Theistic Critiques Of Atheism

William Lane Craig

Abridged version in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, pp. 69-85. Ed. M. Martin. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2007 (more info here)

Introduction

The last half-century has witnessed a veritable revolution in Anglo-American philosophy. In a recent retrospective, the eminent Princeton philosopher Paul Benacerraf recalls what it was like doing philosophy at Princeton during the 1950s and ’60s. The overwhelmingly dominant mode of thinking was scientific naturalism. Metaphysics had been vanquished, expelled from philosophy like an unclean leper. Any problem that could not be addressed by science was simply dismissed as a pseudo-problem. Verificationism reigned triumphantly over the emerging science of philosophy. “This new enlightenment would put the old metaphysical views and attitudes to rest and replace them with the new mode of doing philosophy.”

The collapse of the Verificationism was undoubtedly the most important philosophical event of the twentieth century. Its demise meant a resurgence of metaphysics, along with other traditional problems of philosophy which Verificationism had suppressed. Accompanying this resurgence has come something new and altogether unanticipated: a renaissance in Christian philosophy.

The face of Anglo-American philosophy has been transformed as a result. Theism is on the rise; atheism is on the decline. Atheism, though perhaps still the dominant viewpoint at the American university, is a philosophy in retreat. In a recent article in the secularist journal Philo Quentin Smith laments what he calls “the desecularization of academia that evolved in philosophy departments since the late 1960s.” He complains,

Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism. . . began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians . . . . in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, ‘academically respectable’ to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today.

Smith concludes, “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”

As vanguards of a new philosophical paradigm, theistic philosophers have freely issued various critiques of atheism. In so short a space as this entry it is impossible to do little more than sketch some of them and to provide direction for further reading. These critiques could be grouped under two basic heads: (1) There are no cogent arguments on behalf of atheism, and (2) There are cogent arguments on behalf of theism.

Much more here.

4 replies
  1. Naumadd
    Naumadd says:

    First, in the “atheism vs. theism” debate, there are certainly many on both “sides” who believe atheism to be a coherent and systematic philosophy and perhaps many who wish it to be so, however, “atheism” is merely a term necessary to theists to identify those who disagree with their views – namely, belief in some alleged supernatural “higher power” or “god”. There are, in fact, many various philosophies that can might be considered “atheistic” to the theist. Despite many years of reading and discussion with atheist and theist alike, I’ve yet to identify a systematized body of thought one could label as The Philosophy of Atheism. What one, in fact, discovers are some shared arguments for the rejection of theist claims but a highly diverse set of beliefs as an alternative to belief in a “god”. Truly, although two “atheists” may have similar reasons for rejecting the claims of theists – i.e., what they don’t believe in – what they personally DO believe in as individuals identified and possibly indentifying as “atheists” isn’t often predictable. All in all, just as theists make other unsupportable claims, it is no surprise they would make unsupportable claims to a “philosophy of atheism” when none such can be determined. Indeed, a purported “philosophy” which is merely the negative assertion of another is no philosophy at all. What one ought to be interested in is a system of thought which lays down positive assertions about the nature of existence, the path to knowledge, workable and unworkable values, guidelines for conduct among human beings and one’s abstract notions of beauty. Some have attempted to do just this, however, these attempts at systematic positive assertions in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and aesthetics require a names suitable to their positive assertions rather than a label that is representative of what is not true of that philosophy.

    Second, to say that “atheism” is on the decline smacks of theist wishful thinking. Spend enough time among those you might consider atheists either in person or on the internet and the impression you’ll get is that there is an abundance of individuals whose systems of belief are most definitely atheistic in nature. What I’ve observed, rather than a decline of atheistic thought, is a resurgence or renaissance of those who reject theistic claims and practices who feel a new sense of liberty to communicate their own non-theistic beliefs, values, feelings, and practices. I would suggest, if one cannot see the truth of this clearly, one is perhaps spending too much time locked in one’s ivory tower waiting for the mother ship.

  2. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Indeed, a purported “philosophy” which is merely the negative assertion of another is no philosophy at all.

    philosophy n. any system of beliefs or values (definition 3); a personal outlook or viewpoint (definition 4; Collins Essential English Dictionary, 2nd Edition (HarperCollins, 2006)).

    You don’t seem to understand that a negative assertion is still an assertion. Saying that some philosophy is wrong is, itself, a positive assertion of truth. You are saying that it is true that some proposition (in this case, that God exists) is false.

    What one ought to be interested in is a system of thought which lays down positive assertions about the nature of existence, the path to knowledge, workable and unworkable values, guidelines for conduct among human beings and one’s abstract notions of beauty.

    That is exactly what Christians are interested in—and that is exactly how they demonstrate the absurdity of atheism, since atheism of any kind cannot successfully do any of these things.

  3. Rob
    Rob says:

    Naumadd wrote: “…what they personally DO believe in as individuals identified and possibly indentifying as “atheists” isn’t often predictable.”

    I would agree with that. Most atheists I speak have no coherent worldview, and have never even considered the importance of such. This is of course a profound weakness of any system, that it fails to account for ALL knowledge, and makes no attempt to make a coherent whole from the parts.

    So yes, this is another reason atheism in its general form should be ejected — on intellectual grounds too — at least until it provides a coherent explanation for the whole of life and the universe.

    Of course, to the atheist who attempts this, everything becomes ultimately meaningless, so why even bother. Just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die :-)

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Second, to say that “atheism” is on the decline smacks of theist wishful thinking.

    Perhaps you missed that Craig was quoting Quentin Smith, who is himself an atheist philosopher. Here it is again;

    In a recent article in the secularist journal Philo Quentin Smith laments what he calls “the desecularization of academia that evolved in philosophy departments since the late 1960s.”. . . . Smith concludes, “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”

    Quentin Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” Philo 4/2(2001): 3-4.

    Being familiar with William Lane Craig’s thought I have confidence he would say that the current vocal resurgence of the “new atheism” lacks intellectual muscle. The popular scene (the internet, the media, the best-sellers by Dawkins, Dennett and Harris, etc.,) does not reflect the scene at the higher academic levels – especially in philosophy – where theism is regarded as intellectually respectable.

    The effect of this resurgence in Christian philosophy can be seen in the trickle-down effect. For instance, see the swell of the Intelligent Design movement, that now enjoys the benefits of tough intellectual advocates. It is hoped that philosophy departments are not God’s last stronghold in academia, but a…

    “…beachhead from which operations can be launched to impact other disciplines at the university for Christ.”

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5352

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