I first heard William Lane Craig (WLC) two months ago at an apologetics conference in Dallas. When I read his chapter in the book he edited, it seemed like it was almost verbatim his presentation at the conference -- even including the line "I don't have time here for the other arguments." Most famous authors have one good insight, which they repeat over and over under different titles. This book is obviously inspired by neo-atheist Christopher Hitchens's book god is Not Great (GING) and others like it, and somebody needs to be answering those objections. Foolish as they are, if nobody refutes them, it looks like we cannot. WLC is mostly good, but there is a lot of variability among the other chapter authors.
The book is divided into four sections, three chapters each on the existence
of God and His goodness, then four each on His greatness and why it matters.
I consider each chapter in turn, by author, and then consider the fascinating
postscript chapter, an interview with the recent and famous convert from
atheism, Anthony Flew.
I find the Cosmological Argument persuasive, although I doubt I could defend it against the atheists if they parry with an infinite regress of causes. Especially I like WLC's argument for a personal Cause from the (relatively) recent beginning.
I find the Moral Argument persuasive if its first premise ("If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist") can be established. The more honest atheists often admit that is why they are atheists, but Hitchens implicitly denies the premise (without supporting evidence) on page 6 (and also elsewhere) of GING, by claiming "We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion." On the whole, I think the Argument is sound.
I find the Teleological Argument (based on fine-tuning) persuasive
even in the face of infinite regress (actually "multiverse" but it's the
same thing) because the cosmological constants are a matter of science
-- that is, testable -- while the alleged infinity of alternate universes
is inherently unscientific, a failure the theistic alternative lacks.
It's the Ontological Argument I have a problem with, because it appears that it goes from being able to imagine a maximally great being to that being existing with nothing more than mental steps. The Creator God in Genesis spoke the universe into existence ("and it was so"), but apparently the philosophers are able to create God by merely thinking about it, which makes them greater creators than God Himself. That bothers me. Until the conference last month, I was able to explain away the difficulty by observing that "existence is not an attribute" (Immanuel Kant's defense against this argument), but WLC points out that Plantinga's revised formulation no longer depends on existence as an attribute. Therefore there must be some other problem with the "proof". Here are the six Propositions of the syllogism:
1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.WLC waves his hand over Propositions 2-6 of this argument with the observation that the atheists do not object to them. Perhaps the atheists are indeed too stupid to do their homework, but it seems to me that Proposition 3 appears to beg the question.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
6. Therefore a maximally great being exists.
I do not remember much from the modal logic segment when I took Symbolic
Logic at college in Berkeley, but I did need to work with modality (particularly
paradoxes like the "set of all sets not members of themselves") when I
was inventing an ontology for my
Bible translation engine. It may be that WLC has
a ready explanation of how Plantinga can get to a universal quantifier
from a single possibility, and if so, I would like to see it. However,
my efforts to communicate this request to him have so far failed. That's
a constant problem between nobodies like myself and famous people like
1. Consciousness and the mental. Naturalism offers Darwinism as the source of consciousness, but Moreland points out that it only deals with effects (what the organism does that confers survival), not causes; unconscious behavior could generate the same effects, so this is not an explanation.
2. Free will. However much the naturalists want to argue that free will is an illusion, Moreland reminds us that it is not possible to act as if it is. Furthermore, it is impossible to reconcile moral imperatives with the absence of free will. Moreland also seems to think free will implies the truth of the Cosmological Argument (a need for a prime mover), but I'm not sure I follow.
3. Rationality. Moreland quotes Christian philosopher Victor Reppert, "The necessary conditions for rationality cannot exist in a naturalistic universe." That's probably true, but it may need some (ahem) rational argument supporting it, and Moreland's brief offering is not up to the task. I can, in principle, design a computer program that has behavior resembling rational thought. Such programs exist and are getting better (by design, not by "evolution" ;-) but they only prove at most that rationality can be designed into a machine by a rational being. We do not have any evidence that it can evolve out of nothing by time, chance, and natural causes -- however much the Darwinists sincerely have faith that it did. However, the existence of such programs disproves most philosophical arguments against rationality arising naturally in a naturalistic universe.
4. Unified selves. This is even harder for either the Christians or the atheists to argue clearly, mostly, I suspect, because we don't really know what the "self" is. Until we can model it (in a computer) or prove why not, we will remain two ships passing in the night. Moreland's argument sounds good, but it's not overly persuasive.
5. Intrinsic, equal value and rights. This is a hands-down
win for the Christians, but only because the atheists have covertly adopted
and continue to promote Christian values as their own. Darwinist dogma,
followed logically to its conclusion, clearly teaches that there are no
rights, and that the "better" (fittest) win and the others lose. Moreland
makes his case differently but no less persuasively. At the end of the
day, the naturalist will simply abandon the notion of equal human rights,
just as they did a hundred years ago, before Hitler made that so unpalatable.
That may offend us as Christians, but when we are in the minority, it is
no worse than living under Shari'ah law. Moreland says none of that.
I marked numerous lines as insightful, but out of context they don't
seem quite so brilliant. I leave you instead his conclusion, that "for
the moment, it seems perfectly acceptable for Christians to hold that God
created the world, human beings and human minds in such a way that when
they are functioning properly, they form beliefs in the existence of rocks,
rainbows, human minds and . . . God." [sic]
Other atheists are more honest in claiming that morality is an illusion,
but they are not among the so-called New Atheists. Meister concludes with
C.S.Lewis that "moral laws require a moral lawgiver," and the atheists
need to face up to that fact. This is why I keep saying that the atheists
have uncritically and unknowingly adopted Christian morality. That's not
a bad thing (and Meister agrees), but it is inconsistent with their belief
The problem of fairness (why to the Jews and not to some or all other people?). First of all, the good news is for all people, and the Jews were given the job of spreading the message. But if God is personal, then His interaction with humanity must also be personal, which implies particularity. It's a good response.
Vanity and the jealousy of God. If God is indeed Good, then worship merely pays proper respect to that Goodness. Again excellent.
The inadequacy of religious experience, as argued by Daniel Dennett, is easily refuted by the (ad hominem) observation that Dennett himself cannot live by the criteria of his own objection. I find this to be a rather strong rebuttal, which Francis Schaeffer used effectively three decades ago, for example, in denying the credibility of modern nihilists like John Cage, who as an amateur mycologist, knew very well that some wild mushrooms were edible and some were poisonous.
The no miracles objection. Once you allow the possibility of theism, miracles cannot be dismissed out of hand. Taliaferro probably could have developed this argument better, but I suspect he had a space constraint.
Taliaferro concludes his chapter with a remarkable discussion of values
that I cannot summarize in this space.
My first impression of the book as a whole was that it is a mixed bag,
but it seems less so as I now go back over it for this review. Some chapters
are great resources -- or rather starting places, with substantial additional
readings suggested -- for building an apologetic to answer the New Atheists.
Or the book could be given directly to an atheist to encourage him to look
beyond his narrow focus, and hopefully to see the Light. I think it does
a better job of speaking to the atheist in his own terms, than the way
they speak to us Christians (as I point out at the beginning of my
refutation of Hitchens).
Flew finds the (scientific) Argument from Design most compelling, as do I. He is a little less accepting of C.S.Lewis, in particular his moral argument than I am, but it might be that I do not fully understand it.
The dialog touches on a variety of topics. Flew is absolutely correct in observing that "the Supreme Court has utterly misinterpreted the clause in the Constitution about not establishing a religion, misunderstanding it as imposing a ban on all official reference to religion." [p.235]
Flew is utterly hostile to Islam. "Whereas St.Paul, who was the chief contributor to the New Testament, knew all the three relevant languages and obviously possessed a first-class philosophical mind, the Prophet, though gifted in the arts of persuasion and clearly a considerable military leader, was both doubtfully literate and certainly ill-informed about the contents of the Old Testament and about several matters of which God, if not even the least informed of the Prophet's contemporaries, must have been cognizant." He calls this "a knock-down falsification of Islam: something which is certainly not possible in the case of Christianity." [p.242]
While admitting that the problem of evil started him on his path to atheism, Flew nevertheless considers "The problem of evil is a problem only for Christians." For Muslims, everything (including evil) is just the will of Allah. Apparently not many people (Flew apparently not among them) see it as I figured out a couple decades ago, that evil is an unnecessary consequence of free will which carries with it the possibility (but not necessity) of the free choice to do harm. But the existence of evil does necessitate a doctrine of Hell, a place where evil-doers can be sent so they do not make the rest of the universe less than Heaven. And God does not need to actively participate in the tortures of Hell, nor does Scripture clearly say He does; the evil-doers themselves can and probably will do it to each other.
Flew clearly says, "I still hope and believe there's no possibility of an afterlife." [p.238] There's no reason to believe in an afterlife at all, unless somebody has been there and returned to tell us about it. Jesus is the only such candidate in history, and Flew was not yet ready to accept his account, but he does admit that near-death experiences might also be such evidence. Flew's main problem with an afterlife seems to be the philosophical problem of a soul being a "substance rather than merely a characteristic of something else" such that it can "be said to leave its present residence and to take up or be forced to take up residence elsewhere." [p.236] Flew rather likes (and twice quoted) Bishop Butler's observation, "Memory may reveal but cannot constitute personal identity." I hope that's true, because I've always had a lousy memory.
Flew came out of a Methodist background, and considers that "Methodism [among the working class] made it impossible to build a really substantial Communist Party in Britain." [p.243] It's an interesting insight, giving substance to my continued opinion that Christianity is a force for Good in the world. Too bad Anthony Flew could not take that final step in his logical pilgrimage.
rev. 2012 December 5