Bronze-level articleWilliam Lane Craig

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Dr. WIlliam Lane Craig.
The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.
— William Lane Craig [1]

Dr. William Lane Craig, born August 23, 1949 in Peoria, Illinois, is an American Christian apologist, philosopher, and theologian. He received a Bachelor of Arts from theologically-moderate evangelical protestant Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, a summa cum laude Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham (England), and a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Munich. Craig claims that religious faith must be supported by reason and logic or atheism will triumph.[1] He has admitted multiple times that he will not change his faith no matter what the evidence points to, because he has "witnessed the Holy Spirit in his heart".[2]

He has authored numerous books on subjects including cosmology, philosophy of science, theology, the Christian church, Christian apologetics, metaphysics and epistemology, and history.

He is best known for his attempted proof for the existence of God using the Kalām cosmological argument. His work is heavily dependent on the perspective of Reformed Epistemology, which, like presuppositional apologetics is criticized as circular for depending entirely on an unwarranted assumption of the existence of God.


[edit] Profession

Since 1996, Craig has been a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. Since 2003, he has also been a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Wheaton College.

Talbot University website includes a "Doctrinal Statement" that reads;

The Bible, consisting of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, a supernaturally given revelation from God Himself, concerning Himself, His being, nature, character, will and purposes; and concerning man, his nature, need and duty and destiny. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind.[3]

As for Wheaton College, their "Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose" includes the following;

WE BELIEVE that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say.[4]

Both of these statements would be an embarrassment to any legitimate academic institution. They are the very antithesis of what an academic institution should represent; namely the promotion of free discovery, understanding and learning.

The mere fact that Craig has associated himself with these two institutions, and only these two institutions, reveals a lot. This is especially clear when he openly admits he will dismiss all and any evidence no matter what because he believes Christianity is true because of the "Holy Spirit" in his "heart."[5]

[edit] On morality

Craig argues in favor of objective morality. He defines objective morality as "to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so." His most common argument goes as follows:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

This is a common argument among Christian apologists and is logically valid as an instance of modus tollens. However, validity does not entail soundess — neither premise is well-supported. There are two assumptions smuggled into this argument. For one, there are numerous ways of formulating systems of morality that don't require a god. Demonstrating that a god is a necessary condition for objective morality requires either one or more a priori arguments to discredit the various alternatives. Secondly, the argument assumes objective morality is consistent with the existence of god -- this is challenged by the Euthyphro dilemma. Craig of course says that, according to divine command theory, god had goodness built into his character in such a way that everything god does and commands is good. However, that still does not solve the conudrum. If something is good because god says so, this leaves us with nothing more than a tautology redefining good such that we are unable to truly judge what is good. On the other hand, if god says something is good because it is good, then there is an underlying assumption that there exists some moral standard that is independent from god.

In April 2011, on his Reasonable Faith site [6], Craig published an explanation for why the genocide and infanticide ordered by God against the Canaanites in the Old Testament was morally defensible. In summary: When guilty people get killed, they deserved it because they were guilty and bad. When innocent people get killed (including innocent babies), they went to Heaven. Here are some key points:

God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.[7][8]


Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.[7][8]


So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.[7][8]

Please bear in mind that Craig is not some cruel dogmatic wingnut. He’s not some extremist Fred Phelps type, ranting about how God’s hateful vengeance is upon us for tolerating homosexuality. He’s not some itinerant street preacher, railing on college campuses about premarital hand holding. He’s an educated, widely-published, widely-read theological scholar and debater. When believers accuse atheists or non-believers of ignoring "sophisticated modern theology", Craig is one of the people they’re talking about.

Modern theology cannot escape the dogmas of the cruel theology of the ancient times. Educated apologists like Craig must argue that as long as God orders such things to happen, it’s perfectly moral to take the lives of these people. Killing bad people is tolerable, because they’re bad and they deserve it. This implies the problem of evil and the folly of attempting to understanding the motives of a capricious and inscrutable god.

Killing innocent and good people is just as tolerable, because they wind up in Heaven. As long as God approves it, it’s acceptable to systematically wipe out entire races, including babies and children.

Craig said —not essentially, not as a paraphrase, but literally, in quotable words— "the death of these children was actually their salvation." This viewpoint is not something unique to Craig, but is one that apologists often choose to adopt when tasked with explaining the war crimes perpetrated under God's command in the Old Testament. The ethical framework of the Old Testament, if taken in whole, is completely incompatible with most contemporary conceptions of morality. It is difficult to discern whether or not apologists such as Craig are devoted enough to this viewpoint to act on it, but it is safe to say that the objective morality that the apologetic likes of Craig support is anything but objective.

[edit] Divine command theory

Craig accepts the Divine Command, which he describes as follows;

But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end from the beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve His ends, God may have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils which appear pointless to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework. [9]

So basically, God has ordered everything throughout history to unfold through free will. This means that God does not intervene with human life, otherwise freedom would be eliminated. This is also problematic because it begs the question and it does not answer any ethical problems. God allows necessary evil, it is all part of God's plan. Divine command theory implies that whatever God commands must be the morally correct course of action. Therefore, if/when God endorses genocide, infanticide, animal sacrifice, slavery, or rape, those things are good, whereas if/when he forbids eating certain foods or working on certain days or having certain kinds of kinky sex, those things immediately become bad. This makes divine command theory a subjective theory of morals, one which is arbitrary and can change at God's whim. Claims like "God wouldn't do that", but this doesn't help at all. For one, in many religious traditions he does do such things. For another, if God is the source of morality, he can do whatever he wants and it would still be just as "good" as anything else.

Whether divine command theory is true or not (and there seems to be no reason to think that it is), it is often not an effective method of settling moral dilemmas. For one, it's not clear which religious tradition is correct. For another, religious texts tend to contain many conflicting, arbitrary, or excessively specific rules. These rules rarely allow a clear method of generalizing these ideas to every possible situation, so a believer is forced to do much the same thing that an atheist does, which is to work out moral principles and ideas for herself. Often, the fact that the believer is bound to respect certain statements as absolute truth makes this process even harder, because those statements may not make good sense, or may make sense in most situations but be absurd in others. Divine command theory thus fails to provide moral guidance for much the same reason that religions often fail to provide moral guidance.

[edit] Apologetics

[edit] Kalam Cosmological Argument

Craig is well known for the Kalām cosmological argument (KCA). The KCA is a variation of the centuries old cosmological argument, originated in Islamic philosophy, that argues for the existence of a personal first cause for the universe. Cosmological goes back to Plato, but many are familiar with the Thomistic and Leibnizian forms. In 1979, Craig popularized this argument, and to many theists this has been a powerful tool to prove the existence of God. Craig presents the argument as the following:

  • (P1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  • (P2) The universe began to exist.
  • (C) Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

The conclusion we are supposed to reach from this is that the God of the Bible created the universe. This is generally reached by a few additional sections of argument: that the cause must be a god, and furthermore that god must be the God of the Bible.

[edit] Why the Kalam Cosmological argument fails

The first premise of Craig's argument is flawed.

In quantum mechanics, things happen that are not caused, such as radioactive decay, or when an atom in an excited energy level loses a photon. No cause is evident in the decay of a radioactive nucleus. Craig has said that quantum events are still "caused" just in a non-predetermined manner — what he calls "probabilistic causality." Craig is thereby admitting that the "cause" in his first premise could be an accidental one, something spontaneous and not predetermined. He therefore destroys his own case for a predetermined creation. Even if the KCA was sound, why would the cause itself not be natural?

The second premise of his argument is also flawed.

The argument assumes that the universe has a beginning. Not enough is known about the early stages of the Big bang or about what existed before the Big bang. We don't know what the universe was like before the first 10−43 seconds after inflation started to say with certainty that the universe had a beginning, various possibilities exist.

  1. Before the expansion started, the universe existed in a stable state eternally.
  2. The multiverse could have existed before our universe started.
  3. There could have been a Big crunch that finished occurring before the big bang
  4. Something else entirely could have existed.

Furthermore, the conclusion is inconclusive.

Even if we reason that the universe has a cause, we know nothing about the nature of this cause; certainly not enough to ascribe godhood (with properties such as awareness and intelligence) to it. The cause of the universe may very well lack mind or will. There is even less reason to assume the cause of the universe is the God of the Bible.

[edit] Begging the question

The KCA is invalid and refuted because it commits the logical fallacy of begging the question. The phrase "whatever begins to exist" is not presumed to accommodate anything other than God, and that puts God into the definition of the premise of the argument that was supposed to prove his existence in the first place. This is also most likely an example of special pleading, as the first premise, "Everything that begins to exist has a cause", can be rewritten as "Everything that is not God has a cause", unless there exists some other thing or things than did not begin to exist. However, if other things exist but did not begin to exist, then even accepting the other broken premises does not lead to God being the answer. As there is never any positive evidence offered for a god, but merely the asserting that god must have been the cause if there was one, the argument from ignorance is also heavily at play.

[edit] Compositional errors

The two premises that support the conclusion both commit compositional errors. This is because the premise, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause" commits the fallacy of composition because, to quote Francois Tremblay, "The first premise tries to infer a necessary causality on a whole, the universe, on the basis of observation of such attributed in the parts, the exist around us. The attribute being transposed here, being caused, is relational and therefore cannot be transposed. Thus the KCA cannot generalize from caused entities around us to the universe in this matter." We have no reason to assume that "Whatever begins to exist has a cause" because we don't know enough.

The second premise, "The universe began to exist" forces us to draw an inference between the items in the set (things within the universe) and apply it to the set as a whole (the universe itself). For that to be valid, one must fallaciously presuppose a realm beyond the universe, in which the universe can be taken as an item in a larger set itself, within which it is contained, limited, and defined.

Which gives away to the compositional error, via the fallacy of Begging the question, since such a realm beyond the universe, is entirely unproven and in question itself.

[edit] Defining essentials

The KCA fails to identify, either through its syllogism, or subsequent explanations for its syllogism, it is defining its essentials. And the word that is essential for it to define is the word universe.

The KCA depends upon the Big Bang Theory, being the beginning of everything because if it is not, then there's a part of existence that is unaccounted for. That larger whole may be eternal, or may never have begun to exist, or caused our Big Bang, as a local inflationary expansion, or caused the rest of the multiverse in it's overall entirety.

Even if the universe in the KCA is defined as the totality of existence, the argument is again rendered impotent and refuted, because the universe could not have been created by something outside itself, since for something to create the totality of that which exists, one can only appeal to that creating agent as being non-existent. Further, for the universe to be labeled the totality of existence, it can never be caused as a whole, since that would assert that at one point, existence, was non-existent, which is impossibly incoherent.

[edit] Who created God?

Another reason why the KCA is invalid and refuted is because it can be expressed in a competing syllogism.

  • (P1) Everything that has sentience has a cause.
  • (P2) The Abrahamic god is said to have sentience.
  • (C) Therefore the Abrahamic god has a cause.

This syllogism can easily be ported to any god, since most, if not all, gods are said to be sentient in some form or fashion; and all referrals to reality, attest that sentience does not arise without antecedent causation. Pantheism, in its belief that God simply is the universe, does not necessarily impute sentience to God, making it a notable exception.

The most common apologetic evasion of this problem is an unabashed handwave: define God as being exempt from the laws of logic he is purported to have created. This is a textbook example of moving the goalposts.

[edit] Ontological argument

Craig defends Alvin Plantiga's modal version of the ontological argument for the existence of God[10], rendering it thusly:

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
  6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
  7. Therefore, God exists.

This argument has been widely criticized on two main points.

  1. The modal ontological argument, in some presentations, relies on an equivocation between metaphysical and epistemic possibility. It may very well be that the existence of a maximally great being is epistemically possible (i.e. we don't know that it's false) but not metaphysically possible (i.e. non-contradictory). If the concept of a maximally great being is not self-consistent, then it is not metaphysically possible for such a being to exist. Compare: we don't know whether the twin prime conjecture is true or not. Suppose it is false but we don't yet know it; it follows that it is (metaphysically) necessarily false. We might nevertheless agree that it might be true because we don't know its truth value.
  2. Premise 3 is questionable. If this is supposed to follow from the definition of "maximally great being," then that definition needs substantial defense. Otherwise it is question-begging. It suffers from the same problem as St. Anselm's: existence is not a real predicate. A being that exists in every possible world is not greater than a being who does not exist in every possible world.

Premise 2 follows from the definition of the possibility operator. Premise 4 follows from the definition of the necessity operator. Claims 5 and 6 follow from the initial premises. Claim 7 is generally taken to follow from the stipulated identity between the maximally great being and God, in keeping with the Christian tradition.

The issue with the metaphysical possibility as it relates to the first three premises can be clearly shown with a competing version of the argument:

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) does not exist.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being does not exist, then there is some possible world where a maximally great being does not exist.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. A maximally great being does not exist in every possible world (from 2).
  5. Therefore, a maximally great being (God) does not exist.

This further highlights that the argument has two likely sources of error: with the construction of the argument in general (in which case the argument is not useful for proving anything) or a problem specific to the first premise (in which case the possibility of the existence or non-existence of the character God must be defended with further arguments). Of course it is also entirely possibly the problem lies in both areas, and it is neither possible to prove and actuality from a mere possibility or accept a possibility without supporting empirical evidence.

[edit] Circular evidence

The KCA is also dependent on the controversial A-theory (i.e "Tensed" Theory) of Time, which states the present moment is uniquely real. Craig quotes in The Nature of Time, "The moments of time are ordered by past, present, and future, and that these are real and objective aspects of reality. The past is gone, it no longer exists. The present is real. The future has not yet come to be and is not real." The common objection to the A Theory comes from Einsteins theory of relativity, that states there is no absolute present moment and time is relative.

Craig has written a lot of books on the subject of time in which he puts in the interpretation of relativity that he calls the Neo-Lorentz interpretation, which includes an absolute present moment. Craig claims that his interpretation is observationally equivalent to special relativity. Of course this is seriously disputed, but even if this is the case there is no reason why we should prefer Craig's interpretation (which is very complex) to Einstein's interpretation (which is simpler and works completely fine by itself). In Craig's book Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity he writes "we have good reasons for believing that a neo-Lorentz theory is correct, namely, the existence of God in A-theoretic time implies it, so that concerns about which version is simpler become of little moment" (pg. 179).

So it seems that Craig is saying the existence of God implies the Neo-Lorentz Aether Theory, which is needed for A-theory of time to be correct, which is then necessary for the KCA to work, so Craig can prove the existence of God. That is clearly circular.

Craig does have four other argument for God, such as the fine tuning argument. The common objection to the fine tuning is that it is a tautology, weakened by the multiverse theory (Craig never says a multiverse is impossible). Craig explains this in the debate book God?, "the hypothesis of a Cosmic again the better explanation because we do have independent evidence of the existence of such a Designer in the form of other arguments for the existence of God." {pg. 14). So now we cannot rely on the Kalam to tip the scale in favor of the cosmic designer hypothesis, because that just gets us in the same circle we were in before.

What about the resurrection of Jesus? The common objection is that any other naturalistic explanation, no matter how crazy it may seem, is much more probable than the resurrection story. But Craig addressed this an a debate with Bart Ehrman that the resurrection was a supernatural event caused by God. So he proves the existence of God by presuming God already exists to explain the resurrection. Again, circular.

And finally, the moral argument, another favorite of Craig. Craig says if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Craig argues that objective moral values do exist. Basically that our personal experiences of morality makes it true, which is another argument for God. Craig says (in his own words)

The way in which I know Christianity is true is first and foremost is the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. And this gives me self-authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore, even if in some historically contingent circumstances the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity, I do not think that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit.

This makes it seem that all of Craig's arguments for God are tied to personal experience that are dependent on the existence of God, which he uses to support the moral argument to prove the existence of God. Again, circular.

[edit] Craig's debating tactics and criticism of opponents

Craig likes to boast that he is a "professional philosopher" and engage in "academic" debates that concentrate on the arguments, not on personalities. Despite this, Craig states that while Richard Dawkins may be a good scientist, he is a "layman" in philosophy and theology and The God Delusion is a "very unsophisticated book. As a philosopher, I was just appalled by the arguments he offers in that book. It is an embarrassment, really, I think." A classic example of his tactics can be seen in his debate with Bart Ehrman, in which most of the listed tactics are used very successfully.

  1. Within debates, Craig uses the Gish Gallop, presenting a hailstorm of misrepresentations and dubious statements, wrapped up in a few obvious facts. Since rebutting statements takes up more of his opponents time than it took him to deliver them, he later is able to list out those statements of his which were not replied to, owing to the strictly controlled format and time limit in most debating environments.
  2. He strawmans his opponents arguments and responds to them with an undertone of humour, thereby lessening the credibility of both. He also uses arguments from authority. In friendly audiences, this convinces the public of his upstanding honesty.
  3. He quote mines extensively. This allows him to present his opponents past statements out of context, and out of line of any recent historical and scientific developments. Indeed, it is clear that he uses public resources (eg. Youtube) to gauge public opinion about his opponent, and this allows him to subtly attack his opponents reputation and character. For example, he praises Bart Ehrman for a minor shift in opinion that he made years before the debate date, and he is thus able to convince the audience that the morally and scientifically proper thing for Ehrman to do is to continue to shift towards Craig's position.
  4. He appeals to emotions, and as in his debate with Bart Ehrman, tries to paint his opponent as a bumbling moron while he's the supposed academic scholar. When his opponents take objection to his tactics, he can accuse them of bluster. He disses New Atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris as
    • Non-intellectual.
    • Angry and bitter against religion.
  5. He twists or ignores the rules of the debate (if any) and this gives him an advantage over his opponent, who is usually civilized enough to stick to the format. He takes a very brief part of his opening statement to state his own views, and takes the majority of the time speaking against his opponent. This has the following effects -
    • He is able to misrepresent his opponents views before his opponent has had the chance to present them himself.
    • By the time his opponent presents his points, the audience already has Craig's rebuttals in their mind, and hence they cannot truly analyze them objectively.
    • He is able to start his rebuttal period with a statement to the effect that he has not heard any rebuttals to his points, completely ignoring the fact that the time period for his opponents rebuttals is yet to arrive.
    • By the time his opponent begins his rebuttal, he is virtually back to his starting position in the audience's mind, due to Craig's double rebuttal.
    • Since he states his arguments very briefly, his opponent lacks sufficient ammunition to rebut them in any detail. Indeed, this lack of detail in his initial arguments allows him to present qualifications for them after his opponents have presented counterarguments. This provides the illusion of an adequate rebuttal and makes it looks as if his opponent has misunderstood or misinterpreted his points.
  6. After he strawmans and misrepresents his opponents views, he then sets down his own set of points that he feels his opponent must prove in order to support his position. In most cases, those views have nothing to do with his opponents position and are completely different from what his opponent was going to assert. These points are usually absurd and in principle unassertable.
    • If his opponent chooses not to toe Craig's line and instead asserts his own points, Craig can then later list out his own twisted caricatures of his opponents views as points his opponent has failed to assert.
    • If his opponent chooses to try and prove Craig's points, he can rebut them easily as he frames them in an extremely biased way which makes them difficult or impossible to support.
  7. Thanks to the way in which the propositional statements of most controlled debates are framed, Craig is almost never in a position in which he has to simultaneously prove the existence of a god, and the assertion that the god is in fact the Abrahamic god. This is advantageous for him because most of his arguments - the Kalam Cosmological argument, the Ontological argument, the assertion of the existence of Objective Morality, the Divine Command theory, the Fine Tuning argument etc. - do not point to the existence of the Abrahamic god, and can in principle, be used to prove the existence of any given supernatural entity. Since his arguments for the Abrahamic god are extremely weak compared to his general arguments for a god, he never uses that line of argument against competent opponents like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, and only unleashes them against opponents who, at least in principle, believe in a higher power.
  8. Craig frequently name drops, referring to the works of famous historians, theologians and apologists, in lieu of presenting an actual rebuttal to his opponents statements. This usually takes the form of "My opponent's arguments have already been replied to by XYZ famous writer, hence I will just make a statement that it is invalid, without actually telling you what that rebuttal is." This is the height of intellectual dishonesty because,
    • He completely ignores the facts that he is the one who is debating, not some long dead writer.
    • Some vague reference to a rebuttal is not an actual rebuttal, but in the eyes of the spectators, it is valid.

[edit] Examples of claimed misrepresentation by Craig

The atheist philosopher Stephen Law debated with Craig in 2011 using the approach of suggesting that parallel versions of the arguments Craig presents for the existence of God could be used to support the existence of an "evil God" (maltheism). Law alleges that in the follow-up to the debate, Craig repeatedly misrepresented Law's position by suggesting that Law's objection relies on a presumption that Christians conclude God's perfect goodness from evidence in the world when Law's argument only relies on the the theist accepting that God is good, not necessarily perfectly good, and that theists conclude God's goodness from facts about the world, not that they conclude his perfect goodness from those facts. Law states that Craig has repeatedly misrepresented numerous parts of his argument.[12]

[edit] Craig and Creationism

Craig has stated that creationism is an embarrassment [13] and that Christianity is compatible with evolution,[14] much to the chagrin of fundies.

[edit] See Also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

Personal tools