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.