Rebutting Reasonable Faith: The Evangelical Conspiracy Theory

In “The Aura of Infallibility“, I mentioned William Lane Craig’s belief in something he calls the “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit”, which he considers to be the most persuasive, crowning argument for Christianity. Basically, all it boils down to is that Craig has a really strong feeling that Christianity is true, and he believes that that feeling should be privileged above any and all evidence.

As Craig himself puts it, in question #136:

For not only should I continue to have faith in God on the basis of the Spirit’s witness even if all the arguments for His existence were refuted, but I should continue to have faith in God even in the face of objections which I cannot at that time answer…

What I’m claiming is that even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit’s witness.

In essence, Craig is claiming infallibility for himself. On the basis of some warm and fuzzy feelings he’s had, he declares himself an inerrant judge presiding over all the cosmos, deciding the truth of every factual proposition his warm feelings tell him about and refusing to admit even the possibility of error. This is a laughable and ridiculously arrogant self-exaltation, although he’s by no means alone among religious people in making it; he just does it more explicitly than most of them. (As another example, take this from the official statement of faith of Answers in Genesis: “No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field… can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record”).

But it doesn’t stop there. Craig also insists on believing that everyone else has these feelings too, which leads him to draw a morally outrageous conclusion that insults all non-Christians:

When a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God. (source)

In other words, Craig’s position requires him to believe that everyone – everyone – in the world who’s not an evangelical Christian – every atheist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Sikh and Shintoist, every pagan past and present, every member of every indigenous tribe – is fully aware of the truth of evangelical Christianity and refuses to admit this out of a stubborn desire to sin. It forces him to believe in a worldwide conspiracy involving sustained, lifelong deception practiced on a daily basis by billions of people throughout history.

This contorted position arises from the four-part contradiction that all believers like Craig are forced to confront as a result of their theology:

(1) It’s immoral to punish people for making an honest mistake.
(2) At least some non-members of my religion are honestly mistaken in what they believe.
(3) God will eternally punish all non-members of my religion.
(4) God never acts immorally.

Logically, all four of these statements can’t be true; at least one has to be false. But believers like Craig refuse to surrender any of the theological points, and instead he jettisons the one empirical statement in the tetrad: that at least some nonbelievers are honestly mistaken. He thus ends up with a bizarre, massive conspiracy theory which holds that everyone in the world who doesn’t believe as he does is being deliberately deceptive.

This is a paradigm example of how compensating for logical flaws in a belief system lead to immoral views of one’s fellow humans. “God wouldn’t damn people for making an honest mistake,” the thought process goes, “and therefore, no one is making an honest mistake! Everyone who’s not in my religion really knows I’m right and is just lying.” Not only does this soothe the believer’s troubled conscience, it gives them a convenient excuse to avoid having to deal with any nonbeliever’s argument on the merits: all such arguments can be waved away because the believer “knows” that they’re not being offered in good faith. Bizarre and ridiculous as it is, the evangelical conspiracy theory is one of the more effective means by which religious fundamentalists cocoon their minds away from the world.

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  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    In essence, Craig is claiming infallibility for himself. On the basis of some warm and fuzzy feelings he’s had, he declares himself an inerrant judge presiding over all the cosmos, deciding the truth of every factual proposition his warm feelings tell him about and refusing to admit even the possibility of error.

    This made me laugh.

    Concerning the idea that all non-evangelical Christians love darkness rather than light and want nothing to do with God: I always wonder if people who say things like this have ever actually had a friendship, or even just a conversation, with someone who’s not a member of their religion.

  • Delcycer

    I think that many people who believe this sort of wicked nonsense have actually had conversations with people outside their faith, even think of them as friends–sort of like a bigot working next to a minority. They can be also be ‘friends,’ a la “He’s a good guy, for a <>.”

    I’m a pretty good guy, for an Atheist. He might even feel sorry for me.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Sounds like Slacktivist’s argument about biblicism fostering conflict.

  • GregFromCos

    It seems like every religion out there uses this “how do you feel” proof as their key proof for the existence of their religion. Certainly it is a huge part of the Mormon conversion process.

    I know I’ve had people use it before, and it’s generally very easy to destroy by pointing out how many religions rely on personal experience.

  • http://www.fragmentsofthedowntown.com Irwin49

    I love it when people put more thought into protecting their religion than they do their religion to begin with.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    You know, it’s funny. I read somewhere (a long time ago) that only light-skinned cultures see light as good and darkness as bad. In Africa, for example, darkness is seen as a vibrant and vitalizing sort of thing; light is thin and sickly by comparison. Just goes to show that luminosity is amoral. Or that my memory is bad.

    Also, I’m reminded of a poem:
    To go into the dark with a light is to know the light
    To know the dark, go dark, go without sight.
    And find that dark, too, blooms and sings
    And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

    – Wendell Berry

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    I unofficially study conspiracy theorists. It’s more of a hobby, really. Their dissonant, bizarre thinking fascinates me. But, so long as I have been studying them, pouring over their inane, insane texts, talking to them, etc… I have been studying their methods, and they’re amazingly homogenous- everything from Truthers to NWOers to Annunaki-believers and everything in between follow the exact same mindset. I’ve not come any closer from when I began my research(read: descent into the rabbit-hole of utter batshit insanity) to finding a way to convince them that their paranoid delusions are, well, paranoid delusions.

    I have reached the conclusion, however, that Christians and Conspiracy Theorists need exposure to intense, curb-stomping debate over great lengths of time to deconvert. There seems to be no easier way.

    You must ALWAYS keep in mind: Christian or Conspiracist, they will NEVER trust you above their own craziness, and would rather think you’re a collaborator/demonically possessed. Same with any factual sources you may site. In their minds, they twist it into a fallacy of accepting the bad guy’s fabricated “data”.

    If only it were easier to deconvert them. Ay de mi…

  • Charles Black

    This guy is either extremely stupid or a liar & sometimes it can be nearly impossible to distinguish between idiots & charlatans.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘What I’m claiming is that even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit’s witness.’

    The Spirit’s witness? There’s a laugh.

    If you read Craig’s own personal testimony, this amounts to Craig feeling better after a good cry and then going outside and seeing a lot of stars in the sky.

    Not even a burning bush!

    Craig actually thinks that seeing a lot of stars in the sky is ‘the Spirit’s witness’ and has the audacity to claim this is powerful testimony.

    It is not. His own description of the moment he ‘came to know god’ is pathetic in its sheer banality, only matched by the grandiosity of the words Craig thought of to describe it.

  • Barton

    I try to live by Hanlon’s razor (Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence)… When I read a statement like “No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.”, I have to resort to Gray’s law: “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mioJYqRVDE Peter Byrom

    “I mentioned William Lane Craig’s belief in something he calls the “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit”, which he considers to be the most persuasive, crowning argument for Christianity.”

    This statement is either rooted in ignorance or dishonesty.

    Craig explicitly explains that the witness of the holy spirit is NOT an argument. Rather, it’s an experience which a person is rational to trust unless good reason is given to doubt it (and you’re more than welcome to provide the defeater).

    He always states that this is a way for a person to know God completely *apart* from arguments. It doesn’t serve as anything to use in persuading others.

    It’s so disappointing to see such lazy “rebuttals”.

  • Demonhype

    What scares me is how that might aid an otherwise good person to accept the persecution and oppression of people outside the religion as a form of either “defense” or “tough love” and not wrong at all. After all, they “know” you’re right and all you’re doing is forcing them to “admit” it for “their own good” because you don’t want them to go to hell. And if they won’t “admit” you’re right, then it would be right to punish them severely or even kill them at some point, to protect society from their demonic influence–and it’s all their fault, they brought their executions on themselves, you can’t possibly be at fault for that! And don’t worry at all that you’re just extracting a confession they don’t mean or that your “convert” is lying to save his skin because, as we’ve already established, everyone who disagrees with you about God is lying so in every case you can be confident you’re just extracting the exact truth. So torture really does work, and don’t let anyone tell you different!

    Maybe I’m being a little excessive, but I don’t think so. It happened in the past, and there’s no reason to think it could never happen again. Whenever people say that, I just keep thinking about that book “Rilla of Ingleside”, wherein Anne of Green Gables and all her kids and the whole town in 1914 are so sure it couldn’t be a “real” war, “not in the twentieth century” and couldn’t last more than a few weeks tops. “Surely the crazies will never get into power and start up the New Inquisition! It could never happen!” Which I get in response to the increasingly violent over-Christianization of the military and the Party of God, etc. Well, sure, it would be a task for them to get that much power again if only…I don’t know, if perhaps they actually had some damn opposition? As opposed to apathetic ineffectualness and/or absolute certainty that “it’ll never happen, so I can sit on my thumbs and do nothing”? When one side is hell-bent on ruling the world with an iron fist, sitting on a throne of skulls in front of a river of the blood of dissenters and unbelievers and the other side seems to have embraced the “virtue” of apathy–or worse, is all too eager to accomodate the New Conquerors–how the hell do you figure “it’ll never happen”? Seriously? If it was really impossible, people like Michele Bachmann would be in a nuthouse or something, and certainly not anywhere near being even considered for a presidential spot! The very fact that the violent crazies are even being considered as candidates should be enough to make you worry!

    Sorry, went into frustration mode. :) It’s just that I figured out as a little kid that there are no “bad guys” or “forces of evil” in the world, that the biggest evils are done by nice little average people who are convinced it’s good and for the best by all sorts of little mental tricks just like this.

  • Scotlyn

    This guy is either extremely stupid or a liar & sometimes it can be nearly impossible to distinguish between idiots & charlatans.

    On the other hand, maybe he is honestly mistaken.

  • paradoctor

    Scotlyn: Very good!
    Craig’s “self-authenticating witness” reminds me of Ambrose Bierce’s definition of “self-evident”: “evident to oneself and to no one else”. So self-authenticating witness is authentic to oneself and to no one else.

  • ORAXX

    So…..’the self authentication of the holy spirit’ is real because he says so? What would happen if he said we live on a flat earth at the center of the universe? Personally, I belive that “Moby Dick” is the inerrent word of the almighty. Just try proving it isn’t!!

  • Ritchie

    Peter Byrom – Does Craig also state how one is to rationally IDENTIFY this experience?

  • karen

    He thus ends up with a bizarre, massive conspiracy theory which holds that everyone in the world who doesn’t believe as he does is being deliberately deceptive.

    My recollection of this kind of theology (which is admittedly getting a bit musty after more than a decade away from it) is not that non-believers were being deceptive, but that they were being deceived by Satan.

    So fundies don’t feel animosity for non-Christians, they feel pity and alarm. Pity because these poor dupes are under Satan’s spell (in the form of a false religion) and alarm because if they don’t see the light and come to Jesus, they’re headed straight for hell.

    Thus the fervor of the evangelical to “save” as many souls as possible by breaking Satan’s spell over them and helping them recognize the true calling of the holy spirit.

    That’s the way it is described in evangelical circles, at least.

  • Warren

    Don’t forget the whole original sin thing. With that, a Christian doesn’t have to worry about honestly mistaken people since everyone is deserving of Gods wrath by default.

  • http://dangerousintersection.org/ Erich Vieth

    This post reminds me of a book I reviewed a couple years ago, On Being Certain by Robert Burton. Burton holds that the feeling of certainty is an involuntary sensation akin to an emotion (p. xi). He lumps together the entire family of feelings of certainty, rightness, conviction and correctness under his all-inclusive term, “the feeling of knowing.” He describes each of these feelings as forms of “meta- knowledge–-knowledge about our knowledge that qualifies or colors our thoughts, in viewing them with a sense of rightness or wrongness.” (p. 3). Once established, this emotional habit of feeling certain is difficult to fully eradicate. He raises the example of the Ph.D who accepts the overwhelming evidence of evolution, yet continues to believe in creationism. (p. 93). He suggests that an insistence on being right without evidence is the mental equivalent of a physical addiction. Here’s my entire review of Burton’s book: http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/10/12/what-it-means-to-feel-certain-review-of-on-being-certain/

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Does Craig also state how one is to rationally IDENTIFY this experience?’

    Easy. Just read Craig’s personal testimony where he describes the experience where he ‘came to know God’.

    Craig saw a LOT of stars in the sky. More than he could count.

    What is irrational about counting?? Nothing.

    Therefore, the experience has been rationally identified.

  • TEP

    What I’m claiming is that even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit’s witness.

    It’s quite amusing that what Craig considers to be the most compelling argument for Christianity is so blatantly circular. So we know that Yahweh exists because of a strong feeling that he does that can only be from the Holy Spirit – but we can only be justified in assuming that it is from the Holy Spirit if we first assume Yahweh exists.

  • colluvial

    Rather than perceiving his emotions as a personal experience, Craig seems to view them as direct statements of universal truth. Therefore, if someone does not have the same experience as he does, that person must be actively denying the truth. More than being a conceited position, it borders on solipsism.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    @colluvial:

    It’s much like solipsism taken to a group level. Which inevitably devolves into authoritarianism, as no two people’s experiences are actually identical (or verifiably so).

  • Daryl

    Craig’s ‘self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit’ bears resemblance to Peter Griffin’s ‘Ghost that never lies’, a ghost that only Peter can see or hear.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAzU9IqcBuU

    Clearly great minds think alike.

  • http://HTTP.//BLOH.OLDNEWATHRIST.NET Jim COUFAL

    Last night my wife and I sat at the end of our dock on an Adirondack Laki I gazed into the great depth ohe sky and felt awe at the countless stars, and at the wide swath of the milky way. I thought how some see god in this wonderous sight, r dominant christian theogy) then sent himself to sacrifice himself for himself in order to save people he ctreated knowing they would disobey him? Why would he even care if we jack or jill off. The logic completely escapes me.

  • Charles Black

    Sure people can be honestly mistaken such as the time when people thought the so called “Face on Mars” was an extraterrestrial construct which unlikely as it is would still be possible since we haven’t scoured the whole universe yet.
    No the problem here is that we don’t need any supernatural being to explain reality around us but this guy doesn’t get that which either means stupidity or malice (Hopefully the former of course).

  • archimedez

    OT, but somewhat related to Eb’s post: “Billy Graham’s daughter: September 11 attacks were a wake-up call from God”

    Some excerpts quoting Rev. Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz (my emphasis):

    “As I watched the towers fall, I thought I was watching 50,000 people die, but many people had gotten out. It was less than 3,000, but it was still shattering. I asked myself how many were not ready to step into eternity. I remember that very day sharing the Gospel with strangers. I came out bolder. It was a time not to be silent.

    “I still have that,” she says. “I still don’t want anybody to die without Jesus.”"

    ““God allowed September 11 and used it. If we don’t wake up, what is going to come next?

    “This is a wake-up call for you! America, are you listening?””

    Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/on_the_front_lines_of_the_culture_wars/2011/09/billy-grahams-daughter-september-11-attacks-were-a-wake-up-call-from-god.html#ixzz1X6EFB3g9

  • http://foxholeatheism.com Mike

    I think it’s a bit more nuanced than saying he can just always fall back on the holy spirit. Craig provides detailed accounts and arguments that make him look quite a bit like an evidentialist. In truth, he probably falls somewhere in between. I would also point out that he said in a debate that if he were presented the bones of Jesus, then he would stop believing in Christianity. You might object that it’s not feasible, but it’s hardly a position that discounts even the possibility of evidence against his belief.

  • Gaylene

    “objections which I cannot at that time answer…”

    Here’s an objection which, as far as I am concerned, he cannot possibly answer: I was a Xian child, in a xian home, who was abused for 8 years by a man who was not only married to my sister, but who was an elder in our church. I OBJECT! No good came of this, only pain. I did church for 30 years – I DO NOT feel what he feels. Craig is just wrong.


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