Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reason and Faith: Craig v. Dawkins

From William Lane Craig--Dealing With Doubt:
The way that I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of
the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. This gives me a self-authenticating
means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence. And
therefore, if in some historically contingent circumstances,the evidence that I
have available to me should turn against Christianity. I don’t think that that
controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit. In such a situation, and I should
regard that simply as a result of the contingent circumstances that I am in, and
that if I were to pursue this with due diligence and with time I would discover
that in fact that the evidence—if I could get the correct picture—would support
exactly what the witness of the Holy Spirit tells me.

. . .

Doubt is never simply an intellectual problem. There is always a
spiritual dimension as well. There is an enemy of your souls, Satan, who
hates you intensely, and is bent on your destruction and will do everything in
his power to see that your faith is destroyed. And therefore, when we have
these intellectual doubts and problems, we should never look at them as
something that is spiritually neutral and divorce them from the spiritual
conflict that we are involved in.

How can such a person ever engage in an honest evaluation of the evidence that supports his belief? Not only does he refuse to acknowledge that evidence against his position actually raises the possibility that he might be wrong, in fact he views such evidence as a trick of the devil.

Contrast this with a scientist's attitude towards evidence:
It is all too easy to confuse fundamentalism with passion. I may well appear
passionate when I defend evolution against a fundamentalist creationist, but
this is not because of a rival fundamentalism of my own. It is because the
evidence for evolution is overwhelmingly strong and I am passionately distressed
that my opponent can't see it — or, more usually, refuses to look at it because
it contradicts his holy book. My passion is increased when I think about how
much the poor fundamentalists, and those whom they influence, are missing. The
truths of evolution, along with many other scientific truths, are so
engrossingly fascinating and beautiful; how truly tragic to die having missed
out on all that! Of course that makes me passionate. How could it not? But my
belief in evolution is not fundamentalism, and it is not faith, because I know
what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary
evidence were forthcoming.

It does happen. I have previously told the story of a respected elder statesman
of the Zoology Department at Oxford when I was an undergraduate. For years he
had passionately believed, and taught, that the Golgi Apparatus (a microscopic
feature of the interior of cells) was not real: an artefact, an illusion. Every
Monday afternoon it was the custom for the whole department to listen to a
research talk by a visiting lecturer. One Monday, the visitor was an American
cell biologist who presented completely convincing evidence that the Golgi
Apparatus was real. At the end of the
lecture, the old man strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the
hand and said — with passion — ‘My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been
wrong these fifteen years.’ We clapped our hands red. No fundamentalist would
ever say that. In practice, not all scientists would. But all scientists pay lip
service to it as an ideal — unlike, say, politicians who would probably condemn
it as flip-flopping. The memory of the incident I have described still brings a
lump to my throat.
Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion.


  1. Great post. I really can't figure out why Christians think Lane Craig is such a great debater. He's a hero to them! I don't get it. Do you?

  2. Vinny,

    I do not take the position that you say Craig takes. I have always been of the opinion that if I found convincing evidence, I would abandon the Christian faith. I just haven’t found any yet. I am searching for truth.

    But I do find many scientists who take the exact same approach you are putting down on this post. They do not know how life formed, but they are confident that science will one day find the answer. They keep holding out on faith in science to provide the answer to life’s origins without a Supreme Being. Good luck on that one.


  3. Chaplain,

    I think Craig is very good at sticking to his talking points. Since he doesn't try to engage his opponent's strongest arguments, it always sounds like he is in control of the discussion. If there were a moderator who could ask follow up questions, I think he would have a lot of trouble.


    I can respect your search and I don't expect you to dump your faith at the first piece of negative evidence.

    As far as the scientists go, I would make two points: First, the history of science is a tale of repeatedly finding answers to tougher and tougher question; and second, no answer they ever find will ever eliminate the possible existence of a Supreme Being. Many scientists believe both in God and in the potential of finding a naturalistic explanation for life on earth.

  4. Very interesting. I enjoyed this piece