Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig: Part One - De Fide - 2 of 2

This week, Craig addresses the role of reason and evidence in Christianity.

Having already argued that it is a direct experience of the Holy Spirit that provides the Christian his justification for "knowing" that Christianity is true, Craig explains that the role for argument and evidence is a subsidiary one, which he terms "ministerial use" in the spirit of Martin Luther: "The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology."  So Craig is saying that reason submits to the direct witness of the Holy Spirit but can still be used to supplement the Christian's belief.  A sound apologetic "reinforces or confirms" the Spirit's witness while not serving as the basis for belief.

I must object early on.  Craig writes that there are "great benefits" to someone having a "dual warrant" of their Christian belief.  Several times, Craig makes quantitative statements about Christian belief; he claims that "Having sound arguments for the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe or evidence for the historical credibility of the New Testament records of the life of Jesus in addition to the inner witness of the Spirit could increase one’s confidence in the veracity of Christian truth claims."  Now, earlier in Part One, Craig described the experience of the Holy Spirit as "not only a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but objective knowledge of that truth."  Adjectives such as "veridical" and "unmistakable" are peppered throughout Craig's description; the implication is that the assurance of Christianity's truth is absolute, and as such, no greater belief is possible.  There exists no higher standard of assurance to be met.  This raises the question of how reason or evidence could "supplement" the faith of a Christian.   Even if the Christian were to discover evidence for Christianity, it would be useless.  Evidence, as used by the scientific community and many philosophers, serves to provide a greater justification for a belief; this implies that any given belief has not reached a level of justification in which it can be said to have transcended contradiction by any other conceivable development.  So not only would evidence be useless in disproving Christian beliefs as Craig claims, but it would also be useless in supporting those beliefs.  Either evidence has the power to affect justification Christian belief or it does not.  If it is does, then a lack of evidence would decrease the level of justification for Christian belief.   If it does not, then neither the Christian nor the atheist should spend any time in using evidence to examine Christianity (although I cannot imagine any rational atheist conceding to a Christian that Christianity can be proved or disproved independent of evidence).

My similar, second objection is to Craig's definition of reason and evidence as "ministerial."  The problem here is that Craig wants to provide himself with a justification for confirmation bias early on.  This strikes me as a sort of "safety net" should he run into any problems later on.  If the evidence disagrees with Christianity, Craig can just throw it out, because the Holy Spirit trumps evidential logic.  If the evidence agrees with Christianity, then it can (paradoxically) be used to "supplement" the justification for Christianity, although these beliefs are already unmistakable and objective.  Again: either evidence is a legitimate means of determining the truth of Christian beliefs or it is not.  The validity of evidence must be constant.  If it is not valid, it must not be used.  If evidence and the Holy Spirit contradict each other, one of them must not be valid, lest we violate the law of noncontradiction.

Craig then responds to some objections about whether we can discern Christianity's claims from other religions which make the same claim to self-justifying experience, which I also found rather disappointing.  First, Craig writes that perhaps members of other faiths may indeed be experiencing God, but on a general level, and therefore do not realize that it is the Christian god rather than the Muslim god (assuming there is any difference).  Of course, the latent function of Craig's response is that by his own logic, he may be experiencing the Muslim god, but on a very general level.

The last point I will address is Craig's defense of completely unfounded (in my opinion) belief, which I cannot really say too much about.  Craig writes that, as we already know, any Christian is justified in his belief simply because he feels the Holy Spirit, and that no evidence or reason is necessary.   (This is a strange direction to be taking in a book titled "Reasonable Faith").  Magisterial evidence, Craig writes, is simply incompatible with Scripture, because if evidence took precedence, then insufficient evidence would indeed be reasonable grounds for rejecting Christianity.  (Perhaps Craig is thinking of Bertrand Russell, who said that if he were to come face to with God after his death, he would give insufficient evidence as his reason for not believing.)  Now, it is perhaps encouraging to see that Craig realizes the futility of relegating religious belief to evidential justification; however, it is even more discouraging to see how he tries to circumnavigate the problem.  Craig writes, "The Bible says all men are without excuse.  Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit."

What can one say to such a statement?  Craig condemns all nonbelievers in one sentence.  His discomfort in doing so is palpable; however, it does seem to be his only choice- because the Bible says so.  Reasonable faith?  It's not looking very good so far.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig: Part One - De Fide - 1 of 2

My "response" blog posts begin today.

William Lane Craig begins his book by listing several different philosophers, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Locke, and Dodwell, and their stances on "knowing" whether God exists.  More broadly, he briefly goes over the historical debate between theological evidentialism and "fideism" (which can be translated roughly into "faith-ism" and is the belief that evidential or rationalistic approaches to deism/theism are necessarily futile, and in some cases, a downright insult to the supernatural gift of faith).  Finally, he explains the stance of contemporary analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  Plantinga's a priori approach to belief in god strikes me as extremely backwards, but I will save a full response for another time, as I will only be dealing with Craig's claims specifically.

Craig's first claim is made when he writes, "I think that Dodwell and Plantinga are correct that, fundamentally, the way we know Christianity to be true is by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; that such experience does not function in this case as a premise in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself; that in certain contexts the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as “God exists,” “I am condemned by God,” “I am reconciled to God,” “Christ lives in me,” and so forth; that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for him who attends fully to it."  Whew!  That's a long second sentence.

Well, firstly, how does one arrive at a veridical and unmistakable knowledge of the Holy Spirit?  Craig says that "in certain contexts" we experience the Holy Spirit, and that experience implies the apprehension of certain Christian truths. However, there are many people (I would call them "reluctant atheists") who, despite their best attempts and their most sincere desire, cannot arrive at this conclusion.  Therefore, we can safely say that desire and rational inquiry alone are not sufficient "contexts" to reach a necessarily self-evident knowledge of God, similar to the way we cannot rationally deny mathematical truths.

Secondly, the apprehension of a truth or truths is a necessarily phenomenological experience and therefore cannot be directly perceived by a third party.  All evidence for this belief, then, is anecdotal and will not do much to further any defense of Christianity.

Finally, this claim can be used as justification for nearly any supernatural belief.  Because the evidence is purely phenomenological, a third party has no means of distinguishing between multiple religions all making this same claim.  Further, seeing as some people have tried and failed to experience the Holy Spirit, would this justify a rejection of Christianity?  Would they then be logically obligated to try every other known religion, given that the "evidence" is just the same for each creed?

Before I go further, let me say that I do not mean to misrepresent Craig's views.  I am well aware that he advocates reason and evidence as vital to a belief in Christianity.  I am simply pointing out the flaws in this particular claim, and the problem with using such a standard to "know" that Christianity is true.  I will give each of his claims due attention.

Craig makes some very bold claims in the next few pages, such as "For if it weren’t for the work of the Holy Spirit, no one would ever become a Christian", and "Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ, it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come
because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart."  Craig is effectively stating that an evidentialist approach alone is not sufficient to know God.  At what point, then, does Craig's aforementioned knowledge of certain Christian truths become apparent through a veridical experience of the Holy Spirit?  In regards to Craig's second statement, then while there is nothing specifically illogical about the claim that all non-Christian men ultimately are dissuaded by their own tendency to avoid the truth and stay in darkness, it is still a very accusatory claim.    We must assume that Craig is making this statement purely on Scriptural authority, because once again, the claim concerns a purely first-person and necessarily phenomenological experience which cannot be verified by a third party, which in this case is Craig.

I will address Craig's explanation of the role of argument and evidence next week.