Curtain call

(Article: “God Is Not Dead Yet,” by William Lane Craig, published in July 2008  in the online edition of Christianity Today.)

I was planning to start a new series today, but as I mentioned in my other blog, I came across a fascinating quote by William Lane Craig, as reported by The Uncredible Hallq, and today I want to look at the whole article, because there’s some really juicy stuff in there. [Caveat: The discussion that follows is based on a casual/superficial understanding of what Craig meant by “verificationism.” Thanks to some informed commenters at my other blog, I now know that verificationism is a highly specific and somewhat esoteric technical term within philosophy, and that Craig’s discussion of its implications are somewhat misleading. My remarks below should be understood as addressing the more general principle of verification and its implications for Christianity.]

Craig begins, as usual, with the declaration that atheism is losing and Christianity winning in the intellectual battles of the late 20th century and beyond.

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…

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.

Sounds optimistic, but can he back up those claims? What is this “revolution” that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy—and why has it only influenced philosophy that happens to be Anglo-American?

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XFiles Weekend: The “Practical Impossibility” of Atheism

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 2: “What difference does it make if God exists?”)

We’re in the middle of William Lane Craig’s attempt to prove that life without God has no meaning, value, or purpose. He’s basing this argument on a fundamental misconception: by isolating meaning, value, and purpose from their natural context, he turns them into essentially meaningless concepts. Real life is full of all three, but these are immanent qualities of the material universe: our finite, material nature is what creates the distinction between helpful outcomes and harmful ones, and this fundamental material distinction is what drives our perception of meaning, value, and purpose. Even Dr. Craig himself cannot describe them except by reference to this material spectrum of “bad” to “good.”

Despite this, he persists in denying that life has any intrinsic significant meaning, value, and purpose—and he wants to blame atheism for their alleged absence.

Nietzsche predicted that someday modern man would realize the implications of atheism, and this realization would usher in an age of nihilism—the destruction of all meaning and value in life.

According to Dr. Craig, this leads to “the practical impossibility of atheism.”

About the only solution the atheist can offer is that we face the absurdity of life and live bravely…

The fundamental problem with this solution, however, is that it’s impossible to live consistently and happily within the framework of such a worldview. If you live consistently, you will not be happy; if you live happily, it is only because you are not consistent.

Dr. Craig is a Christian who is not actively seeking martyrdom, so I suppose he’s a good authority on having a worldview you can’t be consistent with. Nevertheless, I think he is seriously off-base when he makes his allegations regarding atheism.

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XFiles Weekend: Thinking on purpose

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 2: “What difference does it make if God exists?”)

Imagine I give you a dire warning: five hundred years from now, a man is going to come up to your current residence and threaten to kill you unless you pay him one million dollars, cash, on the spot. How would you respond? If your first reaction would be an astonished, “Eh? So what? I’ll have been dead for centuries by then!” then you’re probably a sane, reasonable, and not unduly paranoid person. On the other hand, if your immediate reaction is “Oh my God, I have to start saving a million dollars!”—well, William Lane Craig would like to talk with you about purpose.

And what of the universe? If its destiny is a cold grave in the recesses of outer space, the answer must be, yes—it is pointless. There is no goal, no purpose for the universe. The litter of a dead universe will just go on expanding and expanding—forever.

And what of man? Is there no purpose at all for the human race? Or will it simply peter out someday, lost in the oblivion of an indifferent universe? … [In The Time Machine, H. G.] Wells’ time traveler journeys far into the future to discover the destiny of man. All he finds is a dead earth, except for a few lichens and moss, orbiting a gigantic red sun…And Wells’ time traveler returned.

But to what?—to merely an earlier point on the same purposeless rush toward oblivion.

Vanitas vanitatum indeed, eh?

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XFiles Weekend: The absurdity of “ultimate meaning”

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 2: “What difference does it make if God exists?”)

Last week, Dr. Craig tried to argue that, without God, life has no meaning, no value, and no purpose. In doing so, however, he seems to have overlooked the fact that meaning, value, and purpose are all subjective qualities that only exist relative to the person perceiving them. That’s important, because it raises the possibility that we can be wrong about the meanings, values, and purposes we perceive in life. As even the Bible says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Just because we find some “meaning” that we find pleasant, or satisfying, or reassuring, doesn’t guarantee that our meaning accurately reflects what’s really true in real life.

It’s rather sad to watch Dr. Craig in this week’s installment, as he tries to cloud our reasoning with scare tactics, emotional appeals, and some rather blatant appeals to the fallacy of wishful thinking. He’s trying to zoom in on the idea of “ultimate meaning,” which in his view means a meaning that exists for all eternity. It’s a rather illogical concept, because unless people themselves are eternal, it’s nonsense to talk about eternal meaning, since the meaning will not last longer than the people who perceive it. And if we assume that people are eternal, then it’s pointless to try and use this argument to show that people are eternal, because that’s just circular reasoning. But Dr. Craig’s argument is even worse, because he’s not just arguing immortality, he’s using it to try and prove the existence of God, which is a complete non sequitur.

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Alan Roebuck and the “obvious” delusion

It seems as though we may have exhausted Prof. Roebuck’s arguments against atheism, and he himself seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Mr. Duncan,

It is now my opinion that you are more of a provocateur than a representative of typical atheistic thought. It may be that your beliefs are just unusual, or that you wish to irritate theistic apologists. Whatever the reason, I don’t find our dialog to be fruitful. I have accordingly decided not to continue making any more posts here (other than this one.)

I’m a bit sad to see him go. Despite the rather limited range of his rhetorical resources, he has been a fruitful source of blogging material, not so much for his own contributions, but for the topics he has provided us with an opportunity to discuss. One of the more interesting of these is the way he uses the word “obvious,” because he clearly does not use it the same way I do.

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Alan Roebuck and the Covert Materialism

Alan Roebuck replies to my post about the nature of evidence, but unfortunately, he begins by misreading what I wrote about naturalism.

You question my assertion that most public atheists are materialists, and my use of the word “naturalism” as a synonym for materialism. Most atheists argue as if they are materialists even if they have not formally decided that that’s what they are, and for most people naturalism is more or less equivalent to materialism. Naturalism is generally a more fully worked out system based on materialism. There may be a sophisticated difference, but it’s not germane to my basic point. My basic point is about what most atheists say publicly, which is to apply materialistic standards to all arguments and evidence.

If you go back and re-read the post, you will see that at no point did I question Prof. Roebuck’s assertion that most public atheists are materialists (or naturalists, or some variation thereon). What I said was that he is using an incorrect, straw-man definition of materialism which fails to recognize that the properties and processes of material reality are also part of the material domain, despite not being physically made of matter. That’s why consciousness fails to refute materialism: it is an emergent property arising from the biochemical processes taking place in the brain, and is therefore solidly within the material realm, rather than being something materialism cannot explain. To say that materialism cannot explain consciousness is a bit like saying basketball cannot explain free throws. Consciousness is a material phenomenon, entirely dependent on material mechanisms and processes, as can be trivially observed in real life.

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XFiles Weekend: The Christian war on secular culture

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 1: “What is apologetics?”)

In this week’s installment, Dr. William Lane Craig addresses the topic, “Why Is Apologetics Important?” As I mentioned last time, apologetics is important because God’s failure to show up in real life leaves Christians without an objective basis for their faith, and therefore they have no alternative but to rely on the works of men like Dr. Craig. But that might be a bit blunt for a book intended to encourage Christians to keep believing, so he offers three other reasons instead.

  1. Shaping culture.
  2. Strengthening believers.
  3. Winning unbelievers.

Here’s how Dr. Craig introduces point number one:

We’ve all heard of the so-called culture war going on in American society. Some people may not like this militaristic metaphor, but the truth is that a tremendous struggle for the soul of America is raging right now… Secularists are bent on eliminating religion from the public square. The so-called New Atheists, represented by people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, are even more aggressive. They want to exterminate religious belief entirely.

He forgot to say add atheists are the reincarnation of Adolph Hitler, but I’m sure that was just an oversight.

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