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.


  1. Hi Leo,

    Another interesting post.

    A few thoughts:
    Let's take the case of a Christian with veridical, unmistakeable confidence in the existence of God due to the work of the Holy Spirit. Then, this Christian adduces additional rational support for her views through, say, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and the teleological argument. You suggest this additional evidence would be useless. I think you make this point too strongly.

    Imagine a table that is perfectly well supported by four legs, one on each corner. Now imagine adding four more legs, in the middle of each side. Surely those legs make the table sturdier. Are they necessary? Well, no. But neither are they useless.

    This is relevant, too, because for many if not all Christians, there are days and seasons when the presence of the Holy Spirit is less obvious. Perhaps this is evidence against Christianity, or perhaps this is part of what it means to be human. In any case, given this ebb-and-flow, it can certainly be of great benefit to have additional reasons to believe in God.

    Another factor here is that the work of the Holy Spirit is something that I can testify to, but it remains somewhat inaccessible to others. The value of evidence and reasons for God is that these are public and therefore accessible to others.

    Those are two reasons for why the Christian has a strong interest in establishing reasons and evidence for the reality of the Christian god, and therefore, why it is not useless for Christians to do so *even if* the Holy Spirit assures them of God's reality.

    To offer another example, I believe from Plantinga, imagine that you are being tried for a crime you did not commit. For the sake of a clear conscience, you need no evidence or reason. You can take the stand and, with full integrity, explain that you are not guilty. But without evidence and reasons to believe you, the judge and jury may sentence you to jail nevertheless. No matter how much evidence is brought into the public record by, say, the district attorney, and how eloquent his arguments are, you will remain unmoved: I'm innocent! Nevertheless, in such a situation you would be strongly motivated to provide as much evidence as possible to establish your innocence. I think the Christian is in a similar position - we may have very strong personal experience to justify our belief in God, but absent evidence and reasons, (and even with it) we are bombarded by blogs and books suggesting we are fools and worse. I'm actually okay with this, because I strongly value free speech, but hopefully this example clarifies the larger point.

    I look forward to hearing your response.

  2. I know I am 5 years late on this response Leo but what I don't understand is why when someone leaves Christianity do they go straight to atheism and then claim there is no evidence for God .

    I am a practicing Catholic myself who went through terrible doubts about God and my faith all together . I seeked and I found . Now before these doubts I studied Buddhism , evangelical Christianity and even hare Krishna .

    Now ask yourself Leo why did I come back to my catholic faith while you left it ?
    Could we both be wrong ?
    I'm not sure how well you know your catholic faith but the church teaches inclusivism.

    I don't have time to go through its full meaning but essentially it means people from other religions can be saved .

    Have you bothered studying nde science ? The majority of evidence from these studies point to the soul and afterlife being real.

    Have you looked at the recent aware study , the largest peer reviewed scientific nde study ever conducted by agnostic dr Sam parnia in which a man had conscious awareness without s functioning brain ?