William Lane Craig (WLC) was asked by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof six questions about Christianity (part 1).
“Was Jesus really born to a virgin?” was the initial question, which is a good topic for the Christmas season. Let’s wrap up with the final two questions.
How critical should Christians be of their own religion?
“Over time, people have had faith in Zeus, in Shiva and Krishna, in the Chinese kitchen god, in countless other deities. We’re skeptical of all those faith traditions, so should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality when we encounter miracles in our own tradition?”
I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions?
Apparently, Christians should declare their supernatural beliefs correct and above reproach. It’s the other guy whose religion is false, not yours.
Yes, this is how believers play the game, but this gives no defense of those unbelievable beliefs.
This is the same kind of childish thinking that WLC would laugh at if it came from a believer in another religion. And yet he said in his primary work, Reasonable Faith, “Why should I be robbed of my joy and assurance of salvation simply because someone else falsely pretends, sincerely or insincerely, to the Spirit’s witness?” In other words, why let some nitwit’s crazy claims of the supernatural upset my completely sensible claims of the supernatural?
WLC defends his position:
I champion a “reasonable faith” that seeks to provide a comprehensive worldview that takes into account the best evidence of the sciences, history, philosophy, logic and mathematics.
No, there’s nothing reasonable about what you do because you cherry pick science to suit your agenda. Cosmology says that the universe has a beginning, so you grab that. That’s something you can use. But when Biology says that evolution is sufficient to explain why life on earth is the way it is, you reject it. The honest researcher follows the facts, but your arguments are just Christian dogma with footnotes.
I get the impression, Nick, that you think science is somehow incompatible with belief in miracles. If so, you need to give an argument for that conclusion.
Science follows evidence, and that’s why it’s reliable, while religion doesn’t. Science is always provisional and sometimes changes based on new evidence, while religion doesn’t care about evidence. Science has a track record of success in teaching us new things about reality, while religion doesn’t.
Do the math.
What is Christianity’s role in improving society?
“You’re an evangelical Christian, and let me acknowledge that religious people donate more to charity than nonreligious people and also volunteer more. But I’m troubled that evangelical leaders have sometimes seemed to be moralizing blowhards, focused on issues that Jesus never breathed a word about—like gays and abortion—while indifferent to poverty, inequality, bigotry and other topics that were central to Jesus’ teachings.”
On the topic of charity, we’ve all seen articles with statistics arguing that Christians or atheists are more likely to be associated with some good or bad trait. I’m sure you can find good things that are more associated with Christians than atheists, but donations to charity isn’t likely to be one of them. Donations to churches or ministries don’t count—churches are more like country clubs in the fraction of income that actually goes to good works—and if you remove that, Christians as a group aren’t any more generous. (More here.)The amount that passes through a church to help needy people might only be a few percent of their income. But then, who can say for sure when churches’ financial records are inexplicably secret?
WLC agreed that Christians can embarrass their religion but blamed it on the press highlighting the nutty people.
He moves on:
Just know that the Christian church is involved not only in defending the sanctity of life and marriage but in a whole range of social issues, such as combating poverty, feeding the homeless, medical care, disaster aid, literacy programs, fostering small businesses, promoting women’s rights and drilling wells, especially in the developing world.
And how much do churches actually give to good works? Who knows when their books are closed? If you want to work on something useful, encourage churches to demand that the church exemption to annual filing of IRS 990 forms be removed. This lack of transparency makes churches look like they have something to hide, and many do.
Notice how he’s slipped in conservative politics (“sanctity of life and marriage”) with obviously good things like literacy, civil rights, and combating poverty. I’ve responded too often to count to WLC’s positions against same-sex marriage and abortion choice, so follow those links for more. But I agree that the Christian church has been on the right side of some social issues. A century ago, the social gospel was active in improving social problems like “economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war” (Wikipedia). It’s great that the American church has been a vocal advocate for social improvement, but it’s a shame that that’s largely in its past.
You have a plastic Jesus who can demand care for widows and orphans or, as seems more common today, he can focus on lower taxes, smaller government, and gun rights.
Honestly, Christians have gotten very bad press.
You act as if that was unwarranted, but you’re too modest. No, you’ve earned that bad press!
Why should we trust them?
— David Madison, Debunking Christianity
Image from NH53, CC license