While many atheists claim Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris as a rallying figure, Christians have dozens of embarrassing celebrities who have tried to popularize intelligent design and evidence of God’s existence. Names like Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort come to mind. The not-so illustrious Kent Hovind was on quite a run before his popularity fizzled.
One Christian who puts the fear of God into atheists (as Sam Harris said, tongue firmly in cheek) is the formidable William Lane Craig. He has multiple degrees in philosophy as well as theology and has a great publication list. He has authored very well reviewed articles and books, like A Reasonable Faith.
At www.samharris.org/debates there is a debate between Craig and Harris on the topic of morality, filmed live at Notre Dame. Craig’s debate with Christopher Hitchens is easily found at Youtube. Craig claims to have invited Richard Dawkins to a debate but Dawkins has declined for less than satisfying reasons.
The thing about Craig that frustrates me is how easily he misuses basic syllogisms to help one conclude that God is in fact, real. A popular argument Craig employs is the famous Kalam Cosmological Argument with a subtle twist. The argument is hardly controversial among atheists in its main assertion–there is no infinite regress. In other words, the universe has a beginning. Atheists like Dawkins agree with that point. Alarmingly, Craig uses this launching point to trap his audience into his theistic presuppositions.
ALL THINGS THAT BEGIN TO EXIST HAVE A CAUSE
THE UNIVERSE BEGAN TO EXIST
THEREFORE THE UNIVERSE HAS A CAUSE
As Dan Barker points out in his excellent book, Godless, a simple understanding of Set Theory renders this argument kind of toothless. The Cosmological Argument is really a statement, not an argument.
Consider our ingredients in this syllogism for a second. We have two sets implied. One set we will call [BE] for that which begins to exist. By implication, there is (possibly, at least) a second set–[NBE] for that which does not begin to exist. If you pressured Craig to give a candidate for set [NBE] BESIDES God, he would tell you that there is no such candidate. Therefore, set [NBE] =God.
Now think to yourself how convincing the argument really is.
ALL THINGS THAT BEGIN TO EXIST ARE NOT GOD
THE UNIVERSE IS NOT GOD
THEREFORE THE UNIVERSE IS NOT GOD
Barker argues that this argument leaves itself open to some probing questions about Pantheism that Craig would never entertain. One could ask how God interacts outside of time, by the way. The concept of infinity is not based in reality, so atheists and Christians alike agree that the universe had a beginning. Craig would assert that God exists independent of time and space and therefore is eternal. Outside of time, he could create the universe and set time in motion. There is a problematic element to this line of thinking though. The phrase, “before God created the universe…” is total nonsense. Craig uses phrases about God in his relation to chronological time as we understand it. To imagine God without a universe creation implies (since the universe has a beginning) that this was BEFORE the universe began. One cannot fathom the idea of BEFORE the universe without incorporating an idea of time–which wouldnt have existed. Evolution doesn’t fare much better in answering questions about whatever happened before the Big Bang, but atheists like Dawkins and Harris admit we don’t know. I invite Craig to show the same humility, but something tells me he will continue to make the leap from “an uncaused first cause” to the far removed conclusion that this mysterious agent is in fact none other than the Christian God.