Rebutting Reasonable Faith: Is There Non-Culpable Unbelief?

Early on in Daylight Atheism’s tenure, I wrote several critical reviews of the CAP Alert site, but I later gave that up as providing insufficient sport. However, I’ve set my sights on a new and worthier target: the Christian apologist William Lane Craig and his weekly Q&A Archive from his Reasonable Faith website. I’ll begin today with question #88:

I would like to know from you if I, as an atheist, am going to be punished by God for not believing in him. If I, after looking objectively at all the evidence, come to the conclusion that I have not arrived here as the result of a divine plan but merely as a consequence of merely materialistic processes, do I deserve to be denied the gift of eternal life? If when coming face to face with God after death, I reveal that this was a position that I honestly came to after much investigation and really trying to understand nature?

This is an excellent question, and Craig’s answer is illuminative of his theology and the rational faults in it. He begins by claiming that we’re all condemned by default, regardless of our honesty or lack thereof:

…biblical Christianity teaches that no one is good enough to merit heaven. To be judged on the basis of our deeds would be the worst possible thing that could happen to us, for none of us measures up to God’s moral law (perfection)…. Hence, salvation can only be received as a gift of God’s grace; there’s nothing we can do to earn it.

…I remember when as a non-Christian I first heard the Gospel. I was leading a pretty morally upright life—externally, at least—, and yet when I learned that according to the Bible, I was guilty before God and therefore on my way to hell, I had absolutely no problem believing that. When I looked into my own heart, I saw the blackness within, how everything I did was tainted by selfishness. I knew how wretched I was really was [sic].

The first point to observe here is how Christianity exaggerates the badness of human nature. Starting with the reasonable premise that everyone puts a foot wrong from time to time, theologians distort this almost beyond recognition into the belief that we are all completely depraved and vile and that everything we do stems from evil motives. As Craig’s reply shows, this serves their evangelistic purpose by giving Christians a justification to say that everyone is deserving of damnation and therefore everyone needs their salvation. But the psychological harm and suffering caused by this vicious false belief is incalculable. A belief system which taught that human beings are capable of goodness would not only result in less individual misery, but would very likely give rise to more actual good in the world.

The second thing worth noting is that, by divorcing salvation from good deeds or even the intent to do good deeds, evangelical Christians have made getting to Heaven an entirely arbitrary reward. In essence, they believe that there’s a secret password to heaven – one that’s hidden among thousands of indistinguishable alternatives – and the only thing that matters about your time on Earth is whether you can discover it. Raising a family, falling in love, showing compassion to your fellow humans, creating beauty, working to advance the knowledge or the common good of humanity – all these activities, in Craig’s worldview, are meaningless and merit nothing. Finding the hidden password is the only thing that matters, and if you fail to find it, you’re consigned to eternal torment. This view reduces our existence to the level of a lab rat running the experimenter’s maze.

Against the self-evident and appalling injustice of this theology, Craig falls back on his second assertion. Incredibly, he claims that there is no such thing as honest unbelief: that all human beings are aware not just of the existence of God but of the truth of his specific set of religious doctrines. Here’s how he puts it:

My view is that, ultimately speaking, there is no such thing as non-culpable unbelief. For, first, there is good evidence for theism which is readily accessible to all, such as I share in Reasonable Faith (3rd ed.), and no comparably good argument for atheism…

Second, and more importantly, God has not abandoned us to work out by our own ingenuity and cleverness whether or not He exists. Rather His Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of every man, convicting him of sin and drawing him to God.

Craig’s claim that there is “no comparably good argument” for atheism is obviously just rhetorical cheerleading. Even he’s acknowledged the strength of atheist arguments on other occasions, such as when he called the problem of evil a “killer argument” for atheism (see reference).

But as he admits, in his theology rational arguments are irrelevant. No matter what the evidence shows or what conclusion reason supports, Craig maintains that all human beings know the truth of his form of Christianity and only deliberate rebellion causes any of us to deny this. Is this not an astoundingly arrogant claim?

This culminating absurdity does give Craig a response to the argument from religious confusion, but only at the cost of adding a wholly new and far more irrational belief to his faith: the belief that every single person in the world who is not an evangelical Christian is lying about what they know and what they believe. This view requires him to impute deliberate dishonesty and malevolence to the vast majority of his fellow human beings. And this is what he calls “reasonable faith”?

We atheists know full well that our conclusions are sincere, our position honestly arrived at and based on our best evaluation of the evidence. Of course, we can never prove that to Craig and other apologists who are driven to claim that we are all liars in deliberate rebellion, so that they may avoid having to face the unjust implications of their theology. It may well imply that William Lane Craig lacks confidence in his own beliefs, if he cannot abide the idea of sincere dissent and must instead assert that we all secretly agree with him, whether we admit it or not.

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