When I first read William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (back when it was in the second edition), my gut reaction to reading the first chapter was, “this guy is a total lunatic, I didn’t know he was so crazy.” I basically said so in my first post reviewing the book, and then when I turned my post series into a big fat article for Internet Infidels, Keith Augustine made me tone it down so as to not scare off the Christians visiting the site.
Part of my negative reaction to Reasonable Faith was the dishonesty of it. When Craig is addressing mixed audiences, he presents himself as a scholar who’s just following reason and evidence where it leads, and whose claims are all grounded in mainstream scholarship. Here, for example, is how Craig started off his opening statement in his debate with Eddie Tabash (Craig was speaking second):
It’s worth underlining the fact that the debate tonight concerns which view is the truth. We’re not here to talk about which view I like the best, or which view appeals to me the most, but which view is the truth. So how do we discover truth? The answer is that we must use logical arguments, formulated according to the basic rules of logic which have governed all valid reasoning since the time of Aristotle. Emotional appeals and powerful rhetoric may move juries, but they’re philosophically useless at helping us get at the truth.
Reading Reasonable Faith, it’s clear that Craig didn’t really mean what he said about using logical arguments to get at the truth:
I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason. The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel…. Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa (pp. 47-48 in 3rd edition, though wording is virtually unchanged from the 2nd edition).
When I first started telling people about this aspect of Reasonable Faith, a lot of them, both atheists and Christians, had trouble believing it, because it’s so at odds with the persona Craig puts on the rest of the time. He’s deceiving people, plain and simple.
More recently, though, I’ve realized there was another part to my reaction: I was just plain creeped out. This is the really creepy part:
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 (p. 47).
What’s more, it’s a pretty creepy delusion. Many Christians believe crazy things about what God did thousands of years ago: casting humans out of paradise over an incident involving a talking snake, ordering blood sacrifices and executions of people who break religious taboos, killing his own son as a sacrifice to himself. And many Christians believe crazy things about the future: that non-Christians will burn in Hell forever and that Jesus is coming back one day.
With those beliefs, though, I can reassure myself that they only apply to the distant past, vaguely defined future, and an imaginary afterlife realm. I can reassure myself that most Christians (not all, unfortunately) compartmentalize quite a bit, mostly avoid believing anything too crazy about the real-world present, and mostly aren’t going to do anything too crazy based on their beliefs.
Craig’s delusions, however, involves what’s going on in the heads of billions of real people alive today. They involve real people who he’s going to be interacting with ever day. They involve me, and not just what’s going to happen to me come my death (or the apocalypse or whatever), but me right now. That’s profoundly creepy.
It’s creepy because it falls outside the normal (if half-assed) constraints that normally apply to religious beliefs. It’s creepy in the way a lot of behavior that falls well outside normal rules of behavior is creepy. The kind of behavior that makes you wonder, “I’m not sure if this guy is dangerous, but since he’s ignoring the normal rules of behavior sane people follow, what else might he do?”
Put another way: Greta has a great post called “Listening to the Hair Dryer” where she imagines someone claiming that their hair dryer is telling them to volunteer twice a week at a homeless shelter. It would be kinda nice in a way, but it would also be kind scary, because you’d be wondering what the hair dryer is going to tell them next. What if it tells them to start shooting redheads?
This isn’t a perfect analogy for religion, because in practice we can bet on religious believers compartmentalizing and not taking the faith-based approach to certain subjects, i.e. not taking the faith-based approach to what’s going on inside the heads of anyone and everyone who disagrees with them. Once that assumption is violated, though, you’ve kinda got to start wondering what their hair dryer will tell them next.