Sunday, March 08, 2015

Craig’s Eight Arguments for God, Part I: Introduction

William Lane Craig, known for his medieval thinking and performance debates over questions such as whether a god exists or whether Jesus was really resurrected from the dead, has been touted as “one of the world's leading philosophers of religion” (Biola University product advertisement, The Best of William Lane Craig: Debate Collection, Volumes 1-2), “a top theologian and philosopher” (Alex Murashko, Theologian William Lane Craig Looks Forward to Debate 'Philosophically Informed and Civil' Atheist Sean Carroll), and “the best debater – on any topic” (Luke Muehlhauser, William Lane Craig’s Debates (Reviews)). In his debates, Craig often refers to himself as “a professional philosopher,” and he is treated by many Christian apologists as a leading authority of sorts whom we should never question. One might as well suppose he wins his debates before he even takes his position at the podium.

With commendations such as these and no doubt many, many more, one cannot expect Christianity’s most celebrated show-dog to disappoint, especially when called to produce convincing proof, once and for all, that Christianity’s god, at the exclusion of all rivals, is real. Given Craig’s highly-praised academic credentials, one would expect flawless delivery of the ultimate case for Christian theism.

So when the impatiently titled “magazine of ideas” Philosophy Now published a piece by Craig titled Does God Exist? in its November/December 2013 issue, I was excited to take a look and see for myself just what “a top theologian and philosopher” can do in the space of eight arguments.

(Now, a quick word about the online version of this paper. Originally when Philosophy Now published this article, it was available in full on its website at the link given above. At that time I saved a PDF version to my hard drive, and good thing, as it has since become “available to subscribers only.” Lucky for me, I did not have to “create an account” in order to read the work of “one of the world’s leading philosophers of religion.” Sadly, readers who do not already have a copy of this work by Craig are not so lucky.)

Well, soon after I began reading Craig’s paper and wading into his arguments, I became quite disappointed. In spite of his scholarly letters and the praise for his successes in public venues, Craig’s arguments are as limp as they come – they are no better than any that I have examined by other leading Christian apologists.

Granted, on stage Craig presents a slick, well-rehearsed persona, like a character actor whose talent for the role he’s cast in has been finely tuned for such parts. And Craig has developed the habit of seeing the whole world as his stage, seizing any opportunity to put in more typical face time as the occasion arises. But careful grooming does not constitute genuine substance. While Craig may consistently rate ‘best in show’ among the hopeful converted (though even some Christians seem to wrinkle their noses at him from time to time), I personally find it difficult to see how any informed thinker could be persuaded by his wooden arguments.

Craig’s eight arguments are bulleted with captions summarizing their angle by characterizing his god as “the best explanation” for one thing or another, as follows:
(I) God is the best explanation for why anything at all exists.
(II) God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe.
(III) God is the best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world.
(IV) God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.
(V) God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness.
(VI) God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.
(VII) The very
possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.
(VIII) God can be personally known and experienced.
Yes, it’s true that these headlines alone will cause a rational thinker’s eyes to roll into the back of his head well before a starship captain and his right-hand man can coordinate a double face-palm. But Craig is apparently serious enough to stake his acclaimed credentials on each case he presents on their behalf.

In each case, Craig’s “best explanation” always ends up with more pieces than he begins with, giving rise to a constellation of questions which he neither addresses nor even anticipates. And as a rational thinker might expect, and as we will see upon close inspection, numerous questionable moves, misrepresentations and superficial sleights of hand litter Craig’s path to each of his conclusions. The eagerness with which Craig rushes so predictably to his desired goal demonstrates that he sees the topics of his focus merely as opportunities to exploit people’s ignorance in which he can point to his god as some missing clue which satisfies all questions, as if by magic. The old “God did it!” can only be psychologically comforting to an evader desperately bent on deceiving himself that his evasions are not really evasions. Even then the comfort is short-lived, and the smoldering embers of his deceptions must be stoked again and again by emphatic re-affirmation. That’s what church is for: to provide believers with a meeting point where they can systematically give their beliefs the positive reinforcement they need in order to be sustained from week to week.

The article featuring Craig’s arguments opens with the following unsurprising announcement:
William Lane Craig says there are good reasons for thinking that He does.
Throughout his paper, Craig’s basic methodology is to (a) focus on some topic of inquiry – e.g., the origin of the universe, the applicability of mathematics to the physical world, intentional states of consciousness, etc.; (b) ask “How can this be?”; and (c) predictably declare his answer (spoiler alert): “God did it!” The methodology here is not: first demonstrate that the Christian god exists and then demonstrate that it is responsible for whatever Craig credits it for having accomplished. On the contrary, Craig’s methodology takes an entirely different two-step approach positing that (a) these topics need to be explained, and (b) the existence of the Christian god is “the best explanation” available. Craig thinks that the assertions which he proposes as “best explanations” are “good reasons for thinking” that the Christian god actually exists.

But are they? In fact, does Craig’s god “explain” any of the issues he presents?

As is typical of theism, every “best explanation” which Craig proposes is always an attempt to explain either a non-problem or a known sum by appealing to something lying beyond the reach of reason. Or, to put it blundtly, to “explain” actual things by reference to that which is merely imaginary. Quite telling in all this are the facts that (a) Craig gives extremely superficial treatment to the issues he raises, and (b) he does not give much if any consideration to alternatives to his “best explanation.” In some cases, he simply suggests that there are no alternative explanations possible without any attempt to demonstrate such a conclusion. This may be convenient from the perspective of an unabashed apologist, but it hardly befits the rigors one might expect from “a professional philosopher.”

Over the next several weeks, as time allows, I will present my own analysis of each of Craig’s eight arguments for the existence of the god which he worships and wants everyone else to bow down to.

So stay tuned!

by Dawson Bethrick


Anonymous said...

Staying tuned!

Justin Hall said...

Dawson... lol, I read through the list of eight arguments and yes face palmed and then... you link back to my very post on face palming over Rick Warden. The timing was perfect, thank you!

Bahnsen Burner said...

Ha! I was in fact thinking of you, Justin!

I hope you're well. I'll be returning to the States in April. We should hook up some time.


David Barwick said...

Very much looking forward to the new series!

praestans said...

Dawson please, will the series on William L Craig and the one on Lennox be available as PDFs soon? I'd like to read them as I would a book etc.

Many thanks