In a lecture entitled “Are there Objective Truths About God?”, philosopher William Lane Craig address the postmodern skepticism of logic that seems to be so fashionable these days, especially on campus and in the “emergent church” movement.
What is a self-refuting statement?
The main concept in the lecture is the logical concept of self-refutation. A self-refuting sentence is a sentence that, if true, makes itself false or meaningless. For example, if someone said to you: “there are no meaningful sentences longer than 5 words”. Or if they said, “it’s wrong to make moral judgments”. Those statements are self-refuting.
What is truth?
Craig assumes the common-sense correspondence theory of truth. This theory holds that “truth” is a property of a proposition such that if the proposition is true, then it corresponds to the external world. For example, if I claim that there is a crocodile in your closet and we find a crocodile in your closet, then my statement was true. No crocodile in your closet means my statement was false.
Are there objective truths about God?
There are 3 objections discussed in the William Lane Craig lecture. Each objection seeks to make religion subjective, (true for each person, like food preferences), in order to minimize the incumbency and prescriptive force of Christian theology and Christian moral teachings.
Objection #1:The Challenge of Verificationism
The first challenge is that religious claims cannot be verified using the 5 senses, and therefore religious statements are objectively meaningless.
Consider the statement “Only propositions that can be verified with the 5 senses are meaningful”. That statement cannot be verified with the 5 senses. If the statement is true, it makes itself meaningless. It’s self-refuting.
Objection #2: The Challenge of Mystical Anti-Realism
The second challenge is that religious claims, and claims about God, are neither true nor false.
Consider the statement “No statements about God can be true or false”. That statement itself is a statement about God. If the statement is true, then it is neither true nor false. It’s self-refuting.
Objection #3: The Challenge of Radical Pluralism
The third challenge is that each person invents an entire reality of their own, and that there is no mind-independent objective world shared by individuals.
Consider the statement “There is no objective reality shared by all individuals”. That statement is a statement that applies to all individuals. If the statement is true, then it only applies to the speaker’s subjective reality, not to everyone else. It’s self-refuting.
Craig ends the lecture by arguing that it is OK to think that other people’s views are false. It does not follow that just because Christians think other people’s views are wrong that they am going to mistreat other people. In fact, in Christianity it is objectively true that it is good to love your enemies. It is objectively true that all human beings have value, because human beings are made by God.
In Christianity, I am absolutely obligated to treat people with whom I disagree with respect and gentleness (1 Pet 3:15-16). The more convinced I am about that belief, the better my opponents will be treated. A stronger belief in Christianity means more tolerance for those who disagree.
My personal experiences with “Christian” postmodernism
Growing up, I was often confronted with the idea that God was beyond logic and beyond reason. Imagine my surprise as a conservative young Christian to find out that church and campus club leadership had embraced postmodernism, and were very skeptical of controversial doctrines like Hell, exclusive salvation, inerrancy and authorial intent.
As I grew older, I began to uncover why the postmoderns in leadership believed that God is not bound by the laws of logic. It was because of their desire for popularity. They did not want to have to confront people with exclusive and judgmental Christian claims. They did not want to have defend these ideas as true, using evidence – because that would involve work.
Postmodern Christians would say to atheists, “Christianity is true for me, and atheism is true for you“, in order to be accepted. And they would feel, emotionally and intuitionally, that non-judmentalism and non-exclusivism was right. Postmodernism was their way to avoid wasting time on theology and apologetics, (although technically, it did involve lying to people about God’s character).
Postmodern Christians were also very hostile towards apologetics, because “knowing for certain” took away their ability to doubt. They could keep God at arms-length when he was morally demanding, while keeping him within arm’s reach for emotional support. God existed for postmoderns when they needed comfort, and he didn’t exist when they wanted autonomy.
For further study
A debate between a Christian and a postmodern. You can see for yourself how gentle Peter Williams is during this dialog with someone with whom he disagrees. His objective is to persuade – to win her over. Also, what about those who have never heard of Jesus? What about the problems of evil and suffering?
Also, for extra credit, Super-commenter ECM sent me this post from David Thompson a few days back, in which Thompson interviewed Dr. Stephen Hicks on postmodernism in academia. The post also describes the link between postmodernism and socialism. This is a great post!