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Apologist William Lane Craig Answers My Question

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I asked a question to the (in)famous Dr. William Lane Craig, one of the world’s foremost apologists. He wowed my question and posted it in the Weekly Question and Answer section of his blog, reasonablefaith.org. The title, Coming to Love God, is his.

Coming to Love God

ME: Here is my problem, Dr. Craig: I am as atheist as one can be. Never believed even for 1 minute in my life. However, when I think about it, as a philosopher, I have to admit that I have no good argument to disprove the existence of God. And what’s more, watching online debates and reading papers, I find theistic arguments very compelling. The arguments you present, with which I am very acquainted, are sound arguments. Yet, and here is my problem, I am still not convinced. Moreover, I think this: what if I met God today? Surely I will believe in his existence. But why worship? Even if arguments convince me that God exists, why should I care? Either I worship because if I fail to do so God will torture me for ever, or I accept his friendship voluntarily. But what if I don’t want to be his friend?

Carl

United States

CRAIG: Wow, what an interesting question, Carl! I really appreciate your honesty. Your question underlines the difference between merely believing that God exists and believing in God. One could give a sort of disinterested, even apathetic, acknowledgment of the fact that God exists without really loving and trusting God.

Jesus taught that he who has been forgiven much loves much, whereas he who has been forgiven little loves little (Luke 7:40-50). I suspect that therein lies the key to your question. Worship of God is kindled by a deep gratitude to God for His forgiveness of one’s wrongdoing. People who do not have a deep sense of their own sinfulness will probably not feel much of a need to come to God. But to know that, unworthy as you are, you have been forgiven of even your worst sins and cleansed of your guilt forever issues spontaneously in thanksgiving and praise to God for such unmerited favor.

I was forcefully struck when, at the end of our debate on the existence of God, Louise Anthony confessed that one of the drawbacks of the atheism she had come to embrace is that under atheism there is no redemption. Think of that! One’s sin and guilt are truly indelible. Nothing can undo what has been done and restore your innocence. But the Christian message is a message of redemption. That’s why the hymnist exclaims, “Redeemed! How I love to proclaim it!”

So in order to come to God, I think you probably need to reflect upon your own sinfulness. C. S. Lewis once remarked, “No one knows how bad he is until he has truly tried to be good.” The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard made the same point. Kierkegaard thought of life as lived on three levels. The most basic level is the aesthetic stage, in which life is lived selfishly for the pleasure it affords. Life so lived ultimately issues in boredom and ennui. The next higher plane is the ethical stage, in which one lives according to strict moral standards. But this life results ultimately in despair because one cannot live up to the standard of the moral good. Only on the highest plane, the religious stage, is authentic existence truly to be found. Kierkegaard rightly saw that it is the failure of the ethical life that propels one to the religious plane.

I recall that when I was a non-Christian and first heard the Gospel message, even though I was living an externally moral life, I was acutely aware of the darkness and twistedness within. Until you come to have an awareness of your own fallenness, selfishness, and need of forgiveness, you probably won’t be inclined to worship and love God. But I’d encourage you to read a little Kierkegaard or perhaps Pascal’s Pensées and to try to live faithfully according to the Golden Rule. That may help to arouse in you an acute sense of how truly needy you are.

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William Lane Craig is a Christian apologist, an author, and a public debater. During the last 10 years or so, he’s quickly become a popular phenomenon on the merits of his exceptional rhetorical skills that he employs in debating atheist philosophers and scientists. However, I am afraid that he has become so (in)famous prevalently thanks to his exceptional oratorical skill rather than to his arguments. To be sure, he has no doctrines of his own, but rather recycles those of others. I do not mean this in a bad way, though. From his published works, speeches, and debates, (most of which are freely available on YouTube and from his website), most of his arguments are taken from Plantinga, Swinburne, C.S. Lewis, Copleston and other Christian philosophers.

In any event, in the above exchange, we get an important picture of the nature of apologetics and Christian doctrine. One curious aspect, at least to me, is that Christian philosophy at the academic level boils down to the same consommé as popular, layperson Christianity. Namely, in establishing the validity of Christianity, personal experience is, in the end, superior to arguments.

Craig’s attitude clearly shows his stubbornness and unwillingness to accept any arguments that may cast doubt on the veracity of Christian doctrine. What’s more, he—like all Christians—fails to see the important point raised by my question. For Christians, you’re either Christian or you do not yet realize you need to be one! Christians’ imagination is, well, so disciplined by their faith that as bright as they may be, as in the case of Craig, they cannot conceive that one may not be interested in this alleged being they refer to as God. What’s important here is to realize that in order for me to enter into a friendly relationship with another being, I ought to do so freely and willingly. The friendship that Christianity claims existing between God and humans is of compulsory nature. If I do not want this relationship, according to Christian dogma, I will be punished for it and sent to hell. So, why call it friendship? If, in the alternative, I am not required to enter into this relationship with God, if God really exists, and no consequences result from my decision, then, what do we need God for?

This is an aspect of religion that seldom gets discussed. People—even many atheists—typically assume that if God’s existence could be proved, one ought to believe in him. Surely if God’s existence could be proved beyond reasonable doubt, it would be irrational not to believe that God exists. But then, many people make an unwarranted philosophical jump: they assume that the default position is that if God exists one should automatically worship God. To me that position is intellectual bankrupt. Unless I am brainwashed, I could never accept this shady metaphysical predicament. If I cannot do anything about it, that is, if my opposing is useless because in the end if God exists and he is the boss and I have no choice, well, then I have no choice.

Craig says “Worship of God is kindled by a deep gratitude to God for His forgiveness of one’s wrongdoing.” Forgiveness? Wrongdoing? Gratitude? Is he referring to the original sin? Why would an intelligent person regard that story as true? Why would anybody see the virtue in that story? I do not need to be forgiven for my sin because I have no sins. How great is a religion that tells you that you “need to reflect upon your own sinfulness”? This is a religion that tells you that you are born defective, with sin, and to get rid of it you must enter into compulsory friendship with a metaphysical entity, the existence of which is dubiously claimed in some ancient book? This is completely a fraud!

My position is what I call Agnostic Anti-Theism.

And I am glad to conclude with Bakunin’s dictum “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”

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Author: Carlo Alvaro

philosopher

6 thoughts on “Apologist William Lane Craig Answers My Question

  1. I don’t like Craig’s embrace of Christianity and assumption of sin any more than I like your hostile rejection of a straw interpretation of Christianity. Craig’s wrong to frame everything in Christian terms, but you’re wrong to dismiss a religion simply because you find some aspects of it unsettling. You and Craig are both operating under dogmatic first premises which makes you both stubborn people. Just from opposite sides.

    • James, I really appreciate your honesty and like your comment. But if you could please tell me why and how you think I am being stubborn about my position, I’d appreciate that as well.

      My position is the following: Christians, as well as other religions, typically accept 2 positions: either you believe and worship or you don’t believe. And I think that belief in God (provided it could be proved he exists) should be separated from worship God.

      I await your response to understand why you think I’m dogmatic.

      C

  2. I think worship is a resultant of obedience and or an experience of Gods grace and love. Sin, repentance and Christ play into it and it facilities faith and softens the heart. I am Christian and I am not about to act like I fully understand Gods grace but I have undergone a radical change from inside out. Cannot reason logically (kierkegaard argument). ❤️

  3. During my years of Christian exploration, I encountered a similar problem: I had no interest whatsoever in an afterlife– for some reason it has never been something that has concerned me. I believed in what I called ‘God’ at the time, but I felt my going to heaven or hell or whatever was entirely irrelevant to my spirituality, and in fact I wondered if it even distracted one from the ‘spiritual life’. It wasn’t that I disbelieved, I just thought it was irrelevant.

    Supernatural reward or punishment had no bearing on my moral interactions with others– fellow human beings and creatures were not some means to an end. Perhaps I made a poor Christian, as I was not ‘acutely aware of the darkness and twistedness within’, as Craig says.

    I cannot relate to this attitude, and this is an aspect of Christianity that has long remained foreign to me (even when I made some attempt, years ago, to practise as a Christian). To be aware of your moral shortcomings, sure. To be aware that you will never overcome those moral shortcomings, of course. But to add this extra layer of self-loathing is alien to me.

    Well, not entirely: I experienced self-loathing over a decade ago, not connected to religion or a sense of sin, but it was rather due to a period of depression and suicidal ideation. I don’t recommend cultivating this misery because you are not ‘perfect’ (And ‘perfect’ in what sense? That’s another can of worms). It betrays, I think, a sense of undue self-importance. Interestingly, you won’t find this unhealthy behaviour in the Gospels– but you’ll certainly find it in Paul and Augustine, who have made a fetish out of guilt. The threat of hell is just icing on the cake.

    This is certainly not to say that morality is therefore unimportant. But there are healthier (and more humble!) ways of raising your own conscience in one’s relations with oneself, with others, and with the whole of existence.

  4. Your argument seems to be, discounting the God-hater diatribe at the end (in rational discussions exclamation points can seem petulant), “I find the Chistian woldview distasteful, therefore WLC is a fraud!” BTW “God hater” is a handy appellation re-coined of late by the Hated Peter Hitchens, if you aren’t familiar. It seems to me you were asking the age-old question ” if theistic arguments are so convincing, why am I not convinced?” This can be interpreted as openess to consider the possibility that true justice and moral obligation exist in the Universe, and that A creator of humans would have a say in their nasty behaviour (ì supposed he should have preferred wind-up toys?) . WLC Responded in kind, it seems, rather than go down the rabbit hole of answering an infinite regress of questions. If you are interested, I am happy to serve in that regard.

    • You would get an F for not understanding my “argument.” I do find Christianity absurd and, as you say, distasteful. But I do not conclude from this that WLC is a fraud. By the way, I say that Christianity is a fraud. I would not say that WLC is a fraud because I came to the conclusion that he really believes in this myth sincerely. So he is just deluded.

      Part of my argument is that in order for me to enter into a friendly relationship with another being, I ought to do so freely and willingly. The friendship that Christianity claims existing between God and humans is of compulsory nature. If I do not want this relationship, according to Christian dogma, according to your doctrine, I will be punished for it and sent to hell. So, why call it friendship? If, in the alternative, I am not required to enter into this relationship with God, if God really exists, and no consequences result from my decision, then, what do we need God for?

      Another point of my argument is this. Your idea of Christianity is based on the Bible, which is a collection of stories. The stories that were convenient to the Church were selected and other discarded. The stories were translated, re-translated, and re-re-translated. These stories are a mixed bag of cute stories, evil stories, crazy stories, and more. Most of these stories contradict one another. How likely are these stories reliable? I don’t know. And guess what, I don’t even want to know. That is your problem. There are more stories told by other religions. What makes your stories special?

      At the end of the day, the difference between me and WLC is that he believes that these stories are true, and I don’t. He has not spoken to God, has no way aside from the Bible to show that Christianity is true.

      And by the way, I don’t intend to patronize you, but your statement “I suppose he should have preferred wind-up toys” obviously shows deep ignorance in the discussion of free will/determinism.

      I could say more, but what’s the point? If you want to have a serious conversation, I am open to it.

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