Superstar Christian debater William Lane Craig is very upset that the American Humanist Association has developed a section on its site for kids. Lord have mercy, the site addresses science and sexuality, and other topics, without reference at all to the moral authority of baby Jesus.
He won’t let that stand, so he’s written an article that tells humanists that they are wrong because they are wrong. No kidding, this is ultimately what his argument boils down to.
Here is Craig’s article from the Washington Post (no links). My comments interspersed in fiendish red.
The American Humanist Association is promoting a new Web site that is designed to furnish children with a naturalistic or atheistic perspective on science, sexuality, and other topics. The stated goal of the Web site is laudatory: “to encourage curiosity, critical thinking, and tolerance among young people, as well as to provide accurate information regarding a wide range of issues related to humanism, science, culture, and history.”
The problem is that those values have no inherent connection with naturalism, which is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that there is nothing beyond the physical contents of the universe. One doesn’t need to be a naturalist in order to endorse curiosity, critical thinking, tolerance, and the pursuit of accurate information on a wide range of topics.
[True. Also true with respect to Christianity and many other religious and philosophical viewpoints. Of course, we atheists are constantly harangued by theists telling us that we are God-bashers or haters or hedonists or willfully blind. To them, we are everything except people who have examined and reflected on the facts…and decided that there was a better view than whatever their brand of theism was.]
Ironically, the AHA has been remarkably uncritical in thinking about the truth of naturalism and of humanism in particular.
For example, why think that naturalism is true? The last half century has witnessed a veritable renaissance of Christian philosophy. In a recent article, University of Western Michigan philosopher Quentin Smith laments “the desecularization of academia that evolved in philosophy departments since the late 1960s.” Complaining of 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.”
[Bull pucky. We are constantly challenged to evaluate the truth claims of naturalism, humanism, and materialism. As a group, we secularists also look closely at the claims of Christianity and other religions. Besides, not one thing stated above goes at all to naturalists criticizing naturalism, or not; WLC focus on the “veritable renaissance of Christian philosophy.”]
This renaissance of Christian philosophy has been accompanied by a resurgence of interest in arguments for God’s existence based on reason and evidence alone, apart from the resources of divine revelation like the Bible. All of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments, not to mention creative, new arguments, find intelligent and articulate defenders on the contemporary philosophical scene.
[Yes, we are familiar with today’s “Sophisticated Theology.” When one reads it for understanding, one often understands that not much is being said. I recommend Jerry Coyne’s treatments of philosophers like Haught and Plantinga, among others.]
But what about the so-called “New Atheism” exemplified by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens? Doesn’t it signal a reversal of this trend? Not really. The New Atheism is, in fact, a pop cultural phenomenon lacking in intellectual muscle and blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in academic philosophy. In my debates with naturalistic philosophers and scientists I have been frankly stunned by their inability both to refute the various arguments for God and to provide any persuasive arguments for naturalism.
[I’m stunned that he’s stunned.]
Moreover, naturalism faces severe problems of its own. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued persuasively that naturalism cannot even be rationally affirmed. For if naturalism was true, the probability that our cognitive faculties would be reliable is pretty low. For those faculties have been shaped by a process of natural selection which does not select for truth but merely for survival. There are many ways in which an organism could survive without its beliefs’ being true. Hence, if naturalism were true, we could not have any confidence that our beliefs are true, including the belief in naturalism itself! Thus, naturalism seems to have a built-in defeater that renders it incapable of being rationally affirmed.
[Ridiculous. We have known for centuries upon centuries that human perceptions and beliefs are always suspect. That’s why we always put beliefs up for scrutiny. That’s what science does! The other thing that science does is systematize knowledge by using regular processes to get incrementally better and being able to describe and predict reality. Because of science, we have more reliable information to use than our beliefs.]
The problem for the humanist is even worse, however. For humanism is just one form of naturalism. It is a version of naturalism that affirms the objective value of human beings. But why think that if naturalism were true, human beings would have objective moral value? [But why think that humans should have objective moral value? Just because WLC thinks objective moral value is a good and even necessary thing doesn’t mean it has to exist. Don’t misunderstand: I have not made any claim whatsoever about objective moral value of humans or any other creature. I’m only pointing out that WLC’s personal philosophical worries do not constitute a crisis for anyone else.] There are three options before us:
• The theist maintains that objective moral values are grounded in God.
• The humanist maintains that objective moral values are grounded in human beings.
• The nihilist maintains that moral values are ungrounded and therefore ultimately subjective and illusory.
The humanist is thus engaged in a struggle on two fronts: on the one side against the theists and on the other side against the nihilists. This is important because it underlines the fact that humanism is not a default position. That is to say, even if the theist were wrong, that would not mean that the humanist is right. For if God does not exist, maybe it is the nihilist who is right. The humanist needs to defeat both the theist and the nihilist. In particular, he must show that in the absence of God, nihilism would not be true.
[WLC’s martial language (struggle, fronts) is telling. It seems to be more a projection of his own philosophical condition. The trajectory of the humanist and the nihillist is reality.If you conclude that humanism is most likely true, then you immediately face the practical realities of living life in the here and now. WLC’s theism, on the other hand, draws him to guesses about how many angels fit on the head of a pin.]
The new humanist Web site never encourages kids to think critically about the tough questions concerning the justification of humanism itself. [Really? If you go to the actual web site, the encouragement places no limit on what kids can and should think critically about. The tools of critical thinking apply and transfer everywhere. Craig is crying incoherence, but I don’t see it. Maybe he should stick with the problem of incoherence concerning his own allegedly omnipotent, omniscient god and the problem of evil. These problems remain yet-to-be solved.] Humanists tend to be condescendingly dismissive of theism and oblivious to nihilism. Meanwhile, they blithely extol the virtues of critical thinking, curiosity, and science, apparently unaware of the incoherence at the heart of their own worldview.
[No, not really. Many humanists tend to be highly educated former theists who have thoroughly investigated the philosophical and historical underpinnings of theistic beliefs. We have taken theism very seriously, and we have found the incoherence at the heart of its worldview. That incoherence is located right there in first philosophical principles (cause and effect) and right there in the list of “God’s” attributes and right there in the disjunction between the way the world works and the positive claims made about “God.”
Why is it so hard for these folks to accept that we have come, we have seen, we have understood, and we have rejected theistic worldviews? Why is it so hard to accept that we think they are incorrect to say that humanism and/or naturalism is incoherent. Yes, their pet philosopher says it’s incoherent, but many other philosophers assert the coherence of naturalism. See, for instance, the SEP entry on naturalism, which talks about the diversity encompassed by the name. And again, many more philosophers have pointed out the logical incoherence of theism.
In any case, we can expect that WLC’s book series for children encourages the tykes to think critically about the tough questions concerning the justification of theism generally and the various Christianities particularly.]
More and more people in this world live good lives and identify as atheists or humanists or secularists on whatever. Surely, these people have a right to provide age-appropriate information to their own children? Surely, it’s a good thing to talk about critical thinking, curiosity, and science?
Instead of knocking humanism, Craig should just say “thank you” for all humanism has given him.