Is William Lane Craig a philosopher? Some atheists seem to want to dismiss him as strictly a theologian and in no way a philosopher but sometimes he clearly attempts to make strictly philosophical arguments. By strictly philosophical arguments I mean ones whose premises make no necessary appeal to any presumed religious authorities but theoretically could be entertained by any open rational mind. Even if one’s conclusions are false or one’s arguments badly formed, one could be considered to be engaged in philosophy based on one’s methods of reasoning, if nothing else.
But the following advice from Craig to a doubting Christian is appalling and anti-philosophical to its core. He recommends, essentially, to assiduously avoid atheist writing as “literally pornographic“. Whatever his methods of presentation in debates and in books, the mind that could write the following is deeply hostile to everything that the historical philosophical tradition and the ideal of philosophical practice stand for or should stand for. Here he is discussing the atheist website Internet Infidels, Craig writes:
Be on guard for Satan’s deceptions. Never lose sight of the fact that you are involved in a spiritual warfare and that there is an enemy of your soul who hates you intensely, whose goal is your destruction, and who will stop at nothing to destroy you. Which leads me to ask: why are you reading those infidel websites anyway, when you know how destructive they are to your faith? These sites are literally pornographic (evil writing) and so ought in general to be shunned. Sure, somebody has to read them and refute them; but why does it have to be you? Let somebody else, who can handle it, do it. Remember: Doubt is not just a matter of academic debate or disinterested intellectual discussion; it involves a battle for your very soul, and if Satan can use doubt to immobilize you or destroy you, then he will.
I firmly believe, and I think the Bizarro-testimonies of those who have lost their faith and apostatized bears out, that moral and spiritual lapses are the principal cause for failure to persevere rather than intellectual doubts. But intellectual doubts become a convenient and self-flattering excuse for spiritual failure because we thereby portray ourselves as such intelligent persons rather than as moral and spiritual failures. I think that the key to victorious Christian living is not to have all your questions answered — which is probably impossible in a finite lifetime — but to learn to live successfully with unanswered questions. The key is to prevent unanswered questions from becoming destructive doubts. I believe that can be done by keeping in mind the proper ground of our knowledge of Christianity’s truth and by cultivating the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Via The Secular Outpost, which is a fantastic atheist blog filled with highly qualified philosophers and other academics. Secular Outpost is associated with Internet Infidels, who are being called a source of evil writing. Secular Outpost also dug up from Craig another cheap dig made at Infidels’ expense, wherein he essentially uses them as an example of the epitome of damnable people.
As to his remarks about apostasies being due to “moral and spiritual lapses” and intellectual doubts being “convenient and self-flattering excuse[s] for spiritual failure because we thereby portray ourselves as such intelligent persons rather than as moral and spiritual failures”, all I have to say to him is a hearty, “Fuck You, Dr. Craig”.
There is only one way to really enrage me in these matters and it is to try to impugn my deconversion on the grounds that I supposedly was just too much of a sinner to stand being a Christian any longer and that my doubts were insincere. Nothing could be further from the truth. I scrupulously, in many ways, sacrificed for the sake of my Christian ethics a youth I will never get back and desperately believed in the contemporary Evangelical Christian ethos. That this mind-closing, genocide apologist would dare question my sincerity or those like me on the cursory information he hears in testimonials makes me so furiously indignant.
Now not everyone stayed as conscientiously pious as I did before deconverting. But I fully respect their process of discovering the falseness of Christianity just as much as I do my own. Here’s how I explained, in reply to the writings of another condescending apologist, why experimenting with alternative sexual ethics from the restrictive and counter-natural Christian ones can be a rationally valid road to discovering, intellectually, that Christianity is false:
While it is possible that more than just two of the unbelievers he questioned may experience their disobedience to puritanical Evangelicalism’s excessive strictures as “moral compromise”, it is dubious of him to assume that it is immoral to “change one’s creed to match one’s deeds”. It seems more morally mature to me that young people who dofind positive values in premarital sexual activity as part of dating and growing up in general come to explicitly reject the value judgment that this is inherently sinful.
Of course if someone engages in actually immoral behavior that person should not rationalize it as okay. But for human beings who have been sexually mature in physical terms since they were 13 but who very well may not be socially, emotionally, or financially ready for marriage until their late 20s or 30s (if ever), it is quite healthy to reject an over burdensome and sexually repressive rule against all non-marital sexual experimentation, sexual love, sexual friendship, and sexual pleasure that would actually threaten to cause them arrested development.
Unfortunately so many people internalize religious moral standards so unquestioningly that even when they engage in sex as a good and positive thing in practice, they nonetheless conceive of themselves as sinning. Rather than encouraging young people to take a healthy, morally conscientious, but nonetheless experimental, approach to discovering and developing their sexual expression in later adolescence and early adulthood, and to think through what they learn from such experiences about how to have the healthiest and most ethical sex they can, the religious prefer them to either abstain altogether or at least view themselves as guilty “moral compromisers”.
Would that more people felt completely comfortable and guilt-free in their entirely consensual, other-respecting, physically safe sexual encounters. Would that morepeople were morally intelligent enough to learn from their experiences of positive value in unnecessarily banned things to reject the prohibitions against those things rather than themselves for engaging with them.
If you find that a value system is at odds with your own legitimate happiness and you are being an honest, rational person, you have every reason to doubt the legitimacy of the intellectual foundations of that flawed value system. That’s what critically thinking, morally sensitive people do. And even in cases where people are not changing their philosophical views to (justifiably) match their actual experiences of value, does Dyck ever consider that maybe genuine, intellectually abstract realizations can precede and motivate mature, intelligent, experimental changes in behaviors?
Dyck sees someone who claims an intellectual change of mind and assumes that he must have followed his loins to it rather than that an actual thought process may have come first, before his sexual behavior ever changed. And Dyck also does not note the “convenient” coincidence that the freedom from their parents which young Americans experience in their early ’20s can coincidentally involve both freer thinking and freer behavioral experimentation without either causing the other to happen. It is a period of general expansion of autonomy. Young people are not staying mental children and only changing their views about the world because they are being mindlessly led around by their genitals.
And, finally, I want to turn the table on Dyck’s assumptions. He never questions the legitimacy of the traditional behavior in which people return to church only when they get married and have children. He only laments that this previously reliable gravitational force may have less power over the present generation. He never questions whether people’s return to faith after their period of youthful experimentation is as much a function of a convenient phase in which people (rationally unjustifiably) change their values to match their new behavior.
When it is actually beneficial in practice for people to reject fundamentalist Christian restrictiveness about sex, they leave the church. When they are married and raising children, suddenly they endorse a system of values that conveniently allows that only married people can have sex and that their teenage and young adult children cannot.
Religious people of this sort are some of the worst and most blithe and uncondemned species of hypocrites out there. They condemn the same healthy process of normal sexual development they personally benefited from while considering themselves especially devout and moral people for “repenting” of their ways when all they did was get married and find the church suddenly extremely convenient to their sexual goals of monogamy and their desire that their teenage and young adult children remain chaste.
As a young person, I suffered in my own psycho-sexual development under the repressive advice of such hypocrites (and of regular hypocrites too, like the youth leaders in my church who were sleeping together while teaching us about the importance of abstinence!). And I admit I resent seeing people who were sexually active as teens now grown up, married, and hypocritically preaching unhealthy fundamentalist Christian values to impressionable, devoutly religious kids who are more conscientious than they ever were but who very well may not come out as emotionally well adjusted as they did, thanks to their warping influence.
I have news for the Drew Dycks of the world: less than 16% of Philosophy PhD’s say that they either lean towards or outright accept theism. It would take quite a bit of prejudice to assume that 84% of non-theist professional philosophers are all just spiritually hurting, “morally compromised” people.
And given this sort of general consensus among experts as to where reason leads with respect to the God question, it is reasonable to assume that a larger portion of those apostates, who started out as predisposed to religious belief by years of indoctrination and by deep social ties and yet deconverted after reading the New Atheists, were actually persuaded by the same sorts of rational considerations that persuade an overwhelming majority of specialists in philosophical topics.
And for more on the sincerity of my faith when I was a Christian, read the beginnings of my story in the posts:
And for the religious sincerity of my deconversion, read my post Apostasy As A Religious Act (Or “Why A Camel Hammers the Idols of Faith)
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