There are many top-notch Christian apologists on the scene today. They are doing a superb job of demonstrating the reasonableness of the Christian faith, and answering the many criticisms of the new militant atheists. One such apologist is Christian philosopher William Lane Craig.
Craig has written a number of important books on philosophy and Christian apologetics, including Reasonable Faith (Crossway Books, 1984 – now out in its third edition). He has been involved in numerous debates with atheists, and more than capably holds his own in such encounters. Indeed, he was recently in New Zealand for a two-week speaking and debating tour, and did an admirable job of taking on his critics, and encouraging believers there.
His write-up about his recent trip is worth noting, as is a new article in the July issue of Christianity Today. As to his visit down under, it proved to be a time of showing how Christianity is both reasonable and intellectually fulfilling, and prompting believers to engage the intellectual culture instead of retreating from it.
Says Craig, “During our twelve busy days in New Zealand, I participated in a professional philosophy conference, gave a dozen public talks, had two debates, and did three interviews. As we traveled about, our various hosts constantly told us how thoroughly secular New Zealand is. At the same time, our impression is that the evangelical church in New Zealand is pietistic, insular, and culturally disengaged. There seem to be few Christians intellectually contending for the faith. So the sort of bold, public, rational defense of the Gospel which I presented was novel and met with an enthusiastic response everywhere I spoke.”
As I mentioned, Craig is a keen debater, who has taken on the best of what the secularists and atheists have to offer: “Two other highlights of the trip were the two debates on ‘Is God a Delusion?’ at the University of Auckland and in Palmerston North with Bill Cooke of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. At the first debate students filled not only the auditorium in the University of Auckland’s Business Department building, but three overflow rooms as well! Like so many representatives of these atheist groups, Cooke was long on rhetoric but short on substance. He was clearly not prepared to really debate: he declined to address the question before us and was incapable of re-defending his points after they were criticized. He’s used to just getting a free pass on his assertions and was at a loss what to say when challenged. You can watch the debate and decide for yourself ( www.reasonablefaith.org/site/R?i=yyJn1x6BfHjNPyLNm1c7WA ).
He was also involved in media debates. “The last highlight I want to mention was the interview on Radio New Zealand with Kim Hill. She is a tough, aggressive, secular radio personality whom some people call ‘Him Kill’ because of the way she treats her guests! She interviewed me for a full half hour without commercial break on her nationally broadcast show. We talked about arguments for God’s existence and the New Atheism. Before I left the studio, emails were already coming into the station, saying, ‘At last an intelligent discussion about religion on the radio!’”
The reason Craig can debate with such confidence is because he is a highly qualified philosopher who is well aware of where the philosophical debates are heading. And as he explains in his Christianity Today article, this is a good time to be a theist, in philosophical circles at least.
As he explains in the introduction to the article, “You might think from the recent spate of atheist best-sellers that belief in God has become intellectually indefensible for thinking people today. But a look at these books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, among others, quickly reveals that the so-called New Atheism lacks intellectual muscle. It is blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy. It reflects the scientism of a bygone generation rather than the contemporary intellectual scene.”
He continues, “That generation’s cultural high point came on April 8, 1966, when Time magazine carried a lead story for which the cover was completely black except for three words emblazoned in bright red letters: ‘Is God Dead?’ The story described the ‘death of God’ movement, then current in American theology. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of God’s demise was premature. For at the same time theologians were writing God’s obituary, a new generation of young philosophers was rediscovering his vitality.”
His description of the revival of theistic philosophy is worth citing at length: “Back in the 1940s and ’50s, many philosophers believed that talk about God, since it is not verifiable by the five senses, is meaningless – actual nonsense. This verificationism finally collapsed, in part because philosophers realized that verificationism itself could not be verified! The collapse of verificationism was the most important philosophical event of the 20th century. Its downfall meant that philosophers were free once again to tackle traditional problems of philosophy that verificationism had suppressed. Accompanying this resurgence of interest in traditional philosophical questions came something altogether unanticipated: a renaissance of Christian philosophy.”
“The turning point probably came in 1967, with the publication of Alvin Plantinga’s God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. In Plantinga’s train has followed a host of Christian philosophers, writing in scholarly journals and participating in professional conferences and publishing with the finest academic presses. The face of Anglo-American philosophy has been transformed as a result. Atheism, though perhaps still the dominant viewpoint at the American university, is a philosophy in retreat.”
“In a recent article, University of Western Michigan philosopher Quentin Smith laments what he calls ‘the desecularization of academia that evolved in philosophy departments since the late 1960s.’ He complains about naturalists’ passivity in the face of the wave of ‘intelligent and talented theists entering academia today.’ Smith concludes, ‘God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments’.”
“The renaissance of Christian philosophy has been accompanied by a resurgence of interest in natural theology, that branch of theology that seeks to prove God’s existence apart from divine revelation. The goal of natural theology is to justify a broadly theistic worldview, one that is common among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and deists. While few would call them compelling proofs, all of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, not to mention some creative new arguments, find articulate defenders today.”
Craig then looks at these arguments – the cosmological, teleological, ontological and moral – in some detail, noting how new life has been breathed into these old arguments. He then concludes with these words: “Properly understanding our culture is important because the gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the background of the current cultural milieu. A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the gospel. But you may as well tell the secularist to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ!”
“Christians who depreciate natural theology because ‘no one comes to faith through intellectual arguments’ are therefore tragically shortsighted. For the value of natural theology extends far beyond one’s immediate evangelistic contacts. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics, including natural theology, to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved. As we progress further into the 21st century, I anticipate that natural theology will be an increasingly relevant and vital preparation for people to receive the gospel.”
Since all truth is God’s truth, it is not surprising that these classic arguments have stood the test of time. And it is encouraging to see great Christian minds enlisted for the defence of the faith. Would that Australia and New Zealand raise up more people like Craig to stand up for Christian truth claims.