William Lane Craig

     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.

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6 thoughts on “William Lane Craig

  1. twentyone12joeyd@yahoo.com says:

    Interesting… and good point. However, you are kind of shooting down an answer to a question without offering one of your own. It would be like being in a brainstorming group and saying, “that idea sucks,” and not contributing anything else to the session.

    what say ye?

  2. timmyshort says:

    I don’t mean to shoot down an answer rather just clarify that the Cosmological Argument is not really an argument. It is just a statement shrouded in a syllogism. It doesn’t really provide an answer and its main thrust is a point of commonality between atheists and theists–that the universe began. I think the only answer to where everything came from will evade us for a while longer. Maybe we could read Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME. I hope to.

  3. DanSilverman says:

    There is no reason to supply an answer if one is not known. However, it is not proper to insert “god” as the answer to these things either. 🙂

    One thing I tend to point out to Christians who attempt to use the cosmological argument is, let’s say that I accept their concept that each beginning had a cause, why does that lead me to the Christian god? What evidence do they actually have that makes the Christian god the cause? Why not Allah? Mithras? Odin? Or some, as yet, unknown deity(s)?

    Just to be clear, I don’t believe there is a god behind the “beginning” of the universe.

    • timmyshort says:

      Even if the the cause of the universe is some kind of extra-physical entity we could roughly call a “mind” I would have questions about “him/her/it”

      1. Why is it good? In terms of human morality, why would this entity, if it is personal, be good bad or otherwise? Just because it is bigger and stronger? WTF?

      2. Why call it “god?” Out of deference or posterity? Why? People on earth have an idea of what god means.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that the cosmological argument is poor evidence of the existence of the Christian God. When Christians are put to the test to put up an argument for why THEIR God exists, the cosmological argument is as irrelevant as the the score of the last thing they ate.

  4. Die fröhliche Wissenschaft says:

    Why call it the Christian God? Why call it anything? The Cosmological Argument is not an argument at all. If it could be, the fact that we don’t know exactly where everything came from could be an argument for anything you like.

  5. timmyshort says:

    This man Wissenchaft hit on a great question…what we use as a name for that which created the universe…so much of this conversation can be used to imply God’s existence. . . we always assume it is a “who” rather than a what…
    Creationists like to use words like “outside” time and space to describe God’s movements…when I complain the TIME argument above creationists say, “I understand your point from a semantic standpoint but I can believe creationism conceptually.” AAARGH!

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