"...I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me..." [Deuteronomy 5:8-10]

Monday, August 09, 2010

William Lane Craig, Steve Hays and undivine revelation

Time and again when talking to religious believers, I come across the spectacle of them asserting how their own spiritual experience validates their religion and beliefs, while rejecting the reported spiritual experiences of those of other faiths as being mistaken, delusional, demonic or even just wrong.

The Christian Apologist William Lane Craig explains on his website:

"Of course, anyone (or, at least any sort of theist) can claim to have a self-authenticating witness of God to the truth of his religion. But the reason you argue with them is because they really don't: either they've just had some emotional experience or else they've misinterpreted their religious experience."
He says he is, philosophically at least, open to the possibility of being wrong (emphasis added):
"So you present arguments and evidence in favor of Christian theism and objections against their worldview in the hope that their false confidence will crack under the weight of the argument and they will come to know the truth. (This also is what the atheist should do with me.)"
In practice, however, Craig makes it clear that no evidence could shake his self-authenticating "witness":
"...if Jesus' bones were actually found, then the doctrine of his resurrection would be false and so Christianity would not be true and there would be no witness of the Holy Spirit. So if Jesus' bones were found, no one should be a Christian. Fortunately, there is a witness of the Holy Spirit, and so it follows logically that Jesus' bones will not be found."
Craig's problem is that by assuming his religious beliefs to be true a priori, he leaves no room for him to examine or challenge his own assumptions to any rigorous standard. Every challenge to his beliefs is met by apologies and rationalization, without any real consideration that he might just be wrong. In short, the burden of proof Craig demands of challenges to his beliefs are much higher - and arguably impossible to achieve - than those he asks or offers in support of his own preconceptions.

This means Craig never examines his own beliefs with the rigour that he challenges the beliefs of others. It is fair to say that Craig is simply dishonest in his handling of evidence for and against Christianity.

Further, Craig's defence of his beliefs leads him to support ludicrous conclusions, such as this:
"God ensures that no one who would believe the gospel if he heard it remains ultimately unreached. Once the gospel reaches a people, God providentially places there persons who He knew would respond to it if they heard it. He ensures that those who never hear it are only those who would not accept it if they did hear it. Hence, no one is lost because of a lack of information or due to historical and geographical accident. Anyone who wants or even would want to be saved will be saved."
Craig argues here that given a free and fair choice, most people created by God would rather be punished eternally in hell with no possibility of reprieve than spend eternity in heaven. He says God placed non-Christians specifically in locations and situations where they were less likely to hear the "Gospel". He says that no matter how sincere a non-Christians religious belief or life is, they deserve nothing less than to burn eternally in hell.

As John Hick, Theologian and Philosopher of Religion, puts it:
"this is manifestly an a priori dogma, condemning hundreds of millions of people without any knowledge of them; and even many other very conservative Christian philosophers have found it repugnant. For on any reasonable view exclusivism, practiced within any religion, is incompatible with the existence of a God whose grace and mercy extends to the entire human race."
In Craig's favour, however, his position does at least allow for the possibility of reasoned argument.

Steve Hays of Triablogue bases his belief on what he calls "divine revelation":
"At the level of basic epistemology, science can never disprove the Bible because divine revelation is our only clear window onto the world. Otherwise, we perceive the world through the stained-glass solipsism of our inescapable subjectivity."
Here Hays denies even the possibility of rationality or reason as the basis for anything. That his beliefs are inescapably subjective will be obvious to everyone else - but it seems this will forever be a mystery to poor Steve.

PTET

8 comments:

Derek said...

Have you not read Alvin Plantinga's God & Other Minds? Or his Warranted Christian Belief? Unless you understand the rational, epistemological warrant the Christian has as foundational to his worldview, then you will only see these apologists' arguments as silly. And your own arguments in response will remain lacking.

PTET said...

Hello Derek. Thanks for your comment.

I am well aware of Plantiga's "Warranted Christian Belief". He simply assumes that the "Christian experience" is a true relationship with God. He provides no grounds for rejecting any other religious experience (Islam, Buddhism, whatever) as false.

Craig and Steve Hays do the same. The assume that their worldview is the only proper one and any evidence to the contrary must be invalid.

That is utterly absurd. How can they test whether their initial assumptions are correct? They can't.

Let's put it another way. "Elves" were part of the folklore of historical icelandic culture. According to Plantiga's logic, do you think a believe in elves would have been "properly basic" for Icelanders? I rather think it would.

Does that make Elves real? Of course it doesn't.

Derek said...

Please don't misunderstand Alvin Plantinga's project. Warrant is different from an apologetic. In these particular works of his we've mentioned, he isn't trying to give an account of Christianity's truth or falseness.

Rather, he is showing that 'given that Christianity is true, it would be reasonable to believe it.' Plantinga's project here goes to strengthen the consequent, not the antecedent.

Craig and Plantinga elsewhere, on the other hand, make other arguments to strengthen the antecedent, that is, that Christianity is true.

This has immense implications for your rhetoric against these apologists. You have conflated the two projects & made it to look as though Craig is providing poor justification anytime he appeals to the Holy Spirit or to divine revelation, when in fact these are two separate arguments. This is entirely different from Craig merely assuming his beliefs to be true a priori.

You have built a wonderful strawman here, & I'd like to see you make amends, lest you look the fool you've made Craig out to be by pasting FAIL over his face. I've actually had the opportunity to meet Dr. Craig, and his character exudes gentleness, love, & respect. I make no appeal to authority or emotion here; I only point out the disconnect between the real person & the image you've constructed & ridiculed. This would also appear to be a strawman of sorts.

PTET said...

Derek

It seems to me you haven;t even read what I've written.

"Rather, he is showing that 'given that Christianity is true, it would be reasonable to believe it.' Plantinga's project here goes to strengthen the consequent, not the antecedent."

If elves existed, it would be reasonable to believe in them. That your/Plantiga's argument. That is ludicrous.

"This has immense implications for your rhetoric against these apologists. You have conflated the two projects & made it to look as though Craig is providing poor justification anytime he appeals to the Holy Spirit or to divine revelation, when in fact these are two separate arguments. This is entirely different from Craig merely assuming his beliefs to be true a priori."

William Lane Craig specifically says that no evidence could contradict the "truth" of Christianity, because he knows it to be irrevocably true. How? The "witness to the holy spirit" tells him. Every argument he makes for Christianity, from God damning most of us to burn in eternal hell, to the "empty tomb" and the resurrection, depends upon assuming that Christianity is true. That is ludicrous. That is circular reasoning. That is a fail.

"I've actually had the opportunity to meet Dr. Craig, and his character exudes gentleness, love, & respect. I make no appeal to authority or emotion here; I only point out the disconnect between the real person & the image you've constructed & ridiculed."

I have no doubt Craig is a charismatic man. He says, however, that when non-Christian babies die, God knows they would have never become Christians, and therefore the babies deserve to be eternally tormented in hell. That is an odious belief, as various other Conservative Christian philosophers have pointed out.

I say that specifically in the very post you have commented on. Did you even read it? It seems to me you didn't.

It is you that is making a strawman argument here.

You claim that I have mis-represented Craig when I have done nothing of the sort. You have simply not read what I've written.

That is how religious belief works. By ignoring evidence to the contrary.

Derek said...

You have grossly misunderstood the quotes of Craig which you have obviously taken out of context. He says nothing of babies; had you done more reading on Craig you would have had a better grasp of his views on natural law, general revelation, & hell, all through an understanding of middle knowledge.

I have not misread your post. (In fact, you say nothing of babies in your post, & neither does Craig.) Contrarily, it appears you have misread Craig and Plantinga, had you even read them at all.

I can see how you might think his argument is circular. But this is only a prima facie, passing look that would lead you to believe so.

As I said earlier, Plantinga's project is to strengthen the consequent of 'given that Christianity is true, it would be reasonable to believe it.' Unfortunately, your elvish counter won't work here, because it conflates the differences between one's epistemic situation & reasonableness of God and of elves.

You have also said nothing of my charge of your conflating the two projects: Giving reasons for God's existence & giving reasons for Christianity's reasonableness. This goes to suggest that you aren't familiar with there being two projects, which was my first intuition upon reading your post.

PTET said...

Derek

"You have grossly misunderstood the quotes of Craig which you have obviously taken out of context"

That is *precisely* what Craig teaches. Think different? You tell me what Craig thinks happens to Muslim babies when they die... Go ahead. Make my day...

"Unfortunately, your elvish counter won't work here, because it conflates the differences between one's epistemic situation & reasonableness of God and of elves."

You do like your meaningless word salads, don't you? If one grows up in an environment where everyone believes in elves, then it if one follows Plantiga's logic, it is "properly basic" to believe in elves. That doesn't make elves exist any more than it makes God exist.

"You have also said nothing of my charge of your conflating the two projects: Giving reasons for God's existence & giving reasons for Christianity's reasonableness. This goes to suggest that you aren't familiar with there being two projects, which was my first intuition upon reading your post."

No, Derek, yet again you miss my point. Craig & Plantiga's arguments for the God's existence depend on underlying assumptions that God must exist. These are circular arguments. Craig's arguments for Christianity depend *entirely* on the assumption that Christianity must be true. (Hey! The [s]voices in his head[/s]witness to the holy spirit tells him so!) These too are circular arguments. Craig's arguments on Christianity don't convince Jews or Muslims or Buddhists. They don't convince atheists either. Funny that...

Derek said...

Peut-ĂȘtre, you're a smart fellow, I'm sure. Do you realize the difference between fundamentalism & coherentism in epistemology? I believe this is what's tripping you up. Illustratively, it is the difference between an upside-down pyramid of beliefs and a raft of beliefs, respectively. You're approaching with a critique more suited against fundamentalist epistemological systems, especially with that nasty accusation of circularity. In fact, you probably believe that these Christian philosophers are arguing a fundamentalist view. I think it's apparent you're confused because you've shown your desire for empirical, basic standards of belief, on which to build upward. You're trying to undercut their pyramid point at bottom, wishing to see it all fall down. But I really think you've got these philosophers mistaken. As a coherentist, one argues from a vast source of evidence & compares competing hypotheses until one comes to the best explanation. Inference to the best explanation--in this case, the Christian worldview. It is based from this web of beliefs that Christian philosophers give both polemics and apologetics for their beliefs. That is what you're working against. I hope that's helpful.

I really don't like this faceless format. Ad hominems abound & real issues are more likely to be kept hidden. I'm also unfamiliar with blogger as a whole, which is probably why I delivered you a tasty word salad. You can find me on facebook at the link I provided if you'd like to continue to dialogue.

PTET said...

Hello Derek

"Do you realize the difference between fundamentalism & coherentism in epistemology? I believe this is what's tripping you up..."

It staggers me how much you are missing the point. Craig's explanation of Christianity is incoherent.

"As a coherentist, one argues from a vast source of evidence & compares competing hypotheses until one comes to the best explanation"

Bollocks. William Lane Craig rejects all evidence which contradicts his supposed "truth" of Christianity. He says so clearly. His arguments depends on interpretations of cosmology and historicity which are rejected by most scholars, Christian and otherwise.

Do you *really* think the best explanation for the universe is that God created humanity knowing most of us would be damned eternal torment in hell no matter how well we lived our lives purely and simply because we are not Christian? That is what William Lane Craig says. That is completely insane. It is entirely incompatible with the concept of God being "loving" and "compassionate". Everything we humans do is irrelevant, according to Craig - if we aren't Christians in our finite lives we deserve infinite punishment.

Craig's answer to this is to say that God can do whatever he wants because God is God. That's no explanation. Craig claims that without his "God" there is no grounds for compassion or love.

That is so stupid it makes my head spin.

Absolutely everything humanity has achieved or will ever achieve it does through society, personal relationships and co-operation. Is the universe ultimately meaningless? Maybe it is... But to pretend that without "absolute" morality or "absolute" love that there is no morality or love at all is, frankly, cretinous.

My problem with William Lane Craig is not that he is a "fundamentalist" - although many of his "conclusions" are indistinguishable from fundamentalism.

No - my problem with Craig is that the explanation he provides for "Christian truth" is worse than incoherent. It is horrible. It damns billions to eternal torment in hell solely for having the wrong religion.

If God exists, I cannot believe God is like that. Why? because it would make God into the ultimate tyrant. Is that what you believe? That God is indistinguishable from a tyrant? And that God's punishment for a Muslim child, living a short, sincere life, is eternal torment with no possibility of reprieve purely because they didn't wub the babee jeebus?

How stupid can you get.

I understand why Craig thinks this. it's because religion, all religion, provides comfort - and Craig has spent his life telling himself over and over that his religion is right and loving and kind and compassionate - and he still thinks this even though the philosophy he spouts is - to any outsider - odious.

...And I don't do Facebook. You're welcome to comment here anytime.

P