XFiles Weekend: On Guard, by William Lane Craig

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Introduction: “Foreword,” by Lee Strobel.)

In the introduction to On Guard, noted evangelist Lee Strobel describes the author in these terms.

William Lane Craig is, in my opinion, among the very best defenders of Christianity in this generation. With doctorates in philosophy and theology, a sharp and incisive mind, and the passionate heart of an evangelist, Bill travels the globe debating some of the most ardent and articulate atheists. Invariably, their arguments against God wither in the face of Bill’s affirmative evidence for the existence of a Creator and the truth of the Christian faith.

Sounds promising, doesn’t it? After 2,000 years of looking, someone with a “sharp and incisive mind” (and a double doctorate, don’t forget) has finally come up with affirmative evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. About time, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, this kind of effusive praise highlights a rather serious question: why does it take a William Lane Craig to defend the faith and come up with “affirmative evidence” for the existence of God? If there really were a God Who was the most powerful force in existence, all-knowing, all-wise and all-loving, and if the one thing He wanted badly enough to literally die for was to be with us and interact with us in a loving, personal, face-to-face relationship, wouldn’t this evidence come from God rather than from the brilliant intellect of Dr.2 William Lane Craig?

Imagine, if you will, a biologist being praised for finally providing affirmative evidence for the existence of different species, after 2,000 years of biological research. Not an explanation for the origin of the species, or a mechanism for the evolution of species, but merely evidence that species exist. Or how about a geologist publishing a book intended to provide affirmative evidence for the existence of rocks? An astronomer, for the existence of stars? A psychologist, for the existence of emotions? An economist, for the existence of market forces?

Already, in the first paragraph of the introduction to the book, we’re finding hints that there’s something suspiciously fishy about Craig’s field of study. Does his case prove that there really is a God? Or does it merely prove that Dr. Craig is smarter than most of his readers, and is therefore able to trick them into believing things that are not true? Is there more to his “affirmative evidence” than just “affirming” that his arguments are evidence?

That, no doubt, will be something we will discover as we proceed through this book. In the meantime, I’d like to take a quick glance at the rest of Strobel’s introduction. After praising Craig for being “among the best defenders…in this generation,” Strobel goes on to cite a couple anecdotes illustrating Craig’s rhetorical prowess. His first example is a debate between Craig and Christopher Hitchens, which an unnamed “atheist commentator” summed up with the words “Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.”

The biggest part of the introduction, however, is devoted to discussing a debate between Craig and Frank Zindler (available on Google Video). After a predictable amount of dramatization, Strobel highlights Craig’s “five powerful arguments for God and Christianity”:

  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause, therefore the universe has a cause
  • The “fine tuning” of the universe proves the existence of an intelligent designer
  • Our “objective” moral values are evidence for God
  • Historical evidence for the resurrection
  • Personal experience

Here’s our first glimpse of Craig’s “affirmative evidence” for God: three appeals to superstition, one appeal to hearsay, and an appeal to superstitious subjectivism. All very popular appeals, to be sure, but evidence? Not really.

Sadly, many people don’t care about the difference between popular appeal and real evidence, which is why Christianity does so well in “grandstand debates” before a live lay audience, even though it cannot do as well in a more rigorous, evidence-oriented debate such as you might find in a scientific journal.

According to Strobel, Zindler lost that debate, with 82% of the non-Christians concluding that Craig had the most compelling evidence, and 47 conversions to Christianity, versus zero conversions to atheism (though how Strobel would know this last number I’m not sure). And this despite the fact that Craig offered “repeated challenges” to Zindler to offer an “affirmative” case for atheism—a rather blatant appeal to the elementary fallacy of seeking a positive proof of a negative proposition. (Ever try to find “affirmative” evidence for the non-existence of leprechauns?)

In point of fact, Zindler did raise the existence of evil as an affirmative evidence inconsistent with the type of almighty, all-good, all-wise God of the Bible, to which Craig’s response was “No logical inconsistency has ever been demonstrated between the two statements ‘God exists’ and ‘evil exists.'” He didn’t show how the existence of evil was consistent with the idea that a good God created everything, he merely denied that the inconsistency was really inconsistent (according to some special definition of “God” and “evil”).

In short, Craig won the debate by persuading people that his popular appeals were genuine evidence, by persuading people that Zindler’s evidence was not “affirmative” evidence (according to some contrived definition of “affirmative”), by persuading people that he himself was offering “affirmative” evidence (even when he was ducking the question), and by showmanship in general.

Atheists need to remember that a debate is a form of entertainment, like the WWF only without the beef and glitter. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s about who wins and who loses. And unfortunately, one of the differences between atheists and believers is that atheists equate being right with winning, whereas believers equate winning with being right. It’s very difficult to be an atheist, and not to approach a debate from the perspective of using the evidence to show who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s a doomed strategy. The guy that plays to win will beat the guy that argues the facts, every time.

Strobel knows that, so his introduction focuses on William Lane Craig, the winning debater. In his eyes, Craig wins, and that’s all that matters, because it proves that his arguments are correct. Who cares if his arguments are merely appeals to popular superstition and subjectivism? Who cares if they’re factually false? Who cares if they’re elementary logical fantasies? If he wins the debate that means he’s right, and if he’s right then the flaws in his argument are irrelevant trivialities.

But enough of Strobel. He’s given us a good intro to Craig’s book–perhaps better than he meant to! But now it’s time to move on to Craig himself. We’ll pick up with Chapter 1 next week.

6 Responses to “XFiles Weekend: On Guard, by William Lane Craig”

  1. Arthur Says:

    30 I shall be told philosophy is comfortless, because it speaks the truth; and people prefer illusions. 31 Go to the illusionists, then, and leave philosophers in peace! At any rate, do not ask us to accommodate our doctrines to your hopes. 32 That is what those rascals of illusion will do for you. Ask them for any doctrine you please, and you will get it.

    –Lamentations 10

  2. Korou Says:

    Deacon, it’s great to see you again!
    This looks like it’s going to be fun. Thanks very much!

  3. Gato Precambriano Says:

    Man, I’m linking to here in a post debunking WLC in a brasilian blog (as Craig himself is coming here), and just now I see that you begin this series on MY birthday. Wow!
    That surely must mean….nothing! ;-D
    i love this series nonetheless.



  4. JimmyMack Says:

    Is there a chapter by chapter debunking of On Guard on this website?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: