Was Jesus Born to a Virgin? William Lane Craig Answers This and More (3 of 3).

Was Jesus Born to a Virgin? William Lane Craig Answers This and More (3 of 3). December 9, 2019

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?”

WLC responded:

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?

This would be a good spoof or a test of Poe’s Law, but this is no caricature; this is actually his thinking. More here.

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.

WLC concludes:

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!

Theists don’t trust each other.
Why should we trust them?
—  David Madison, Debunking Christianity

.

Image from NH53, CC license
.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Lex Lata

    “I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions?”

    Y’know, this could be settled rather easily, with something roughly along the lines of the contests between Moses and Pharaoh’s priests, and between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al.

    I will pray to Artemis that she continue to allow the moon to go through its usual orbit and phases, while WLC or any other believer(s) can pray to the God of Abraham for the moon to stay full for one month–the sort of miracle that is mere “child’s play” for an omnipotent God, in WLC’s words.

    Of course a believer could object that this is rigged, and I agree–I’d be praying ironically to a deity we both acknowledge doesn’t exist, while the believer would be speaking earnestly and directly to the “real” Creator, the First Cause, the Father. I’d say I’m at a serious disadvantage.

    Any takers?

    • Greg G.

      I have made the 1 Kings 18 challenge where the theist gets to use Elijah’s method to light the charcoal in their hibachi while I use the products of science to light the charcoal in my hibachi. The loser gets to ear steak tartare. No takers. Nobody has even asked who will pay for the steaks.

      • b s

        “Nobody has even asked who will pay for the steaks.”

        Mexico?

        • Greg G.

          That wasn’t my answer but it is now.

      • sandy

        The problem to anyone who reads 1Kings18 is the loser gets slaughtered. It’s a pretty messed up story but fitting for the old testament. BTW steak tartare is one of my fave’s. If I was a theist, I’d take you on/s lol

      • In the original test, the losers were killed afterward. They don’t even face that from you. Of course, later they said don’t test God. That’s just more than a little convenient.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Long-pig tartare, then?

    • Brian Davis

      WLC at the end of the month: “The moon remained spiritually full. God wins!”

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Awesome.

      • Michael Newsham

        Thomas the Proclaimer by Robert Silveberg: the world is torn by war, riots etc. Thomas asks all the people in the world to get God to halt the sun in the sky for 24 hours as proof of His existence. It works!
        A year later-the world is torn by wars, riots etc. as people fight over the meaning of the event.

    • markr1957

      I can’t find a link, but there was a BBC televison show from years ago that replicated Elijah starting fire with water using chemicals whose properties were documented and known to the people of his time. Add water to quicklime and it gets hot enough to ignite sulfur. If you add a little naphtha to the water it will burst into flames very easily.

  • Tawreos

    No, there’s nothing reasonable about what you do.

    I would say it is entirely reasonable. He puts on his little show, tells his audience what they want to hear and gets paid. Of course, the positions he takes and the nonsense he spouts aren’t reasonable to people outside of his audience, but his audience eats it up. Why else would he call it a “reasonable faith” or claim that christians just get bad press? He knows that the christians that are his true audience wants to hear those things. They want to be able to believe that their belief in the irrational is rational. No matter what group he is talking to, an apologist is always preaching to the choir.

    • Rudy R

      WLC’s job is to maintain the base. Sound familiar?

  • eric

    Just know that the Christian church is involved not only in defending the sanctity of life and marriage

    And by “sanctity of marriage”, he means it’s totes okay with protestants if you want to get divorced, but earlier this century they wouldn’t allow blacks and whites to marry, and currently they won’t allow gays to marry each other. They’re the Humpty Dumpty of marriage sanctity – it means what they say it means, neither more nor less.

    • NSAlito

      I might cede a modicum of credit to someone who defended the sanctity of marriage if they’d just as loudly protested about drive-thru wedding chapels or multiply-divorced Christians before the likelihood of SSM came up.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Dragged kicking and screaming over each line in the sand they’ve traced…

  • NSAlito

    I follow Anoia, the Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers. I carry my ladle proudly.

  • Chuck Johnson

    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.

    No, science does not say that the universe has a beginning when we define “Universe” as “all of space and time and their contents”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe

    But no matter what science might say, WLC would have the ability to weave that science into his apologetics.
    Craig is not a seeker of the truth. He seeks to authenticate ancient religious myths.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Yes, I agree descriptions can be much to colloquial when it comes to origins and the Big Bang. We get what Bob meant, but it sounds totally different to someone less familiar with the specifics and limitations of the Big Bang theory.

      • Michael Murray

        WLC likes to reach for BGV. There are quotes from Vilenkin on his website.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I chuckle to myself when I recall Sean Carroll offering to have Vilenkin himself explain Craig’s error. You’d think that might finally get Bill to show some humility, but nope.

          It’s instances like that that make it clear Craig isn’t just deluded, he’s a liar.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions?

    Because it shows a pattern of concocting and believing fantastical stories? And that honest self-reflection should have us be especially skeptical of similar claims?

    Do you really need this explained to you, Bill?

    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.

    LOL! Nice dodge, Bill!

  • Michael Neville

    I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions?

    What about weakly evidenced claims in your own religion? What’s the evidence that an afterlife exists? What’s the evidence for the Trinity? What’s the evidence that Jesus was resurrected? None of those claims have any science or rationality behind them.

    • Greg G.

      What’s the evidence that an afterlife exists? What’s the evidence for the Trinity? What’s the evidence that Jesus was resurrected?

      Those are self-evident unless you have a defective sensus divinitatis. /poe

      • Michael Neville

        Ah yes, the well-known Proof Because I Say So.

    • Some very old books claim the Resurrection happened. Good enough to satisfy Craig.

      • Greg G.

        Those very old books got some geographical names correct or very near it, and the names of verified people of the day correct, therefore they got it all right. /poe

        • Yep. I’m pleased to learn that Spider-Man is real too, by this logic of theirs.

  • Michael Neville

    WLC agreed that Christians can embarrass their religion but blamed it on the press highlighting the nutty people.

    I haven’t noticed the non-nutty Christians telling the nutty people to shut up.

    • RichardSRussell

      Practically by definition, if you believe in Christianity, you can’t qualify as non-nutty.

  • epeeist

    Cosmology says that the universe has a beginning, so you grab that.

    Wrongly. Cosmology says it has been 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang. Whether that means the universe had a beginning is moot.

    • Michael Murray

      WLC likes to go on about the BGV theorem as proof the universe has a beginning. He ignores quantum gravity of course. Doesn’t suit the story.

      EDIT: OK that’s not quite fair but the longer story above is illuminating.

    • Michael Murray

      There is an interesting discussion on WLC’s website including this correspondence with Vilenkin:

      > [WLC] In that vein, I do have a question about your statement: “the BGV theorem
      > uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes
      > essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.”
      > Elsewhere you’ve written:

      > “A remarkable thing about this theorem is its sweeping generality. . . . We
      > did not even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. So,
      > if Einstein’s gravity requires some modification, our conclusion will still
      > hold. The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the
      > universe never gets below some nonzero value” [Vilenkin, 2006, p. 175].

      > How are these statements compatible? The 2006 statement sounds as if a
      > quantum theory of gravitation would not undo the theorem. But the letter to
      > Krauss sounds as if we are awash in uncertainty.

      I’m surprised that WLC doesn’t understand the idea that a quantum theory might change the fundamental concepts we use like space and time not just modify Einstein’s equations. Don’t philosophers grasp this kind of map / territory thing ? He continues then Vilenkin replies

      > I have my own idea of how you might understand these statements, but rather
      > than burden you with my surmises, I’d prefer to simply ask you how you
      > understand the situation.

      [Vilenkin]
      The question of whether or not the universe had a beginning assumes a classical spacetime, in which the notions of time and causality can be defined. On very small time and length scales, quantum fluctuations in the structure of spacetime could be so large that these classical concepts become totally inapplicable. Then we do not really have a language to describe what is happening, because all our physics concepts are deeply rooted in the concepts of space and time. This is what I mean when I say that we do not even know what the right questions are.

      But if the fluctuations are not so wild as to invalidate classical spacetime, the BGV theorem is immune to any possible modifications of Einstein’s equations which may be caused by quantum effects.

      There is more here

      https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-the-borde-guth-vilenkin-theorem/

      Most of it is trying to demonstrate Krauss was cheating in some discussion they had. I’m not so interested in that. I thought WLC’s understanding of physics works interestingly lacking though.

      • epeeist

        I was going to post some details of how WLC (deliberately?) misunderstands the BGV theorem and its ramifications, but you have covered it pretty well. I’ll just add the abstract from this Vilenkin, Guth and Borde paper

        Many inflating spacetimes are likely to violate the weak energy condition, a key assumption of singularity theorems. Here we offer a simple kinematical argument, requiring no energy condition, that a cosmological model which is inflating – or just expanding sufficiently fast – must be incomplete in null and timelike past directions. Specifically, we obtain a bound on the integral of the Hubble parameter over a past-directed timelike or null geodesic. Thus inflationary models require physics other than inflation to describe the past boundary of the inflating region of spacetime.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Given that Craig brushes off Vilenkin himself, I think it’s safe to say the misunderstanding is deliberate.

      • eric

        I’m surprised that WLC doesn’t understand the idea that a quantum theory
        might change the fundamental concepts we use like space and time

        It’s not that surprising. He has to try and maintain a 6th century BC cosmology – which could at best be described as Newtonian – in the face of a 20th century AD cosmology. The bible talks about space and time in pre-Newtonian or Newtonian terms, i.e. as the backdrop on which things happen, rather than things themselves. Thus, WLC is likely to be resistant to any idea that undermines that understanding. The bible talks about a beginning. Simple. Obvious. Thus, WLC is likely to be resistant to any idea that undermines a simplistic, intuitive concept of ‘beginning.’

        Any physics that undermines Genesis is going to be immediately suspect. Which probably includes most of science since about the 1850s or so.

    • Thanks.

  • Doubting Thomas

    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.

    My god, the level of smug this man emits is high enough to require protective clothing for anyone who has to inteact with him.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Smugness, misrepresenting the facts and falsely shifting the burden of proof onto his opponent. It’s a Bill Craig trifecta!

  • If we’re to distinguish putative religions with evidence from those without, that would involve rationality and science. Craig though only believes in them for supporting his beliefs, not determining them. He’s made that clear.

  • RichardSRussell

    How dare anyone doubt that WLC has rock-solid core principles? Well, one principle, anyway: Buy my books!

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Serving ‘god’ to *get* Mammon…so what’s more important, what one gives or what they take and desire?

  • RichardSRussell

    Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions?

    Nick Kristof dropped the ball on this one. The obvious follow-up question is “You shouldn’t! So why do you do it when it comes to your OWN weakly evidenced, false claims?”

    • Brian Shanahan

      But the whole point of the article was “we’re right wing christians too! Buy our paper, PLEASE!!!!!”

    • It was the “Professor” as the first word in the title that suggested that we were off to a bad start. It sounded like weak attempt to boost WLC’s cred. I say, let his reputation speak for itself.

  • Otto

    I have yet to figure out what belief WLC could not justify using his reasoning.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Why, harm to WLC *himself*, of course!!

      /s

    • Maltnothops

      It is like a conspiracy theory. Any apparent contraindications can simply be incorporated into the conspiracy.

  • Brian Shanahan

    And I’d like to point out most christian social justice work was done in defiance of religious authority.

  • Maltnothops

    A story about the cherry-picking. The RCC, as we all know, didn’t much care about abortion for most of its history. One day a Catholic responded to my pointing this out by saying that we know more now than people did then and that abortion should be outlawed now because embryos were human. Science proved it! I asked if she was willing to forgo the idea of the resurrection because science had proved that revivification after 36 hours was impossible. Crickets, of course.