CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Interesting Response to My Post on the Apologist
Is Craig Unreasonable?

Earlier, I prepared a short essay on the role of the Apologist. In it, I mentioned the writing of Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig, Ph.D., who I have heard speak on several occasions and who wrote the brilliant Reasonable Faith, and noted his statements in that book that it is the Holy Spirit who brings people to Christ. I believe his reasoning on this point to be accurate.

In response, an anonymous poster (I wish people wouldn't post anonymously--you can at least use a psuedonym) posted the following which I thought deserved a response:

http://www.jcnot4me.com/Items/contra_craig/contra_craig.htm is an interesting page about how reasonable 'Reasonable Faith' is.

I quote :-

In my twenty minute discussion with him, in the process of getting his signature, I asked him about his views on evidence (which to me seem very close to self-induced insanity). In short, I set up the following scenario:

Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let's pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.

I asked him, given this scenario, would he then give up his Christianity? Having seen with his own eyes that there was no resurrection of Jesus, having been an eyewitness to the fact that Christianity has been based upon a fraud and a lie, would he NOW renounce Christianity? His answer was shocking, and quite unexpected.

He told me, face to face, that he would STILL believe in Jesus, he would STILL believe in the resurrection, and he would STILL remain a Christian. When asked, in light of his being a personal eyewitness to the fact that there WAS no resurrection, he replied that due to the witness of the "holy spirit" within him, he would assume a trick of some sort had been played on him while watching Jesus' tomb.

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Surely this is not reasonable faith but the blindest fanaticism, blind because Craig tells people not to believe the evidence of their own eyes.

Craig wrote 'The fact is we can know the truth whether we have rational arguments or not.'

The man is beyond reason, and is happy to write books saying so.

I find this response interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is an ad hominem. I quoted Craig, who I still find to be an excellent speaker (his talks are not boring if you have the intellect to hang with them [sorry, Mr. Smith -- the ContraCraig writer]), writer and apologist. But I only pointed to a small part of his writings in my post. Anonymous' quote of the comment from ContraCraig does not, in any way, show that the argument that I pulled from Dr. Craig's book is incorrect. Instead, at best, it raises questions about whether Dr. Craig himself believes it.

Second, assuming that what ContraCraig had to say is relevant in some way, and assuming for the moment that he actually had such a conversation and that he is interested in reporting what was really said (both of which are, I believe, debatable), I really doubt that ContraCraig is giving an accurate--or at leastt, full--recital of the conversation of that day. A look at the remainder of his website shows that he has an incomplete understanding about what Dr. Craig is saying in his book. I strongly suspect that his prejudices colored his recollection of what Dr. Craig told him.

Let me give an example based upon one of the Dr. Craig quotes on ContraCraig, and Mr. Smith's response.

Dr. Craig: "Thus, although arguments and evidence may be used to support the believer's faith, they are never properly the basis of the faith."5

Mark Smith's Comment: In other words, evidence itself (remember the time machine?) is not even a proper basis for faith. In other words, EVEN IF the evidence were overwhelmingly against Jesus, even if they dug up his body tomorrow and via DNA testing proved beyond a shadow of doubt that it indeed was Jesus, or even if Jesus himself were to show up dancing naked on top of St. Peter's in Rome to denounce the whole thing as a fraud, NO MATTER WHAT evidence ever arose, evidence doesn't matter to Craig: Craig is still going to believe in Jesus. If any other religionist in the world, say a Mormon with two PhD's like Craig, had told Craig that regardless of the evidence to the contrary, he'd always believe in Joseph, Craig would denounce him, and rightly so, as being closed minded and irrational. That being the case, what does that make Craig?

Mr. Smith (ContraCraig) shows an incomplete understanding of Dr. Craig's point. To be fair to Mr. Smith, that is understandable because Dr. Craig's point is pretty difficult to grasp. But I will give it a try.

The quote comes from the opening chapter of the book in which Dr. Craig is discussing both faith and reason and their roles in belief in Jesus Christ. Being a rigorous thinker, Dr. Craig is clear throughout the book that he believes the truth claims of Christianity. He argues for the truth of the Existence of God based on the Kalam Cosmological Argument. He argues persuasively for the historical reliability of the New Testament and the Resurrection. These arguments are based largely on the fact that there exists accurate, truthful, eye-witness accounts in the Gospels to the events surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. To suggest that the facts don't matter, ignores the entire context of the book.

Then what does Dr. Craig mean by the quote? At this particular point in the book, Dr. Craig is discussing "properly basic beliefs". Properly basic beliefs are beliefs that we can come to without any evidence whatsoever. As stated by Douglus Groothius in his on line Review of Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantiga:

Since his first book God and Other Minds (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), Plantinga has argued, roughly put, that belief in God is epistemologically acceptable even apart from the success or failure of natural theology. One may legitimately believe in God apart from any specific positive arguments—whether inductive, deductive, or abductive—that establish the existence of God on the basic of certain features of the natural world. Theistic arguments may not be wrong in principle or entirely unsuccessful (as some, such as Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Barth have claimed), but they are not required for rational assent.

This is part of what Dr. Craig is talking about. How do I know? Because he spends four pages talking about Dr. Plantiga's ideas of warranted basic belief shortly prior to making the statement quoted. He notes his agreement with the Dr. Plantiga's argument that "God exists" is a basic warranted belief that needs no external evidence. The quote which ContraCraig cites on page 34 follows on Craig's argument that we know first that God is real not based upon the evidence, but upon the "self-authenticating witness of God's Holy Spirit" (Reasonable Faith p. 31) which is, to Dr. Craig, the basis for the basic belief that "God exists."

Having argued that "God exists" is properly basic (somewhat similar to a self-evident truth), he then notes that once a person knows that the Gospel to be true by means of the Spirit, the evidence can be used to support that belief. In other words, the evidence is used to support what we already know as the result of the working of the Holy Spirit. In such a case, the evidence does not take the place of the belief given by the Holy Spirit such that a person holds their faith by the evidence. Rather, the evidence is subsidiary to the belief since the first is the basis for the assurance in God which is faith, while the latter bolsters the assurance.

We do have to be careful here, because Dr. Craig then says something that may seem odd. It is this: "Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not visa versa." It appears here that Dr. Craig is saying that if the evidence demonstrates Christianity is not true, we should proceed on blind faith. Again, one must look at context. What he is saying throughout the book is that the evidence overwhelmingly supports Christian belief (hence, the chapters on evidence for the existence of God, reliability of the New Testament, evidence for the resurrection, etc.). What he is saying is that if a person comes across an argument or evidence that raises doubts about their Christianity, they should not let that argument or evidence control what they already know to be true from the witness of the Holy Spirit. Why not? To answer that, let's look at an example put forth by Dr. Plantiga and discussed by Dr. Craig in Reasonable Faith.

Suppose that a person is accused of committing a murder. He is shown to be on the scene of the crime near the time of the murder, he is shown to have a motive for the murder, and his fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. However, the accused knows, for a fact from his first hand experience, that he was walking alone in the woods at the time of the murder and that there are no witnesses or evidence to support what he knows to be true. The accused knows that he is innocent despite the evidence against him. Does the fact that the evidence is overwhelming for his guilt mean that he should agree that he is the murderer? Of course not. It is part of his knowledge that he did not kill the victim, and he is justified in refusing to accept as legitimate all of the evidence against him that seems to condemn him even though his own knowledge is not based on anything that he can prove.

What Dr. Craig says in his post is that he is justified in believing what he knows to be true from the indwelling of the Spirit over and above what any contrary evidence or arguments suggest even if he cannot personally answer or counter them because what he knows to be true from the revelation of the Holy Spirit trumps the arguments and evidence to the contrary. Thus, when a Christian encounters an argument against God's existence (such as the Problem of Evil), then to remain rational, the Christian must come up with a defeater for the argument. This defeater could be in the form of a well-reasoned apologetic (which there are many), but following Plantiga, Craig goes further. He makes the point that the belief itself may be so strong that the belief itself constitutes the defeater.

So here is what Dr. Craig is saying: A person who comes to a knowledge that Christianity is true as the result of the workings of the Holy Spirit is justified in holding that belief even if the evidence shows to the contrary because they know as surely as the accused man that the evidence to the contrary is false.

So, what did Dr. Craig mean if he said something like ContraCraig is suggesting? Well, I suspect he would have meant something like this: I know, really know, that Christianity is true. I have experienced it first hand, and nothing that you can show me could convince me it isn't true because you are presenting (at best) evidence and arguments which are insufficient to defeat what I know to be true. Thus, if you were to set up some type of time machine that could go back and we saw nothing, I would doubt the time machine more than I would doubt my knowledge of God. To the extent that ContraCraig suggests that no amount of evidence would ever be able to change Dr. Craig's mind, I don't agree that that is how he would answer. Rather, he would ask if the evidence were really sufficient to warrant a rejection of the strongly held belief that Christianity is true--this requires more than a mere argument or suggestion of facts to the contrary. Rather, it would require evidence or argument on a scale that would make maintaining a belief in Christiainty require that he live in a contradiction.

Finally, since it was my post to which he Anonymous poster was responding, I am happy to provide my answer to ContraCraig's question. As a refresher, here is the question:

for the sake of argument let's pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.

I asked him, given this scenario, would he then give up his Christianity? Having seen with his own eyes that there was no resurrection of Jesus, having been an eyewitness to the fact that Christianity has been based upon a fraud and a lie, would he NOW renounce Christianity?

This is my answer:

A. First and foremost, it isn't going to happen. If we went back in time, I am very confident that such a trip would confirm the Biblical account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

B. If, for the sake of argument only, we went back in time in such a time machine and there was no showing of a resurrection, I would first question whether the time machine really worked. I would ask whether I had really been transported back in time or whether the time machine were some sort of trick and we really didn't go back in time. I would wonder whether we were at the right place or time. I would also ask whether the time machine couldn't have taken us back to some alternative time in an alternative universe or if the time machine itself changed time in its passing such that it changed the events of 2000 years ago.

C. Finally, assuming that the time machine worked and it really showed absolutely that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, I would admit what ContraCraig suggests that Dr. Craig would not--I would stop believing in Christianity. Why, because Paul himself said that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christians are the ones most to be pitied.

So, now what? Regardless of whether Dr. Craig believes what I say he believes or what ContraCraig says he believes, we are still left with the question of whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. We have no time machine to go back in time to look at the events 2000 years ago (and for various reasons I think one to be impossible), so we will take a rely on the records we do have. In all sincerity, I find in them a clear and convincing account (i.e., evidence) of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. So, rather than argue about what Dr. Craig believes, how about if we discuss whether belief in Christ is warranted by the evidence? I think you will find that it is.

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