William Lane Craig has recently begun publishing a line of children’s books that will serve to introduce children to the arguments of Christian apologetics. It is fitting — since the battlefield now includes the pre-rational — that Dr. Craig take aim at the American Humanist Association, who have launched a new kid-friendly website. I’ll pause to mention that when one compares Dr. Craig’s efforts and the AHA’s efforts, Dr. Craig’s are clearly superior.
Dr. Craig’s first criticism is that there is “no inherent connection with naturalism” and the website’s stated goal, which is: “to encourage curiosity, critical thinking, and tolerance among young people, as well as to provide accurate information regarding a wide range of issues related to humanism, science, culture, and history.” Dr. Craig says: “One doesn’t need to be a naturalist in order to endorse curiosity, critical thinking, tolerance, and the pursuit of accurate information on a wide range of topics.”
I’m not sure why Dr. Craig thinks this is an interesting criticism. I could just as easily say that there is no inherent connection between an internet forum and the values of “substantive, irenic discussion,” but the forums on reasonablefaith.org are thus captioned. It seems obvious to me that the AHA can promote values in excess of those implied inherently in naturalism, and it is laudatory that they do.
Following this initial comment, Dr. Craig launches into a series of tired, rote remarks, beginning with his question: “Why think naturalism is true?” As Dr. Craig defines naturalism, it is the view that “there is nothing beyond the physical contents of the universe.” Like so many words in our discourse, the problem lies in definition and how these definitions are couched in intellectual context. “There is nothing,” for example, sounds like a claim to knowledge, whereas I suspect that many naturalists (but not all) would hesitate and prefer something like: “If there is something beyond the physical contents (the natural, let’s say) of the universe, I haven’t encountered it and don’t find it useful in understanding the universe.” That sort of “there is nothing” preserves the skepticism that infuses naturalism and also eliminates the liability that Dr. Craig is trying to attack, namely the claim to an unknowable knowledge. We shouldn’t understand naturalism to be a sort of rigorous agnosticism, though. I think the naturalism has a strong view on the supernatural because the naturalist will remark that when our explanations attend only to the natural, our explanations become complex, rigorous, predictive, coherent, cohesive, and generally intellectually satisfying. This certainly doesn’t imply that as naturalism delimits reality, there really is nothing beyond the physical, but rather, a calculated statement about explanatory value.
That said, Dr. Craig doesn’t seem to answer his own question. Instead, he repeats a familiar line: “The last half century has witnessed a veritable renaissance of Christian philosophy.” Dr. Craig proceeds to explain that the philosophical academy has taken theism seriously, but the New Atheism is a “pop cultural phenomenon lacking in intellectual muscle and blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in academic philosophy.” He remarks: “In my debates with naturalistic philosophers and scientists I have been frankly stunned by their inability both to refute the various arguments for God and to provide any persuasive arguments for naturalism.”
Accepting that it isn’t Dr. Craig’s duty to advance an argument that he doesn’t hold himself, it is still remarkable to me that Dr. Craig perpetuates the narrative above. Dr. Craig happily blends atheism, naturalism, and humanism into a sophomoric pretender to a legitimacy that he enjoys. Dr. Craig’s criticism is largely rhetorical. It would be difficult to evaluate. And, were it true, I’m not sure that it is relevant to the truth of anyone’s arguments. But, more to the point: it can be inverted and it seems just as plausible true: Dr. Craig’s apologetics is a pop culture phenomenon lacking in intellectual muscle and blissfully ignorant of the indifference with which it is viewed by academic philosophy. Dr. Craig’s criticism accomplishes nothing.
Also, Dr. Craig’s criticism is hypocritical. He writes: “Humanists tend to be condescendingly dismissive of theism.”
Dr. Craig’s next maneuver is Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism, an argument which I have never found convincing. Dr. Craig says:
Naturalism cannot even be rationally affirmed. For if naturalism was true, the probability that our cognitive faculties would be reliable is pretty low. For those faculties have been shaped by a process of natural selection which does not select for truth but merely for survival. There are many ways in which an organism could survive without its beliefs’ being true. Hence, if naturalism were true, we could not have any confidence that our beliefs are true, including the belief in naturalism itself!
It strikes me that, actually, there is a great advantage to reliable cognitive faculties. And while we cannot have complete confidence that our beliefs are true, we can have great confidence that they are on purely evolutionary grounds.
Next, Dr. Craig attacks humanism itself and asks: “Why think that if naturalism were true, human beings would have objective moral value?” Again, Dr. Craig doesn’t answer this question. He creates three options: humanism, theism, and nihilism. And, he suggests that, “the humanist needs to defeat both the theist and the nihilist.” This is perhaps true, but I’m certainly not convinced, merely by this triple-option scheme that humanism has somehow failed to meet its burden.
Dr. Craig’s concluding comment is that humanists “blithely extol the virtues of critical thinking, curiosity, and science, apparently unaware of the incoherence at the heart of their own worldview.” Again, these kinds of criticisms are not helpful. Moreover, I certainly did not encounter in Dr. Craig’s article anything even articulating the “incoherence” of humanism.