Tag Archives: William Lane Craig

Christopher Hitchens debates William Lane Craig at Biola U: Does God Exist?

Here is the video of the debate:

TOPIC: DOES GOD EXIST?

MY NOTES ON THE DEBATE: (WC = William Lane Craig, CH = Christopher Hitchens)

WC opening speech:

Introduction:

WC makes two contentions:
– there are no good arguments for atheism
– there are good arguments for theism

These topics are IRRELEVANT tonight:
– social impact of christianity
– morality of Old Testament passages
– biblical inerrancy
– the debate is whether god (a creator and designer of the universe) exists

1. cosmological argument
– an actually infinite number of past events is impossible
– number of past events must be finite
– therefore universe has a beginning
– the beginning of the universe is confirmed by science –  universe began to exist from nothing
– space, time, matter, energy began at the big bang
– the creation of the universe requires a cause
– the cause is uncaused, timeless, spaceless, powerful
– the cause must be beyond space and time, because it created space and time
– the cause is not physical, because it created all matter and energy
– but there are only two kinds of non-physical cause: abstract objects or minds
– abstract objects don’t cause effects
– therefore must be mind

2. teleological argument
– fine-tuned constants and ratios
– constants not determined by laws of nature
– also, there are arbitrary quantities
– constants and quantities are in narrow range of life-permitting values
– an example: if the weak force were different by 1 in 10 to the 100, then no life
– there are 3 explanations: physical law or chance or design
– not due to law: because constants and quantities are independent of the laws
– not due to chance: the odds are too high for chance
– therefore, due to design
– the atheist response is the world ensemble (multiverse)
– but world ensemble has unobservable universes, no evidence that they exist
– and world ensemble contradicts scientific observations we have today

3. moral argument
– objective moral values are values that exist regardless of what humans think
– objective values are not personal preferences
– objective values are not evolved standards that cultures have depending on time and place
– objective moral values and duties exist
– objective moral values and duties require a moral lawgiver

4. argument from resurrection miracle
– resurrection implies miracle
– miracle implies God
– 3 minimal facts pass the historical tests (early attestation, eyewitness testimony, multiple attestation, etc.)
– minimal fact 1: empty tomb
– minimal fact 2: appearances
– minimal fact 3: early belief in the resurrection
– jewish theology prohibits a dying messiah – messiah is not supposed to die
– jewish theology has a general resurrection of everybody, there is not supposed to be a resurrection of one person
– jewish theology certainly does not predict a single resurrection of the messiah after he dies
– therefore, the belief in the resurrection is unlikely to have been invented
– disciples were willing to die for that belief in the resurrection
– naturalistic explanations don’t work for the 3 minimal facts

5. properly basic belief in god
– religious experience is properly basic
– it’s just like the belief in the external world, grounded in experience
– in the absence of defeaters, those experiences are valid

Conclusion: What CH must do:
– destroy all 5 of WC’s arguments
– erect his own case in its place

CH opening speech:

1. evolution disproves biological design argument
– evolution disproves paley’s argument for a watchmaker

2. god wouldn’t have done it that way
– god wouldn’t have waited that long before the incarnation
– mass extinction and death before Jesus
– god wouldn’t have allowed humans to have almost gone extinct a while back in africa
– why insist that this wasteful and incompetent history of life is for us, that’s a bad design
– the universe is so vast, why would god need so much space, that’s a bad design
– there is too much destruction in the universe, like exploding stars – that’s a bad design
– the heat death of the universe is a bad design
– too many of the other planets don’t support life, that’s a bad design
– the sun is going to become a red giant and incinerate us, that’s a bad design

3. hitchens’ burden of proof
– there is no good reason that supports the existence of god
– all arguments for god can be explained without god
– atheists can’t prove there is no god
– but they can prove there is no good argument for god

4. craig’s scientific arguments don’t go far enough, they only prove deism, not theism
– the scientific arguments don’t prove prayer works
– the scientific arguments don’t prove specific moral teachings of christianity

5. if the laws of physics are so great then miracles shouldn’t be allowed
– good laws and miracles seem to be in contradiction

6. extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence
– none of craig’s evidence was extraordinary

7. science can change, so craig can’t use the progress of science
– it’s too early for craig to use the big bang and fine-tuning
– the big bang and fine-tuning evidences are too new
– they could be overturned by the progress of science

8. craig wrote in his book that the internal conviction of god’s existence should trump contradicting evidence
– but then he isn’t forming his view based on evidence
– he refuses to let evidence disprove his view
– but then how can atheists be to blame if they don’t believe
– so evidence is not really relevant to accepting theism

9. the progress of science has disproved religion
– christianity taught that earth was center of the universe
– but then cosmology disproved that

Response to the big bang and fine-tuning arguments:
– was there pre-existing material?
– who designed the designer?

WC first rebuttal:

Reiterates his 2 basic contentions

CH agrees that there is no good argument for atheism
– then all you’ve got is agnosticism
– because CH did not claim to know there is no God
– and he gave no arguments that there is no God

CH’s evolution argument
– irrelevant to christianity
– Genesis 1 allows for evolution to have occurred
– christianity is not committed to young earth creationism
– the origin of biological diversity is not central to christianity
– st. augustine in 300 AD said days can be long, special potencies unfold over time
– also there are scientific reasons to doubt evolution
– cites barrow and tipler, and they say:
– each of 10 steps in evolution is very improbable
– chances are so low, it would be a miracle if evolution occurred

CH’s argument that god is wasteful
– efficiency is only important to people with limited time or limited resources
– therefore god doesn’t need to be efficient

CH’s argument that god waits too long to send Jesus
– population was not that high before jesus
– jesus appears just before the exponential explosion of population
– conditions were stable – roman empire, peace, literacy, law, etc.

CH’s argument that Craig’s scientific arguments only prove deism, not theism
– deism a type of theism, so those scientific arguments work
– all that deism denies is miraculous intervention

CH’s argument that Craig has a burden of proof
– theism doesn’t need to be proven with certainty
– must only prove best explanation of the evidence

CH’s citation of Craig’s book saying that evidence should not overrule experience
– there is a difference between knowing and showing christianity is true
– knowing is by religious experience which is a properly basic belief
– showing is done through evidence, and there the evidence does matter

CH’s rebuttal to the big bang
– there was no pre-existent material
– space and time and matter came into being at the big bang
– the cause must be non-physical and eternal
– cause of universe outside of time means = cause of universe did not begin to exist
– this is the state of science today

CH’s rebuttal to the fine tuning
– CH says scientists are uncertain about the fine-tuning
– craig cites martin rees, an atheist, astronomer royal, to substantiate the fine tuning
– the fine-tuning is necessary for  minimal requirements for life of any kind
– the progress of science is not going to dethrone the fine-tuning

CH’s argument about heat death of the universe
– duration of design is irrelevant to whether something was designed
– cars are designed, yet they break down
– design need not be optimal to be designed
– ch is saying why create if we all eventually go extinct
– but life doesn’t end in the grave on christianity

CH’s rebuttal to the moral argument
– CH says no obj moral values
– but CH uses them to argue against god and christians
– but CH has no foundation for a standard that applies to God and Christians

CH’s rebuttal to the resurrection argument
– empty tomb and appearances are virtually certain
– these are minimal facts, well evidenced using standard historical criteria
– best explanation of these minimal facts is the resurrection

CH’s rebuttal to religious experience
– prop basic belief is rational in the absence of defeaters
– so long as craig has no psychological deficiency, experience is admissible

CH first rebuttal:

it’s not agnosticism
– if there are no good arguments for theism
– then there is no reason for belief in god
– that is atheism
– everything can be explained without god

god wouldn’t have done it that way
– homo sapiens is 100K years old
– for 98K years, they had no communication from God
– lots of people died in childbirth
– disease and volcanos are a mystery to them
– life expectancy is very low
– they die terrible deaths
– their teeth are badly designed
– their genitalia are badly designed
– why solve the problem of sin by allowing a man to be tortured to death
– that’s a stupid, cruel, bumbling plan

lots of people haven’t even heard of jesus
– many of them die without knowing about him
– they cannot be held responsible if they do not know about jesus

the early success of christianity doesn’t prove christianity is true
– because then it applies to mormonism and islam, they’re growing fast

objective morality
– belief in a supreme dictator doesn’t improve moral behavior
– i can do moral actions that you can do
– i can repeat moral positions that you can say

religious people are immoral
– genital mutilation
– suicide bombing

moral behavior doesn’t need god
– we need to act moral for social cohesion
– it evolved for our survival
– that’s why people act morally
– it’s degrading to humans, and servile, to require god for morality

free will
– i believe in free will
– i don’t know why, because i can’t ground free will on atheism
– a bossy god seems to reduce free will because then we are accountable to god

WC cross-examination of CH:

WC why call yourself an atheist when you have no reasons?

CH because absence of belief is atheism

WC but agnosticism, atheism, verificationism all don’t hold that belief, which are you?

CH i think god does not exist

WC ok give me an argument for the claim you just made to know god does not exist

CH i have no argument, but i don’t believe in god because it depresses me to think he might be real

WC would you agree that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?

CH no i don’t agree

WC moral argument: it’s not epistemology it’s the ontology – have you got a foundation for moral values and duties?

CH i do not, it’s just evolution, an evolved standard based on social cohesion

CH cross-examination of WC:

CH you said that the historical reports of jesus doing exorcisms are generally accepted – do you believe in devils?

WC i commit to nothing, what I am saying there historical concensus on the reports that jesus did exorcisms

CH what about the devils going into the pigs, do you believe that?

WC yes i do, but the main point i’m making is that the historical reports show that jesus acted with divine authority

CH do you believe in the virgin birth?

WC yes, but that’s not historically provable using the minimal facts methods, and i did not use the virgin birth in my arguments tonight, because it doesn’t pass the historical tests to be a minimal fact

CH do you believe that all the graves opened and dead people all came out?

WC not sure if the author intended that part as apocalyptic imagery or as literal, i have no opinion on it, have not studied it

CH do exorcisms prove son of god?

WC no, i am only saying that the historical reports show that jesus exercised authority and put himself in the place of god

CH  are any religions false? name one that’s false

WC islam

CH so some religions are wicked right?

WC yes

CH if a baby were born in saudi arabia would it be better if it were an atheist or a muslim?

WC i have no opinion on that

CH are any christian denominations wrong?

WC calvinism is wrong about some things, but they are still christians, i could be wrong about some things, i do the best i can studying theology so i’m not wrong

WC second rebuttal

Response to CH arguments:

no reasons for atheism
– no reasons to believe that god does not exist
– ch withholds belief in god

why wait so long before contacting humans with jesus
– population matters, not time – jesus waited until there was about to be a population explosion
– there is natural revelation (Romans 1) for those who lived before christ

what about those who never heard
– (Acts 17:22-31) god chooses the time and place of each person who is born to optimize their opportunity to know him based on how they will respond to evidence (this is called middle knowledge)
– those who haven’t heard will be judged based on general revelation

WC re-assess the state of his five arguments:

cosmological argument
– heat death of the universe won’t happen on christianity

moral argument
– if no objective moral standard, can’t judge other cultures as wrong
– no transcendent objective standard to be able to judge slavery as wrong

name an action argument
– e.g. – tithing
– the greatest command – love the lord your god your god with everything you’ve got
– atheists can’t do that, and that is the biggest commandment to follow

moral obligations
– there are no objective moral obligations for anyone on atheism
– on atheism, you feel obligated because of genetics and social pressure
– on atheism, we’re animals, and animals don’t have moral obligations

resurrection
– the belief in resurrection of 1 man, the messiah is totally unexpected on judaism
– they would not have made this up, it was unexpected

religious experience
– experience is valid in the absence of defeaters

CH second rebuttal:

faith and reason
– Tertullian says faith is better when it’s against reason

it’s easy to start a rumor with faith-based people
– mother teresa: to be canonized she needs to have done a miracle
– so there was a faked miracle report
– but everybody believes the fake miracle report!
– this proves that religious rumors are easy to start
– the resurrection could have started as a similar rumor by people wanting to believe it

name an action
– tithing is a religious action, i don’t have to do that

moral argument
– i can be as moral as you can without god
– i can say that other cultures are wrong, there i just said it
– without god, people would still be good, so god isn’t needed

religious people did bad things in history
– this church did a bad thing here
– that church did a bad thing there
– therfore god doesn’t exist

religion is the outcome of man’s struggle with natural phenomenon
– that is why there are so many religions

WC concluding speech

no arguments for atheism presented

What CH has said during the debate:
– god bad, mother teresa bad, religion bad

atheism is a worldview
– it claims to know the truth
– therefore it is exclusive of other views

what does theism explain
– theism explains a broad range of experiences
– origin of universe, CH has dropped the point
– fine-tuning, CH has dropped the point
– moral, CH says that humans are no different from animals – but an evolved standard is illusory, there are no actual moral values and standards, it’s just a genetic predisposition to act in a certain way – that’s not prescriptive morality
– resurrection, CH has dropped the point
– experience, craig tells his testimony and urges the audience to give it a shot

CH concluding speech

HITCHENS YIELDS HIS ENTIRE CONCLUDING SPEECH!

A question & answer Period followed end of the formal debate

Further study

Check out my analysis of the 11 arguments Hitchens made in his opening speech in his debate with Frank Turek.

Why does atheist historian Gerd Ludemann accept the post-mortem experiences of the risen Jesus?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

William Lane Craig explains why even atheist historians like Gerd Ludemann accept that the earliest followers of Jesus had experiences in which Jesus appeared to them as resurrected Lord.

Excerpt:

Fact #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:

1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’s resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred.

2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of such appearances.

With respect to the first supporting line of evidence, it is universally accepted on the basis of the early date of Paul’s tradition as well as the apostle’s personal acquaintance with many of the people listed that the disciples did experience postmortem appearances of Christ. Among the witnesses of the resurrection appearances were Peter, the immediate circle of the disciples known as “the Twelve,” a gathering of 500 Christian believers (many of whom Paul evidently knew, since he was aware that some had died by the time of his writing), Jesus’s younger brother James, and a wider group of apostles. “Finally,” says Paul, “as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (I Cor. 15.8).

The second supporting line of evidence appeals again to the criterion of multiple attestation. The Gospels independently attest to postmortem appearances of Jesus, even to some of the same appearances found in Paul’s list. Wolfgang Trilling explains,

From the list in I Cor. 15 the particular reports of the Gospels are now to be interpreted. Here may be of help what we said about Jesus’s miracles. It is impossible to ‘prove’ historically a particular miracle. But the totality of the miracle reports permits no reasonable doubt that Jesus in fact performed ‘miracles.’ That holds analogously for the appearance reports. It is not possible to secure historically the particular event. But the totality of the appearance reports permits no reasonable doubt that Jesus in fact bore witness to himself in such a way.38

The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Paul and Luke (I Cor. 15.5; Lk. 24.34), the appearance to the Twelve by Paul, Luke, and John (I Cor. 15.5; Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20.19-20), the appearance to the women disciples by Matthew and John (Mt. 28.9-10; Jn. 20.11-17), and appearances to the disciples in Galilee by Mark, Matthew, and John (Mk. 16.7; Mt. 28. 16-17; Jn. 21). Taken sequentially, the appearances follow the pattern of Jerusalem-Galilee-Jerusalem, matching the festival pilgrimages of the disciples as they returned to Galilee following the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread and traveled again to Jerusalem two months later for Pentecost.

Lüdemann himself concludes, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”39 Thus, we are in basic agreement that following Jesus’s crucifixion various individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Christ alive from the dead. The real bone of contention will be how these experiences are best to be explained.

Triablogue notes that most historians accept these post-mortem experiences of the risen Jesus:

In their 2004 book, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona mention five facts accepted by the large majority of scholars:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.
4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.
5. The tomb was empty.

Habermas and Licona write:

“On the state of Resurrection studies today, I (Habermas) recently completed an overview of more than 1,400 sources on the resurrection of Jesus published since 1975. I studied and catalogued about 650 of these texts in English, German, and French. Some of the results of this study are certainly intriguing. For example, perhaps no fact is more widely recognized than that early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. A critic may claim that what they saw were hallucinations or visions, but he does not deny that they actually experienced something….roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact.” (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], pp. 60, 70)

Habermas and Licona explain that even “the majority of nonbelieving scholars” (p. 149) accept such facts, not just Christian scholars. And even many professing Christian scholars are Christian in name, but reject much of what Christians have traditionally believed. Skeptics sometimes suggest that a scholarly consensus on facts related to Jesus’ resurrection isn’t of much significance, because so many of the scholars are Christians, but traditional Christians make up only a small percentage of scholarship.

When talking about the appearances, the challenge is always to make the move from “through they saw” to “they actually saw”. In chapter 6 of their introductory book on the resurrection of Jesus, “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus“, Mike Licona and Gary Habermas give some reasons why the post-mortem appearances of Jesus were not hallucinations. First, they argue that hallucinations are had by individuals, not groups. Second, they argue that the hallucination hypothesis leaves the empty tomb unexplained. It also doesn’t explain the appearances to skeptical James and antagonistic Paul. Finally, the appearance narratives are too varied to be hallucinations, i.e. – individuals, groups, friends, enemies, different times and different places.

If you want to read a scholarly response to the hallucination hypothesis, it’s right in the article by Dr. Craig that I was quoting from above. He assesses the hallucination hypothesis as put forward by atheist scholar Gerd Ludemann against the standard criteria for judging multiple competing historical explanations. It’s too much to quote here, but click through and read it when you can. If you want to see a good summary of the arguments for the empty tomb, go right here.

See it used in a debate

You can see the arguments made and defended from criticism in this debate with the atheist scholar James Crossley.

This my favorite resurrection debate.

What are the historical arguments for the empty tomb narrative?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

I wanted to go over this article by William Lane Craig which includes a discussion of the empty tomb, along with the other minimal facts that support the resurrection.

The word resurrection means bodily resurrection

The concept of resurrection in use among the first converts to Christianity was a Jewish concept of resurrection. And that concept of resurrection is unequivocally in favor of a bodily resurrection. The body (soma) that went into the grave is the body (soma) that came out.

Craig explains what this means with respect to the fast start of Christian belief:

For a first century Jew the idea that a man might be raised from the dead while his body remained in the tomb was simply a contradiction in terms. In the words of E. E. Ellis, “It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave emptying’ resurrection. To them an anastasis without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle.”

And:

Even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection of Jesus, it is doubtful they would have generated any following. So long as the body was interred in the tomb, a Christian movement founded on belief in the resurrection of the dead man would have been an impossible folly.

It’s significant that the belief in the resurrection started off in the city where the tomb was located. Anyone, such as the Romans or Jewish high priests, who wanted to nip the movement in the bud could easily have produced the body to end it all. They did not do so, because they could not do so, although they had every reason to do so.

There are multiple early, eyewitness sources for the empty tomb

Paul’s early creed from 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, dated to within 5 years of the crucifixion, implies the empty tomb.

Craig writes:

In the formula cited by Paul the expression “he was raised” following the phrase “he was buried” implies the empty tomb. A first century Jew could not think otherwise. As E. L. Bode observes, the notion of the occurrence of a spiritual resurrection while the body remained in the tomb is a peculiarity of modern theology. For the Jews it was the remains of the man in the tomb which were raised; hence, they carefully preserved the bones of the dead in ossuaries until the eschatological resurrection. There can be no doubt that both Paul and the early Christian formula he cites pre-suppose the existence of the empty tomb.

The dating of the resurrection as having occurred “on the third day” implies the empty tomb. The date specified for the resurrection would have been the date that the tomb was discovered to be empty.

The phrase “on the third day” probably points to the discovery of the empty tomb. Very briefly summarized, the point is that since no one actually witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, how did Christians come to date it “on the third day?” The most probable answer is that they did so because this was the day of the discovery of the empty tomb by Jesus’ women followers. Hence, the resurrection itself came to be dated on that day. Thus, in the old Christian formula quoted by Paul we have extremely early evidence for the existence of Jesus’ empty tomb.

A few quotes from atheist historians not from Dr. Craig’s article: (thanks to Eric of Ratio Christi OSU)

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

The early pre-Markan burial narrative mentions the empty tomb. This source pre-dates Mark, the earliest gospel. The source has been dated by some scholars to the 40s. For example, the atheist scholar James Crossley dates Mark some time in the 40s. (See the debate below)

The empty tomb story is part of the pre-Markan passion story and is therefore very old. The empty tomb story was probably the end of Mark’s passion source. As Mark is the earliest of our gospels, this source is therefore itself quite old. In fact the commentator R. Pesch contends that it is an incredibly early source. He produces two lines of evidence for this conclusion:

(a) Paul’s account of the Last Supper in 1 Cor. 11:23-5 presupposes the Markan account. Since Paul’s own traditions are themselves very old, the Markan source must be yet older.

(b) The pre-Markan passion story never refers to the high priest by name. It is as when I say “The President is hosting a dinner at the White House” and everyone knows whom I am speaking of because it is the man currently in office. Similarly the pre-Markan passion story refers to the “high priest” as if he were still in power. Since Caiaphas held office from AD 18-37, this means at the latest the pre-Markan source must come from within seven years after Jesus’ death. This source thus goes back to within the first few years of the Jerusalem fellowship and is therefore an ancient and reliable source of historical information.

So we are dealing with very early sources for the empty tomb.

Lack of legendary embellishments

The empty tomb narrative in the gospels lacks legendary embellishments, unlike later 2nd century forgeries that originated outside of Jerusalem.

The eyewitness testimony of the women

This is the evidence that has been the most convincing to skeptics, and to me as well.

The tomb was probably discovered empty by women. To understand this point one has to recall two facts about the role of women in Jewish society.

(a) Woman occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. This is evident in such rabbinic expressions as “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women” and “Happy is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.”

(b) The testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that they were not even permitted to serve as legal witnesses in a court of law. In light of these facts, how remarkable must it seem that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legend would certainly have made the male disciples to discover the empty tomb. The fact that women, whose testimony was worthless, rather than men, are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly accounted for by the fact that, like it or not, they were the discoverers of the empty tomb and the gospels accurately record this.

The earliest response from the Jewish high priests assumes the empty tomb

This report from Matthew 28 fulfills the criteria of enemy attestation, although Matthew is not the earliest source we have. Oh, well.

In Matthew 28, we find the Christian attempt to refute the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection. That polemic asserted that the disciples stole away the body. The Christians responded to this by reciting the story of the guard at the tomb, and the polemic in turn charged that the guard fell asleep. Now the noteworthy feature of this whole dispute is not the historicity of the guards but rather the presupposition of both parties that the body was missing. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. Thus, the evidence of the adversaries of the disciples provides evidence in support of the empty tomb.

Note how careful Craig is not to imply that the guard tradition is historical, because we can’t prove the guard as a “minimal fact”, since it doesn’t pass the standard historical criteria.

See it used in a debate

You can see the arguments made and defended from criticism in this debate with the atheist scholar James Crossley.

This my favorite resurrection debate.

Are evangelism and human responsibility for sin rational in Calvinism?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Here is a quote from Dr. Craig that seems to get Calvinists so angry:

“The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.”

(Source)

Calvinists have told me that this quotation from Dr. Craig is “heretical” or “borderline heretical”. They are claiming that Dr. Craig thinks that God is lacking in power somehow. But why is God’s power limited, according to this quote?

Well, it’s because God respects FREE WILL. That quote is simply Dr. Craig’s way of saying that God does not override the free will of his creatures.

So let’s make sense of Craig’s statement. Either there is determinism and God causes people to act, or humans have free will and they cause themselves to do things. If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do. Just think for a minute. If I push you into someone and you fall into them and then they fall off a cliff, then are you a murderer? No – I would be, because I am the cause. The Bible teaches that God has chosen to limit his power so that that people have genuine responsibility for their actions, and that means they have genuine free will. Humans can only be responsible for their sins if they have the ability to do other than they do, and this is the traditional Christian view.

It’s true that human beings are totally depraved as a result of the fall, and do not want God in their lives, but they are responsible because God wants them to be saved, and it is their free choice that prevents it. Rather than force humans to love him against their will, God lets them resist him, and so they are responsible for their sin.

Dr. Craig cites the famous Calvinist D. A. Carson (who I like) explaining some of the themes of the Bible that affirm robust free will and human responsibility:

The classical Reformed [scholars]… acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom.

On Calvinism, however, all of these 9 features of reality, supported by dozens and dozens of Bible passages, are all false. On Calvinism, God is the sole causal agent. There is no free will. People go to Heaven or Hell as a choice of God. People can only perform good actions if God acts unilaterally to “regenerate” them, making obedience to God possible. Calvinism teaches that God and his agents are constantly exhorting and commanding things that they literally cannot do because they are unregenerate, and the only way to get regenerate is for God to regenerate them, against their will. And they can’t resist that.

So let’s make sense of D.A. Carson’s list of 9 items:

  1. On Calvinism, when God or his agents exhort or command people to perform good actions, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so that they can perform the good actions.
  2. On Calvinism, when God or his agents tell people to obey, believe and choose God, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so they can obey, believe and choose God.
  3. On Calvinism, when people sin and rebel against God, it’s like people are soda cans that God shakes up some of them, and then pops the tabs on all of them and the ones he shook up fizz.
  4. On Calvinism, when God judges people for sinning, it’s like God sends the cans who don’t fizz to Hell for eternity, even though he unilaterally chose not to shake them, which is the only way they could fizz.
  5. On Calvinism, when God tests people, it’s meaningless, because there is no way they can pass the tests unless God unilaterally regenerates them first, so they can pass the test.
  6. On Calvinism, when people receive divine rewards, it’s meaningless, because all the credit goes to God for regenerating them. They are just fizzing because God shook their can of soda.
  7. On Calvinism, when people respond to God’s initiative, it’s meaningless, because God’s regeneration is irresistible and irrevocable. They can do nothing other than fizz when he shakes the can.
  8. On Calvinism, when people pray, it’s meaningless, because God unilaterally decides whether to regenerate people or not, and all their fizzing comes solely from his decision to shake or not shake the can.
  9. On Calvinism, when God pleads with sinners to repent and be saved, it’s meaningless, because God has to unilaterally regenerate them before they can repent, and then that repentance cannot be resisted at any time after.

Here’s William Lane Craig to explain it further in an answer to a question of the week from Dr. Craig’s Reasonable Faith web site.

5 problems:

  1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture.
  2. Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed.
  3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility.
  4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency.
  5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce.

If God’s choice, to regenerate or not, causally determines whether we can respond to him, or not, then that is determinism. And it makes our lives meaningless because we are not responsible for anything we do. Life is a puppet show, and there is only one person pulling the strings. Evangelism makes no sense, because God decides unilaterally and irrevocably who is saved. When I explain this to Calvinists, their response is that God commands us to evangelize, so we must even if it makes no sense on their view.

A Calvinist might respond to this defense of free will and human responsibility with passages from Romans 8 and 9, but those are best understood as speaking about corporate election, rather than unilaterally-determined selection. Membership in the elect group is based on people responding to God’s drawing of them to him. That interpretation fits with the rest of the Bible, which is uniformly affirmative of human free will and human responsibility. Concerns about diminished divine sovereignty are resolved by middle knowledge, in which God chooses to actualize exactly the world that achieves his sovereign will out of all the possible worlds, and he saves exactly the people he chooses to save – but without violating their free will. Yes, it’s cosmic entrapment, but at least the cosmic entrapment does not violate the free will of the creatures, which would render then irresponsible for their own sins.

Disclaimer: I don’t think that this is an issue that should divide Christians, and I do think that Calvinists are most definitely Christians. And that they are very devout and intelligent Christians, too. I think they just have a presupposition of theological determinism that colors the way they read the Bible, resulting in an unBiblical anthropology. This often leads them to a Mormon epistemology (“the Bible is true because I feel that it’s true”) and magic words evangelism (“the correct way to evangelize is not to use evidence but to invite unbelievers to presuppose the truth of the Bible because it causes them to have all the feels”).

If you are looking for a good book on this issue, I recommend Kenneth Keathley’s “Salvation and Sovereignty“, which is a thorough discussion of the problem of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

How can we get single men and husbands to be interested in church and ministry?

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Church is ineffective and impractical, and that’s why men are bored there

Consider this passage from William Lane Craig’s April 2013 newsletter, which made me very excited and happy. (H/T Triablogue)

Here it is:

One overwhelming impression of these engagements is the way in which the intellectual defense of Christian faith attracts men. Both at Texas A&M and again at Miami every single student who got up to ask a question was a guy! I wondered if the girls are just shy. But then I remembered a lengthy clip Jan and I watched of cast members of Downton Abbey doing a Q&A with an audience in New York. Almost every person who came to the microphone at that event was a woman! It wasn’t until late into the evening that a man finally asked a question, which was remarked by all the cast members. Why the difference between that session and the ones I experienced?—simply because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is more appealing to men.

Churches have difficulty attracting men, and the church is becoming increasingly feminized. I believe that apologetics is a key to attracting large numbers of men (as well as women) to church and to Christ. By presenting rational arguments and historical evidences for the truth of the Gospel, by appealing to the mind as well as the heart, we can bring a great influx of men into the Kingdom. I’m so pleased that the church in Canada seems to be awakening to this challenge! I’m convinced that we have the opportunity to revolutionize Western Christianity by reclaiming our intellectual heritage.

Now, I hear a lot of complaints from women in the church and pastors in the church about men not being interested in going to church. I think that the problem is that church is hostile to men’s natures. Men thrive on conflict and competition. Men prefer strict rules and moral judgments. Men prefer to shame people who underperform, rather than coddle them. Men are practical and results focused. So how should the church accommodate the different nature that men have? Apologetics is one way to appeal to the male nature.

Let’s take a look at it.

Pastors: church as it is now is abrasive to men’s male nature

In a recent William Lane Craig podcast, at time 8:47, the WLC tells Kevin Harris about how he and his wife Jan asked about six of the young men who attend his “Defenders” apologetics class which morning service they attended: traditional or contemporary. ALL of the young men said that they attended neither service, because they go to church to learn something and the service has no educational value to them. The only attend the Defenders class. The apologetics class taught them things they could actually use – things they could actually use to think better, and fight better. This is my experience as well, although I am looking for a better church that does have some appeal to men. I might even have to move to find a decent church that has apologetics.

There is absolutely nothing going on in most churches that is valuable to a man. Men, by and large, only pray as a last resort, after we have done everything we can to solve the problem ourselves. We pay the most attention to the parts of the Bible that help us debate with non-Christians, or that give us things to do. We like to find evidence in the real world that connects with what the Bible is saying. We are interested in planning, execution and results. We are not very interested in feelings, singing, devotions, or bending the rules to make people doing bad things feel good. Now that’s not necessarily true for all men, but it is true for the majority of men.

And lest some people worry that fighting makes enemies, it doesn’t. Fighting with non-Christians has two effects: 1) they respect Christianity more, and 2) they want to be your friends and talk to you about spiritual things. Atheists see your standing up for what you believe in and living consistently with it indicative of authenticity. That is not the exception, Christian women and pastors – that is the rule. Atheists don’t think that standing up for what you believe in makes Christianity look fake, they think it makes Christianity look authentic. Well, at least the ones who are worth talking to think that.

Wives: don’t choose men who had no interest in advocating for Christianity before you married them

A related problem I see is the problem of wives marrying the wrong men then complaining that the men they freely chose to marry are not interested in church. This is actually the woman’s fault. Most women don’t think about what is best for God when they think about who to marry and have children with, they think about what makes them feel good. They don’t have any kind of plan where they match the man’s ability to the roles he will play as husband and father – they just pick who makes them feel good. This works about as well as buying and selling stocks based on which make you feel good, or choosing electronics and computers based on the color, or choosing a job or a church based on what the building looks like. The Bible lays out a few minimal requirements for a man: chastity, self-sacrificial love, providing for family, leading on moral and spiritual issues. Most young, unmarried women don’t value those things. If a woman picks a man who doesn’t make any demands on them, and who doesn’t judge them, then she cannot depend on him to show spiritual and moral leadership later on in the marriage. So don’t pick a man like that.

Wives: men respond to attention, recognition and approval from women

The reason that most husbands don’t engage in Christianity is because most wives (not my married friends of course) haven’t approached Christianity as something that is objectively true. Men don’t create illusions for themselves in order to feel better – they are more practical than that. Men only invest in things that they think are true, and where they can see that their practical efforts will make a difference. Men are turned off by the view that Christianity is just something that helps families and communities bond, and makes people feel comfort. We think that’s weakness, and we abhor weakness. Once men get the idea that a woman thinks of Christianity as feelings-fulfillment, we stop trying to achieve anything for the Kingdom of God. Men don’t want to be roped into Christianity if all it means is helping people get along and feel good. But they very much want to be roped into a demanding relationship with God where their efforts to achieve results count with God and gets them recognition and approval from their wives.

So how do wives learn to recognize and approve of what men do as Christians? Well, women need to learn apologetics and they need to practice debating with non-Christians. That will teach them to value conflict and competition, and to see how engagement and authenticity drives relationships with non-Christians forward. If women show an interest in objective truth, moral goodness and theological correctness, then men will become interested in these things, too. They will do it because men are addicted to pleasing women, and they want to help women more than anything in the world, second only to pleasing God. Men will enthusiastically engage in whatever will get them praise and recognition from women, and that means that women have to care about Christianity beyond their personal emotional experience of it and beyond their social cohesion experience of it. Initially, wives must be ready to praise and encourage their husbands, and then once the husbands get it, then they will be self-motivated and move out on their own. It will be self-sustaining.