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William Lane Craig debates Alex Rosenberg: Does God Exist? Video, audio and summary

British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight
British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight

Here is the video of the debate:

Here is my summary of the Craig-Rosenberg debate, which occurred on February 1st, 2013 at Purdue University.

The debaters

Below is the summary.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:

The topic: What are the arguments that make belief in God reasonable or unreasonable?
First speech: arguments for reasonableness of belief in God
Second speech: respond to arguments against reasonableness of belief in God

Eight arguments:

  1. Contingency argument: God – a transcendent, personal being – is the explanation of why a contingent universe exists.
  2. Cosmological argument: God is the cause of the beginning of the universe, which is attested by physics and cosmology.
  3. Applicability of mathematics to nature: God is the best explanation for the applicability of mathematics to nature.
  4. Fine-tuning argument: God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe to permit life.
  5. Intentionality of conscious states: God is the best explanation of the intentionality of our mental states.
  6. The moral argument: God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties.
  7. The resurrection of Jesus: God is the best explanation for the core of historical facts accepted by most ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.
  8. Religious experience: God is the best explanation of our immediate experience and knowledge of his existence.

Dr. Rosenberg’s opening speech

First argument: The fallacy of ad hominem

  • I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry
  • Dr. Craig has said all of that before in other debates
  • You didn’t need to come out on this cold night
  • Craig’s arguments have all been refuted
  • Dr. Craig just doesn’t listen
  • Dr. Craig is not interested in getting at the truth
  • Dr. Craig is just interested in scoring debate points
  • The adversarial system is the wrong approach to decide truth
  • Dr. Craig is very confident about his take of physics

Second argument: The fallacy of arguing from authority

  • 95% of members of the NAS are atheists
  • Therefore Dr. Craig cannot use science

Third argument: Effects don’t require causes

  • I am going to pretend that Craig said that “every effect requires a cause”
  • Quantum mechanics shows that some effects occur without causes
  • A particle of uranium (which is not nothing, it is something) decays without a cause
  • This uncaused effect is the same as the universe coming into being out of nothing uncaused
  • Therefore the principle of sufficient reason is false

Fourth argument: Silicon-based life and the multiverse

  • If these constants had been different, maybe we would have other kinds of intelligent life, like silicon-based life
  • Carbon-based life is not the only kind of life, maybe you can have other kinds of life, none of which have been observed
  • There could be different kinds of life in other areas of the universe that we can’t see
  • There are things we can’t see that disprove the current physics that we can see
  • Quantum foam is evidence that a multiverse exists
  • The multiverse would solve the problem of fine-tuning

Fifth argument: The Euthyphro dilemma

  • The moral argument is refuted by Euthyphro dilemma
  • Dr. Craig is such a moron that he has never heard of the Euthyphro dilemma ever before
  • This is found in the first and simplest of Plato’s dialogs
  • Why is Dr. Craig so stupid that he has not read this simple dialog ever before?
  • Evolution explains why humans evolve arbitrary customs and conventions that vary by time and place
  • Alternative moral theories: utilitarianism, social contract, etc. that don’t require God

Sixth argument: Mormonism undermines Dr. Craig’s three minimal facts about Jesus

  • Why is Dr. Craig so stupid and ignorant to persist in pushing such an ignorant, stupid argument?
  • Mormonism is a silly religion that is not historically well founded
  • Therefore, Jesus was not buried
  • Islam is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
  • Therefore, the tomb was not found empty
  • Scientology is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
  • Therefore, the eyewitnesses didn’t have post-mortem appearances
  • Eyewitness testimony is unreliable in some cases
  • Therefore, eyewitness testimony was unreliable in this case
  • Apparitions of Mary are bizarre
  • Therefore, the majority of historians are wrong to think that the disciples saw post-mortem appearances

Seventh argument: Deductive problem of evil

  • Evil and suffering are logically incompatible with an all good, all powerful God

Eight argument: God is not just to allow evil and suffering

  • God cannot make the evils of this life right in the afterlife

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal

Dr. Rosenberg sketched the deductive argument from evil.

Dr. Rosenberg presupposes naturalism. Naturalism is a false theory of knowledge:

1. It’s too restrictive: There are truths that cannot be proved by natural science.
2. It’s self-refuting: no scientific proof for naturalism exists.

That’s why epistemological naturalism is considered false by most philosophers of science.

But more importantly than that: Epistemological naturalism does not imply metaphysical naturalism. (E.g. – W. Quine)

Dr. Rosenberg has to present arguments in favor of (metaphysical) naturalism, not just assume that (metaphysical) naturalism is true.

Dr. Craig presented eight arguments against metaphysical naturalism taken from Rosenberg’s own book:

1. The argument from the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states implies non-physical minds (dualism), which is incompatible with naturalism
2. The existence of meaning in language is incompatible with naturalism, Rosenberg even says that all the sentences in his own book are meaningless
3. The existence of truth is incompatible with naturalism
4. The argument from moral praise and blame is incompatible with naturalism
5. Libertarian freedom (free will) is incompatible with naturalism
6. Purpose is incompatible with naturalism
7. The enduring concept of self is incompatible with naturalism
8. The experience of first-person subjectivity (“I”) is incompatible with naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism is false: it is irrational and it contradicts our experience of ourselves.

And epistemological naturalism is compatible with theism.

Rebutting Dr. Rosenberg’s responses:

1. Contingency: no response

2. Cosmological: he mis-states the first premise to say every effect… when it is whatever begins to exist…, the origin of the universe was not from a vacuum, virtual particles come from a vacuum not nothing, there are interpretations of QM that are compatible with determinism. Rosenberg has to believe that the entire universe popped into being from non-being.

3. Mathematics: no response

4. Fine-tuning: the multiverse is refuted by empirical observations of the universe. Without fine-tuning, it’s not that we still have silicon to make life out of. It’s that we lose basic minimal things like chemical diversity, matter, stars, planets, etc. No life of any kind, not just no carbon-based life.

5. Intentionality: no response.

6. Moral argument: the answer to the dilemma is that you split the dilemma: God is the standard of good, and the commands flow from his unchanging moral nature. The commands are not arbitrary, and the standard is not external to God. Dr. Rosenberg is a nihilist and he cannot ground good and evil on his nihilistic view.

7. Resurrection: The Gospels are early eyewitness testimony. Mormonism and Islam have nothing to do with the minimal set of historical facts about Jesus agreed to by the majority of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum, general statements against eyewitnesses do not refute the specific eyewitness testimony in this case.

8. Religious experience: No response.

Dr. Rosenberg’s first rebuttal

I wrote a book and you should buy it, because it got me invited to this debate. Let me repeat the title a few times for you. Please buy it.

Dr. Craig is right, there are multiple interpretations of QM, not just the one I presented, including deterministic ones.

All the disturbing implications of naturalism that Dr. Craig stated follow from metaphysical naturalism, and metaphysical naturalism is true. (Note: he equates science with metaphysical naturalism)

Science proves that metaphysical naturalism is true, but I won’t say what specific scientific tests prove my philosophical assumption of metaphysical naturalism.

I’ll pretend that the Big Bang (science) doesn’t disprove naturalism, like Dr. Craig said. Again. (covers ears) La la la, there is no Big Bang.

We didn’t come here to debate epistemological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.

Let me explain the problem of intentionality since I’m so smart and no one knows what it means.

There are many answers to this problem of intentionality.

My answer is that most scientists are naturalists, therefore naturalism is true, regardless of the argument from intentionality of mental states.

That’s how I would respond to one of the eight problems with naturalism that Dr. Craig raised. I won’t answer the other seven problems.

It is an argument from ignorance to argue that the applicability of mathematics to the universe requires a designer, because there are non-Euclidean geometries. Craig’s argument, which he gets from people like respected physicists like Eugene Wigner, is bizarre. It is bizarre, therefore I refute Eugene Wigner and all the other scholars who make that argument. It is bizarre! Bizarre!

Deductive problem of evil: there is no response to this argument, certainly not Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense. The deductive argument from evil has not been entirely abandoned at all! It’s not like arch-atheist J.L. Mackie himself admits that the deductive problem of evil doesn’t lead to a logical inconsistency between evil and God.

Dr. Craig has to tell me why God allows evil or God doesn’t exist.

It is offensive that Dr. Craig cannot tell me why God allows every evil and suffering that occurs.

He literally said this: “I will become a Christian if Dr. Craig can tell me why God allowed EVERY EVIL THAT OCCURRED IN THE LAST 3.5 BILLION YEARS”

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal

We are not in a position to know why God allows specific instances of evil and suffering.

God cannot force people to freely do anything – freedom is not compatible with determinism. Freedom is a good, but freedom opens up the possibility of moral evil. You cannot have the good of free will without allowing people to choose to do morally evil things.

God can permit evil and suffering in order to bring more people into a relationship with him.

The atheist has to show that God could allow less evil and achieve more knowledge of God in order to say there is too much evil.

The purpose of life is not happiness, but knowledge of God.

Dr. Craig quotes agnostic Paul Draper (Purdue) and Peter Van Inwagen (Notre Dame) to state that the deductive problem of evil is dead because of free will and morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil.

1. Contingency: no response.

2. Cosmological: QM does not apply, because the universe came from nothing, not a vacuum, and QM only works in a vacuum.

3. Mathematics: He mentions alternatives like non-Euclidean geometry, but we have to explain the structure of THIS universe.

4. Fine-tuning: ???

5. Intentional states: intentional mental states proves that minds exist, which fits with theism better than it fits with atheism.

6. Moral argument: You need God to ground morality, and Dr. Rosenberg believes in morality. He needs God to ground objective moral values and duties.

7. Historical argument: He has to respond to the minimal facts supported by the consensus of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.

8. The problems of naturalism: He says that you can’t have science without naturalism, but you can have science with EPISTEMOLOGICAL NATURALISM, and theists accept science and methodological naturalism. We don’t accept METAPHYSCIAL NATURALISM because of the eight problems Craig presented, like intentionality, first-person, persistence of self, etc. You can believe in both science and theism, by embracing epistemological naturalism, while rejecting methaphysical naturalism.

Dr. Rosenberg’s second rebuttal

Dr. Craig hasn’t answered many of my points, I won’t say which ones though.

Debates don’t work as a way of deciding what’s true, so we should overturn the entire criminal justice system.

The principle of sufficient reason is false because it is disconfirmed by quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics (vacuum and virtual particles that exist for a short time) is similar to the origin of the universe (nothing and entire universe and 14 billion years).

We know that alpha particles come into being without cause all the time from a quantum vacuum for a tiny sub-second duration before going out of existence, so we can say that the entire physical universe came into being for 14 billion years from absolute nothing which is not a quantum vacuum.

Peter Van Inwagen is the best metaphysician working today, and he says that my deductive argument from evil is not decisive, it’s not a successful argument. (Why is he undermining his own problem of evil argument????!)

Dr. Craig invoked Plantinga’s free will defense to the deductive POE. Freedom allows us to do evil. God could have given us free will without evil and suffering. I won’t show how, but I’ll just assert it, because debates are such a bad forum for supplying evidence for my speculative assertions.

If you answer the question 3 + 5 as being 8, then you don’t have free will – you are biologically determined if you answer 8, because everyone answers 8, and that means everyone is biologically determined with no free will.

Why can’t God give us free will and then prevent us from making a free choice?

No scholars date the gospels earlier than 60-70 AD, especially not atheists like James Crossley who dates Mark to 40 AD. Therefore Jesus’ burial isn’t historical, like the majority of scholars across the broad spectrum of scholarship agree it is.

The original New Testament documents were written in Aramaic.

All New Testament scholars are orthodox Christians, like atheist Robert Funk for example.

Dr. Craig’s concluding speech

In order to sustain the deductive argument from evil, Dr. Rosenberg must show that God could create a world of free creatures with less evil.

Principle of Sufficient Reason: not using the general principle of sufficient reason, but a more modest version of this states that contingent things should have an explanation for their existence. And we know that the universe is a contingent.

The New Testament was not written in Aramaic, they were written in Greek. Dr. Rosenberg is wrong there too.

(Dr. Craig spends the rest of his concluding speech giving his testimony and urging people to investigate the New testament).

Dr. Rosenberg’s concluding speech

Some long-dead French guy named Laplace said that he has no need of that (God) hypothesis. He did not know about any of Dr. Craig’s arguments made in this debate tonight when he said that, though.

There is no need to explain how the universe began or how the universe is finely-tuned if you just assume metaphysical naturalism on faith.

The Easter Bunny, therefore atheism.

Most scientists are atheists, therefore atheism.

You can do a lot of science without God, just don’t look at the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, or the other parts of science that Craig mentioned, as well as the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability argument, and so on.

You can be a Christian, but good Christians should not use arguments and evidence.

Good Christians should be irrational and ignorant. Bad Christians look for arguments and evidence from science and history.

Good Christians should embrace the absurd. Bad Christians want to search for truth and use logic and evidence.

Atheist Lawrence Krauss offers the best argument against Christianity

Richard Dawkins on atheism, morality, free will and human rights
Richard Dawkins on atheism, morality, free will and human rights

Although there are some pretty smart atheists out there, none is smarter than the venerable Lawrence Krauss. Well, Krauss has been thinking about atheism quite a bit since his debate with William Lane Craig, and he’s come up with an argument that simply can’t be defeated.

Buzzfeed reports on Krauss’ new argument against Christian theism:

When Melody Hensley first met Lawrence Krauss, she was a 29-year-old makeup artist at a department store, and he was one of her intellectual idols. She ran an atheist website in her spare time and had just started volunteering for the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a nonprofit group committed to promoting science and reason above faith. She was hoping to build a career in the burgeoning “skeptics” movement, and Krauss was one of its brightest luminaries.

At a CFI event in November 2006, Krauss asked Hensley for her card, and later, as she was leaving, asked her if she was “of age.” She brushed off the odd question, excited to meet a star skeptic. When he later emailed to invite her to dinner, she accepted.

“I didn’t care if he flirted with me, I just wanted to be around somebody important, and I also wanted to get a job in this field,” Hensley told BuzzFeed News. “I thought I could handle myself.”

They made a plan to eat in the restaurant at the Washington, DC, hotel where Krauss was staying, Hensley recalled. But first he asked her to come up to his room while he wrapped up some work. He seemed in no rush to leave, she said, ordering a cheese plate and later champagne, despite her suggestion that they go down to dinner.

Then, Hensley said, Krauss made a comment about her eye makeup, and got very close to her face. Suddenly, he lifted her by the arms and pushed her onto the bed beneath him, forcibly kissing her and trying to pull down the crotch of her tights. Hensley said she struggled to push him off. When he pulled out a condom, Hensley said, she got out from under him, said “I have to go,” and rushed out of the room.

Krauss told BuzzFeed News that what happened with Hensley in the hotel room was consensual. In that room, “we mutually decided, in a polite discussion in fact, that taking it any further would not be appropriate,” he told BuzzFeed News by email.

But Hensley said that is untrue. “It was definitely predatory,” she said. “I didn’t want that to happen. It wasn’t consensual.”

The argument is supported by many interlocking evidences from different fields of study:

BuzzFeed News has learned that the incident with Hensley is one of many wide-ranging allegations of Krauss’s inappropriate behavior over the last decade — including groping women, ogling and making sexist jokes to undergrads, and telling an employee at Arizona State University, where he is a tenured professor, that he was going to buy her birth control so she didn’t inconvenience him with maternity leave. In response to complaints, two institutions — Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario — have quietly restricted him from their campuses. Our reporting is based on official university documents, emails, and interviews with more than 50 people.

So, here is how the argument goes formally:

Premise 1. If Christianity is true, then sex outside of a natural marriage is wrong.

Premise 2. Sex outside of a natural marriage is not wrong.

Conclusion: Therefore, Christian theism is not true. (MT)

This argument seems to hold a lot of sway with many atheists, like Richard Dawkins, Richard Carrier, Michael Shermer, and so on. Pretty much everyone who makes a career out of disproving Christianity is familiar with this powerful argument.

Although this is an excellent argument (I call it the argument from immorality), it should be noted that it is not a new argument at all. It’s actually discussed in the Bible of all places, in Romans chapter 1.

Romans 1:18-25:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.Amen.

In my experience, atheists reject the evidence for Christianity because they don’t want the moral changes that come with Christianity. Even the atheists I know who claim to be “moral” nevertheless promote immorality through their political actions, voting for a world where moral evils like abortion and pedophilia cannot be judged. They also vote to suppress the disagreement of Christians, and celebrate when the state silences Christian expressions of disapproval for immorality. Actions tell what is going on much more than words.

UPDATE:

New York Times: Arizona State Suspends Lawrence Krauss During Inquiry Over Sexual Misconduct Accusations

Gizmodo: Science Organizations Cancel Lawrence Krauss Events After Sexual Harassment Allegations

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Why don’t men go to church anymore? The decline of male church attendance

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Church sucks, that’s why men are bored there

I most recently spent half a year at a PCA church, and then another half a year at a Southern Baptist church. I attended Sunday services as well as Wednesday night Bible study. I am now looking for a new church. For now, I just look around for a sermon I like and listen to that. In this post, I’ll explain why I think men don’t like church.

There are three areas where churches fail to attract men:

    1. Apologetics
    2. Feminism, sex and marriage
    3. Policy and current events

Apologetics

The PCA church discouraged me from becoming a member of the church because they said that conversion to Christianity due to reason and evidence was contrary to their teachings, and a “red flag”. Their words. I didn’t try to fight them on it, because they are Reformed Presbyterian, and this is their actual view. Their approach to apologetics was “pre-suppositional”, which is to say, they try to convince people to become Christians by asking them to assume that the Bible is infallible, without any argumentation or evidence. Naturally, this doesn’t work, so they aren’t trained to answer any serious questions from non-Christians. (1 Pet 3:15-16)

The Reformed Baptist SBC church is led by people like Russell Moore and Al Mohler, who take the “magic words” approach to evangelism. I.e. – they think that people become Christians just by speaking Bible verses out of context to them. So, when the atheist asks “do you have any evidence for God’s existence?” or “do you have any evidence for Jesus’ resurrection?”, their response is to quote Bible verses to the atheist, which have nothing to do with those topics. Christianity has lost so much influence in the culture under their approach, which is not even Biblical. (Mat 12:38–41)

These approaches to evangelism are not used in any other area of human endeavor. No one replies to questions about auto mechanics, or software engineering, or gardening, or cooking, by spouting Bible verses. In literally every other area of human endeavor, the laws of logic and supporting evidence are seen as assets when making claims to know something about the world to someone who disagrees with you.

Feminism, Sex and Marriage

First wave feminism simply asked for women to be given the same liberty and opportunity as men. That was good. But later versions of destroyed all distinctions between men and women. By destroying femininity, feminism directed women away from the traditional life plan of marriage, children and home-making.

Feminism changed how women voted. Today, about 75% of young, unmarried women vote for policies like taxpayer-funded birth control, taxpayer-funded abortion, no-fault divorce, affirmative action for women in schools and in the workplace, taxpayer-funded daycare, public schools, single-mother welfare, social security, etc. These policies and programs raised tax rates, and grew government, making it easier for women to have children without having to choose a marriage-ready man she wasn’t attracted to. Instead, she could choose men she was attracted to, and just use government programs as a substitute provider if it didn’t “work out”. Thanks to feminism, we have a 42% out-of-wedlock birth rate, and it’s rising. Few female college graduates are debt-free. About 5% of women emerge from college as virgins.

Under feminism, the traditional male roles and virtues were deemed “sexist”. Women were shamed for choosing early marriage, large families, and stable men who were good at being husbands and fathers. Instead, women today chose men based on appearance. They spend their 20s and early 30s giving men who will not commit to them premarital sex. The men who are getting sex thrown at them have no interest in Judeo-Christian values, chastity, fidelity, commitment or raising children. Women mistake the men’s willingness to have sex and cohabitate as signs that they are close to marriage. But in fact, chasing the hot bad boys just eats up the chastity, youth and beauty that could have made them interesting to the marriage-minded men they scorned. Later on, they realize that they’ve wasted their 20s on bad boys, but by then they are not attractive for marriage.

What has the response been to feminism from pastors and churches? They accept the anti-male, anti-marriage policies, that came out of feminism. They accept the promiscuity, and the marriage-delaying that came from feminism. Today, pastors just try to bully the men who were passed over to marry the women who had previously rejected them, despite the higher risk of divorce caused by the women’s past behavior.

Policy and current events

Most pastors are anti-intellectual, and they believe that this is a virtue, since they are focused narrowly on what the Bible explicitly says. Because of this, they aren’t able to understand which laws and policies allow Christianity and Christian families to flourish. I agree that what the Bible speaks about is of the highest importance. But we need to understand how to achieve the goals that the Bible states, as well as how to counter the forces that threaten the achievement of those goals.

For example, Christianity thrives when marriage thrives. Christianity is passed on from parents to children. Anything that threatens marriage, or interferes with parental authority, weakens the influence of Christianity. So, policies like higher taxes, no-fault divorce, SOGI laws, all harm the Christian family, while policies like lower taxes, protections for Christian businesses, protection for Christian schools (statements of faith, moral codes), etc. are all good for Christian families. But most pastors never talk about policies or laws, because they don’t think about how to defend the Christian worldview, how to educate Christian children, how to promote marriage, how promote Christian moral values in the public square. Even protecting the right to life of unborn children is ignored.

As the churches lose relevance, it becomes tempting for pastors to accept what the secular left promotes as good and true and beautiful. The big one is pastors pushing for redistribution of wealth by the secular government as a solution to “poverty”, even though the Bible only sanctions voluntary charity. This diminishes the cultural relevance of the church and elevates the secular government. SBC leaders like Russell Moore champion amnesty for refugees and unskilled illegal immigrants, not realizing how it will harm Christian institutions and values down the road to import large numbers of people who will eventually vote for policies like higher taxes, bigger government, etc.

Is the definition of atheism “a lack of belief in God”?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

First, let’s see check with the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.

Stanford University is one of the top 5 universities in the United States, so that’s a solid definition. To be an atheist is to be a person who makes the claim that, as a matter of FACT, there is no intelligent agent who created the universe. Atheists think that there is no God, and theists think that there is a God. Both claims are objective claims about the way the world is out there, and so both sides must furnish forth arguments and evidence as to how they are able to know what they are each claiming.

Philosopher William Lane Craig has some thoughts on atheism, atheists and lacking belief in God in this reply to a questioner.

Question:

In my discussions with atheists, they  are using the term that they “lack belief in God”. They claim that this is different from not believing in God or from saying that God does not exist. I’m not sure how to respond to this. It seems to me that its a silly word-play and is logically the same as saying that you do not believe in God.
What would be a good response to this?
Thank you for your time,

Steven

And here is Dr. Craig’s full response:

Your atheist friends are right that there is an important logical difference between believing that there is no God and not believing that there is a God.  Compare my saying, “I believe that there is no gold on Mars” with my saying “I do not believe that there is gold on Mars.”   If I have no opinion on the matter, then I do not believe that there is gold on Mars, and I do not believe that there is no gold on Mars.  There’s a difference between saying, “I do not believe (p)” and “I believe (not-p).”   Logically where you place the negation makes a world of difference.

But where your atheist friends err is in claiming that atheism involves only not believing that there is a God rather than believing that there is no God.

There’s a history behind this.  Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist.  Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists.

So understood, such an alleged presumption is clearly mistaken.  For the assertion that “There is no God” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “There is a God.”  Therefore, the former assertion requires justification just as the latter does.  It is the agnostic who makes no knowledge claim at all with respect to God’s existence.  He confesses that he doesn’t know whether there is a God or whether there is no God.

But when you look more closely at how protagonists of the presumption of atheism used the term “atheist,” you discover that they were defining the word in a non-standard way, synonymous with “non-theist.”  So understood the term would encompass agnostics and traditional atheists, along with those who think the question meaningless (verificationists).  As Antony Flew confesses,

the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way.  Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist. (A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro [Oxford:  Blackwell, 1997], s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew)

Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view.  It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all.  On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists!  In fact, our cat Muff counts as an atheist on this definition, since she has (to my knowledge) no belief in God.

One would still require justification in order to know either that God exists or that He does not exist, which is the question we’re really interested in.

So why, you might wonder, would atheists be anxious to so trivialize their position?  Here I agree with you that a deceptive game is being played by many atheists.  If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view.  But many atheists admit freely that they cannot sustain such a burden of proof.  So they try to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions.  They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities.

This is disingenuous and still leaves us asking, “So is there a God or not?”

So there you have it. We are interested in what both sides know and what reasons and evidence they have to justify their claim to know. We are interested in talking to people who make claims about objective reality, not about themselves, and who then go on to give reasons and evidence to support their claims about objective reality. There are atheists out there that do make an objective claim that God does not exist, and then support that claim with arguments and evidence. Those are good atheists, and we should engage in rational conversations with them. But clearly there are some atheists who are not like that. How should we deal with these “subjective atheists”?

Dealing with subjective atheists

How should theists respond to people who just want to talk about their psychological state? Well, my advice is to avoid them. They are approaching religion irrationally and non-cognitively – like the person who enters a physics class and says “I lack a belief in the gravitational force!”.  When you engage in serious discussions with people about God’s existence, you only care about what people know and what they can show to be true. We don’t care about a person’s psychology.

Dealing with persistent subjective atheists

What happens when you explain all of that to a subjective atheist who continues to insist that you listen to them repeat over and over “I lack a belief in God, I lack a belief in God”? What if you tell them to make the claim that God does not exist, and then support it with arguments and evidence, but instead they keep leaving comments on your blog telling you again and again about their subjective state of mind: “I lack a belief in cupcakes! I lack a belief in icebergs!” What if they keep e-mailing you and threatening to expose you on Twitter for refusing to listen to them, or denounce you via skywriting: “Wintery Knight won’t listen to me! I lack a belief in crickets!”. I think at this point you have to give up and stop talking to such a person.

And that’s why I moderate and filter comments on this blog. There are uneducated people out there with access to the Internet who want attention, but I am not obligated to give it to them. And neither are you. We are not obligated to listen to abusive people who don’t know what they are talking about. I do post comments from objective atheists who make factual claims about the objective world, and who support those claims with arguments and evidence. I am not obligated to post comments from people who refuse to make objective claims or who refuse to support objective claims with arguments and evidence. And I’m not obligated to engage in discussions with them, either.

Related posts

Dr. William Lane Craig answers questions about Jesus in the New York Times

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to university students at Purdue University

Nicholas Kristof, a secular leftist writer for the New York Times, is interested in Jesus, but he doesn’t want a Jesus who can perform miracles. He decided to ask the best living philosphical theologian, Dr. William Lane Craig, some questions. As you’ll see, Dr. Craig’s answers to his questions are perfect for the secular left audience of the New York Times.

Before we start looking at the questions and answers, I want to mention one important point. When discussing Christianity, it’s very important that Christians not allow the atheist to nitpick about minor details of Christian history or Christian theology. The Christian needs to ALWAYS redirect the discussion to the question of God’s existence. There, we are strongly supported by mainstream science. Only when the skeptic accepts a Creator and Designer can we allow ourselves to be moved on to specific points of theology or history.

Like this:

  • Skeptic: was Jesus born of a virgin?
  • Christian: do you accept a Creator and Designer of the universe?
  • Skeptic: no
  • Christian: then let’s discuss the scientific evidence for that first

And again:

  • Skeptic: am I going to Hell?
  • Christian: do you accept a Creator and Designer of the universe?
  • Skeptic: no
  • Christian: then let’s discuss the scientific evidence for that first

Why is this important? It’s important because most skeptics are fundamentalists. They think that if they can refute Christianity on an edge case issue, then the core crumbles. It’s very important to frame the discussion so that the skeptic understands that there are core claims of Christianity which are important and strongly evidenced, and there are less important claims, and also claims that are not well evidenced. The goal of any discussion with a skeptic is to get them to accept the important core claims which are strongly evidenced. If they accept the core, that’s enough to get them out of atheism, and into a relationship with God, where they can continue to grow.

I wrote a whole post about this that you can read later, but let’s get to the interview with Dr. Craig.

Let’s start with the first question and answer:

Kristof: Merry Christmas, Dr. Craig! I must confess that for all my admiration for Jesus, I’m skeptical about some of the narrative we’ve inherited. Are you actually confident that Jesus was born to a virgin?

Craig: Merry Christmas to you, too, Nick! I’m reasonably confident. When I was a non-Christian, I used to struggle with this, too. But then it occurred to me that for a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal! Given the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe (for which we have good evidence), an occasional miracle is child’s play. Historically speaking, the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism. So what’s the problem?

Did you notice what Dr. Craig did there? Regarding the evidence from science, Dr. Craig has defended that in two separate academic books, both with Oxford University Press. (Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology and God? A Debate Between A Christian and An Atheist)

Here it is again:

Kristof: How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he “burst open.” They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?

Craig: I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity. Harmonizing perceived contradictions in the Bible is a matter of in-house discussion amongst Christians. What really matters are questions like: Does God exist? Are there objective moral values? Was Jesus truly God and truly man? How did his death on a Roman cross serve to overcome our moral wrongdoing and estrangement from God? These are, as one philosopher puts it, the “questions that matter,” not how Judas died.

For those who are concerned by this answer, you should know Dr. Craig is the former president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and they do indeed sign a statement of faith that includes inerrancy. But again, an interview in the New York Times is not the place to focus on defending inerrancy. This is the place to have secular left elites contend with the core claims of Christianity.

In the next question and answer, notice how Dr. Craig refuses to yield that the skeptic is rational and evidence-driven. You should never let atheists assume that atheism is the “default” view of people who are reasonable and evidence-driven. Atheism is NOT the default view for reasonable people who are evidence-driven. Atheism is a furious retreat away from reason and evidence. In particular, it’s a refusal to bound your worldview with science and history.

More Dr. Craig:

Kristof: Over time, people have had faith in Zeus, in Shiva and Krishna, in the Chinese kitchen god, in countless other deities. We’re skeptical of all those faith traditions, so should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality when we encounter miracles in our own tradition?

Craig: I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions? I champion a “reasonable faith” that seeks to provide a comprehensive worldview that takes into account the best evidence of the sciences, history, philosophy, logic and mathematics. Some of the arguments for God’s existence that I’ve defended, such as the arguments from the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe, appeal to the best evidence of contemporary science. I get the impression, Nick, that you think science is somehow incompatible with belief in miracles. If so, you need to give an argument for that conclusion. David Hume’s famous argument against miracles is today recognized, in the words of philosopher of science John Earman, as “an abject failure.” No one has been able to do any better.

This is the book he’s alluding to, there. Oxford University Press.

Please read the whole interview.

If you have non-Christian friends who think that all the “smart people” reject Christianity, and you don’t now how to talk to them, why not send them this article from the New York Times? There are also resources that you can use to train yourself to answer questions like he did.

Some people reading may not like Dr. Craig’s approach. That might be because you’re only able to talk about Christianity to people by quoting the Bible to them. Maybe you think that quoting the Bible to a non-Christian will cause them to become a Christian. This approach, (I call it the “magic words” approach), is popular in many churches. It will work on people who are already Christians, but it won’t work on non-Christians, since they don’t accept the Bible. It’s also not how anyone in the New Testament talked about spiritual things. (See Acts 17 for an example, or read what Jesus does to prove his claims to skeptics in the gospel of John). If you want to discuss Christianity outside the church, then I recommend Dr. Craig’s approach.

Positive arguments for Christian theism