Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 2January 4, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
We’re reading “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” by William Lane Craig (available online, registration required), and yesterday we saw some of the problems an apologist gets into when trying to explain why evidence for God is missing whilst simultaneously claiming to have the missing evidence. Having begun by assuming that the burden of proof is on atheists, Craig now turns to his argument for why the evidence should not be there.
The debate among contemporary philosophers has… moved beyond the facile presumption of atheism to a discussion of the so-called “Hiddenness of God” —in effect, a discussion of the probability or expectation that God, if He existed, would leave more evidence of His existence than what we have… [S]ome atheists have argued that God, if He existed, would have prevented the world’s unbelief by making His existence starkly apparent. But why should God want to do such a thing? On the Christian view it is actually a matter of relative indifference to God whether people believe that He exists or not. For what God is interested in is building a love relationship with us, not just getting us to believe that He exists. There is no reason at all to think that if God were to make His existence more manifest, more people would come into a saving relationship with Him.
Do you know, there are apparently positions in the Philosophy departments of certain universities where you can be paid and even tenured for overlooking such obvious difficulties as the fact that you can’t have a relationship with someone if you don’t even know they exist! Why can’t I get a job like that?
Craig, needless to say, is conveniently forgetting his Bible here.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Given that belief in God’s existence is a Scripturally mandated prerequisite for coming to Him, one would think that it were perfectly reasonable for Him to provide us with valid reasons for arriving at that conclusion. That’s assuming, of course, that what God wants is genuine faith and not mere belief in whatever men tell us in the absence of any valid reason for believing (or in other words, not mere gullibility).
But notice how Craig has divorced his philosophical argument from the historical apologetic for God. The historical claim is that God did want man to know He existed, and that our knowledge of God is the result of God providing man with objective, real world evidence not just of His existence but of His love and His desire to be with each and every one of us for all eternity. The question of why God would want to provide us with this kind of evidence ought to be a moot point, if the historical apologetic were true. Whether or not we can explain the why of God’s evidence, it ought to be beyond debate that God does want to provide it.
Except of course that when we look at the real world, we can easily see that He does not do so, not even for believers like Craig. So it’s time for some backwards thinking. Reasoning forwards from what the Bible gives us as God’s motives and abilities, we arrive at a conclusion that does not match the real world, so we need to start with the real world absence of evidence, and reason backwards to a set of premises that tries to reconcile God’s existence with His failure to show up in real life. And that takes us to the argument from ignorance and speculation.
In fact, we have no way of knowing that in a world…in which God’s existence is…obvious…that more people would come to love Him and know His salvation than in the actual world… thereby undermining the claim that the absence of such evidence is itself positive evidence that God does not exist… God can have so providentially ordered the actual world as to provide just those evidences and gifts of the Holy Spirit which He knew would be adequate for bringing those with an open heart and mind to saving faith. Thus, the evidence is as adequate as needs be.
I think it’s obvious why Craig is so happy to see the “downfall” of Verificationism. He has imagined for himself a world in which genuine evidence is virtually worthless in distinguishing between truth and error. God, in His wisdom and foreknowledge, is sovereignly and indetectably ensuring that the True Believers obtain just the right evidence to convince them, while everyone else is left in the dark because presumably they wouldn’t believe it anyway. The Fable of the Sour Grapes meets The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Craig’s argument is so full of holes and inconsistencies that it is hard to know where to start. I suppose we could begin by pointing out that this is the novelist approach to theology: you take the story as it has unfolded thus far, and try to imagine a plausible-sounding scenario to fit into it. There’s no particular reason why God would require such a Gnostic approach to the truth, it merely provides a plausible-sounding excuse for why the evidence that ought to be there is so obviously missing.
Or we could point out that, even if atheists would reject the evidence given the chance, that’s no reason for God to hide it. This is a “The devil created fossils to fool people” argument, in reverse. Even supposing that an atheist could look God in the eye and say, “Hmm, I don’t believe I’m really seeing you,” that’s still no reason for God to hide from believers (and their volitionally neutral cameras and microphones).
Or we could point out that this is really a proof that Mormonism is the One True Faith, and that Islam is, and that Pastafarianism is—every sect is made up of believers who have secretly been shown the real evidence, and all those unbelievers have been left out because they wouldn’t accept the truth anyway. It’s even proof of atheism: atheists have seen the evidence that God does not exist, and believers have simply overlooked or discounted it because they wouldn’t accept the truth anyway.
We could also mention that, even if it were not God’s primary goal to provide men with proof of His existence, such evidence would be a natural and expected secondary consequence of His other attributes, motives, and behaviors. For example, God might want to be fair, and it would hardly be fair for Him to condemn unbelievers when He never provided them with a valid reason for believing that He even existed.
The nature of objective evidence is that it does not depend on the subjective mental state of the observer, so we could point out that whatever objective evidence God did sneak in to the lives and attention of believers ought to be accessible to all, whether or not they believe. If Craig wants to suggest that God is providentially supplying the believers with valid evidence for His own existence, then that evidence ought to be available for review by skeptics as well.
Of course, Craig still has a problem, even with his argument, because God’s evidence isn’t showing up for believers either. My own experience as a devout Bible-believing Christian was that I would have loved for some genuine, valid evidence of God’s existence to show up (and judging from the financial success of apologetics books and ministries, millions of other Christians feel the same way). But it doesn’t, which leads apologists like Craig to resort to muddled and abstract philosophical arguments trying to rationalize away the absence.
Just one more, because the list could go on and on: we could point out that Craig is only giving us an argument for why one reason might not work—he’s not proving that there is no reason that will. Craig is arguing that if God did show up in real life, it might not convince anybody who wouldn’t have believed even without the evidence. Not that we know that no additional souls would be saved, but that it might happen that way. It’s not that there is any reason for God to withhold vital information from the rest of us, but merely that it’s possible to conceive of the possibility that showing up might fail to achieve one specific goal on God’s agenda. It’s not even that there is no possible goal on God’s agenda that could be met by God showing up, but just that there might be one that might not be met that way.
Bear in mind, this argument is presented on Craig’s web site under the heading of “Scholarly Articles,” and is the source for an abridged article which was published in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, so we’re not talking about some off-the-cuff remarks by someone who wasn’t trying. Yet it’s clear that what we’re dealing with here is not so much a critique of atheism, but a desperate attempt to excuse Christianity and rationalize away a clear inconsistency between the impact a loving and involved God ought to be having on the world, and the undeniable absence of any such impact on real life.