Next up: Everything I have to say about William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is professional philosopher who’s known for his arguments for the existence of God… and also a charlatan who’s made excuses for genocide and is in the habit of telling lies about people who disagree with him.

Saying this is not how I would normally start a post series on the work of a professional philosopher. I don’t think it’s true of a single other professional philosopher I know of; I don’t think it’s true of Plantinga or Swinburne of van Inwagen.

But in Craig’s case, I think what I’ve said about him is true and very important to say. This is not because it necessarily means Craig’s arguments are no good. The world’s greatest liar could say it’s raining, and that doesn’t make it sunny.

Rather, it’s because I think people who are interested in debates about the existence of God should know that they cannot trust Craig. They can’t trust him to accurately describe the views of the experts on various subjects (who Craig constantly insists are on his side). They can’t trust that when he says something’s a fact, it’s really a fact. And they can’t trust him to accurately describe the views of his opponents.

This matters because few arguments are really matters of pure logic which anyone could verify. Most arguments rely on factual information, and when we listen to an argument we have to be able to trust the arguer to have their facts mostly right. And even with arguments that claim to prove their point through pure logic, when the arguer deals with objections to the argument, we need to be able to trust that they’re describing the objections accurately.

I also say all this right away because I don’t want the fact that I’m devoting post series to Craig to add to his (undeserved) reputation. Why, then, am I devoting a post series to him? Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on someone who’s at least honest?

Normally, yes. The problem is that respectable defenders of arguments for the existence of God are in short supply. Craig does not have quite the academic status of Plantinga, Swinburne, of van Inwagen, but Plantinga and van Inwagen aren’t mainly known for arguments for the existence of God. Well, Plantinga is in part known for his version of the ontological argument, but he actually admits it isn’t terribly compelling.

Swinburne is known mainly for his arguments for the existence of God, which I’ve already addressed. But I just can’t bear to say much more about Swinburne than I already have. What do you say about such offensively awful “solutions” to the problem of evil?

Furthermore, there seem to be a lot of philosophy professors who think Swinburne is worth reading, but very people anywhere seem to think his arguments actually give a good reason for believing in God. William Lane Craig, on the other hand, writes a lot of popular material and is also known for doing live debates with prominent atheists (something I’ll eventually have quite a bit to say about), and has a large fan base who I run into semi-regularly as a blogger.

In fact, while he doesn’t quite have Swinburne’s status in the academic world, you could actually argue Craig is the leading defender of arguments for the existence of God today. Craig (along his lesser-known, sometimes-collaborator JP Moreland) was the editor of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Blackwell being a major academic publishing house. Not that this shows what a great guy Craig is–rather, I think the lack of a more credible defender of Craig’s views shows how fringe those views are.

But I won’t say any more on that until I’ve talked a lot more about the arguments Craig uses. I’m going to go through his arguments one at a time, in the order they appear in the most recent edition of Craig’s apologetics textbook Reasonable Faith.  As I discuss the arguments, I will give many examples of Craig’s dishonesty. Once I’ve gone through all of Craig’s arguments, I’ll say a bit more about his dishonesty and why it matters.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    And to pre-emptively deal with concern trolling: Craig is relevant because a lot of Christians think that he’s a great philosopher.

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

      Yup.

      • FredBloggs

        Astonishing really, having heard his “It’s ok to kill children because they go to heaven” justification for genocide.

  • http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com Lord Griggss[ Ignostic Morgan, Inquiring Lynn, Skeptic Griggsy, Carneades of Ga., Fr.or Rabbi Griggs]

    That’s the fight we do deserve! And Plantinga is also such a sophist! I’ve exposed some of his stupidity!
    Note how credulous Craig is about that silly Resurrection, believing unverified authors with non-evidence in favor of a jerk who wants people to commit logicide-faith!
    Prof. Irwin Corey makes more sense than theologians!

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I find this very interesting. I took some religion classes in (Catholic) high school which were strongly influenced by William Lane Craig. This being my main experience with apologetics, I tend to argue against William Lane Craig. Some things he’s said struck me as probably disingenuous (having studied physics, I know his portrayal of cosmology is very distorted), but I’d be interested to see you pin him on clear lies.

  • paul collier

    My view of Craig is that he is a self-important, self-righteous, frightened little man who won’t find peace till he’s safely in heaven and can look down on all the sinners who defied and laughed at him squirming in hell. His arguments are at best desperate and vacuous. But he is a smooth, forceful speaker who can quote a lot of pedants and philosophers and his fans mistake this for substance.
    I know all this is easy to say as long as one doesn’t have to say it to his face. Please, somebody put me right in that cluck’s face.

    • Sarah

      No, it’s easy to say if you’re a random stranger on the internet who knows him as well as you know any random celebrity but is still willing to psychoanalyze and denigrate him with all the evidence of some fan bitching about Angelina Jolie.
      What’s sad is that you probably think you’re rational – and may even be more rational than him when approaching the actual arguments – but you’ve gone off on some unsupportable unevidenced tangent about his personality, without realising that you’ve left rationality and evidence behind and moved in to illogical rationalisations and ‘explanations’ of things you can’t possible know..

      • Steven Carr

        What I think Sarah is trying to say that is William Lane Craig sincerely believes that some people were saved by joining the Nazi party and that his god planned the lives of people sent to death camps…

        CRAIG
        …God loves Heinrich just as much as He loves you and so accords him sufficient grace for salvation and seeks to draw him to Himself.

        Indeed, God may have known that through the guilt and shame of what Heinrich did under the Third Reich, he would eventually come to repent and find salvation and eternal life.

        Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation.

        Of course, one may wonder about those poor people who suffered in the death camps because of Heinrich. But God has a plan for their lives, too,….

        • N. Nescio

          Planned to send them straight to hell for not being Christian?

        • Sarah

          Nope I’m saying that the contention that you are a stupid frightened little man Stephen Carr is based on nothing more than boring and vacuous speculation. If you want to criticise someone you have to do it about things you actually know not stupid psychological diagnoses based on nothing more than your personal opinion and no evidence. You are however clearly someone who thinks they understand my argument and can explain it to others. You fail.

          • Steven Carr

            My apologies for not understanding you correctly.

            I often misunderstand people. For example, I don’t really get Craig’s point that the best thing that happened to some people was for them to become Nazis as this led to their salvation.

          • anteprepro

            Sarah:

            You are however clearly someone who thinks they understand my argument and can explain it to others.

            My Reply:
            No, it’s easy to say if you’re a random stranger on the internet who knows him as well as you know any random acquaintance but is still willing to psychoanalyze and denigrate him with all the evidence of an apologist huckster.

            What’s sad is that you probably think you’re rational – and may even be more rational than him when approaching the actual arguments – but you’ve gone off on some unsupportable unevidenced tangent about his personality, without realising that you’ve left rationality and evidence behind and moved in to illogical rationalisations and ‘explanations’ of things you can’t possible know..

            If you want to criticise someone you have to do it about things you actually know not stupid psychological diagnoses based on nothing more than your personal opinion and no evidence.

            [Clue: Carr wasn't actually trying to explain your argument, he was making fun of it. And I am doing the same. GASP SHOCK HORROR.]

          • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

            @ anteprepro,
            Now that was a dressing down.

      • Rosemary

        Sarah, that is the way Craig comes across to me, also. The more I listen to him the worse my opinion of him becomes. His debates and interviews are littered with bare-faced lies that he MUST know are wrong (or he is a lot more stupid than he appears). He grandstanding is offensive, especially to someone not acculturated in the U.S. “self advertising” culture. His attempts to “poison the well” of his opponents by telling stories that seem to put them in a bad light is disgusting. His fan group just do not pick this up, probably because they are not primed to see anything wrong with his attitudes or morals.

        The bottom line is that he fails to impress the educated person who is not indoctrinated into his version of Christianity.

        I do not have time to provide examples to support all these contentions. I have done so elsewhere. (link missing). I am grateful that Halquist is about to do this job much more thoroughly than I did.

  • mnb0

    In The Netherlands – and possibly in most other European countries – it’s the other way round. Hardly a christian refers to Craig. I think the memory of the Holocaust and other WW atrocities is too fresh and everybody recognizes that Craig’s “solution” of the theodicy can be used to defend them. Dawkin’s first sentence here is no coincidence:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig

    In Europe that’s a highly effective way to finish someone off.

    Swinburne is quite popular though.
    Quite a few christians refer to Swinburne though, but reject his take on the theodicy. So I would appreciate it indeed if you addressed him.
    At the other hand you can argue that Swinburne has received a lot of attention already:

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/christianity/swinburne.html
    http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/kortho24.htm

    Still I would like you to attack Swinburne a bit more. Too many believers swallow the “compensating goods” argument. Now I can tackle that one, but Swinburne has argued quite a bit more. And those nuts I think harder to crack.

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

      I’ve dealt with the problem of evil at great length here. I’m not sure I have much to say about Swinburne on evil beyond that. Maybe a little, but not much. If you could try to give me a better sense of what about Swinburne appeals to people, I can try to say more, but IDK.

  • John

    The problem with Craig is that his Kalam version of the cosmological argument is relatively popular with other apologists and you will find versions of it in a few other apologetic books or tracts.

    I can tell you as someone who went through a deconversion process of a few years, I got thrown a lot of apologetics material, and forced myself to read some on my own – that argument is one of the most popular, because the refutation isn’t exactly easy to explain.

    • http://physicalism.wordpress.com/ Physicalist

      The best response to the Kalam arg is pretty straightforward:

      1. Something can have a cause only if there was a time it didn’t exist.

      2. There is no time that the universe didn’t exist.

      3. Therefore the universe has no cause.

      • wholething

        I like to ask for examples of things that began to exist then point out that those things are rearrangements of things that already existed. Things that actually begin to exist are things like electron-positron pairs but they are uncaused.

        When they talk about infinite regress and that there had to be a first event but God existed forever, you ask, “What was God’s first thought?”

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  • Robert

    “People who are interested in debates about the existence of God should know that they cannot trust Craig. [...] they can’t trust him to accurately describe the views of his opponents.”

    That’s how he treated Scott Clifton, http://youtu.be/4IGlgYExLOo

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  • Alexandre

    I´m still new at this. So far I see myself as neophyte atheist. I´ve been trying to study the four horsemen (Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, and Hitchens) and after some browsing, I found your blog.

    It seems to me that Craig is not a “man of faith”. He aims to be so logical in his arguments that only possible outcome would be the faith in Jesus. Based on his arguments, one could say that faith is no longer necessary. It is just a matter of putting facts and reasoning together. Like Hans Kelsen, he elaborates a Pure Theory of Christianity.

    I would say Craig is the new Chesterton.

    Thanks!

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