Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

William Lane Craig lectures on the postmodern challenge to belief in God

In a lecture entitled “Are there Objective Truths About God?”, philosopher William Lane Craig responds to postmodern challenges to the idea of truth, and specifically to the idea that religion is about objective truth.

Here’s the link to a page containing the lecture audio. (H/T Be Thinking)

The MP3 file is here.

So what questions does Bill answer in the lecture?

What is a self-refuting statement?

The main concept in the lecture is self-refutation. A self-refuting sentence is a sentence that, if true, makes itself false or meaningless. For example, suppose someone said to you: “there are no sentences longer than 5 words” then that would be self-refuting since it falsifies itself. Bill argues that objections to the idea that there are objective truths about God are all self-refuting.

What is truth?

Craig holds that “truth” is a property of a proposition such that a proposition is true if 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. If there is no crocodile in your closet then my statement was false. The real objective world out there is what makes propositional claims true or false – these are not claims about an individual’s preferences, they are claims about the world. Bill is concerned with truth claims about God that are objective – whether there are propositions about God that are true regardless of what anyone thinks.

Are there objective truths about God?

Bill discusses 3 objections to the idea that there are objective truths about God. Each objection seeks to make religion subjective, (true for each person, like food preferences or clothing fashion).

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 “Propositions about God cannot be true or false”. Craig asks – why should we accept that? Any reason given would have to assert something about God that is true or false, and those reasons would contradict the original statement. For example, “God is too great to be grasped by human categories of thought” is a proposition about God that the speaker thinks is true, which contradicts the original assertion.

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, regardless of what they think.  It’s self-refuting.

Conclusion

Craig ends the lecture by arguing that it is OK for Christians to think that other people’s views are false. It does not follow that just because someone thinks 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 for Christians to love their enemies. It is objectively true that all human beings have value, because human beings are made by God. So even if Christians disagree with others, they still treat them well, because they think that there are moral truths that they have to conform to.

My thoughts

Sometimes, non-Christians think that it is dangerous to hold beliefs too strongly. But I think what really matters is the content of the belief – some beliefs are false and some are true – you want to believe the true beliefs as strongly as you can, as long as the evidence warrants it. 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.

Why do non-Christians get so offended when Christians claim to be right about there being only one way to be rightly related to God? Well, for many it’s because their worldview is a personal preference, and they feel uncomfortable having to defend it rationally and evidentially. Christianity is different – we are used to having to defend our truth claims using evidence, because that is the core of the religion, and the example of the founder and his closest followers.

For most people, religion is just their cultural preference – like cooking style, or favorite sport, or clothing style. That’s why they respond to your truth claims with name-calling like “you’re intolerant” and “you’re judgemental” and “you’re arrogant”. These are just shorthand ways of saying, “I’m offended that you think that what you believe is true and you think that what I believe is false”. They would never say that in a math classroom or a chemistry lab, where truth matters. But because they are coming to the discussion with the presupposition that religion is like clothing and diet preferences, they take everything personally instead of treating religion as something objective, just like any other area of knowledge.

This problem of being offended by truth claims is especially common with people who are raised to think that their religion is a racial, national or cultural identity. They haven’t thought anything through, or considered any alternatives, and they think that if you tell them they are wrong  on matters of fact that somehow this amounts to some sort of racism, intolerance or prejudice. You make factual claims, and they hear discrimination. But that’s not how Christians think of religion – we only care if it’s true or not – just like we care whether the claims of history or science are true or not. For many non-Christians, religion is not about truth at all but about personal preferences – and they cannot understand why Christians say that they have to go to Hell for having the wrong personal preferences. You have to tell them that religion is about truth, and that people displease God because they don’t know what is true, and they don’t want to know what is true. Then they understand why you are disagreeing with them and you can have a conversation about what is true.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paul Copan explains some responses to postmodernism

Four articles from Paul Copan over at the UK site “BeThinking”. Each article responds to a different slogan that you might hear if you’re dealing with non-Christians on the street.

“That’s just your interpretation!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • Gently ask, ‘Do you mean that your interpretation should be preferred over mine? If so, I’d like to know why you have chosen your interpretation over mine. You must have a good reason.’
  • Remind your friend that you are willing to give reasons for your position and that you are not simply taking a particular viewpoint arbitrarily.
  • Try to discern if people toss out this slogan because they don’t like your interpretation. Remind them that there are many truths we have to accept even if we don’t like them.
  • ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’ is a statement that is presented as a fact. If it is just an interpretation, then there is no reason to take it seriously.

More responses are here.

“You Christians are intolerant!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • If you say that the Christian view is bad because it is exclusive, then you are also at that exact moment doing the very thing that you are saying is bad. You have to be exclusive to say that something is bad, since you exclude it from being good by calling it bad.
  • There is a difference, a clear difference between tolerance and truth. They are often confused. We should hold to what we believe with integrity but also support the rights of others to disagree with our viewpoint.
  • Sincerely believing something doesn’t make it true. You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. If I get onto a plane and sincerely believe that it won’t crash then it does, then my sincerity is quite hopeless. It won’t change the facts. Our beliefs, regardless of how deeply they are held, have no effect on reality.

More responses are here.

“That’s true for you, but not for me!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • If my belief is only true for me, then why isn’t your belief only true for you? Aren’t you saying you want me to believe the same thing you do?
  • You say that no belief is true for everyone, but you want everyone to believe what you do.
  • You’re making universal claims that relativism is true and absolutism is false. You can’t in the same breath say, ‘Nothing is universally true’ and ‘My view is universally true.’ Relativism falsifies itself. It claims there is one position that is true – relativism!

More responses are here.

“If you were born in India, you’d be a Hindu!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • Just because there are many different religious answers and systems doesn’t automatically mean pluralism is correct.
  • If we are culturally conditioned regarding our religious beliefs, then why should the religious pluralist think his view is less arbitrary or conditioned than the exclusivist’s?
  • If the Christian needs to justify Christianity’s claims, the pluralist’s views need just as much substantiation.

More responses are here.

And a bonus: “How do you know you’re not wrong?“.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

William Lane Craig asks: should Christians embrace postmodernism?

Here’s a short clip:

Dr. Craig thinks that Christianity does a lot better when it is commended to others using logic and evidence. He thinks that postmodernism undermines logic and evidence.

Sean McDowell has more on what this means for Christians:

In Postmodern Youth Ministry, for example, Tony Jones argues that postmodernity is the most important culture shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. It is an “earthquake that has changed the landscape of academia and is currently rocking Western culture.” (p. 11). Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, according to Jones and other postmodernists, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift.

For the longest time I simply accepted that we inhabit a postmodern world and that we must completely transform our approach to ministry to be effective today. But that all changed when I had the opportunity of hearing philosopher William Lane Craig speak at an apologetics conference not too long ago. “This sort of [postmodern] thinking,” says Craig, “is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture.” (“God is Not Dead Yet,” Christianity Today, July 2008, p. 26). He argues that the idea that we live in a postmodern world is a myth. This may strike you as awfully bold. How can he make such a claim?

For one thing, says Craig, postmodernism is unlivable and contradictory: “Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning!” (Reasonable Faith, 2008, p. 18) Craig speaks to tens of thousands of (mostly non-Christian) college students around the world every year and his conclusion is that we live in a cultural milieu that is deeply modernist. Reason, logic, and evidence are as important today as ever (although he’s careful not to overstate their importance, too).

Postmodernism and Apologetics

But this is not all Craig has to say! In the introduction to Reasonable Faith, Craig provocatively claims, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” (p. 18). Accordingly, we ought to stop emphasizing argumentation and apologetics and just share our narrative. Craig develops this idea further:

And so Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us. If we adopt this suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality, while scientific naturalism shapes our culture’s view of how the world really is (p. 18-19).

In a personal email, Craig relayed to me that he believes postmodernism is largely being propagated in our church by misguided youth pastors. While he meant the comment more to elicit a smile than to be taken as a stab in the back, I can’t help but wonder if he is right.

If our culture were so profoundly postmodernist, why have the “New Atheists,” as Wired magazine dubbed them, been so influential? Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have recently written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. If our culture were postmodern their challenges should have fallen on deaf ears.

This is my experience as well. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended IVCF and the woman running it (Jill) was a feminist who pushed postmodernism and feminism hard. Every week brought another testimony emphasizing love and forgiveness while minimizing or denying theology, science, history and logic. She turned down all the efforts of the men to bring in professors to speak about the cosmological argument or the resurrection, etc.. It was testimonies and prayer walks and praise hymns every week. When I questioned the people she chose to give their testimonies (mostly women), I found that none had any reasons for thinking that what they were talking about really was true. As a consequence of that, they were soft on doctrine – regularly throwing out Bible verses that did “resonate” with their “intuitions”. The same thing happened to me again with Campus Crusade as a graduate student. Personal testimonies of changed lives, divorced from any search for truth, every week.

One girl in particular that I knew at that time named Kerry was fond of bashing the laws of logic and the use of evidence. When I questioned her about it, she cited the influence of a charismatic youth pastor named Drew. A little more probing revealed that she denied the reality of Hell, and was a universalist. She eventually married a friend of mine and to this day has never read a single book on apologetics all the way through. Her beliefs are very much focused on the here and now, making friends and feeling good about herself. She never shook the habit of dismissing any argument, no matter how well-supported, that contradicted her intuitions.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why are young evangelicals reluctant to defend Biblical Christianity in public?

Here’s an interesting post by Mark Tooley in the American Spectator.

Excerpt:

A new generation of evangelical elites is imploring evangelicals to step back from the culture wars. Mostly they want to escape polarizing strong stances on same-sex marriage and abortion, and perhaps also contentious church-state issues, like the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.

Purportedly the evangelical church is failing to reach young, upwardly mobile professionals because evangelicals, who now broadly comprise perhaps one third of all Americans, are seen as reactionary and hateful. On their college campuses, at their coffee shops, and in their yoga classes, among other venues, some outspoken hip young evangelicals want a new public image for their faith.

[...]A popular young evangelical blogger echoing Merritt’s theme is Rachel Evans, who conveniently grew up in the Tennessee small town famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial. Her 2010 book was Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. “We are tired of the culture wars,” she explained in a recent interview. “We are tired of politics.” Lamenting the church’s preoccupation with “shame and guilt,” she urged evangelicals to reconsider their opposition to same-sex unions.

The post has a nice history of how evangelicals have always been involved in moral and political issues, and it’s worth reading. But I want to make a different point below.

Compartmentalization of faith

What’s at the root of this movement to back away from moral issues? Here’s what I think is the problem. When you advocate for moral causes like protecting the unborn, or school choice, or freeing the slaves, a bunch of people are not going to like you. Christians in the time of Jesus knew that being bold about their Christian convictions would make a lot of people think bad things about them – they expected it. But young evangelicals have gotten the idea that being a Christian should not involve any sort of unhappiness and unpopularity. They wouldn’t have learned this from the Bible, because the Bible emphasizes suffering and unpopularity as part of the normal Christian life. It is their experience of church (and the hedonistic culture around them) that is likely to reinforce that view.

What young evangelicals learn in many churches is that religion is something that is centered on the Bible and the church building – it is not something that flows into real life. They learn that you can’t find out anything about God from the Big Bang, the DNA, the fossil record, or even from the peer-reviewed research on abortion, divorce, or gay marriage. They learn from the Bible that helping the poor is good, but then they never pick up an economic textbook to see which economic system really helps the poor. What you learn about in church is that religion is private and has no connection to reality whatsoever. This fits in with their view that Christianity should make them happy, because they’ve learned that it doesn’t involve any studying to connect the Bible to the real world.

What follows from having a view that Christianity only lives in the Bible and church, and not out there in the real world of telescopes and microscopes? Well, most young evangelicals interpret what their pastor is telling them as “our flavor of ice cream” or “our cultural preference”. They don’t link Christianity to the real world, they don’t think that it’s true for everyone. They think that you just accept what the Bible says on faith, and that’s all. No reasons can be given to non-Christians outside of just asking them to accept the Bible. Younger evangelicals believe that there are no facts that confirm or disprove Christianity – it’s just a blind belief. Young evangelicals think that their faith doesn’t have to be complemented with careful study of how things work in the real world.

What is the result of this anti-intellectual compartmentalization of faith? The result is that young evangelicals will balk at the idea of telling someone that they are going to Hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. They will balk at the idea that feminism is to blame for the destruction of the family. They will balk at the idea that the best way to help the poor is to push for free market capitalism. They will balk at the idea that it is wrong to kill unborn children. They will balk at the idea that disarmament and pacifism embolden terrorists and tyrants to attack peace-loving people. They will balk at the idea that traditional marriage is better for society and children. They will balk at the idea that man-made catastrophic global warming is not supported by science. They lack courage to take Biblical positions, because they first lack knowledge. They don’t know how to make the case using evidence that their opponents will accept – mainstream evidence from publicly accessible sources.

Christianity is a knowledge tradition

If the purpose of religion is to have happy feelings and be liked, then studying the real world to find out whether the Bible is true is bad religion. If religion is divorced from reality, then it’s just a personal preference influenced by how a person was raised. No young evangelical is going to lift a finger to take bold moral stands if they think their worldview is just one option among many – like the flavors of ice cream in the frozen section of the grocery store. They have to know that what they are saying is true – then they will be bold. An example: there was a time when people believed that God did not create the first living cell, because it was just a simple lump of protoplasm that could easily come about by accident. Now we know better, and we can boldly make the case for intelligent design based on hard evidence – if we put in the time to study the evidence.

And it is the same for everything – from theological claims, to moral claims, to social claims, to economic claims, to foreign policy claims. It doesn’t matter if people call you names when you have the facts to support unpopular claims, and that’s why public, authentic Christianity is built on knowledge of facts. Non-Christians being offended by your claims doesn’t change the way the world is.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

William Lane Craig lectures on the postmodern challenge to theism

In a lecture entitled “Are there Objective Truths About God?”, philosopher William Lane Craig responds to postmodern challenges to the idea of truth, and specifically to the idea that religion is about objective truth.

Here’s the link to a page containing the lecture audio. (H/T Be Thinking)

The MP3 file is here.

So what questions does Bill answer in the lecture?

What is a self-refuting statement?

The main concept in the lecture is self-refutation. A self-refuting sentence is a sentence that, if true, makes itself false or meaningless. For example, suppose someone said to you: “there are no sentences longer than 5 words” then that would be self-refuting since it falsifies itself. Bill argues that objections to the idea that there are objective truths about God are all self-refuting.

What is truth?

Craig holds that “truth” is a property of a proposition such that a proposition is true if 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. If there is no crocodile in your closet then my statement was false. The real objective world out there is what makes propositional claims true or false – these are not claims about an individual’s preferences, they are claims about the world. Bill is concerned with truth claims about God that are objective – whether there are propositions about God that are true regardless of what anyone thinks.

Are there objective truths about God?

Bill discusses 3 objections to the idea that there are objective truths about God. Each objection seeks to make religion subjective, (true for each person, like food preferences or clothing fashion).

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 “Propositions about God cannot be true or false”. Craig asks – why should we accept that? Any reason given would have to assert something about God that is true or false, and those reasons would contradict the original statement. For example, “God is too great to be grasped by human categories of thought” is a proposition about God that the speaker thinks is true, which contradicts the original assertion.

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, regardless of what they think.  It’s self-refuting.

Conclusion

Craig ends the lecture by arguing that it is OK for Christians to think that other people’s views are false. It does not follow that just because someone thinks 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 for Christians to love their enemies. It is objectively true that all human beings have value, because human beings are made by God. So even if Christians disagree with others, they still treat them well, because they think that there are moral truths that they have to conform to.

My thoughts

Sometimes, non-Christians think that it is dangerous to hold beliefs too strongly. But I think what really matters is the content of the belief – some beliefs are false and some are true – you want to believe the true beliefs as strongly as you can, as long as the evidence warrants it. 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.

Why do non-Christians get so offended when Christians claim to be right about there being only one way to be rightly related to God? Well, for many it’s because their worldview is a personal preference, and they feel uncomfortable having to defend it rationally and evidentially. Christianity is different – we are used to having to defend our truth claims using evidence, because that is the core of the religion, and the example of the founder and his closest followers.

For most people, religion is just their cultural preference – like cooking style, or favorite sport, or clothing style. That’s why they respond to your truth claims with name-calling like “you’re intolerant” and “you’re judgemental” and “you’re arrogant”. These are just shorthand ways of saying, “I’m offended that you think that what you believe is true and you think that what I believe is false”. They would never say that in a math classroom or a chemistry lab, where truth matters. But because they are coming to the discussion with the presupposition that religion is like clothing and diet preferences, they take everything personally instead of treating religion as something objective, just like any other area of knowledge.

This problem of being offended by truth claims is especially common with people who are raised to think that their religion is a racial, national or cultural identity. They haven’t thought anything through, or considered any alternatives, and they think that if you tell them they are wrong  on matters of fact that somehow this amounts to some sort of racism, intolerance or prejudice. You make factual claims, and they hear discrimination. But that’s not how Christians think of religion – we only care if it’s true or not – just like we care whether the claims of history or science are true or not. For many non-Christians, religion is not about truth at all but about personal preferences – and they cannot understand why Christians say that they have to go to Hell for having the wrong personal preferences. You have to tell them that religion is about truth, and that people displease God because they don’t know what is true, and they don’t want to know what is true. Then they understand why you are disagreeing with them and you can have a conversation about what is true.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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