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Posted by on Jul 25, 2012 in william lane craig | 0 comments

William Lane Craig’s latest attack on me

William Lane Craig has just devoted an entire 17 minute episode of Reasonable Faith to me, available here. I’m honoured!
The first half of the podcast focuses on my posting a quote from him, a quote that was, at the time, being widely posted and discussed on the internet. Here it is:
The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.
Go check my post here. I provided a direct link to Craig’s original full article, and then immediately said: “But does Craig really mean what he appears to mean? You should make your own mind up about that.”
In his latest podcast, Craig says that I should have checked the context of the quote – the original article in which it appeared – and not just repeat it as a soundbite quote out of context.
But of course I did check it. In fact I even provided a direct link to the full article and encouraged readers to go check the original article themselves and make up their own minds.
So Craig is here misleading his listeners – he is missing out key pieces of information about my post, which gives a bad impression of me (P.S. Is Craig deliberately misleading? Well, let me acknowledge the possibility that he might somehow have missed my providing the link to the context – he’s just been baffling blind to what’s clearly right there in the post.)
Craig later says that I know (and knew) that he doesn’t believe what he might appear to be saying in the above quote (about 6 mins – P.S. Yes I know that at about 8 mins he says the he, like me, was suckered by someone into accepting a quote out of context that he should have  checked, but do please pay close attention to 6 mins, where he says: “I think Stephen Law should have checked out the context. And he should have corrected those who sent him this quote to him. He knows that it doesn’t represent my views.”). Craig says I knew the quote doesn’t represent his views. So he implies I am deliberately and scurrilously misleading people by posting it. I should have corrected the misinterpretation instead.
But actually, I was, and am, remain deeply (P.S. well, somewhat) baffled by that sentence. Even within the context of the entire article, it is baffling. It’s baffling precisely because (i) it doesn’t fit well with other things Craig has said, yet, (ii) even when placed in context, does seem pretty unambiguous.
Ironically, at the end of Craig’s podcast, while the mood music is playing, he rather condescendingly lectures us – and especially me, of course – on how we should try to read people in the most charitable way, “with sympathy”. That is ironic. Shouldn’t he have given me that courtesy, rather than (i) asserting that I deliberately posted a quote out of context that I knew misrepresented his view (when I might have been, and indeed was, at that point just baffled), and (ii) telling his listeners I had not bothered to check the context when I very obviously had – I even provided a link.
The other half Craig’s podcast looks at my discussion of the view that atheists know God exists “deep down”, and my subsequent comment that it would seem to follow that atheists are lying when they say they don’t know God exists. Craig explains in the podcast that he does not suppose atheists are lying, and explains why they are not. Now, maybe it doesn’t follow from the fact that atheists are asserting what they know not to be true that atheists are liars. That’s an interesting issue. But the explanations Craig gives in the podcast for why atheists are not, then, liars both fail. I’ll explain why in the next post.

Postscript. By the way here’s the quoted sentence in the context of the full paragraph in which it appears:

A robust natural theology may well be necessary for the gospel to be effectively heard in Western society today. In general, Western culture is deeply post-Christian. It is the product of the Enlightenment, which introduced into European culture the leaven of secularism that has by now permeated Western society. While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

I’m still kind of baffled by this. Here’s the interpretation that seemed most obvious to me at the time, and which I am still not entirely sure is wrong. Given a non-theistic culture, the application of reason will not lead to theism. It will lead to atheism or at least agnosticism. However, within a Christian, theological world-view, theism and Christianity can be shown to be rationally, internally consistent/coherent. We have two world views – both of which are internally rational and reasonable, each with their own presuppositions.

Notice this interpretation would be consistent with Craig’s claims elsewhere that theism/Christianity are rational, reasonable etc, and the title of his podcast “Reasonable Faith”. It’s also a mainstream religious view (it’s Alister McGrath’s, I think). So I saw no very obvious reason to reject it as an interpretation of the above passage. And it does make the final sentence come out as true. Craig is not just asserting that this is the mistaken view of secular “Western intellectuals”. From within the current dominant intellectual culture, the person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will indeed be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

On another reading, Craig is indeed just saying in the final sentence what most of today’s Western intellectuals wrongly believe. The final sentence states, indeed flags up, a falsehood (which would have been clear had it begun, “The majority of Western Intellectuals now mistakenly believe that…” Though on this reading the paragraph ends very awkwardly (it asserts what’s actually being denied). It’s not the most natural reading, I think.

It would be good to know, just for clarity’s sake, what Craig meant. It’s certainly an uncharacteristically opaque passage open to various interpretations.

The key point of relevance, here, though, is that I did not know, and am still not absolutely sure, what the quoted sentence (and indeed paragraph) means exactly, and whether it it is meant to be true. Hopefully Craig himself will clarify.

[n.b. another fact which caused me pause for thought is that there are some religious intellectuals who hold two views – a “simple” version, for the punters, and a more “sophisticated” version for the intellectual insiders which is not usually made public except in coded form].
Postscript 2. In retrospect, maybe I’ve overreacted to Craig’s podcast on my misunderstandings. Yes he says I didn’t check the context when I very obviously did. And yes, Craig does at one point assert that I knew his actual views, and thus that the quote was misleading, when I didn’t. These comments do put me in a poor light. But of course, he’s hardly spent the 17 mins of the podcast accusing me of murder, here, has he? Perhaps I should have just shrugged and let it go. The more important task is to engage with his actual arguments….

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