Apologetics, Philosophy

A Critique of William Lane Craig: Part I

a-critique-of-william-lane-craig-part-iIn the world of contemporary Christian apologetics, there is no bigger name than William Lane Craig. His credentials are impeccable. Dr. Craig has doctorates in theology and philosophy, he has published numerous scholarly articles in highly respected academic journals, he has written multiple books, debated the biggest names of the New Atheist movement, and traveled the world speaking and lecturing on a vast array of topics important to the Christian worldview. Indeed, his reputation surrounds him with an aura of infallibility. If, however, you were to pay attention to his views and cut through the reputation, the credentials, and the lavish esteem so often thrown his direction, something else begins to emerge. Underneath the appearance of philosophical and theological invincibility lays a man who teaches many errors that ought to be strongly challenged and even condemned as heretical.[1]

In this series of posts I am going to examine two articles where Craig offers advice to budding Christian apologists (part 1, part 2). The general advice offered is that doctoral studies and specialization should be pursued by those interested in doing serious apologetics work. This is an uncontroversial suggestion, and is not where my disagreement is focused. My quarrel is with the context surrounding the advice being offered.

A primary area of disagreement has to do with the almost idolization of analytic philosophical methodology. Craig says,

“Indeed, I should say that the relevance of philosophy to apologetics is so great that even if you do not specialize in philosophical apologetics but choose to go into some other type of apologetics, you would do well to take a strong dose of analytic philosophy. Analytic philosophy is the kind of philosophy that predominates in the Anglophone world.”

He continues,

“By employing the high standards of reasoning characteristic of analytic philosophy we can powerfully formulate apologetic arguments for both commending and defending the Christian worldview. In recent decades, analytic philosophers of religion have shed new light on the rationality and warrant of religious belief, on arguments for the existence of God, on divine attributes such as necessity, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness, on the problem of suffering and evil, on the nature of the soul and immortality, on the problem of miracles, and even on peculiarly Christian doctrines like the Trinity, incarnation, atonement, original sin, revelation, hell, and prayer. The wealth of material which is available to the Christian apologist through the labor of analytic philosophers of religion is breath-taking.”

Craig also says this,

“If you want to do apologetics effectively, you need to be trained in analytic philosophy. And I say this even if your area of specialization is not philosophical apologetics. Whatever your area of specialization, you will be better equipped as an apologist if you have had training in analytic philosophy. Suppose you choose to specialize in scientific or historical apologetics. The fact is that some of the most important issues you will confront will be questions arising from philosophy of science or epistemology. Over and over again I see scientists and New Testament scholars making faulty inferences or proceeding from unexamined presuppositions because of their philosophical naiveté.”

The complaint of being shocked by the naiveté or lack of rigor others allegedly exude when doing Christian scholarship is something Craig has expressed in places other than the articles under examination. In his work, The Only Wise God, Craig says (emphasis added),

“I believe that the philosopher of religion can greatly benefit the body of Christ by helping its members to understand all of God’s various attributes, including omniscience. As I read the treatment of divine omniscience in the standard evangelical works of systematic theology, I am often amazed at their superficiality and lack of clear, logical reasoning. I believe that today the Christian seeking truth will probably learn more about the attributes and nature of God from works of Christian philosophers than from those of Christian theologians.”(Pg. 11)

Characteristic of most analytic philosophers, Craig takes a moment to also ridicule the continental tradition of philosophy,

“Analytic philosophy is the kind of philosophy that predominates in the Anglophone world. This style of philosophizing contrasts sharply with that of Continental philosophy. Whereas Continental philosophy tends to be obscure, imprecise, and emotive, analytic philosophy lays great worth and emphasis on clarity of definitions, careful delineation of premises, and logical rigor of argumentation. Unfortunately, theology has for a long time learned to follow the lead of Continental philosophy, which tends to result in darkness being piled upon darkness. The renaissance of Anglo-American Philosophy of Religion over the last 40 years has shown that important apologetical issues can be brilliantly illuminated through the light of philosophical analysis.”

The advice offered above not only exudes a shortsighted elitism prevalent among analytic philosophers, but it also falls short of the standards being advanced as the correct way to do your critical thinking.

Although Craig tacitly recognizes that different forms of apologetics exist, the shortsightedness of the advice truncates the task of defending the faith to its relationship with philosophical argumentation while ignoring the fact that the suggested methodology may not be appropriate for a given apologetic task. There are many other ways to defend Christianity that are not primarily philosophical, or even “analytic” in nature. Despite this reality, Craig says that no matter the kind of apologetic work you are going to pursue, you must have a background in analytic philosophy. But is this really the case? Is analytic philosophy the cornerstone for any and all apologetic work? In my view, such a suggestion is misguided. For example, imaginative cultural apologetics will be more successful if literature and art are the primary focus when defending the faith, rather than the “rigor” of analytic philosophy. I am not sure what good analytic philosophy will do for someone seeking to write poetry or attempting to become a novelist (in fact it may have a negative affect on the artistic imagination of the budding poet or novelist). One can only wonder how Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, C.S. Lewis, or J.R.R. Tolkien were able to write anything meaningful without a background in analytic philosophy. If a person were so motivated to create paintings, sculptures, or symphonies to the glory of God, I am confident that not being acquainted with Quine’s, Two Dogmas of Empiricism; Frege’s, On Sense and Nominatum; Donald Davidson’s, A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs; Bertrand Russell’s, On Denoting; or Carl G. Hempel’s, Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance: Problems and Changes; will have very little impact on the artistic integrity of an imaginative cultural apologetic endeavor of this sort.

Craig emphasizes the clarity and arduous logical reasoning associated with his championed methodology, but when it comes to offering a cogent criticism of the methods of continental philosophy, the scrupulousness of delineation is noticeably absent. All intellectual integrity seems to be put aside when quipping about the “imprecise, emotive obscurities” continental philosophy is supposedly known for representing. How about an example of what it looks like when theologians doing their work by way of continental methods, “results in darkness being piled upon darkness”? Where is the precise objectivity in such a grossly misrepresentative claim about another method of doing theology and philosophy? For Craig, it seems that when discussing various methods, epistemic charity is only extended to those in the “analytic” club.

A good question to ask when comparing and contrasting the philosophical methods under discussion is what does it mean to be “rigorous” when doing philosophy and/or theology? Both the analytic and continental philosopher would most likely suggest different definitions. The analytic philosopher would consider “rigor” to be associated with breaking down terms to precise definitions before analyzing a specific concept, the utilization of symbolic logic, and to present well formed premises leading to a sound conclusion. The continental philosopher would suggest that it is quite sensible to make an argument in this manner, but such a definition of rigor would ultimately be superficial. Precise definitions, symbolic logic, and syllogisms resulting in sound conclusions would most likely ignore a whole host of relevant information that would have significant influence on the argument being discussed. The continental philosopher would argue that “rigor” not only includes reasoning that is logically coherent, but also requires contextual historical examination of the argument under consideration. For example, when confronting Cartesian substance dualism within the context of the mind/body problem, it may be a misstep to approach the topic as an ahistorical proposal employed to solve a philosophical riddle. To only examine the premises of the argument misses the forest for the trees; rather, the issue would have to be placed within its proper historical context in order to understand what Descartes was attempting to accomplish with such a formulation. Motivated to develop a mechanistic metaphysics, Descartes fashioned a disenchanted cosmos and divided the human person into two distinct substances – the material and the mental or the body and the soul – with the mind commandeering the body for purposes of rationalism. This is where we get the idea of a “ghost in the machine.” Moreover, it could be suggested that Cartesian methodological doubt should also be considered when dealing with the mind/body problem as understood within the modern Enlightenment tradition of thought. So understood, the continental philosopher would suggest that there is much more “rigorous analysis” that needs to be done before even addressing the problem of Cartesian substance dualism as a proposed solution to the mind/body problem. What may be obscure for the analytic philosopher is the mark of clarity for the continental philosopher.

The analytic philosopher could argue against the hermeneutical meticulousness of the continental methodology by stating that what was just suggested as an appropriate consideration of “rigorous analysis” was actually an exercise in the history of philosophy, and not philosophy proper. The historical context of the mind/body problem as the modern philosophers handed it down may be interesting at some level, but it is not that important when attempting to solve the mind/body problem it has been received.

As you can see, the discussion can go back and forth about what it means to be rigorous, while methodological convictions become ever more entrenched within a preferred perspective.

No matter your preference in this discussion, philosophy cannot be reduced to a method of argumentation. Indeed, to be logically precise is a worthy virtue to practice, but logical coherence should not be mistaken for doing good philosophy. A philosophical worldview and its various components may be perfectly logical while simultaneously absurd. One view I have in mind is that of eliminativism. If metaphysical naturalism and epistemological scientism are correct, eliminativism as a suggested philosophy of mind is a logical extension of these two foundational proposals. However, eliminativism, in my view, reduces itself to absurdity although perfectly logical within the context of naturalism and scientism.

Philosophy, properly understood, is a way of life and not a set of problems to be solved.

In addition to this, analytic methods proved to be inadequate when Craig and theoretical physicist Sean Carroll debated the topic, God and Cosmology. Throughout the debate, Craig emphatically reminds us that all he is attempting to do is show that modern cosmology can be used to support religiously neutral premises for an argument that has potential theistic implications. According to Craig, modern science can be utilized to raise the probability of the likelihood that the premises within the Kalam cosmological argument are true. However, this approach assumes the scientific models utilized to support Craig’s argument are even the right models to begin with; to which Sean Carroll says (and any informed atheist should say), “Those models may be wrong and we are working on building better models, which makes your case utterly irrelevant to what we are doing as cosmologists.” In my view, Sean Carroll completely ruins the case Craig offers for the use of modern science as demonstrable support for the Kalam argument. And even if Craig is successful in what he attempts to accomplish, it is of very little impact on reality given his continual emphasis on the religious neutrality of the premises in the argument he is putting forth.

Throughout the debate, Carroll repeatedly corrects Craig’s mistakes and misrepresentations of what physicists are saying within the field of cosmology. Craig’s rebuttal to these corrections is to simply repeat his scripted routine over and over again. For example, Craig characteristically says that Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin (BGV) have shown that all the cosmological evidence points to a beginning of the universe. Carroll corrects him more than once by saying that this is an inappropriate interpretation of what is being stated by BGV, and that BGV are not talking about the universe as such, but the classical models themselves. Carroll even brings forth Guth to refute Craig’s use of their arguments and it does not even move Craig to reframe his position.

I have grown to be quite critical of using modern science to support our apologetic tasks. I contend that using the tools of naturalism will either lead to an ad hoc deistic god of the Enlightenment rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or circle back to naturalism which helps to defeat the faith being defended.

Interestingly enough, this very topic is brought up during the Q & A when a questioner asks Craig what he thinks of the Thomist critique against using scientific theories to defend the existence of God. The questioner continued by saying that if our apologetic arguments depended upon a scientific theory our defense could lose significant credibility when the science changes in the future. Craig dismisses the seriousness of the question by claiming that Thomistic metaphysics is dubious and that Saint Thomas set the bar too high when trying to demonstrate the existence of God. I suppose Craig is almost required to dismiss the significance of the question because his entire career as the quintessential Christian apologist relies on guarding the manner in which he has attempted to defend the faith. I have never come across any attempt by Craig to refute Saint Thomas’s metaphysical views, so his assertion is baseless as far as Thomistic metaphysics is concerned. If you combine this brief dismissal with his recent train wreck critique of classical theism, it may be safe to claim that Craig is relying on his celebrity as a refutation rather than argumentation.

Contrary to the singular endorsement of analytic philosophy, I would not recommend limiting yourself to only one methodology if you are interested in studying philosophy to support an apologetics “ministry” or apostolate. If you were interested in studying philosophy, I would suggest that acquainting yourself with the history of the field, starting with Plato and Aristotle, is a good first step. Immerse yourself in the literature and allow yourself to discover your own philosophical voice. You will most likely find yourself identifying with a tradition and methodology based on your personality and aesthetic interests. If you end up thinking analytical philosophy is the way to go, then you should continue to develop your skills within this tradition. If, however, you enjoy the style in which continental philosophers do their work, then you should develop your skills within this tradition. I have personally benefited from writers in both camps. I have found the work of analytical Thomists such as Edward Feser, John Haldane, David Oderberg, and Robert Koons to be incredibly edifying. From the continental perspective I have benefited greatly from David Bentley Hart and William Desmond.

When it comes to apologetics, don’t limit yourself to only one methodology, or school of thought. Investigate methods until you find your heart and mind fully engaged and illumined by God through Jesus Christ.

To be continued…

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Specific errors that I have in mind are Craig’s adherence to a mechanistic metaphysics, molinism, reformed epistemology, and his religiously neutral agnostic version of classical apologetic methodology. Positions of Craig’s that are heretical would be his explicit denial of the divine simplicity of God, and of course, his rejection of core doctrines of the Catholic faith for a thoroughly Americanized evangelical form of Protestant Christianity.

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3 thoughts on “A Critique of William Lane Craig: Part I

  1. Jim Given says:

    Lucas, in your last paragraph, you accuse Craig of adhering to a mechanistic metaphysics. I find this curious, because his most scholarly work is, “Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The Coherence of Theism: Omniscience”. See:
    https://www.amazon.com/Divine-Foreknowledge-Human-Freedom-Omniscience/dp/9004092501/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1498493743&sr=1-4&keywords=william+lane+craig+and+omniscience

    a detailed search through the history of Western philosophy for a metaphysical understanding of Divine omnipotence and omniscience that makes these facts compatible with human freedom. He examines Aristotle, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus among others, carefully critiquing the arguments of each, while finally opting for a variant of Molinism. This is the best book I have ever seen on this vital topic. Any notion that Craig lacks respect for traditional Continental philosophy must be dispelled by perusing this book.

    I consider this book essential for one interested in Thomist/Scotist synthesis, because the issued studied here are so central to metaphysics as well as theology.
    The only (perhaps) better comparison of Aquinas and Duns Scotus on free will is Sylwanowicz’ book, “Contingent Causality and the Foundation of Duns Scotus’ Metaphysics.”

    Granted, Craig has too much energy; he tries to do too much; and spends much of his time standing up to academic “authorities” attacking Christianity. But he shows up many of these people as provincial and ignorant in their own way. Like so many of us, he is not all bad-

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    • I don’t see how referencing this book is a counter to the claim you are taking issue with. Moreover, Molinism, I contend, is an erroneous position to hold regarding predestination, free-will, and omniscience.

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  2. Jim Given says:

    A “mechanistic” metaphysics would be a deterministic one, among other things. But in fact, Craig has written a detailed, nuanced study of the metaphysics of free will, namely the book I referenced. His considered point of view is sophisticated and not at all consistent with mechanism.

    Craig is better than you give him credit for.

    I too disagree with Molinism. But for detailed technical reasons; not because it is grossly in error. Also, I note that the Church finds no fault with Molinism. Note that Molina was attempting to remedy the basic inadequacy of the Thomist position as then understood. I will defend the claim of inadequacy of Aquinas’ view of human freedom. I find it, like much of Aquinas, too rationalist.

    Incidentally, I don’t agree with Craig on these matters. will defend Duns Scotus’ . position on freedom over Molina’s over that of Thomas and Molina. These, too, would be interesting discussions to have-

    Jim Given

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