From Keith Parsons: Craig on the Relevance of Christianity

Keith Parsons recently sent me the following e-mail, which he has authorized me to post here on the Secular Outpost.

Craig recently sent a message to Vic Reppert’s Dangerous Idea blog

“I argued that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant because (1) there is meaning to your life, (2) there are objective values in life, (3) there is a purpose to your life, (4) there is hope for deliverance from the shortcomings of life, (5) there is forgiveness for your guilt, and (6) you can know God personally for eternity.”

Gee, it occurs to me that maybe Charity’s friend is pretty smart and thinks that Christianity is irrelevant for good reasons. After all, many atheists would have no problem at all affirming all of these points but the last, since, obviously, you cannot have a (nondelusional) relationship with a nonexistent being. Unless Craig is tacitly defining “meaning,” “purpose,” and “objective values,” in some question-begging way, then think I would have no problem at all with defending (1) -(5) as equally available to the atheist. Just think of all the non-Christians that have led sad, meaningless, purposeless, lives, wandering aimlessly with no objective values. People like The Buddha, Confucius, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Eratosthenes, Archimedes, Euclid, Lucretius, Cicero, Spinoza, Hume, Darwin, Russell, Einstein…Sad, sad, sad. Such wasted, pointless lives.

What is really sad is that these “young people” that were subjected to Craig’s browbeating probably got no chance at all to hear an equally eloquent case for the other side.; I had to fight off dyspepsia while reading it. Apparently Craig’s daughter, Charity (surely, there must be a Hope and Faith as well?), was talking to some friends who said that they were not Christians because Christianity was not “relevant” to their lives. Craig was nonplused by this answer and took it upon himself to address a group of young people on the topic of the relevance of Christianity. He told them that if Christianity is true, it must be relevant, and made the following points, and I quote:

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Hallq

    It amazes me the extent to which Christian apologists can get away with, or at least seem to get away with, just asserting that Christianity provides meaning, morality, etc… you ask them to back up one such assertion, and all they can do is think up three more that are just as unsubstantiated.

  • “Q” the Enchanter

    The notion of “objective” meaning or purpose to life or existence is dubious in any ontology, and those theists who think they are better off than the denizens of the godless world really need to make clear just how it is the addition of a god to *our* ontology is supposed to bring objective meaning and purpose into being. (Just imagine God’s existential crisis when he realizes it’s not enough to be able to postulate a meaning for yourself!)

  • Anonymous

    I’d like for an apologist to clarity this “meaning of life” business for me. Does the christian theory offer “meaning” to life because you can go to heaven? Or does it offer “meaning” because you have to go somewhere other than into Epicurean oblivion after you die?

    If the latter, that seems to imply that if you wind up going to hell, why, that gives your “meaning” too.

  • Joe Otten

    Of course the odd thing is that if Christianity really were true, it would be worth reading the bible cover to cover 20 times, learning Hebrew and Greek, reading all the church fathers, etc, etc, even if it meant begging for a living while you were doing it. It would be that important to get it right.

    Next to nobody takes it that seriously. I wonder why.

  • Jeff Chamberlain

    Mr. Craig is quoted as saying that “If Christianity isn’t true, then, of course, it’s not relevant to one’s life.” Surely this can’t be right. Christianity is a powerful and important influence on our lives, whether it’s true or not.

  • samskeptic

    In my last days as a Christian I adopted the same attitude – “it may be true, but it isn’t relevant”. That posture came from dealing with all the evasive answers I received from Christians about theological problems. For example:

    God always answers prayer, he just answers “no” most of the time.

    Significant parts of the OT are “true”, but might not be exactly “historical”.

    God doesn’t “change” you into a new person as much as you have to adopt new disciplines and lifestyles to change.

    Christians are not “perfect” or even necessarily more moral than others, they are just “forgiven”.

    God doesn’t want to reveal himself openly to us, he just speaks in quiet whispers discernible only to the heart.

    After hearing statements like these time after time when I would ask tough question, I concluded that even if all of those responses are true, they don’t make the case that I should engage in Christian practices, because these are pretty much the outcomes I would get if I lived my life in a thoroughly secular way. Of course, after dwelling on this for a while, it became clear that the whole thing was not just irrelevant, but untrue.

  • Victor Reppert

    I read the response of Charity’s friends differently. I would have thought that it was one of the fundamental areas of agreement between atheists like Parsons and Christian apologists like Craig that the differences between Christian theism and atheism were matters of truth and not relevance, that it does matter whether Christianity is true or not, and that rational argument can at least possibly aid us in resolving the question of whether or not it is true. So I read Charity Craig’s friends not as saying that they thought Christianity false (they would have said that if that is what they meant to say) but rather to have fallen into the same sort of postmodern trap that is as old as Protagoras and in fact is as dangerous to modern science as it is to Christianity. “Evolution is an interpretation, and creationism is an interpretation, and there really isn’t any such thing as truth, so can’t we all just get along, and accept whatever is relevant, and what is relevant to me is true for me, even if it is not true for you.”

    Craig does indulge in the rhetoric that life is meaningless without God, but at least one can say that if Christianity is true then those who deny it have gotten the wrong meaning out of life. But I must admit that unless Craig can get this argument beyond the stage of exchanging autobiographical reports (T: I found life meaningless without God A: I find life completely meaningful without God) this type of claim does nothing to provide a reason for the hope within.

  • James Still

    I’d say that Craig’s proposition “Christianity is true” is itself meaningless. To be a Christian is to be “Christ-like,” that is, followers of Christ strive to emulate his values and follow his teachings. That is a way of life, not something reduced to a truth function. Craig’s fuzzy thinking aside, I suspect that what he means is something akin to Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians: “[I]f Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” The proposition “Christ rose from the tomb” might be a better formulation. But then this reveals the poverty of Craig’s realism: why cannot those who strive to be Christ-like and for whom Christ’s life is a profound inspiration have meaningful lives? Or is meaning possible only if Paul’s statement evaluate to true?

  • Victor Reppert

    When Christians claim that Christianity provides meaning to their lives, I think it is best interpreted as saying that if Christianity is true there is such a thing as a person’s achieved the goal that is intended for that person, and that in achieving that goal one also achieves a goal that is good from the point of view of the person himself. This would not be satisfied if, for example, humans were simply being raised for food by extraterrestrials. If we were eaten, we would fulfil the goals set for us by the extraterrestrials, but we would not fulfil anything that could be recognized as our own good.

    What God created us for, and what will fulfil us for an eternity is, according to Christianity, eternal fellowship with Himself. If atheism is true, that kind of satisfaction isn’t in the cards for anybody.

    That said, I think Christians make a mistake in saying that life has no meaning if Christianity isn’t true. Christianity offers a meaningful life in this particular sense, but atheists can have a meaningful life an many over sense, which should not be denied by theists.

  • Aquinas13

    The issue of truth must first be addressed. And it is in truth that meaning is to be found. The focus of Christian philosophers should be on demonstrating the truth of our position. After that it will then be possible to dialog about meaning.


  • Anonymous

    What God created us for, and what will fulfil us for an eternity is, according to Christianity, eternal fellowship with Himself.

    This kind of rhetoric makes me cringe, along with secular rhetoric about how everyone should find fulfillment in “relationships” and “community.” I must have a high functioning form of autism, because much of the time I can’t stand having other people around me. The thought of an eternal “fellowship” with a god, whatever that means, when I feel minimal anxiety alone, sounds really unpleasant to me.

    This goes to show how christianity tries to shoe-horn everyone into the same model of human psychology, when in fact plenty of people feel no need for a god at all, and they seem none the worse for it. Of course, you’d expect this sort of inadequacy if christianity arose through a natural social process in a prescientific culture.

  • Anonymous

    Most of the brainwashing occurs in the other direction I am afraid, most teachers and profs in the public system are Godless pagans today and they indoctrinate their unfortunate captive audiences accordingly. That’s why we have such horrible social statistics in spite of our national wealth. Secular Humanist teachers are helping produce a generation of Godless, pagan, profane, sexually immoral, self centered, hedonistic ,”citizens”…..the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it, and what I see is a generation of selfish hedonists.

  • Bilbo Bloggins

    Parsons writes: Apparently Craig’s daughter, Charity (surely, there must be a Hope and Faith as well?)

    Bilbo: I love it when academics mock the names of the children of other academics. It really sets a nice tone for the thoughtful critique to follow.


  • Jeffery Jay Lowder

    From Keith Parsons:

    At age eighteen (when one has an excuse to be stupid) I spent a few months as a fundamentalist. During that, fortunately brief, stage of my life I used to carry around copies of a tract produced by Campus Crusade for Christ titled “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Law one was “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

    Now if you don’t pause to ponder that God’s wonderful plan for some people’s lives is that at five years of age they burn to death in a house fire, this message is powerful. God Himself, the Creator of the Universe, has a wonderful plan just for me!! Naturally, anyone lacking a sense of purpose, direction, or significance (as so many do) will find this an appealing message.

    But what if you already have a wonderful plan for your own life? What if, in fact, you are already living that plan, and it is working out quite well? What if you have a loving family, loyal friends,intellectual stimulation, engaging and challenging work, opportunities to succor the unfortunate, important causes to which you devote time and energy, and, last but not least, time for sheer play and relaxation? What if, in short, you have achieved the sort of earthly blessedness that Aristotle called “Eudaimonia?” Now someone comes along and says “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Isn’t the perfectly appropriate response “So what?”

    Now suppose that there really is a God and his “wonderful plan” for my life is that I leave my friends and family, quit my job, and move to Namibia to preach to the Khoikhoin. Why should I respect God’s plan and not just stick to my own? Is it because God is more powerful than serve him and his wishes rather than my own? Suppose the aliens’ mother ship lands in the Washington Mall tomorrow, and the alien leader emerges, and vaporizes the Washington Monument to demonstrate the power of his weapons. He then announces that from now on the purpose of humanity will be to serve the will of the aliens. Does the superior power of the aliens make it our moral duty to serve them? If not, why would God’s superior power make it my duty to serve him?

    Supposedly the answer would be that God’s wonderful plan for my life, whatever it is, coincides with what is truly the best for me, not just what I mistakenly think is best for me. But again, what if I really do think that the life I am currently living is best for me? In that case, it would seem that God’s plan would have to be that I carry on pretty much as I am now–except, maybe, that I would have to spend Sunday mornings daydreaming in church rather than reading the funnies and the sports page. It does indeed appear that that it is quite sensible to ask what the relevance of God’s existence, or the truth of Christianity, might be if it does not really imply much about the meaning of my existence or how I should live my life.

    “But,” the exasperated reply will surely be, “If you are a Christian, you have all those other things in life, but, in addition,you have the wonderful assurance that God exists and loves you.” But it is much more important to me that my wife, or even my cat, loves me than that God loves me. What does the putative love of God do for me? Will it prevent me from getting inoperable cancer, or will it protect my loved ones from being killed in a horrible accident? “It will assure you of blessedness in the afterlife” will surely be the reply. But I’ve never heard a description of the afterlife that sounded worth living for ten minutes, much less eternity. I don’t want an afterlife of any sort.

    So, sorry Vic, but I really do have to ask, “What is the relevance of Christianity?”

  • Anonymous

    Oy vey, and I am not Yiddish, but its such a wonderful exclamation , I can’t help but thinking “in for a dime,in for a dollar” as we follow the theodicies which gestate from fine tuning and intelligently designed and directed abiogenesis ……to where we are today. A fortiori if the Universe was fine tuned for us then our communion with the “tuner” must be fine tuned as well. Strict deism aside, the truth seeking faculty in humans compels us to work the problem from both ends. Starting with the theodicy of sentient Biblical eternity one would then have to concede that the “tuner” did in fact have a higher order good for each turn of the tuning knob and the penitent “ah, but of course” will be an oft repeated phrase as the realization sinks in. E.G. I drove an old pontiac for over thirty years.Even from the factory as new it had a small oil leak in the engine block. I had to put an extra quart of oil in it almost every other month for thirty years. I was getting some maint. done on it when a young mechanic came over to me and asked me if the odometer could possibly be correct, that he had never seen a car with that many miles, a wise old mechanic there was listening and figured it out…he said the continual adding of fresh oil every other month(my sincere apologies to environmentalists!)kept the engine from wearing down. The longevity was the unintended consequence of the oil leak. William Lane Craig is right,imho, in saying that human appreciation for non utilitarian beauty is fine tuned and requited in the obvious plethora of non utilitarian beuaty in the physical and biological world.