Saturday, January 7, 2012

William Lane Craig as the Royce Gracie of Christian Apologetics

"It is hard to overstate the impact that William Lane Craig has had for the cause of Christ. He is simply the finest Christian apologist of the last half century, and his academic work justifies ranking him among the top 1 percent of practicing philosophers in the Western world. Besides that, he is a winsome ambassador for Christ, an exceptional debater, and a man with the heart of an evangelist. I know him well and can say that he lives a life of integrity and lives out what he believes. I do not know of a single thinker who has done more to raise the bar of Christian scholarship in our generation than Craig. He is one of a kind and I thank God for his life and work." ~ J.P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology 

I spent most of my adolescent and adult life as a non-believer convinced that Christianity is an intellectually indefensible religion embraced by predominately stupid or at least ignorant people who are too lazy to learn and think enough about their ridiculous faith to realize just how ridiculous it is.

Of course, I'd seen intimations of rational Christian belief from theologians like Thomas Aquinas and modern apologist writers such as C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft, but I never bothered to study them carefully. Then I stumbled across William Lane Craig and began watching some of his debates on YouTube with the likes of famous atheists Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, and reading his essays on his website Reasonable Faith and segments from some of his books, and I have to come clean and admit that I'm enormously impressed by this guy's intellectual brilliance and theological and philosophical erudition even though I still don't accept the conclusions of his arguments. Here is a short video of the late, great polemicist Christopher Hitchens paying his respects to Craig before his famous debate with him at Biola University on April 4, 2009. Here is the debate itself, and here is a transcript of the debate.

As far as debates with non-believers are concerned, William Lane Craig is the Royce Gracie of Christian apologists. Royce Gracie is a jujitsu master who, back in the early 1990's, challenged anyone of any size or tradition in the martial arts world to full contact matches with very few rules, and he prevailed, sometimes with shocking ease, against everyone. He would take on karate and kung fu masters far larger and stronger than he was and fling them to the ground and choke them out or make them submit, and it sometimes happened so quickly that neither they nor the viewers of these matches knew what had happened. Royce Gracie and his Gracie family of martial artists revolutionized the way the public thinks of martial arts from seeing them as a predominately striking and kicking affair to viewing them as a multifaceted discipline that depends as much or more on grappling maneuvers than anything else and brings most fights to the ground.

In the same way, William Craig has demonstrated that non-believers can't take Christian apologetics or apologists lightly, and if they're going to debate a master apologist such as Craig and not get TKO'd, they better diversify and elevate their game to the intellectual and rhetorical stratosphere.

Now I have no delusions of grandeur that I could ever publicly debate Bill Craig and defeat him. First of all, I'm a nobody who will always fly completely under his radar, even though I've exchanged a few comments with him on his Facebook page. And, second, I'm not good at thinking on my feet and have no training in debate. However, I would like to believe that I have the wherewithal to examine his chief arguments for Christianity as well as the best counterarguments to those arguments, and that, if the counterarguments trump his arguments, I can write cogently about it here and elsewhere.

To that end, I want to begin by examining a book of his, On Guard, that he wrote to serve as a primer for Christians to use to defend their faith. Craig has actually written many acclaimed apologetical books, including his masterwork, Reasonable Faith. But "On Guard" is a clearer and simpler book aimed at a broader audience that includes philosophically and theologically unsophisticated types such as myself, although, unlike what I suspect is true of most of his readers, I'm interested in ultimately refuting rather than embracing his arguments.

However, if it should come to pass that I find Dr. Craig's arguments more compelling than the counterarguments, I will write about that instead and adjust my viewpoint accordingly.

1 comment:

  1. It was a delight to read this post. In the face of so many disrespectful atheists on the one hand and ignorant Christians on the other, I am excited to see that someone like you, who is both respectful and informed, has written about these topics online.

    I must also commend you for your high opinion of William Lane Craig. He is simply the greatest debater for Christianity (if not the greatest debater for any topic whatsoever) in the world. And as I am sure that you are familiar with his five common arguments for Christian theism, I would like to discuss these with you and see what your opinions are.

    1. Cosmological Argument
    This is a very interesting argument, and I wonder what your objections to it are. It seems rather commonsensical to accept that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and science (many think) has shown that the universe began to exist. What alternatives to God do you think could explain this beginning?

    2. Teleological Argument
    The statistics behind this argument are mind-boggling. And if it is true that a very, very slight difference in, say, the rate of expansion of the the very early universe would have resulted in a universe devoid of life, doesn't it make sense to postulate a Designer? Moreover, if the multiverse hypothesis is false (as Craig maintains), doesn't that give us even more reason to believe that a God designed this particular universe so that it could support intelligent life?

    3. Moral Argument
    This argument is, in my opinion, the weakest of Craig's arguments for God's existence, and I think it faces very big problems once we acknowledge that evolution is true: namely, if God did not directly create humans, in what way did he endow them with objective moral values? So I will not even try to defend this argument. But what are your thoughts?

    4. Argument from Jesus' Resurrection
    I consider this argument to be the most powerful of the traditional arguments. It is particularly convincing once one realizes that the resurrection is not something that the disciples would have ever thought up (because it was so different from what they had been taught). I think that the best explanation of why they became thoroughly convinced that Jesus rose from the dead is that he did, and the best explanation of his alleged appearances is that he did, in fact, appear to them. But what are your thoughts?

    5. Personal Experience of God
    Admittedly, this is not an argument in the same sense as the previous four arguments. But I am familiar with numerous allegations of miracles that have taken place that all seem to cohere very nicely with the Christian worldview. For example, one of my friends wanted to go to Japan and be involved in mission work, and when he was at a church meeting, a woman whom he had never met told him that she had a vision of him serving in Japan. That alleged miracle makes perfect sense if Christianity is true, but that occurrence seems difficult to explain if it's not. What do you think of these types of miracle claims?

    (I leave out discussion of the ontological argument because, frankly, I am not sufficiently well-versed in philosophy to understand all of the nuances of the argument.)

    So what do you think? Do you find any of these arguments compelling, and if not, why not?

    Thank you again for your cordiality and thank you in advance for your response.