, I christened the argument “the kalam cosmological argument” (“kalam” is the Arabic word for medieval theology). Today this argument, largely forgotten since the time of Kant, is once again back at center state. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2007) reports, “A count of the articles in the philosophy journals shows that more articles have been published about Craig’s defense of the Kalam argument than have been published about any other philosopher’s contemporary formulation of an argument for God’s existence. . . . theists and atheists alike ‘cannot leave Craig’s Kalam argument alone’” (p. 183).

The credit for the revival of this argument goes ultimately to Stu Hackett. I am convinced that if The Resurrection of Theism had been published by Cornell University Press rather than Moody Press, then the revolution in Christian philosophy that began with the publication of Alvin Plantinga’s God and Other Minds in 1967 might well have begun ten years earlier. I thank God for the impact of Stuart Hackett upon my life.

- William Lane Craig