William Lane Craig is a well-known theologian, author, and Christian apologist. People I associate with tend not to like him very much, because he ignores the substance of his opponents’ arguments during debates, he’s a pompous windbag, and he thinks genocide and infanticide are a-okay if God says so. (This article explains the last two.)
But I’ve just come across the story of how Craig became a Christian (it’s part of a Q&A on his website), and it’s quite amazing. In his answer to a Christian asking him how he deals with doubt, Craig admits: he didn’t accept Christianity because of the evidence, he wanted very badly for Christianity to be true, and ignoring reason played a large part in his conversion. This is fascinating, because in debates Craig always attempts to give a strong rational argument for why his religion must be true, and yet in this letter he admits that his beliefs do not rest on reason at all – but on the intricate machinery of self-deception. Craig tells us all this without seeming to understand how damning an admission it is!
The Q&A begins with a question from a 21-year-old Christian, named Steven, who asks Craig how he deals with doubt. Steven is very honest:
Right now it feels like I believe in God on a good day but doubt His existence on another day. But even on those good days it only really feels like I take comfort in the prospect of God’s existence and it’s not that I actually believe in Him. I want to believe in God more than anything. I understand what happens if God doesn’t exist and I can’t live with thinking that. But the thing is I can’t force myself into belief. There will be days when I have to tell myself there’s meaning just so I can take joy in being with my family and friends, that it isn’t all pointless. It’s as if I’m in a balance of belief and non-belief, tipping back and forth as the days go by.
Bravo to Steven for his intellectual honesty! He desperately wants to believe in God, but he just doesn’t find the idea convincing. It’s a shame he thinks “it’s all pointless” without God, because as millions of affirmed atheists around the world can tell him – it isn’t. But if I were to give Steven advice, I would say it’s important to recognize that the only reason he’s still searching for evidence for God is because doesn’t like the alternative. He’s not searching for evidence because he thinks there’s anything to find – but because he wants to escape a conclusion that he finds unappealing. It’s a bad idea to let your emotions influence you in this way if what you’re interested in is truth.
Enter Craig, with an account of how he dealt with doubt on his own road to evangelical Christianity.
Craig starts off by admitting that he became a Christian not because it made sense, but because it made him feel good.
…I became a Christian my third year of high school, not through any careful consideration of the evidence, but because the Christian students who shared the Gospel with me seemed to be living on a different plane of reality than I was. Their faith in Christ imparted meaning to their lives along with a joyous peace, which I craved.
After high school, Craig went off to study theology at Wheaton College, where the prevailing atmosphere was that one’s beliefs should be based on argument and evidence. One of Craig’s theology professors commented that if he thought Christianity were unreasonable, he would renounce it. Sounds like a good idea to me, especially if you’re interested in whether or not Christianity is true.
This commitment to reason scared Craig, however, and he did the thing that many religious people do when they find the evidence for their beliefs lacking: he gave up on reason.
Now that frightened and troubled me. For me, Christ was so real and had invested my life with such significance that I could not make the confession of my professor. If somehow through my studies my reason were to turn against my faith, then so much the worse for my reason! It would only mean that I had made some mistake in my reasoning.
If you give up on reason, then how do you know whether what you believe is true? What else can “faith” mean here other than “what I want to believe, because it feels safe and comfortable”? Craig seems to think it is convincing proof of Christianity that the idea of Christ invested his life with such significance – as if no person has ever made themselves feel better with a lie. Surely this must be what Craig thinks every member of every other religion is doing – deluding themselves, deriving meaning and comfort from mistaken beliefs about reality. How does Craig know he isn’t doing the same? Reason and evidence are the tools he would have needed to distinguish between truth and self-delusion. But Craig threw those tools away so that he wouldn’t have to question the beliefs that were so important to him.
Then Craig denigrates the very concept of evidence:
God has provided a more secure foundation for our faith than the shifting sands of evidence and argument.
Ah, yes – the troublesome “shifting sands” of evidence. Never mind that these shifting sands have given us knowledge that is rock-solid enough to eradicate smallpox, put humans on the moon, and calculate how old the universe is. It is the sands of evidence for Christianity and other superstitions in particular that seem to keep shifting. Has Craig ever considered that this might be because there is no evidence?
So what are Craig’s beliefs based on if not evidence? The answer is: feelings.
I hold that argument and evidence play an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true, but a contingent and secondary role in our personally knowing Christianity to be true. The proper ground of our knowing Christianity to be true is the inner work of the Holy Spirit…
[God] has given us the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit as the proper foundation for our knowledge of the great truths of the Gospel.
Basically, you just feel it in your heart that two thousand years ago the son of God was born of a human virgin, performed miracles, absolved us of our sins when he died, and then rose bodily into an ethereal other realm. That’s some pretty specific information to derive from a feeling! But no matter, Craig says it can happen. It’s fine with me if people claim to have such feelings, but again, how do we know these feelings tell us something that’s true? How can we differentiate between the people who feel Krishna or Allah in their hearts (who are clearly mistaken), and the people who feel Jesus? The “testimony of the holy spirit” is hardly a foundation for knowledge if you have no reason to believe it exists.
Nonetheless, Craig advises fledgling Christians to assume that the holy spirit exists, to invite God into their hearts, read the Bible, pray, confess their sins, and go to church – basically to be Christian – and then the holy spirit will make itself known to them.
Of course, people have done this. People have earnestly and honestly asked God to come into their hearts, and still been left out in the cold (I really urge you to read this short, yet powerful story of such by Langston Hughes.)
Craig would blame these people for their failure to believe. Their mind wasn’t truly open to the holy spirit!
But why does the holy spirit need such assistance? Having an open mind means not ruling out possibilities before you’ve started your investigation. Craig, however, wants us to rule out the possibility of Christianity being false! He advises us to assume that God is real, to have conversations with him, and to socialize with other humans having the same delusion… and then we will come to believe!
Is it any wonder?
Yes, human psychology is such that if you bias the mind in this way, especially if you have people act as if something is true, their thoughts will come to coincide with their actions. You hardly need a magical spirit for this to occur – wishful thinking, socialization, and dissonance reduction will do it for you.
Keep in mind that every non-religious truth that humans have discovered did not require a mind biased in favor of that truth to accept. One does not have to assume the existence of atoms or continental plates to be convinced they are real – the evidence is convincing enough, and it has convinced even those who did not want to be (aka those who were biased against the hypothesis.) One wonders why God cannot be more convincing than plate tectonics.
In the end, Craig not only eschews the need for evidence of God, but he makes belief in God completely unfalsifiable!
Be on guard for Satan’s deceptions. Never lose sight of the fact that you are involved in a spiritual warfare and that there is an enemy of your soul who hates you intensely, whose goal is your destruction, and who will stop at nothing to destroy you. Which leads me to ask: why are you reading those infidel websites anyway, when you know how destructive they are to your faith? These sites are literally pornographic (evil writing) and so ought in general to be shunned. Sure, somebody has to read them and refute them; but why does it have to be you? Let somebody else, who can handle it, do it. Remember: Doubt is not just a matter of academic debate or disinterested intellectual discussion; it involves a battle for your very soul, and if Satan can use doubt to immobilize you or destroy you, then he will.
Yes! Once you become convinced that Christianity is true, you must be sure to never think too hard again, because what looks like reasonable doubt might actually be Satan!
And thus is Craig’s abrogation of reason complete. In his account, Craig made it clear that he accepted belief in Christianity because it gave him comfort, and he looked for ways to sustain that belief in spite of what his intelligent mind was telling him. Now, he is so committed to maintaining that delusion that he has come up with ways to justify never questioning his beliefs again.
If you see Craig in a debate, or read one of his books in which he lays out arguments for God’s existence, keep in mind that his belief does not actually rest on evidence or reason. He merely uses arguments to win people over to his side.
(h/t Dia Pente)