The Chronicle of Higher Education has a remarkably sympathetic article on William Lane Craig, the Christian philosopher and apologist. The article discusses his background and achievements (including his debates with “the new atheists”), the new impact of Christian philosophy, and Biola’s programs in philosophy and apologetics. The site needs a subscription, but I’ll post excerpts after the jump.
From Nathan Schneider, The New Theist – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Well-publicized atheists like Dawkins and Harris are closer to being household names than William Lane Craig is, but within the subculture of evangelical Christians interested in defending their faith rationally, he has had a devoted following for decades. Many professional philosophers know about him only vaguely, but in the field of philosophy of religion, his books and articles are among the most cited. And though he works mainly from his home, in suburban Marietta, Ga., he holds a faculty appointment at Biola University, an evangelical stronghold on the southeastern edge of Los Angeles County and home to one of the largest philosophy graduate programs in the world.
Surveys suggest that the philosophy professoriate is among the most atheistic subpopulations in the United States; even those philosophers who specialize in religion believe in God at a somewhat lower rate than the general public does. Philosophers have also lately been in a habit of humility, as their profession’s scope seems to shrink before the advance of science and the modern university’s preference for research that wins corporate contracts. But it is partly because of William Lane Craig that one can hear certain stripes of evangelicals whispering to one another lately that “God is working something” in the discipline. And through the discipline, they see a way of working something in society as a whole. . . .
In the opening statement [in his debates with the new atheists] he pummels the opponent with five or so concise arguments—for instance, the origins of the universe, the basis of morality, the testimony of religious experience, and perhaps an addendum of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Over the course of the rebuttals he makes sure to respond to every point that the opponent has brought up, which usually sends the opponent off on a series of tangents. Then, at the end, he reminds the audience how many of his arguments stated at the outset the opponent couldn’t manage to address, much less refute. He declares himself and his message the winner. Onlookers can’t help agreeing. . . .
In the mid-1970s, Craig was looking for a place to do his Ph.D., on the cosmological argument for the existence of God. He was finishing master’s degrees in church history and philosophy of religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, near Chicago, where he argued against Kant and Hume that observation and reason could form a valid basis for religious belief. With the cosmological argument—which deduces God’s existence from what we know about the nature of the universe as a whole—he hoped to put that groundwork to use.
At the time, this was a rather unpopular kind of project in philosophy departments, which were still recovering from the positivists’ doctrine that religious concepts are too incoherent to be worth even meddling with. It couldn’t have helped that Craig was a seminary graduate who’d worked for Campus Crusade for Christ.
“I couldn’t find anybody in the United States who would supervise such a dissertation,” Craig recalls.
So he and his wife, Jan, packed their bags for the University of Birmingham, in England. Craig’s proposal was welcomed there by John Hick—one of the best-known philosophers of religion of his generation and also one of the most liberal-minded. Hick, who died last year, counts Craig in his memoir as among the top three students of his teaching career, even while describing Craig’s “extreme theological conservatism” as in at least one respect “horrific” and generally indicative of “a startling lack of connection with the modern world.”
Yes and no. On the one hand, the dissertation Craig produced in Birmingham was a retrieval of the “Kalam cosmological argument”—a way of reasoning about the cause of the universe developed by Muslims and Jews between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. On the other, he updated the argument with more recent scientific notions, such as the Big Bang and the laws of thermodynamics. The dissertation was soon published in the form of not one but two books, which went on to become influential and widely discussed in the philosophical literature. . . .
In the early part of the 20th century, figures like Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer made it their business to ensure that the analytic style of philosophy emerging in the Anglophone world would be a stronghold of unbelief. Questions that had animated the whole history of philosophy in Europe and the Americas about whether God exists, or whether there is an afterlife worth anticipating, were suddenly deemed more or less finished—the answer was no.
Significant cracks in this consensus didn’t begin appearing until the 1960s and 1970s, especially thanks to the work of Alvin Plantinga, a young philosopher who leveraged the cutting-edge modal logic and epistemology of the time to argue that Christian belief wasn’t so manifestly unreasonable as his predecessors had claimed. Along with his lifelong friend Nicholas Wolterstorff, who has spent much of his career writing and teaching at Yale, Plantinga engineered a stunning revival of philosophy in a Christian key, largely through the vehicle of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Following his lead, many more philosophers became braver about articulating Christian faith in arguments, and together they’ve amassed an arsenal more formidable than many outsiders, whether professional philosophers or laypeople, realize. . . .
Philosophy was never supposed to be a narrow discipline, fortified from the argumentative swells of the agora by specialization and merely professional ambitions. That was for the Sophists whom Socrates regaled against. Philosophy was supposed to serve the polis, to educate and embolden its young, to raise up leaders. Whether one likes their preconceived conclusions or not, today it is evangelical Christians, with William Lane Craig in the lead, who are doing so better than just about anyone else.