William Lane Craig – A Reasonable Faith: A Critique
William Lane Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’ is an unashamedly apologetic book. Craig exemplifies, no, defines the word ‘apologist’. As such, the raison d’être for this work is to arm the educated Christian with the tools with which to defend their faith. Consequently, the overall feel of the work is that if being on the end of a thorough evangelisation. In this way, though, it becomes apparent to the critical reader (and one such as myself who has taught persuasive writing) that Craig’s writing is very persuasive. I don’t mean this by the idea that it has persuaded me (it hasn’t) but that it is full of the techniques that a writer, debater or politician would utilise to persuade his most ardent of opponents. This means that in reading the book, one has to be on their toes in trying to separate fact from opinion from embellished fact from fallacy.
It is also difficult to sometimes work out what Craig’s own opinions are as he talks you through the work of many apologists and theologians without explicitly saying, “And that’s what I believe too”. One must assumes that if Craig is going to mention theologies of famous thinkers, then these must be relevant to his own arguments, and must be ideas with which he concurs. An example of this is on page 31 when Craig is talking about Augustine’s theology. He tells us that it is not the miracles within the bible that Augustine appeals to in order to argue for the truth of Christianity, but the ‘miracle’ of the church, of the reality of Christianity. The size and scope of Christianity (certainly in Augustine’s time) surely adds strength to the claims of Christian veracity! Surely not. Not only does this beg the same question for every other religion the world over (and Islam is 600 years younger and without the explicit support of the Old Testament), but Christianity has not grown at any miraculous rate.
Sources such as Crossley (2006) and Carrier (2009) amply show that the growth of Christianity was not spectacular at all, and rather less than many other religions around the world. Many religions such as The Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and even Nichiren Shoshu have shown superior growth figures, and they didn’t have the intimidation of the Church in the Middle Ages!
Augustine’s theory seems to be nothing short of an argumentum ad popularum that can be just as easily applied to every other major religion in the world. Sadly enough, this same theory seems to be expressed by Thomas Aquinas, and one must argue that Craig agrees as he sets out the views shortly after Augustine’s faulty theory.
Craig seems to garner his ‘faith trumps reason’ tack that he is most often berated by secular thinkers for from Henry Dodwell who proposed the basis of the authority of faith comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit (p.36). This is an obvious example of question begging centring around the Holy Spirit and such authority can be applied to any other religion’s claim for spiritual authority through experience. Craig quite often employs a position of special pleading for Christianity which is utterly undermined by the idea that many of his arguments could just as ‘validly’ be applied to other religions.
Craig gets himself in a tangle over fideism and the reason (evidence) vs faith debate (p.37). Craig hints at the problem of faith and evidence through explaining the position of Bultmann. However, he does absolutely nothing to explain the more difficult points or offer anything like a solution. He mentions that evidence renders faith impotent (which is true) and that for faith to have any meaning, there must be uncertainty (which I too agree with). But he leaves this problem here, and this is disingenuous. Craig does not address what I call the Problem of Evidence, and its utterly arbitrary manner, and subjective problems. To explain, I will quote from my upcoming book (‘501 Questions To Ask God’) and I apologise for the long quote:
51. Quite often, people ask why you don’t give some really explicit, big piece of evidence so that no one can have doubt that you exist? For example, you could put a cross on the moon. This would mean that everyone could be ‘saved’ through union with God (Universal Salvation) and no one would have to go to hell (I’m being simplistic here) because everyone would know you existed and would believe. Theists respond that this would mean that people would be having their arms twisted to believe in you, that there would be no free will in the act of believing – everyone would have sufficient evidence. However, take Mark, a believer, who believes with just a ‘normal’ amount of evidence. He has sufficient evidence to believe. Why is it that Mark is not seen as having his arm twisted, as seen as having free will, since he has a level of evidence that is sufficient to bend his will?
52. Someone (let’s call them Jill) would believe in God with less evidence than Mark. and someone could believe with just a little bit less, or might need a little more. This evidence is again sufficient for Jill, and for each other person. Is it true that the amount of evidence you have given to the world is arbitrary considering different people have access to different amounts, and have different levels of ‘believability’?
53. Given (for example) that you have provided just enough evidence so that Mark believes, and more than enough for Jill, it follows that anyone requiring more evidence than Mark will not have enough evidence to believe. Knowing that you could give enough evidence so that everyone could believe (thus achieving Universal Salvation), you have chosen not to. Thus is it not true that you want there to be non-believers / condemned people?
54. In the New Testament, your disciples were given visions and / or appearances of Jesus returning from the dead, with disciples eating meals with the resurrected Jesus. However, most of us now are not shown such luxury and evidence. Why is it that the level of evidence is not uniform across humanity and history, with some people receiving much more evidence than others for your existence?
The questions 51 to 54 are seemingly confusing, but offer a veritable conundrum to the believer. There is an illusion from an individual’s point of view that they have freely chosen to believe in God based on the amount of evidence that they have received. This is sufficient reason for them. In Mark’s case, let’s call it (arbitrarily) 58% evidence. He thinks he has used his free will, but the truth is that that percentage is sufficient for him to believe. Jill believes with only 39%. Then when someone asks Mark, “Why doesn’t God show himself by putting a cross on the moon (90%)?” he answers “Because then that will be twisting your arm and not allowing you to freely choose God”. However, the fallacy here is that this is exactly what is happening to Mark in comparison to Jill. Whatever evidence Mark has received compared to Jill is effectively equivalent to a cross on the moon for someone else. The moral of the story is that evidence is seen as twisting someone’s arm whenever it is more evidence than you have received. It is an entirely subjective problem and does not appear to be easily resolved. (Pearce 2011*)
Craig must realise that Christianity is competing against every other religion in the world for the hearts and minds of believers. I think he often sits within his ivory tower of Christianity without being able to understand that non-believers have a blank slate with which to approach every religion, and Christianity is just one of a large number that should garner no special free passes because that is the one he believes. Therefore, evidence is utterly paramount to the neutral – it is all you have to compare one religion against another in any kind of objective way. Craig was born into Christianity (culturally) and therefore any spiritual experience gets translated through the matrix of Christianity. Geography and parental influence count for much.
Craig also talks about Barth’s use of the Word of God in his argumentation (p.37) which is another exercise in begging the question. Talking about the ‘Word of God’ and ‘The Holy Spirit’ as meaningful media with which to convert a neutral is a non-starter. It means something to people already within and well-acquainted with Christianity but in reality it is evidence that has the power in this age. This from Craig (p.37) sums up the idea that much of what he says begs the question, especially since he does nothing to critique the erroneous arguments used by the theologians that he cites:
If it be asked how one knows that it is indeed the Word of God that confronts him and not a delusion, Barth would simply respond that such a question is meaningless. When the Word of God confronts a man, he is not free to analyze, weigh, and consider as a disinterested judge or observer—he can only obey. The authority of the Word of God is the foundation for religious belief.
This seems to be akin to saying that you cannot use your powers of rational criticism to approach the Word of God. Such anti-critical thinking sounds dangerously similar to Islamic approaches to critical thinking with regards to much of their belief system and the Qu’ran in general.
Craig continues his Christocentric (from a religion point of view) bias shown in his explanations of the views of Augustine, Pannenberg and suchlike with his section on Alvin Plantinga. Craig, as we know, likes POlantinga and takes time to dip inot his properly basic belief thesis based on experience through the Holy Spirit. Properly basic beliefs are axiomatic beliefs that do not depend on other assumptions that need proving in order to be held in a valid fashion. If you can warrant the use of properly basic beliefs in world where pyrrhonism is the only truly logical path to take, along the lines of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, then you might be able to argue towards belief in God being a properly basic belief.
Craig / Plantinga’s approach does seem to be immensely question begging. It implies and assumes that the experience of God that one might have is on the same evidential and sensory level of recognising the sky as blue in the morning. This makes for an uneasy conclusion, since you can use Plantinga’s properly basic belief argument (based upon experience) to argue for the warranted belief in any religio-spiritual experience. Crystal auras, Hindu, Sikh, animistic and Wiccah experiences all qualify. Anecdotally, I met a couple once, at university, and was speaking to the girlfriend at the bar. Her boyfriend was a Wiccah witch and he swore blind that he could astral project, and much of his belief system was built around these experiences that he had undergone. I asked her whether, since she was not an adherent to his beliefs, she believed he could astral project. She declared that, since they had been solid for over a year together, and their relationship, like any, was built on trust, she had to believe him. She believed he could astral project, or at least that he thought he could astral project. This experiential belief, which stretched past the individual in question to an (erstwhile sceptic!), was arguably a properly basic belief, warranted by his sensory experiences in exactly the same way a Christian can experience God. It is no less or more extraordinary to me, a disbeliever in both. A Christian might pour scorn on such fanciful witchcraft beliefs, but they are begging the question of their own fanciful beliefs in their own far-fetched God and rituals (of drinking the blood and eating the flesh of their dying and resurrecting God).
On page 43 Craig talks about the ‘role of the Holy Spirit’. There is no serious attempt to investigate exactly what the Holy Spirit is, how it operates with the other two aspects of the Godhead and whether it is a logical incoherence in the first place. To use the Holy Spirit to argue in the section ‘How Do I Know Christianity Is True?’ is a text book definition of begging the question. You cannot argue for the veracity of God from asserting the truth value of … God! Craig should know better. We are back to arguing from personal experience, which can be equally applied to every other religion. The following quote requires no commentary other than I could not disagree with such an assertion any more than I do this question-begging, distinctly irrational one (p.43):
the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as “God exists,” “I am condemned by God,” “I am reconciled to God,” “Christ lives in me,” and so forth; that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for him who attends fully to it.
With fear of sounding like a stuck record, this particular section is one question-begging paragraph after another; so many unfounded assumptions and bare assertions are employed to serve his end as to beggar belief. And again (p.47), see how this argument can be used for any religion by just substituting ‘Holy Spirit’ with ‘personal experience from X religion’:
But what about the second point: the role of argument and evidence in knowing Christianity to be true? I’ve already said that it is the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fundamental knowledge of Christianity’s truth.
Craig attempts to answer this problem on page 49, only to offer this as the answer: “the experience of the Spirit’s witness is self-authenticating for him who really has it. The Spirit-filled Christian can know immediately that his claim to the Spirit’s witness is true despite the false claims made by persons adhering to other religions.” I actually want to laugh at this. A lot. He also continues to claim that other people’s experience of their own god in other religions might be true. It might be that the Christian God is at work appealing to other people through their belief in their own God. Really? Would an all-powerful and loving God do this, but allow them to remain believing that their experiences are of Vishnu to Allah? And to continue seeing Christianity as patently false, infidel? Unlikely to say the least. He then continues to make bare unfounded assertions by claiming that other people’s religious experiences are fundamentally different to Christian experiences. Oh really? The proof? I find myself getting angry at someone who is supposedly a knight in shining armour for Christianity using such fallacious and poor argumentation. This would simply only ever massage the beliefs of an uncritical believer. Never would a rational and critical atheist give these arguments the time of day: they are almost childish.
Whilst proclaiming how the Christian can know God epistemologically, Craig balances this presumption with an even greater one. Craig seems to be able to speak on behalf of those who do not know God. Page 47 contains such a presumptuous quote:
No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.
This seems to me a little outrageous as a claim, to say the least. This doesn’t deal at all with issues about why you would ‘love darkness’. There is no evidence that Craig is willing to deal with causal circumstances that would lead people to choose evidence over faith (even though Craig claims it has nothing to do with evidence). Rather than just saying, “Well, unbeliever, you seem to have embraced darkness and because you have turned away from the light of Jesus.” This is an infantile, at best, description of unbelief, a skin-deep analysis of what goes on in the unbeliever’s mind. Since Craig is not an unbeliever, I suggest he is not best positioned to second guess their reasons for belief. Understanding the causal circumstance is utterly necessary to comprehend the complex reasoning why people believe anything. It is no good being tautologous and asserting people embrace darkness because they turn away from Jesus. You need to ask why they turn away from God – and is no good saying ‘because they embrace darkness’.
If it wasn’t about arguments and evidence, Craig wouldn’t spend his life debating these very things in auditoriums around the world.
Page 47 continues to present circular reasoning, with Craig co-opting a quote from John and stretching it tenuously so it doesn’t contradict the freely willed turning away from God:
The fact that we do find people who are seeking God and are ready to believe in Christ is evidence that the Holy Spirit has already been at work, convicting them and drawing them to him. As Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 esv).
There are definite Calvinist overtones here, surely. In the end, all that Craig does is provide bare assertion in his views on how disbelievers come to be. As page 50 states:
The Bible says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit.
So even the people who have no good reason, have been shown or have no access to good evidence for Christianity, have rejected God. This seems to be a case of
1) arguing from the bible to prove the bible
2) arguing for theological fatalism
3) discounting the causal circumstances of everyone in the world
In other words, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you have come from, what your upbringing is, what your genetic code is; the only thing that matters is whether you accept the Holy Spirit or not. But Craig sees this accepting event as completely in isolation of all the things I have listed! This is nothing short of insane rationale. No rational person would claim that any decision, let alone a worldview defining one, is made in utter isolation of everything that makes you who you are.
The worst thing is that this is the core theology to the book. Everything else pales into insignificance. It comes down to your acceptance or non-acceptance og God, and Craig seems to get this wrong.
The assertions that Craig makes on behalf of the Holy Spirit continue on page 56. Craig seems infallibly know that, when he is debating for, arguing for and writing for Christianity and the truth of the religion, it is the Holy Spirit that is working through him. Without really providing any kind of experiential evidence for this (even though personal experience is very doubtful, as René Déscartes would concur), it is difficult to take his claims seriously. It amounts to “I know that my arguments for Christianity are facilitated through me by the Holy Spirit because I know this to be true” which is obviously highly contentious. But this really is all that the sections on the Holy Spirit can say. To repeat, substitute Holy Spirit with the spirit of Zoroaster and you have proof for Zoroastrianism.
The simplicity with which Craig treats purpose and hope in the lives of unbelievers is nothing short of disingenuous. Page 67 contains a large quote from Pascal that concludes that either you have God or you have nothingness. Craig takes this on further to claim that unbelievers have an existence of “despair, boredom, and anxiety”, such is “the misery of man”. Such a mischaracterisation of unbelief is infantile. Craig knows this, and he is manipulating his readership. He is a philosopher that has surely studied the purpose of life, and to argue that unbelievers have none is ridiculous.
Craig commits the same fallacy here as he does with morality, claiming that the only purpose or morality that can mean anything is one that is objectively grounded by God. There is much to be said here, and I would hasten to disagree with all of Craig’s conclusions. I do not believe in objective ideals, and so his whole house of cards comes tumbling down (as I have said in other essays). Craig is again full of tautologies. “You can have no ultimate purpose to life without God” is tantamount to saying “You can have no God-given purpose to life without God”. Well, yes.
A purpose decreed by God to a human is not a human purpose. The meaning we prescribe to our lives will always be subjective, irrespective of whether God exists or not. Any purpose grounded in God is a purpose for and of God. I will now insert a lengthy quote from my “Meaning of Life” essay to illustrate my point:
If there is an objective purpose (one that exists in all possible worlds, for humans), it is a highly subjective process of trying to decipher exactly what it is! This is very important to note, and is analogous to objective morality. There is pointlessness or inconsequentiality to an objective purpose if each and every person does not know what it is, and all make up their own subjective purpose to replace it. This subjective / objective interplay provides ample reason to cast doubt on the existence (or usefulness) of objective purposes.
Let us return, though, to the idea that to have a purpose requires a purposer (someone to import purpose onto something else). ‘What is the purpose of a spade?’ assumes that the spade has a purpose outside of itself to another entity, for a specific end (i.e. for a gardener to dig). Thus, the question with regards to life would imply there is another entity outside of humanity that can use humanity to achieve a certain end. In this case, humans serve a purpose rather than have a purpose. This obviously begs the question of whether there is an entity outside of humanity that can give human life a purpose. Is there a Creator who gives us purpose? Assuming, though, that there is a god, and that we do indeed have an objective purpose, where does that leave us? I would go as far as to say, however, that given the objective purpose provided by a god, it simply becomes a subjective purpose to that god. If the spade was sentient, and decided that it didn’t fancy being used to dig holes in my garden at my behest (I am the purposer here, the god), but wanted to take on a nobler cause of digging gardens in the community, and helping criminals rehabilitate their ways in a gardening program, then the spade is entitled to feel that their own purpose was superior (even if it was something less morally upstanding). As a god, I could chastise and cajole the spade, through punishment and reward, towards aligning its purpose with mine. But then objectiveness simply gets transformed into a consequentialist purpose, with the spade only adopting a purpose to avoid or gain the reward from me as the god. There is an intuitive lack of objectivity here in that the real purpose is the happiness of the spade, since pleasing me gives the spade less punishment and more reward. Thus objective purpose is replaced by subjective gaining of happiness.
In this way, just because a god might have a purpose for us, and this may be seen as objective, does not make it superior (which is indeed a completely un-measurable notion) to a subjective purpose set by ourselves. Furthermore, the notion of an objective purpose is rendered pointless or meaningless by this. If there is an objective purpose, the only ‘duty’ to follow it would be in terms of a consequence of punishment for not adhering to it, or reward for doing so. A sort of ‘so what’ to an objective purpose. Duties and ‘oughts’ are, in my opinion, conditional notions (an if … then idea). What I mean by this is there is only a duty to do something if there is a consequence to not doing it, or a reward for doing it. The duty of a schoolteacher to take the register at the beginning of the day may be for the following reasons:
To avoid being disciplined by the school management
To ensure that all the children are present, which in turn ensures that the school has accurate records
To allow the teacher to know who is present so that he / she may alter their planning accordingly
To ensure a thorough process is in place to facilitate child protection etc.
However, the register being taken is not a duty in and of itself. In other words, there is no objective duty; the teacher is not bound by having to (ought) take the register on its own merit. As long as there is a ‘because’ after the ought, then it is a conditional, consequentialist notion. I ought not punch a passer-by in the face because I will get in trouble for it; he might retaliate to my disadvantage; a sound society relies on decent and reliable behaviour; a sound society is beneficial for all concerned; and so on. As soon as there is no ‘because’, then a behaviour or action is committed on its own merit – there is true objective duty. However, I can see no situation whereby this causal circumstance exists. Even with God, as mentioned, we may have moral duties, but these duties exist within a framework of consequences and repercussions, positive and negative.
Again, Craig is using Pascal to voice an opinion or theology, but one with which he does nothing to disagree. Moreover, he refines it, embellishes it and seems to make it very much his own.
Craig espouses this view in much detail in this ‘De Homine’ section.
The meaning of life is somewhat evaluated in his “The Practical Impossibility of Atheism” and the subsection “Meaning of Life”. Craig’s above-critiqued opinion is well summed up on page 78 by the cringe-worthy following quote:
We saw that without God, life has no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning.
As mentioned, Craig has surely studied this subject in some depth to be able to afford it a better account. He is guilty of some misrepresentations, or selectively poor representations of the positions of atheism and the counter positions to theism. There is an arrogant dismissal of all forms of relativism and subjectivism without even attempting to approach something of an intelligent critique. His readers may well think his work is a shining example of a Christian apology if such a thing is defined by “mere assertion as to the truth of Christianity and falsity of any philosophy to which I do not adhere”.
Craig gets a jibe in at Sartre for holding to Marxism by freely choosing to follow such a course. This gave Sartre a meaning to his life, even though he was unable to adhere to an objective meaning. So what? Why does Craig hold that an objective meaning is superior in value to a subjective one? This cannot be compared. There is no way of universally valuing these things and thus comparing them. Furthermore, the notion that there is a transcendental meaning, that an objective quality of purpose can transcend reality and somehow implant itself into humans is pure nonsense. The term ‘transcendental’ is often bandied around by theists, but what does it really mean? With regards to purpose, the word is incoherent. A purpose simply cannot transcend reality to be implanted into humans. Purpose is a personal thing, a subjective quality. As I have mentioned, God decreeing a purpose for humanity means that God is trying to impose his purpose onto us. At best, for theists, we imbue our own personal subjectivity on the ‘objective’ purpose that God gives us. In reality, as far as I am concerned, you simply cannot have an objective purpose. It is logically incoherent.
More plausibly, everything that every human does, their morality, their goal-setting and purpose-making, is done for the value of happiness. Happiness takes on a very interesting quality in that it has intrinsic value. If you do something for the sake of happiness, then there is no reduction to the value. For example, if I drink a can of Coke, then I will do this for the pleasure this gives me, for the joy of the taste, and the happiness I derive from pleasure. You cannot then ask “Why do you want to be happy?” because the answer is tautologous: “Because it makes me happy”. Thus, there is a normative value to happiness: it is what we all subjectively and universally strive for, and that we cannot reduce further.
The ramifications of this notion of happiness are that, even though theists argue that they follow the teachings of Jesus and belong to a church community in the name of Jesus, they are doing so for the goal of happiness. Even though they may argue that they believe in Christianity out of some kind of objective moral duty, they are in fact doing so because they derive happiness for their efforts. Happiness seems to be a universal driver of actions, goals and desires. Theists are no exception here.
The sad thing here, with regards to Craig’s book, is that he does nothing to approach investigating the philosophies involved in reaching his somewhat hasty and unsupported conclusions. There is far more I could say here, too, but this is not an essay on purpose and happiness. Suffice it to say, the claim that without God life has no meaning is scurrilous. Yes, it has no God-given or eternal meaning, but why is that any more valuable? Simply arguing from purpose on a temporal basis means that the value of the purpose to someone’s life who lives to one hundred years old is intrinsically more valuable and superior to the purpose to someone’s life who only lives to thirty. This is problematic, at the very least.
I will garnish this philosophical hotpot with this quote from page 79:
T he point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends that life has meaning.
As utterly distasteful (philosophically) as this is, let me illustrate a few further issues. Firstly, who is Craig to say “man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless?” The assumption that it is meaningless has been pointed out as incorrect already. However, I would go one step further by mentioning the Piraha tribe of the Amazon, an atheistic tribe who live very happy and fulfilled lives. The Christian missionary, Daniel Everett spent thirty years with the tribe, off and on, trying to convert them. He was eventually deconverted. Craig also discounts the happiness and meaning for every atheist on earth, for the National Secular Society and to secular humanists. With that sentence he also claims that their happiness is based on falsity, on a pretend meaning. As well as being arrogant and rude, it is also unfounded as a claim, existing on nothing but an equivocation of terms. To notch up another fallacy, the fallacy of equivocation is present and active.
Of course, the debate between those who believe the only true meaning is an objective one which entails an objective purpose giver (God) and those who believe purpose can be validly obtained by humans who do not believe in God is a long-running one which stretches out far beyond the reach of this critique. Suffice it to say that Craig is very skilled at dropping in hidden assumptions in his premises and presents only the alternative view to any philosophical argument which suits his own ends on many an occasion.
Craig throws in forceful, yet circular, soundbites such as “but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless”. Of course, if happiness is the meaning, then we have a solution to the quandary that he is trying to present.
The emotive attempted persuasiveness of Craig’s language is present in spades some pages later under the subsection of ‘The Human Predicament’. As he says on page 84:
The dilemma of modern man is thus truly terrible. The atheistic worldview is insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life. Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were ultimately without meaning, value, or purpose. If we try to live consistently within the framework of the atheistic worldview, we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy. If instead we manage to live happily, it is only by giving the lie to our worldview. Confronted with this dilemma, modern man flounders pathetically for some means of escape.
I find this sort of rhetoric somewhat disappointing from a man capable of good philosophy, but then again, he is a master debater. In order to be happy, one must believe in objective meaning, value, and purpose. (p.85)
Again, this is simply assertion, and entirely begs the question. Can no one with subjective meaning really be happy? Does Craig really believe this? There are many people who live their lives on a daily basis with either no belief, or a veneer of a belief. Many have no idea what the term ‘objective meaning’ actually means and if you questioned them on their motivations and drivers, you would undoubtedly find many subjective and personal goals and meanings that induce their happiness. Such outright dogmatism on meaning is unwarranted, and unjustified.
Page 86 seems to herald an even more inflammatory position:
If God does not exist, then life is futile. If the God of the Bible does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two alternatives enables us to live happily and consistently.
So it is not only atheism that provides no basis for purpose, but all other religions outside of Christianity! Wow, some assertion.
Craig gets himself in some more problems on page 88. Here we have Craig imploring believers to press atheists on matters of morality; if atheists believe that morality is relative then how do they explain that the Holocaust was ‘bad’? Craig claims that under pressure the atheist will admit, “I think he will admit that he does hold to some absolutes.” Craig’s problem is that he seems to be assuming there are moral absolutes from a position of defending the historicity and actions of the Judeo-Christian God. Yahweh, according to the bible, was responsible for the sacrifice and death of his own son, the death of the entire world bar eight humans in the global flood, countless armies destroyed and towns sacked and so on. If Craig adheres to moral absolutes, then these actions of God were wrong – intrinsically bad. However, God cannot do wrong, bad things. Thus there must be a greater good to come as a consequence to these actions. The actions must be necessary for a greater good, though. So these actions are justified by their consequences and their contexts. This means that the absolute value of these actions either does not exist, and exist only in the value of their consequences, or they are entirely trumped by the consequences themselves.
Therefore, the evidence from the bible itself invalidates the claim of moral absolutes. However, I am not sure that Craig himself adheres to moral absolutes. If this is the case, then this is a fairly erroneous use of language for someone so philosophically trained.
The next section of the book looks to investigating the arguments for the existence of God. Now, this is clearly an apologetic book and so, in one sense, it is unsurprising that Craig does not expose the weaknesses and criticisms in these arguments. There is no documenting of any refutations that may be aimed at, for example, the teleological argument of William Paley. The fact is, after thousands of years of philosophical wrangling, there are criticisms of every argument that one can pose. It is disingenuous, in my opinion, to propose such arguments with a hidden assumption that they are all valid, and carry powerful and unfettered philosophical traction.
I am not going to spend time giving criticisms to these myself since the relevant philosophical literature written many times the world over offers far greater scope for this. All that I ask for is the written acceptance that these theories are not necessarily ironclad and that they do have their many detractors.
Page 105 contains even more bare assertion with “For we have seen that moral values or ideals are an objective part of reality and that they reside in persons.” Have we? Really? Has that been indubitably proven? Because so far, Reasonable Faith has done nothing but make bare and unfounded assertion. If it was so simple, then philosophy departments around the world would start closing down: job done, William Lane Craig seems to have asserted his way into creating a set of philosophical facts (which also happen to be integral to his claims that God, the Judeo-Christian God, exists)!
Craig (pages 107-8) spends no time in bringing into play one of his most favoured of arguments – the Kalam and Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments. Again, his arguments are imbued with hidden philosophical assumptions. In this case, one of the most prominent is the idea of philosophical realism. He sets out the argument as follows:
1) Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3) The universe exists.
4) Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (from 1, 3) 5) Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (from 2, 4)
The Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) is set out on p.111:
1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
I have set out elsewhere the weaknesses in these arguments, but in short the problems are as follows. Firstly (concentrating on the KCA), it is circular in that the only thing, it can be argued, that ‘has an existence’ is the universe itself (i.e. all the matter and energy that constitute the universe and everything in it). Thus the first premise and the conclusion are synonymous – the argument is entirely circular. We may think of things like tables, chairs, humans, rocks, lemmings and so on exist. Well, they do in one sense (an arrangement of matter / energy), but in the sense of the abstract labels, they are exactly that, abstract labels. There existence, in Platonic terms, as some kind of objective entity, requires the philosophical position of realism, which Craig assumes, but does not set out, let alone prove. All we have on a nominalist or conceptualist worldview (as opposed to realist) is a transformative coming into existence (the energy transforms, but is already existent).
Secondly, there are potentially uncaused causes, depending on your interpretation of quantum mechanics. This may well be debatable, but the least Craig could do is tip his hat to the fact that the debate exists. Instead we have a ‘closed shop’ with regards to all of the arguments Craig proposes.
Thirdly, Craig posits an uncaused cause to explain, as a prime mover, the creation of the universe, to halt an infinite regression of causes. However, he does little to explore the notion of an eternally existing universe. Though he has spent much time denigrating physics which supports these sorts of theories, he has been accused of cherry picking his cosmology, the quotes he employs from individual cosmologists, being outdated and so on. An eternally existent universe (energy etc) is no more improbable than an eternally existing God. Actually, employing Ockham’s Razor means that it is actually more probable, since one does not have to introduce further assumptions.
The problems with the KCA and the Leibnizian formulations of the Cosmological Argument are many and varied, but they are wholly unexplored in the pages of Reasonable Faith. It begs the questions as to whether this brand of faith is actually reasonable.
Craig moves on to talking about cosmology. Although he seems well-versed in cosmology, don’t let such appearances deceive you. He is very picky about what cosmology he uses, as I have alluded to you, and he also requires different standards of evidence to uphold them. When it comes to models that defend his notion of a singularity at the Big Bang that requires an absolute beginning, then he is fine with taking on board any theory which pertains to support this model. However, with alternative theories, his demands are high (not necessarily in this book, but in his broader work). In fact, the sort of singularity upheld by Craig as an absolute beginning to the universe is not widely accepted now by cosmologists. Moreover, the Borde, Guth and Vilenkin theory which he often uses to support his theories only actually dictate an absolute beginning to inflation, not to the universe itself. As Sean Carroll says in Stanger’s book The Fallacy of Fine Tuning:
I think my answer would be fairly concise: no result derived on the basis of classical spacetime can be used to derive anything truly fundamental, since classical general relativity isn’t right. You need to quantize gravity. The BGV [Borde, Guth, Vilenkin] singularity theorem is certainly interesting and important, because it helps us understand where classical GR breaks down, but it doesn’t help us decide what to do when it breaks down. Surely there’s no need to throw up our hands and declare that this puzzle can’t be resolved within a materialist framework. Invoking God to fill this particular gap is just as premature as and unwarranted as all the other gaps.
The BGV theory goes on to say, in the very same paper that Craig quotes, that it cannot say, using inflationary theory, what happened before inflation. You simply need different physics. Guth himself confirms this in interviews such as with Robert Lawrence Kuhn.
Craig, again, does not present anything like a decent appraisal of theories opposing his views, such as Bojowald’s version of Loop Quantum Gravity and other such models. Cosmology is a young discipline and is constantly changing and for Craig to have put all his eggs in one basket to dogmatically claim the defence of the model (Big Bang singularity) which supports his cosmological theories is nothing short of naïve. Or cunning. In a very real sense, he is pulling the wool over his less critical readers’ eyes. To the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It is, for a further time, a case of building up straw men of alternative theories or positions by under- or mis-representing them in order to knock them down.
I do not want to start writing great tracts on cosmology since it’s not my sphere and the general point is all that needs be made: William Lane Craig is no cosmologist (though he has good understanding of cosmology in general terms), and he is very careful with the cosmology he employs, and very careless with the cosmology he ignores. Again, if he sets up the premises, the conclusions follow. Scrutinise the premises we must.
The next howler of Craig’s comes in page 153 in the section The Nature of the First Cause. I am now sounding like a stuck record, because yet again Craig insists on question begging. The conclusion which Craig brings about is that the prime mover, which is the causal creator of the universe, must be a mind. This is due, according to Craig, to the fact that it must transcend time and space, exist atemporally, be changeless and immaterial, and personal. Of these points, there are many detractors, notably Wes Morriston who argues that the prime mover is no more likely to be personal as non-personal.
The problem I have with Craig’s conclusion is that it assumes that you can have a mind without a body. This is something which I explore in another essay. To give a synopsis, it is impossible to prove that a mind can exist independently of the body. There is a very real possibility that it is a logical impossibility that a disembodied mind can exist in the same way that a vase cannot exist without it’s shape. Without properly establishing mind / body dualism first, which is a difficult thing to do beyond reasonable doubt, it becomes nothing but assertion to even entertain the idea that a disembodied mind could exist. Yet again, Craig makes sweeping statements which actually carry many unproven assumptions – assumptions which he fails to even acknowledge as such.
There are also all the usual issues with mind / body dualism that may or may not affect the notion of a disembodies God-mind, depending upon whether you see these issues as logical impossibilities.
Aside from these problems, one issue I have with the notion that the entity of God has a mind is that I find it impossible that God, with all his attributes, can have anything approaching a mind, and certainly a mind in a way we anthropogenically imagine one. Even Craig admits that God was atemporal before creation. This means that anything that a mind does, like think, cogitate, decide, have any emotions and such like, cannot have happened. These aspects of personhood require time to take place. Time is a measurement of change, and there simply was no change. One instant, if you will, where everything about God happened instantaneously. And then God, according to Craig, decided to actualise a particular world (on his version of Middle Knowledge). Of course, he could not have decided anything. Deciding necessitates time. So God eventually enters time. However, he has the triple characteristics of omnibenevolence, -potence and –science. These do not lend themselves well to a mind in any reasonable sense of the immaterial entity. No free will could possibly exist in God, as I have documented in Free Will?. He can only act in the most loving way, he knows all his own and everyone else’s future actions (depending on how you interpret omniscience), he cannot act contrary to his own predictions and so on. Moreover, as a perfect entity, he cannot think about, or experience through action, anything imperfect, as this will invalidate his perfection. There is nothing remotely mind-like about what God must be. To make matters worse, the coherence of the term perfect is doubtful. Perfect for whom, for what? This universe is not perfect for water voles or woolly mammoths or dinosaurs. What kind of perfection do his actions reflect? There are many and more issues with the idea that this perfect, triple characteristic-laden God is an immaterial mind, and that this mind was able to causally create a physical universe (and we could get on to the potentoial logical impossibility of interactionism here).
Craig vaguely attempts to sidestep some of the issues here (p.154-5).
Philosophers call this type of causation “agent causation,” and because the agent is free, he can initiate new effects by freely bringing about conditions which were not previously present. For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent. Similarly, a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have freely brought the world into being at that moment. In this way, the Creator could exist changelessly and eternally but choose to create the world in time. By “choose” one need not mean that the Creator changes his mind about the decision to create, but that he freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning. By exercising his causal power, he therefore brings it about that a world with a beginning comes to exist. So the cause is eternal, but the effect is not. In this way, then, it is possible for the temporal universe to have come to exist from an eternal cause: through the free will of a personal Creator.
However, this appears to be unverified assertion as well as assuming the notion of free will can and does exist (I dispute this on evidential and logical grounds. See Pearce 2010). For a start, his notion of “intend” to negate the issues with an atemporal choosing are just as nefarious. As Robert Coburn says:
Surely it is a necessary condition of anything’s being a person that it should be capable (logically) of, among other things, doing at least some of the following: remembering, anticipating, reflecting, deliberating, deciding, intending, and acting intentionally. To see that this is so one need but ask oneself whether anything which necessarily lacked all of the capacities noted would, under any conceivable circumstances, count as a person. But now an eternal being would necessarily lack all of these capacities inasmuch as their exercise by a being clearly requires that the being exist in time. After all, reflection and deliberation take time, deciding typically occurs at some time–and in any case it always makes sense to ask, ‘When did you (he, they, etc.) decide?’; remembering is impossible unless the being doing the remembering has a past; and so on. Hence, no eternal being, it would seem, could be a person.
Craig has in several places denied that the above argument holds. In one such defense of God’s personhood as a timeless being he states this (in response to Dennett’s claim that personhood requires consciousness):
Indeed, so what arguments are there against atemporal consciousness? Richard Gale would make short work of the question: “the quickest and most direct way of showing the absurdity of a timeless mind is as follows: A mind is conscious, and consciousness is a temporally elongated process.”This way is certainly direct, and it is all too quick: Gale fails to show that being temporally extended is an essential property of consciousness. Given some relational theory of time, God’s solitary and unchanging consciousness of tenseless truths would not be temporally extended. As various defenders of divine timelessness have pointed out, knowing is not necessarily an activity which takes time.
Craig dismisses the idea that consciousness requires temporality with a wave of the hand. It seems a wholly undernourished defence and one which leaves one feeling short-changed. I definitely feel that consciousness absolutely requires time. Craig merely concentrates on ‘knowing’ but there is far more to consciousness than that, and even that, I would posit, requires some kind of time (and brain!). Imagine your own consciousness. Now imagine just an instant, nothing else. Would you exhibit anything which resembles some kind of consciousness? I simply cannot see it.
Let us move aside from the incoherency of the personhood of God, whether atemporal or temporal. Again, all that needs to be said is that Craig makes no reference to even the potential for alternative views. He presents his ideas as if they are the only option, end of story. This presents a false impression of the invulnerability of his own arguments, and leads the non-critical reader to reach the same conclusions as Craig. This is simply not good enough for someone with Craig’s supposed pedigree.
 Robert C. Coburn, “Professor Malcolm on God,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 41 (1963): 155.
 Richard M. Gale, On the Nature and Existence of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 52.
 Wes Morriston, Must The Beginning Of The Universe Have A Personal Cause?: A Critical Examination Of The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Faith And Philosophy, Vol. 17 No. 2 April 2000, (p. 149-169)
 “I then asked Vilenkin, “Does your theorem prove the universe must have had a beginning.” He immediately replied:
“No. But it proves that the expansion of the universe must have had a beginning. You can evade the theorem by postulating the universe was prior to some time.” http://debunkingwlc.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/borde-guth-vilenkin/#comments (21/09/2011)
 Victor J. Stenger, The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, 2011
 The free will argument, as implied in question 51, does not work here since sufficient evidence renders free will impotent. Enough evidence in a given situation means that every time you have that exact situation, the person will believe no matter what: the evidence is sufficient.
 The scepticism of Sextus Empiricus and Pyrrho of Elis which insists that we should refrain from making truth claims, remaining perpetually agnostic in the face of potential and actual doubt.
 Everett, D. (2008), ‘Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes : Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle’, New York ; Pantheon Books