William Lane Craig in Auckland, Part 1

The perils of proximity always make it difficult to assess contemporary trends in society. However it seems difficult not to argue that, at least for the West, our age is increasingly a secular age. There has been a shift within most areas of society, such that religion has largely become irrelevant and marginalized. This transformation has not always been homogeneous. In fact, since the late 1960s, the field of philosophy has resisted this sweeping trend and exhibited a remarkable growth and influence of Christian philosophy. William Lane Craig, research professor at Talbot school of Theology, has been one of the intellectual luminaries apart of this minor resurgence.

Craig’s work on the arguments for God’s existence, understanding God’s knowledge of the future, the historicity of the resurrection and other issues have had a significant impact within the academic world (a good overview of some of his articles can be found here). He is not only a distinguished philosopher, but a renown evangelical theologian and apologist. While some of us here may disagree with a few of his peripheral theological positions, he is a fine thinker and a servant of Christ who deserves enormous respect. And given that New Zealand, very rarely, sees Christian thinkers of his depth of scholarship and experience on our shores, it is indeed exciting to have him here (for reports from earlier events of Craig’s NZ tour: Christian News New Zealand has a page set aside here).

The first Auckland event, on Monday the 16th, was at the Bible College of New Zealand on a wintry, beclouded evening. The attendance numbered at around eighty, in my estimation, which was somewhat disappointing. On the basis of both the topic and the speaker, I would have expected more. That topic was zoologist Richard Dawkins. The event, organised by Matthew Flannagan, was set up with the purpose of allowing Craig to address Dawkins’ recent claims.

Dawkins originally cut his teeth in the field of evolutionary biology but in the last few years has become popular for his assault on belief in God. His 2006 book, The God Delusion, has sold well over 1.5 million copies and has helped to crystallize the emergence of the “New Atheism” movement. In Craig’s radio interview with Kim Hill on Saturday (which can be heard here), it was interesting to hear Craig describe his lack of concern for the torrent of literature that the New Atheists have recently published – namely because of their insufficient academic roots. Clearly, however, as Christians who believe that the Biblical truth claims are intellectually justified and that faith is neither one of the world’s great evils nor that it qualifies as a mental illness (as Dawkins both suggests), we should then be ready to be able to challenge such criticism. Craig’s analysis of The God Delusion was brief but trenchant. He focused on what is the centerpiece of the The God Delusion – Dawkins’ main argument for atheism (found on pages 157 and 158):

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.
5. We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.
6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.
Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

The first thing that Craig underscored was that the argument is invalid. There is no logical way for Dawkins to deduce this conclusion from the six premises. Even if charitably interpreted – not as premises of an argument but as summary statements – the argument fails to (“almost certainly”) disprove God. Craig pointed out that the design argument is only one argument for God and that a Christian has available many more for God’s existence (such as, from morals or from the resurrection of Christ) quite apart from the design hypothesis. Belief in the existence of God does not stand or fall with the design argument.

(continued in Part 2)

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