Thursday, February 19, 2009

William Lane Craig's Classical Apologetic Part 1

This is primarily a blog about film. But my desire with this blog is to present an integration of Philosophy and Theology with film. A good friend of mine, Danny Pelichowski, has been posting a paper on his blog concerning the validity of Natural Theology. I think that while my friend's intentions are sincere and his motivations pure I think he is ultimately wrong in his presentation and critique of Natural Theology, particularly of the Biola variety. So I have taken it upon myself to present William Lane Craig's actual approach to apologetics, with an analysis and critique of some parts of it. While I myself do not find Natural Theology to always be the most persuasive form of apologetics I do think that Danny's critique fails, as it is beset by two problems: a misunderstanding of evangelical protestant Natural Theology, and the genetic fallacy. But keep in mind that Danny is still in the process of publishing his paper on his blog, so it may appear that there is far less disagreement between the two of us later. Regardless I feel it is important enough to begin responding to him now. This is meant to be complimentary, as interaction with some else's ideas shows that their thoughts, true or false, are valuable and important enough to be interacted with. This is the spirit of this response, especially as Danny is a good friend of mine and I hope to help his intellectual journey through this interchange. Danny's original posts can be found here: http://theologicalsharpening.blogspot.com/2009/02/is-natural-theology-compatible-with.html

and here: http://theologicalsharpening.blogspot.com/2009/02/is-natural-theology-compatible-with_18.html

I will mainly be expositing Bill Craig's contribution to the Five Views on Apologetics book published by Zondervan.

In this book Dr. Craig is defending the view called Classical Apologetics, to find out exactly how this differs from the other approaches it would be best to simply buy the book. But suffice it to say that one of the main tenents of Classical Apologetics is that it uses the system called Natural Theology, which generally defined is the project of philosophically defending Theism. But not necessarily Christian Theism, which is one of the reasons why it is not my favorite form of the defense of the faith, although I believe it to be very helpful, especially when dealing with atheism and skepticism.

The most important aspect of the way Dr. Craig couches his Christian Apologetic is in his definitions and distinctions between four things. The first two are the difference between Knowing and Showing the truth of something. The second two are the difference between Magisterial and Ministerial reason. 

There is a plurality of opinions on these subjects among the Biola Philosophy professors. But Dr. Craig seems to be the most prolific of the Biola Professors in his use of apologetics, so I think that his views can be used as a sort of foil for Danny's criticism. So while not everything Dr. Craig says can also be said of all Christian Natural Theologians, he is a well known and popular advocate of what Danny is taking issue with.

When it comes to knowing the truth of something Dr. Craig defers to what has come to be known as Reformed Epistemology. This alone should dissipate some of the heat that has been generated between people like my friend, because this epistemology finds its roots in the theology of John Calvin, hence the name Reformed. This view of religious epistemology has been developed and championed by Alvin Plantinga, who considers himself broadly to be within the reformed theological tradition. In other words so far we are looking at "intramural" disagreements. Danny is a Calvinist, I am a Calvinist, Plantinga is a Calvinist, and Craig is a protestant and at least as Calvinistic as his epistemology. 

Reformed Epistemology is essentially this: Under the proper circumstances while functioning properly our minds come to belief in God. In other words Theistic belief at the very least can be properly basic. This term essentially means that the belief is not based upon any other belief. Historically these kinds of beliefs have been called incorrigible or self-evident. A similar belief would be that of believing you are seeing a tree while being appeared to treely (in other words whenever you look at a tree you believe you are seeing a tree). But what about defeaters? That is to say what happens when Hume comes along and presents his skeptical arguments agaisnt your rationality in believing you are in fact seeing a tree? Well you could argue with Hume, or you could simply look back at the tree. Generally speaking your level of warrant concerning your belief in that tree will be higher than your warrant in believing that Hume's arguments prove anything. The strength of your warrant for believing in the tree automatically defeats Humean Skepticism. Of course this isn't the case for everybody. There are many people who are persuaded by Hume. I can't tell you what that feels like because Hume's arguments have only seemed troubling to me, but not in the slightest persuasive. In any case Plantinga thinks that this is how not only theistic belief can and does function for many people, but that Christian theism functions in this way. Craig's formulation is different. He believes that the basic belief you have in Christianity is caused not by simply functioning properly in the proper circumstances but that the Holy Spirit actively makes these beliefs evident to you.  I don't think that this is a very important distinction because I believe both are in fact true. But suffice it to say that we believe the Christian need not engage in natural theology, rational discourse, or apologetics of any kind in order for him to personally and rationally believe in Christian theism. 

Plantinga gives the following example to demonstrate how our intuitions concerning rationality essentially prove his epistemology's rationality (I can't remember all the details, but it is something similar to the following). A professor at a university goes on a walk one after noon. When returns to the university he finds that a letter with some unpleasant information was given to the Dean. It is addressed as being from the professor. They know exactly when the letter was delivered because it was slipped under the deans door while he was in his office. But the professor in question knows he was taking a walk at the exact time of the letter's delivery. Moreover he knows that he in fact did not write the letter, because he has no recollection of writing the letter. So he has good reason to believe that he in fact did not deliver the letter, and that he did not write the letter. But the another member of the faculty actually saw him deliver the letter to the Dean's office! The letter is even in his hand righting. But the professor in question has no history of mental illness, and there is no evidence that he blacked out. In other words his mind is functioning exactly the way it should, it is functioning properly. But all the evidence goes agaisnt his basic belief that he did not write or deliver the letter in question. Is he irrational in maintaing this belief? I think it seems obvious that he is in fact rational in maintaing this belief. Theistic belief therefore can be given the same kind of credence unless it can be proved that it is caused due to some malfunction in our minds. 

But needless to say this is what myself, Plantinga, and Craig believe the foundation of theistic belief to be. We do not believe that Natural Theology, or science, or history, or even the Bible are the actual foundation of theistic belief. But that the way in which God created us to function, the way He created the world, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit are the ultimate grounding of the Christian's belief and faith in the truth of Christian theism. I am not sure but I think that Danny disagrees with this. I do not think that he should, because he is a Calvinist and holds to Sola Scriptura. This epistemology seems to be not only compatible with his theology but actually required and taught by the scriptures to some degree. There are lots of places in the scriptures that speak of the Holy Spirit's relation to our belief in the Christian God, as well as how God can be known from the world in at least a basic way. 

But if Danny legitimately has a problem with this then of course we are no longer talking about an in house disagreement. Because his epistemology will no longer be reformed in this sense. But this of course does not settle the issue of showing the truth of something, or the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason. Which essentially means that I have not really touched on Natural Theology yet. But I will, God willing, continue this discussion soon.

6 comments:

  1. I have responded on Theological Sharpening.

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  2. (Aaron, I've copied and pasted my response to you from Danny's blog, please post you response in on both Blogs as well.)

    Aaron said, ""But needless to say this is what myself, Plantinga, and Craig believe the foundation of theistic belief to be. We do not believe that Natural Theology, or science, or history, or even the Bible are the actual foundation of theistic belief. But that the way in which God created us to function, the way He created the world, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit are the ultimate grounding of the Christian's belief and faith in the truth of Christian theism."

    While I understand what Aaron is trying to say, I think some things are left unclear in his discussion of this issue. First, you will notice that the Bible is unambiguously absent from the foundations of theistic belief in his Reformed Epistemology. John Frame speaks to this issue in the Five Views on Apologetics book (Aaron draws from), and my following comments are going to resemble his critique. I agree with you that God has created us in such a way that when "properly functioning" one ought to take the proposition "(the Christian) God is" as basic, but the main problem before us is that humanity is fallen, and therefore people suppress the truth in creation and conscience, and exchange it for a lie. The natural man is actively working to suppress all knowledge of God that creation, conscience, and Scripture proclaim. In short, the natural man is not properly functioning (in a this sense). How do we get men to function properly when it comes to belief in God? By proclaiming the Biblical gospel, which the Spirit bears witness to, and regenerates hearts to believe in. Thus, the Spirit and the Word work together to produce faith and life (regeneration) in the believer as he confesses (properly so) that God is.

    Aaron notes Craig’s view on this issue, “He believes that the basic belief you have in Christianity is caused not by simply functioning properly in the proper circumstances but that the Holy Spirit actively makes these beliefs evident to you.”

    So, Craig does acknowledge the Spirit’s role in this basic belief forming process, but he seems to divorce the Spirit’s work from the Word of God. It is not that the Spirit is independently working to produce faith and life in the believer apart from the Bible, but rather that the Spirit and the word work together to produce life and faith in the believer. This is critical for anyone who would maintain a “Reformed” understanding of this process. Note 1 Peter 1:22-25: Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
    “All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
    And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

    Furthermore 1 Thes. 1:5 and 2:13 state, “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake…. 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”

    From these texts and a holistic understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Word and the Spirit working together (especially when it comes to the producing theistic belief in someone), we must conclude that it is a mistake to leave out the mention of the Bible primary in the foundation of Christian theistic belief.

    One more qualifier: I’m not suggesting that the natural man cannot know anything about God from creation or conscience, for Romans 1 plainly tells us they can. But, what I am saying is that they distort, suppress, and ignore such evidence apart from a saving knowledge of God through faith in the Biblical Gospel.

    With that said, does the Bible and the Spirit play a primary role in the foundations of warranted (Christian) theistic believe? Yes. Therefore, I conclude that Aaron ought to modify the above quote accordingly.

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  3. Peter I think this was a very thoughtful critique and I appreciate it.

    I said:

    "He believes that the basic belief you have in Christianity is caused not by simply functioning properly in the proper circumstances but that the Holy Spirit actively makes these beliefs evident to you."

    The he in reference is of course Dr. Craig. Now Peter your critique, which involved the rigorous application of scripture to prove that the scriptures are at the very least used most of the time or are more likely to be used than not (I do believe with much certainty that it is in fact all the time) is that you think I should modify my above statement to include "with the scriptures." Now I know that Danny's whole concern in this discussion has really been, at the very least, that I have not held the scriptures in high regard in terms of the foundations of Christian Theistic belief. I think your critique is of a similar spirit.

    Now in order to answer this objection, not for the sake of saving face but because I truly do believe that my original statement and Craig's are wholly accurate and not objectionable as they stand, I must address your claim that Craig "divorces" the work of the spirit from the scriptures. He has in no way divorced them, he simply does not think that the basis of Christian Theism is the scriptures. He and myself believe that both the scriptures (one form of direct revelation), natural revelation, and right reason without the Holy Spirit are powerless to base Christian Belief. The Holy Spirit may use the scriptures every single time a believe comes to know God, but it is the Holy Spirit who is doing the "basing" in and with the scriptures. To deny this, I think, is to do something far graver than deny Sola Scriptura it is to deny the very doctrines of grace that we have been so heartily convinced of and (even graver still) to deny Christian faith. I have never said that the scriptures played no role in the conversion, development, or noetic functioning of the believer. I have simply said that The Holy Spirit is the grounding of all this action and hence The Triune God is Himself the basis of Christian Theism and not the scriptures.

    You said:

    "With that said, does the Bible and the Spirit play a primary role in the foundations of warranted (Christian) theistic believe? Yes. Therefore, I conclude that Aaron ought to modify the above quote accordingly."

    I heartily agree with this conclusion accept for the statement regarding that I modify the original. Because I never denied "does the Bible and the Spirit play a primary role in the foundations of warranted (Christian) theistic" belief, but I think that the scriptures are useless for the grounding of Christian Theism apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. And hence the Holy Spirit is the foundation layer (the ultimate grounding) and the scriptures immediately thereafter.

    I am not by implication trying to say that Danny or yourself or anyone who does not agree with me on this is in fact not a Christian, but I do think that you are wrong about the grounding of the Christian faith in this one regard.

    I really did appreciate this thoughtful critique.

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  4. Aaron,
    We are starting to move closer together in some areas, but I’m still not as clear as I’d like to be on your claims.

    You said, “Now in order to answer this objection, not for the sake of saving face but because I truly do believe that my original statement and Craig's are wholly accurate and not objectionable as they stand, I must address your claim that Craig "divorces" the work of the spirit from the scriptures. He has in no way divorced them, he simply does not think that the basis of Christian Theism is the scriptures. He and myself believe that both the scriptures (one form of direct revelation), natural revelation, and right reason without the Holy Spirit are powerless to base Christian Belief. The Holy Spirit may use the scriptures every single time a believe comes to know God, but it is the Holy Spirit who is doing the "basing" in and with the scriptures. To deny this, I think, is to do something far graver than deny Sola Scriptura it is to deny the very doctrines of grace that we have been so heartily convinced of and (even graver still) to deny Christian faith. I have never said that the scriptures played no role in the conversion, development, or noetic functioning of the believer. I have simply said that The Holy Spirit is the grounding of all this action and hence The Triune God is Himself the basis of Christian Theism and not the scriptures. “

    Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Craig does not consider the Bible when formulating his epistemology. I agree that he believes in and confesses Sola Scriptura, but how does that play out in his epistemological formulation? It seems that he does not think it necessary to incorporate a biblical basis for his epistemic theory. As Frame expresses, I think that is a gap that needs to be accounted for.

    Second, I think you have pushed the foundations back a step, and have concluded that God reveals, whether in nature or scripture, so we need to ground our epistemology in Him. I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I still argue that revelation is needed to form basic beliefs (otherwise, nothing can be self-evident, incorrigible, etc., to us). If we have no revelation in scripture (pre-Moses), then God would have to reveal it directly to us in some other fashion (Angel, Creation, theophany, etc). It’s still based on revelation either way. But, what about now? How do we know the Spirit of God? By trusting in His Spirit inspired Gospel. The Spirit of truth applies the realities of who God is into our hearts, as we believe the Gospel. It is God’s Spirit that gives us the “spectacles of faith,” as Calvin called it, which help us see God’s revelation in creation rightly. That happens by being born again by the living and abiding Word of God. So, I see them working together to ground theistic belief. An epistemology that does not take into account all that God has revealed to us in Scripture is missing a key ingredient.

    We both affirm that the Holy Spirit is important in this discussion, but the word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. The Spirit uses it to ground our beliefs in Him. That’s how we can know the difference between the Mormon experience and the Christian one—is our experience in accord with and based in Scriptures. Both, Mormons and Christians maintain a belief in God through the Spirit’s Work, but the Mormons divorce this experience from the truth of Scripture. How can you argue, using Craig’s view, that the Mormon belief in God (grounded in a false spirit-witness) is false? It’s unwarranted because it’s not grounded in the truth of Scripture.

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  5. I think I agree with everything you've said...but...I need to think about this a little more. I'll get back to you soon. I think we need to make a couple distinctions, between theological formulation and epistemic grounding. But like I said I need to think about some of what you've said a little more.

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  6. Peter said:

    "Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Craig does not consider the Bible when formulating his epistemology. I agree that he believes in and confesses Sola Scriptura, but how does that play out in his epistemological formulation? It seems that he does not think it necessary to incorporate a biblical basis for his epistemic theory. As Frame expresses, I think that is a gap that needs to be accounted for."

    This actually is not true. Craig supports his belief that the Holy Spirit causes the basic belief of Christian Theism with the scriptures.

    But in regards to the rest of your comment:

    I think what you have done in your last post is conflated knowing and showing. This is why I thought that I agreed with everything you were in fact saying. The scriptures are of course an integral part of showing the truth of the Christian worldview. But all I have presented so far is epistemology. Epistemology doesn't have all that much to do with "truth", especially when dealing with rationality qua rationality as Plantinga is doing. Plantinga's project in no way denies that mormons can be rationally justified in their theistic belief (and I wholeheartedly agree). I'm not sure if Craig is in with us on that or not. But where Plantinga and myself define the mormon belief in theism as "rationally justified" we would define our belief in theism as Warranted True Belief. So in many regards Mormons actually have Justified True Belief. If we apply the logic of Gettier counterexamples to this I think it makes alot of sense, also Charley Brown and the great pumpkin question. Warrant is the thing that replaces Justified in Plantinga's formulation. Because for the Christian (since the Christian God is the true God He has created us only to be warranted in believing in Him) only Christian Theism can be warranted. But Mormons accidently believe in a "similar" god, based upon their personal conviction, their communities, and general revelation.

    Now of course when showing Christian Theism to be true we must bring the scriptures in. But the scriptures are part of the theological and apologetic data, not really the epistemic. We know that Christianity is true because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit and our properly functioning noetic faculties speaking of God's general revelation. But this is useless when arguing with someone who lacks the Holy Spirit. And in many ways so are the scriptures. I think rational cases can be made from the scriptures but someone who has no illumination probably won't be effected by it at all. He has not seen its truth. And the only way he can see its truth is through the Holy Spirit. Christians have properly basic experiences with the scriptures all the time. But this is only enabled by the Holy Spirit.

    As Calvinists none of us really think that we could ever be persuaded that the gospel was false. No reasoning or argumentation could ever convince us that the Bible was in fact wrong. Because the Holy Spirit will not allow it. We may doubt, we may even temporarily come to disbelief, but we can never stay there long. The Spirit's testimony is simply too strong. So we don't know Christianity is true because of the deliverances of scripture (though they do of course demonstrate truth quite clearly to us) and Natural theology only deals with probabilistic evidences. That is how we show that our epistemic positions are true or more likely than not true. But we already know they are true: we are Calvinists, we can't help it! We don't need to argue for them for our own sake. Of course when we do argue for them our positions are strengthened and we can better give an answer for the hope within. So basically what Craig is doing is simply laying a foundation for his entire approach to apologetics. Which is why I've told you that Kelly Clark's position is kinda silly to even have in the book. Reformed Epistemology is not an apologetic, its an epistemology. The Spirit then guides us into all truth using the scriptures, the church, those we directly and intimately fellowship with (iron sharpens iron), our wives and parents (hopefully, if they are believers) and MOVIES!!!! Maybe not the last one, well mayBE the last one...that's one of the things I'm trying to figure out on my blog.

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