William Lane Craig says reason leads to atheism

I found this discussion thread from another site because someone linked to me, and through it found an article by William Lane Craig I hadn’t read before, with a stunning quote:

A robust natural theology may well be necessary for the gospel to be effectively heard in Western society today. In general, Western culture is deeply post-Christian. It is the product of the Enlightenment, which introduced into European culture the leaven of secularism that has by now permeated Western society. While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

This goes even further than the things I quoted Craig as saying in my review of the second edition of his book. And needless to say, it isn’t the message he usually gives his audience. This should remove any lingering doubt that Craig is a charlatan.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

    A keeper for the quotation file – and one that, tossed back at Craig, will surely produce accusations of quote mining.

    • Jim Christensen

      Which it is. Its poor grammar, but look at the previous sentence. He is saying this is the opinion of the majority of Western Intellectuals. And you can find intellectuals who have supported every damn thing, from Heidegger and the Nazis to Sartre and terrorism and the Commie Murderers.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

        It’s poor grammar only if he meant something other than what he actually said. But saying what he said is perfectly consistent with Craig’s other statements on reason, though it goes a little further than them.

        This is the frustrating thing about trying to deal with William Lane Craig. Much of what he says is so absurd that people who aren’t familiar with his work can’t believe he possibly means the things he says. But having followed his work for many years, I’m now convinced that Craig’s most absurd statements are either things he really believes or things he wants his audience to believe.

        • Paul W. (OM)

          I read it the way Jim did, as implicitly an elaboration of the position described in the previous sentence, rather than as Craig’s stating his own view.

          I wouldn’t be totally shocked if this was Craig’s actual view, but I would be pretty surprised if he admitted to it publicly, given his stance that various “rational” arguments (e.g. Kalaam Cosmological) are actually sound.

          It’s rather as though one of us wrote:

          “The majority of fundamentalists think we atheists need to be Saved. We’re all going to burn in Hell if we don’t get right with God, ya know!”

          It’s utterly obvious that if one of us says this, there’s an implicit switch from describing a position from the outside to describing it as if from the inside, with no intention of stating an actual truth. It’s not an explicit switch, and it’s not at all clear from the textual context—you simply have to know who’s speaking, and what their likely goals are, but if you do, it’s completely obvious.

          Maybe Craig literally meant what he said, but that would not be my first guess, and if he denied it, I’d certainly have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

          If you make an issue of this, and he denies he meant to actually state his own view, you could quite plausibly be accused of quote mining and/or seriously missing the point. (Even if your interpretation actually makes more sense in light of his comments about leprechauns, etc…)

        • Observer

          No, Chris, Jim is exacty right. Craig is defending the need for and usefulness of logic and reason in apologetics in light of the fact that, according to Craig, we still live in a culture of Enlightenment modernism. According to your reading, the last sentence not only would contradict the first in the paragraph, but also the entire thrust of Craig’s essay. That’s how you can tell your reading is wrong. Craig means the last sentence to be an encapsulation of current “accepted wisdom,” which he believes can and should be battled on its own terms.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matthew Flannagan

          In otherwords when a more charitable and sensible reading is offered you reject it a priori because your already convinced Craigs view is absurd.

          When is the honesty going to kick in Chris.

    • Pierce R. Butler

      We might also read Craig’s line as a restatement of Martin Luther’s position that reason (“the devil’s whore”) leads “toward its end”, namely those sulphurous pits in which we shall writhe and above which Marty, Billy L, and the baby Jesus shall chortle.

    • http://kelosophy.blogspot.com Kel

      It doesn’t seem like quote mining to me. Reading the article, the quote seems to be saying that it’s going to take something like a good defence of natural theology to allow for the championing of a view that has come to be seen as indefensible – that without a good natural theology, then the merits of a God belief simply aren’t there. Perhaps that sentence on its own without its context of why natural theology is needed could be seen as a quote mine, but in terms of what Craig’s getting at about the pursuit of reason sans natural theology it wouldn’t be a quote mine.

      /$0.02

  • Kevin

    I was going to ask “if reason leads to atheism, then why offer arguments for theism?” However, he answers my question on the next page.

    “A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the gospel. But you may as well tell the secularist to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ!”

    His goal is not to convince anyone with his arguments, his goal is simply to make it seem as though you can be intelligent and a theist. It’s almost has a “teach the controversy” feel to it.

    • N. Nescio

      What the hell is “an intellectually viable option”, anyway?

      • Kevin

        Are you familiar with Plantinga’s work on warrant? There, he basically tries to refute the proposition “believing in Christianity is irrational.” If you say believing in Christianity is irrational because there’s no good evidence, then he will argue that you don’t need good evidence to rationally believe something. After all, we don’t have any evidence for other minds, or the external world; or so he argues.

        • KG

          Which is crap, of course. That what we perceive as an external world, and actions proceeding from the decisions of other minds, really are those things, are defeasible assumptions: there are conceivable observations that would rightly lead us to reject those assumptions. Indeed, anyone who has had the experience of lucid dreaming will have rightly rejected them on some occasions. Since there are observations that would rightly lead us to reject them, observations that are consistent with them are corroborations of them, i.e. evidence for them.

          1) Why is it that everyone sane believes that there is an external world and there are other minds, while not everyone sane believes there is a god?
          2) What conceivable observations would Plantinga accept as good grounds for rejecting his assumption that there is a god?

          • Kevin

            I agree its bogus, but its an example of where Christians try to make it sound more intellectually sound to be a Christian. Also, Plantinga’s work on the Problem of Evil comes to mind. It doesn’t really matter if he solved the problem or not, just as long as theists can say in debates that many agree that Plantinga has solved the problem of evil. They don’t actually put forth an argument, they just assert that you have been proven wrong by someone else (and then you can add more rhetorical flare by asking “why aren’t you familiar with this work?” implying that you’re not well-read enough to be qualified to speak on the subject). Its not an argument, but it makes the person proposing the problem of evil look silly, which is the main goal.

            Or simply calling their opponents position scientism and saying that it is philosophically naive, the same thing as positivism which has been fallen to the wayside of academia and is so last-century, etc. It doesn’t matter whether the charge is true or not, just whether the audience finds you less credible (and the speaker more credible) because you have been straw-manned, which qualifies as the poisoning the well fallacy.

            The point is not to convert the skeptic, but to make Christianity seem more rational so people (the audience, the average person) don’t have to choose between not feeling like an idiot and religion. In other words, people want to feel smart and making Christianity look and feel rational decreases cognitive dissonance. This lowers an emotional obstacle for converting people so it makes it easier to convince people without evidence.

        • N. Nescio

          I am not familiar with the work you speak of.

          I have a great deal of respect for the philosophically inclined, because I personally find it to be something I don’t care to deal with. I tend to reach a point where I conclude that it’s a beautiful day outside and I want to go and ride my bicycle because who knows, I might die today, and I would rather face death having gotten to see the beautiful world one last time. My hat is off to the the people who can put that urge aside and actually deal with this kind of thing.

          That said, I guess my beef with the “intellectually viable” thing is similar to the charges everybody else is leveling against WLC: he’s using weasely language in order to provide his arguments with a veneer of reason so they can be accepted as such by people who already want to believe what he’s claiming is true. He didn’t say it was a conclusion people would eventually reach because it’s true – if it were true he’d just provide the evidence that his preferred deity existed and shut all us pesky atheists up. But he doesn’t do that at all – all I’ve ever seen are attempts to “logic” YHWH/Jesus/Holy Ghost into reality.

          I respect the people who can tear his lame arguments apart and show everybody else how wrong they are from a philosophical standpoint. The best I can do is point out how a being powerful enough to create things like the Crab Nebula, let alone life, the universe, and everything else ex nihilo wouldn’t need somebody to make dishonest arguments in order to demonstrate its existence if it wanted a personal relationship with humanity. It’d just come talk to us. Everything else is just excuse-making for why it consistently fails to do this.

  • Mr.Kosta

    Nice to see he’s finally throwing the towel, then.

  • Pingback: Theism vs. Reason « Physicalism

  • Corey

    All doubt was removed for me a long time ago, as I used to follow Craig closely and depend upon him to defend my faith “against atheists” (almost always the atheists in my imagination– my cognitive dissonance trying to be heard over the din of religious confusion). I often saw him parsing his words depending on what group he was speaking to. So, in front of a debate audience he would claim that “there are no good arguments against god” and that atheists were basically willfully disbelieving immoral crackpots, he would tell his class that “everyone has a skeptical dial,” that we all hold a higher burden of proof for the things we do not want to believe, and that we all do it so there’s nothing wrong with “us” doing it when we talk about jeezus or the bible. You can find that gem in his lecture recordings on his website.

    Then, there was the fact that I was genuinely interested in getting the answers to atheist objections. But, any time one of his arguments for the existence of god would be defeated to his face in a debate (though his opponent would typically not have the time to rebut the other arguments), he would still make the same argument the same way in the next debate, never really dealing with the weaknesses or inherent contradictions in his reasoning, basically challenging each opponent to refute all of his arguments in a single debate. This is thoroughly dishonest considering that he uses his debate victories as evidence that atheists are wrong. But, it is clear now that those “victories” were the result of making more arguments than can be rebutted in the time allowed, and not by presenting arguments that were individually difficult or impossible to refute. I guess that’s why he wouldn’t debate Richard Carrier in print…

    • Andrew B.

      “But, it is clear now that those “victories” were the result of making more arguments than can be rebutted in the time allowed… ”

      Yeah, that’s called “The Gish Gallop,” named for one of Craig’s fellow creationists, Duane Gish.

      • Jim Christensen

        Thats a tactic that Bart Ehrman used in his debates routinely, when he gets to speak first. In his debate with Craig Evans at Midwestern Seminary in KC last year he had over a dozen questions in his opening statement.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Can you tell me more about where that lecture recording was?

  • Azuma Hazuki

    Holy shit. William Lane Craig has said something that isn’t a slimy, self-serving, question-begging lie. The Mayans may have been onto something…

  • Tâlib Alttaawiil

    unintended honesty is the best kind

  • Annatar

    the second to last paragraph in that article:

    “Christians who depreciate natural theology because ‘no one comes to faith through intellectual arguments’ are therefore tragically shortsighted. For the value of natural theology extends far beyond one’s immediate evangelistic contacts. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics, including natural theology, to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved.”

    In light of his earlier statement about how “reason leads to atheism,” this one seems to say, “the point of natural theology is to create a culture where emotional exhortation is valued above rational consideration.”

    “…gives people intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved.” That’s a two edged sword that cuts pretty deep.

  • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

    While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

    Just so we can’t be accused of quote-mining, are you absolutely sure that he is not simply portraying the attitude of the majority of Western intellectuals? It certainly looks like it could be interpreted that way to me.

    • Jim Christensen

      Yes, and as that fair minded man Richard Carrier has said we should interpret such statements generously.

    • az

      You are quite correct in your reading of the passage. It’s an astounding admission on his part. It also reveals a deep fear of both the Enlightenment legacy of Rousseau et al. and of secularism. Furthermore, he concedes to both atheists and agnostics that they pursue reason unflinchingly which is interesting in that it implies that theists do not pursue it similarly. I’d agree with that statement. In any case, it’s an astounding admission, it’s something that he’s hinted at in print elsewhere, and something I guessed he believed but could never prove. Definitely something to bookmark for the future.

      Cheers

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        I don’t understand… if you’re agreeing with me then it’s not an astounding admission at all. He’s just saying that the majority of Western intellectuals (presumably mistakenly in his view) believe that “[t]he person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.”

        He certainly doesn’t concede that atheists actually do pursue reason unflinchingly, no matter what your interpretation is.

        • az

          Sorry for the confusion, but I pasted my comment as a reply to yours instead of as a comment in the general thread. That being said your point is just plain irrelevant.

          Craig states

          While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

          This sentence contains no ambiguity. He accurately describes Enlightenment thinkers of the past as theists then notes that today intellectuals in the west, products of the Enlightenment and secularism, think that theological knowledge is not even possible. He then continues that, at present, the person who follows reason unflinchingly toward its end with be an atheist or at best an agnostic. This sentence is a full concession that the Enlightenment thinkers of past say Locke or Rousseau that followed reason unflinchingly would be theists and now are atheists/agnostics. To say as you do that he “doesn’t concede that atheists actually do pursue reason unflinchingly” is totally irrelevant as to whether he conceded that those that do now pursue reason unflinchingly are atheists/agnostics with the conspicuous absence of theists even including himself. Indeed, there, no doubt, exist numerous things he thinks atheists don’t actually do; it’s wholly trivial whether he concedes that they actually do pursue reason unflinchingly; that he states theists don’t is the concession and a stunning one at that, no more Lockes. Again, he’s hinted at this distance between reason and theism in his writings many times when he parrots Pascal on hiddenness. He has conceded that the heirs of the Enlightenment, those who pursue reason unflinchingly are not theists; there is no ambiguity.

          It was quite a find Chris.

  • http://vexingquestions.wordpress.com Daniel

    I just read Dr. Craig as saying that, given our post-Christian modernist presuppositions, i.e. the impossibility of theological knowledge,verificationism, scientific naturalism etc. one is rationally led (pursues reason) to agnosticism or atheism. But it is quite clear that Craig is not saying that those modernist presuppositions are true. He thinks that natural theology should be aimed at those presuppositions rather than at post-modernism.

    I could say that Benatar’s asymmetry argument rationally leads one to the position of anti-natalism, but that only means that his arguments support this conclusion (they’re valid). Such an admission doesn’t mean that Benatar’s arguments are sound and that I agree that bringing someone into existence is always a harm.

  • John

    Really glad to see this getting around! I found the article while doing research on refuting the arguments Craig uses and was pretty amazed to find that in there.

    His other quotes from his book about asking a secular person to believe in Jesus is equivalent to asking them to believe in Leprechauns was pretty condemning, but this one really went beyond that, and I really think it should be thrown around very liberally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

    One thought: anyone want to take a swing at writing in to Craig’s Q&A and seeing if they can get him on the record explaining himself on this one?

    • Annatar

      Absolutely! I’ll try it this weekend.

    • Annatar

      Does his website have a specific Q&A submission form? If so i can’t find it, should i just via standard e-mail?

    • Annatar

      Nevermind! found it!

      Here is the question i submitted:

      Dr. Craig,

      I recently stumbled on an article for Christianity Today that you wrote in 2008, titled “Go Is Not Dead Yet.”

      On page five of the article, I found this paragraph:

      “A robust natural theology may well be necessary for the gospel to be effectively heard in Western society today. In general, Western culture is deeply post-Christian. It is the product of the Enlightenment, which introduced into European culture the leaven of secularism that has by now permeated Western society. While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/july/13.22.html?start=1

      My concern is mostly with the last sentence. Can you clarify? Do you really think that reason, followed unflinchingly, leads to atheism or agnosticism?

  • Pingback: Who said it? | Alethian Worldview

  • http://uuhk.org liberale

    I agree with William Lane Craig. That’s why I am an agnostic/atheist. My question to William Lane Craig is: Why don’t you follow the lead of reason?

  • Pingback: Curtain call « Evangelical Realism

  • Azuma Hazuki

    @14/liberale

    This is another reason I think that very intelligent Protestants tend toward either eventual apostasy or Calvinism (in spirit if not in name).

    Bill is correct that unflinching pursuit of reason leads one away from the Abrahamic religions, if not directly to atheism/agnosticism. And like Martin Luther some 450-500 years ago, he was confronted with this directly…and he blinked. He is fundamentally a coward, and so has destroyed his own reason (under the guise of relegating it to a “ministerial” role) to stem his existential terror. Like Luther, he seems to believe that Reason is a whore. And like any john ashamed of his abuse of a whore, he has killed her and buried the body, hoping to destroy the evidence.

    I would pity him except for the pollution he has caused to the noosphere. As it is, I hope he breaks down near the end of his life and dies in mortal terror of going to his own Hell.

  • Simone

    I don’t believe Craig meant to say what Chris thinks. He simply claimed that the course of intellectual reasoning in Western society has taken a particular course of action which does not take into consideration theological knowledge, and intellectuals who pursuit reason in a western society are likely to be permeated the same way. I’m surprised you took such a decisive stance from a wobbling base like this, Chris.

  • Annatar

    Here is the e-mail response I got from Tom at reasonable faith:

    Dear Annatar,

    Thank you for your question. Due to the high volume of questions Dr. Craig receives, he cannot answer every one personally, although he reads each one. I am one of a team of volunteers that helps respond to Dr. Craig’s questions in a timely manner.

    Dr. Craig is explaining what Western intellectuals generally believe—that the pursuit of reason will lead them to atheism. Of course, as Christians, we do not believe that.

    Blessings,
    Tom
    Reasonable Faith

  • Pingback: Volunteer representing William Lane Craig denies reason leads to atheism | The Uncredible Hallq

  • Joe M

    Bill’s explanation of “reason” is spot on. Of course. One cannot show cause or explanation regarding God and His Creation. If anyone tries, they will fail. Thus, they will then deny Christianity and become an Atheist. This what God intends to happen. He doesn’t want a bunch of superficial “logics” pretending to be Christian. You cannot find Him without some ounce of faith. Else, there would be no faith. And without faith, there would be no self denial, sacrifice, or tolerance in the world. Then it would have already been destroyed by now.

    We do indeed have a lot of Christian “pretenders” n the world. They are only true on the outside. The skin dies a little every day. The body will rot into the ground. Appearances mean nothing. But there is a spirit on the inside that never fades. That is the part that has to be Christian to be authentic. And that requires putting material things on the back burner for the sake of inner growth and self denial.

  • anteprepro

    You cannot find Him without some ounce of faith. Else, there would be no faith. And without faith, there would be no self denial, sacrifice, or tolerance in the world.

    If you are admitting that you NEED faith to believe something is true, you are admitting that you have no intellectual leg left to stand on. Which is very nice of you, and all, but I’m not sure that it helps you to concede that atheists are right.

    Related: I have no idea how you can fool yourself into thinking that making the admittedly illogical leap towards belief in God is necessary for self-denial, sacrifice, or tolerance. Self-denial and sacrifice can be made to pursue more important goals, without reference to “I need to sacrifice things because that’s what Jesus would want”. Tolerance is definitely not something that Christianity has been a shining example of, and its teachings have actively been used to subjugate women, support slavery, create religious conflicts, and is currently used as an endorsement of homophobia. It is probably best to avoid the topic of “tolerance” when trying to talk about how great it is to make the leap of faith into believing everything about the Bible god.

    But there is a spirit on the inside that never fades.

    [Citation needed]