Tag Archives: WLC

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

Upcoming Greer-Heard forum on cosmology, featuring Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig

(Video: William Lane Craig debates the fine-tuning argument with Duke University philosopher Alex Rosenberg)

Christian Post reports on what promises to be one of the best debates in William Lane Craig’s career.

Excerpt:

The debate over God’s existence heats up next week as leading physicist and atheist Sean Carroll is pitted against William Lane Craig, a top theologian and philosopher, to discuss their views about philosophy, cosmology, and the role of God and the cosmos.

The two experts will debate on Feb. 21 under the theme “God and Cosmology: The Existence of God in Light of Modern Cosmology.” Organizers announced Wednesday that the event will be held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as part of a Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum in Faith and Culture Weekend Conference. Modern cosmology is dominated by the Big Bang theory, which attempts to bring together observational astronomy and particle physics.

“Though Carroll is as fiercely anti-theistic as other cosmologists I have debated, he differs in being philosophically informed and civil in demeanor,” Craig wrote in a statement about the event.

Craig is a philosopher, professor, author and founder of ReasonableFaith.org, a web-based ministry “whose purpose is to provide, in the public arena, an intelligent and articulate perspective about the existence of God.” He has debated some of the most notable atheists, including the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and, most recently, Lawrence Krauss. Some 250,000 people have watched the Craig-Krauss dialogues since they took place last August in Australia.

Over the years, Craig has developed “Eight Reasons for God.” These form his case for theism, showing that God is the best explanation for why anything exists at all; the origin of the universe; the application of mathematics to the physical world; the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life; intentional states of consciousness in the world; objective moral values and duties in the world; the historical facts concerning Jesus’ resurrection; and personal experience of God.

Sean Carroll is a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. His research focuses on theoretical physics and cosmology, especially the origin and constituents of the universe. He has contributed to models of interaction between dark matter, dark energy, and ordinary matter; alternative theories of gravity; and violations of fundamental symmetries. He has appeared on TV shows including “The Colbert Report” and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and frequently serves as a science consultant for film and television. He is the author of several books including the upcoming The Particle at the End of the Universe.

Each has selected two commentators to round out the discussion, philosophers Tim Maudlin and Alex Rosenberg on Carroll’s tag team and philosopher Robin Collins and physicist James Sinclair on Craig’s. A follow-up discussion is planned for that Saturday.

“I selected the physicist James Sinclair, with whom I co-authored the article on the kalam cosmological argument in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, and Robin Collins, who is writing what will be the definitive book on the fine-tuning of the universe,” said Craig. “Carroll and I will be afforded the opportunity to give brief responses to each of their papers.

“There will also be opportunity for audience interaction with all the participants. Not only will the entire proceedings be video-recorded, but the transcript of the debate, papers, and responses will be published by Fortress Press. So this promises to be a very substantive and important engagement. It will also be live-streamed on the Internet, so you can join in if you’d like.”

The post includes a link to the live stream, which is provided by Tactical Faith.

Dr. Carroll’s blog post about the debate

Dr. Carroll posted about this upcoming debate on his blog, and it seems like he is is going to be a fine opponent for Dr. Craig.

Excerpt: (links removed)

Next month I’ll be doing something related, although under quite different circumstances. On February 21 I’ll be debating William Lane Craig at the Greer-Heard Forum, an event sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It will actually be a two-day event; a debate between Craig and me on Friday night, and follow-ups on Saturday from other speakers — Tim Maudlin and Alex Rosenberg for Team Naturalism, Robin Collins and James Sinclair for Team Theism.

[…]William Lane Craig (or WLC as we call him in the business) is of course a very well-known figure, largely for his many public debates, on theism/atheism as well as on various other specific theological issues. As far as debating goes: he’s very good at it! If his debates were being judged by a panel of experts as in an intercollegiate debate tournament, he would have a very good record indeed. This has led many people to conclude that atheists just shouldn’t debate him at all, or at least not until they have devoted 10,000 hours to learning how to be a good debater.

Daniel Dennett warned me that, as soon as word got out that I would be debating WLC, I would be deluged with opinions and unsolicited advice. Which is great! Always happy to hear other perspectives, although I don’t promise to actually follow any of the advice. I won’t reproduce the various emails I’ve received, but here are a few very different perspectives online: Jerry Coyne, Luke Barnes (and another), and Wintery Knight. (WK is relatively restrained, but others predict “pummelings,” presumably for me.)

Dr. Carroll explained his goals for the event:

Just so we’re clear: my goal here is not to win the debate. It is to say things that are true and understandable, and establish a reasonable case for naturalism, especially focusing on issues related to cosmology. I will prepare, of course, but I’m not going to watch hours of previous debates, nor buy a small library of books so that I may anticipate all of WLC’s possible responses to my arguments. I have a day job, and frankly I’d rather spend my time thinking about quantum cosmology than about the cosmological argument for God’s existence. If this event were the Final Contest to Establish the One True Worldview, I might drop everything to focus on it. But it’s not; it’s an opportunity to make my point of view a little clearer to a group of people who don’t already agree with me.

Recently, Dr. Carroll debated Christian philosopher Hans Halvorson, who is a professor at Princeton University, and Hugh Ross was in attendance. In a podcast, Dr. Ross said that Carroll was a gentleman, and it was a good debate, although he wanted Halvorson to disagree with Carroll more. (You can watch the “debate” here, although it really wasn’t a debate because Halvorson didn’t engage Carroll for the most part). Reasons to Believe has since pulled the podcast. However, I was able to find it, (I am a software engineer!), and I’ve posted it here. I have no idea why they pulled it, because it was a good review. If you want a good introduction to the issues they’ll be debating from a particle physicist, check out this recent lecture by Dr. Michael Strauss.

The two duelists choose their seconds

My understanding is that Dr. Carroll has already made one mistake. He selected Alex Rosenberg (see video above) as a respondent. Dr. Rosenberg is not a good spokesman for naturalism, and in his debate with Dr. Craig, he did very poorly. A better wingman would have been someone like Graham Oppy or Quentin Smith. Dr. Carroll’s other choice (Tim Maudlin) looks solid, though.

On Dr. Craig’s side, he’s chosen Robin Collins and James Sinclair. Collins recently had a chapter in “Debating Christian Theism” (Oxford University Press, 2013) and Collins and Sinclair both had chapters in “The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). Collins is an engaging public speaker, and I featured a lecture by him on the fine-tuning argument in this post.

Please pray that God would reach out to Dr. Carroll and for other non-theists listening to the debate so they can see that there are good reasons for them to rethink their views about God.

Dr. Luke Barnes previews the debate

If you would like to read some comments from an accomplished cosmologist, check out these posts (post one, post two, post three, post four) on Dr. Luke Barnes’ Letters to Nature blog. You might remember him because I wrote about his paper critical of atheist physicist Victor Stenger in this blog post. Note that Barnes’ paper has now been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The journal is published by Cambridge University.