Updates and information on the latest apologetic events near you.

Symposium on science and religion in the 21st Century

Auckland University School of Theology is hosting a symposium on Science and religion in the 21st Century: faith in science, science in faith with Professor Robert White FRS, Professor of Geophysics, University of Cambridge. Saturday 14 March 2009, 8.30am-6pm.

Programme;

Prof Jeff Tallon FRSNZ

Truth or true? – faith and science rubbing shoulders
 

Prof Bob White FRS

Natural disasters: acts of God or results of human folly?
 

Dr Graeme Finlay

The story in our genes
 

Rev Dr Graham O’Brien

Evolving evolution

 
Prof Gareth Jones CNZM

Manufacturing humans: the borderlands between human and divine control
 

Prof John McClure

Psychology and religion: is there a ghost in the machine?

 
Dr Stephen Garner/ Dr Nicola Hoggard-Creegan

The view from theology

 

Saturday 14 March 2009, 8.30am-6pm

Theatre 401-439, ‘Neon Foyer’, Engineering School, Symonds Street, The University of

Auckland

 

Registration is required for the symposium by Wednesday 11 March, with p.medhora@auckland.ac.nz

Cost $20, non-waged people $10 (refreshments and lunch provided)

Parking can be found under Owen G Glenn building, $5 flat rate

Science and Faith: Some Auckland events with Dr Frank Stootman

Dr Frank Stootman will be visiting New Zealand for two evening meetings and an afternoon/evening seminar in late March. Dr Stootman is an astrophysicist and an associate professor at the University of Western Sydney, and head of the Australian L’Abri community. I was able to hear him last year at a seminar he gave and found him particularly good in his discussion of the current debates in the science related to the mind. He is passionate about the integration of science and faith and in continuing the apologetic legacy of Francis Schaeffer. Some of the venues are still to be finalised, and I will update the post when the details become available. Anyone is welcome, but please contact Peter at psbowden@vodafone.co.nz first, as numbers will be limited by the size of the venues.

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Saturday 21 March – 7pm: The life and impact of Francis Schaeffer
Venue; Drs Bryan and Susan Parry’s house, 17 Empire Rd Epsom.

A discussion of the life and writings of Francis Schaeffer who with his wife Edith founded the Christian community of L’Abri in Switzerland in the 1950’s. His evaluation of culture in all its variety; art, science, literature, and ideas from a Christian perspective and in the context of community has been a profound influence for good in the lives of generations of people. His work continues in L’Abri communities around the world.

Saturday 28 March – 2pm – 9pm. Comprehending Life, the Universe, and God

Dinner catered for at 6pm.
Venue – the home of Dr Peter and Sarah Bowden
68 Esplanade Rd., Mt Eden.

Topics to be presented and discussed:
1. The Grandeur of the Universe: Dimensioning the Majesty of God
2. Is there other life out there? What are the implications? A look at modern SETI (Search for extra-terrestial intelligence)
3. Is the universe too good to be true? A look at the extraordinarily finely tuned universe we inhabit that has allowed the world and universe we know to exist and human life to flourish.

$10 fee for students. $25 for non students.

Answering Objections to the Christian Faith: An Auckland Event

Apologetics: Answering Objections to the Christian Faith
Dr Matthew Flannagan BSocSci, MSocSci (Hons), PhD

In this presentation, Dr Flannagan will speak on the nature of Apologetics and will examine some common objections to the faith such as: Why does God allow evil? Isn’t it arrogant to believe your religion is the only true one? Isn’t faith in God irrational? Dr Flannagan is an adjunct lecturer in Philosophy for Laidlaw College, he works with Thinking Matters and writes for the MandM blog.

When: Sunday 8 March
Time: 6.30 pm

Where: Massey Presbyterian Church – 510 Don Bucks Rd, Massey, West Auckland
Cost: Free

Event Format: Presentation followed by Q&A

It’s open to Christian and non-Christian alike; anyone interested in apologetics, theology and Christian philosophy. It is lay-person friendly, you won’t need a philosophy or a theology degree to be able to follow the talk.

God and the limits of science: Auckland Lecture this week

This Tuesday, the 21st of October, Dr Neil Broom will be giving a lecture addressing the debate about science and design. He will examine the explanatory limits of science and the case for the existence of God.

Topic: Science and the ‘God vs No-God’ Dilemma
Date: Tuesday, 21st October 08
Time: 6-7pm
Where: Lecture theatre 4.304 Engineering faculty

Neil Broom is a professor and the deputy head of the department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at Auckland University. He was trained as a materials scientist has been involved in over 77 published articles in international journals . Dr Broom initially spent time in research investigating crystalline structures before he switched focus to explore the world of living materials over the last two decades. With abundant exposure to nonliving and lving systems, Broom is convinced that the data of science paints a different story than the increasingly dominant view that we are merely biological artifacts of a cold, unfriendly universe.

His book, “How Blind is the Watchmaker?” from InterVarsity Press (it can also be previewed on Google Books),  challenges the “filmsily crafted but persuasively packaged myth of scientific materialism” and argues that the living world functions “in the presence of a transcendent, nonmaterial dimension – a dimension that both nourishes and imparts meaning to the processes of life”.

Two Movies soon to hit New Zealand screens

HOUSE
Christian novelists Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker combine with director Robby Henson to create a horror/thriller called House. The trailer was released on www.apple.com today and it promises to be a cut above the average Christian film. To those who are looking for the allegory it is obvious enough and could prove to be a useful tool in evangelism. The question is though, will Christians have to fortitude to see it?Peretti’s books are frightening enough without them being visualised on screen. The scheduled release date is 7 November, 2008 in the USA and if it makes it to the movie screen and doesn’t go straight to DVD the release date in NZ is anybody’s guess

Synopsis from IMDB
In rural Alabama, two couples find themselves in a fight for survival. Running from a maniac (The Tin Man) bent on killing them, they flee deep into the woods and seek refuge in a house. They soon realize the killer has purposely lured them to this house and that they are now trapped. As they huddle around an old fireplace, a tin can falls through the chimney. Scrawled on its side is a message from the killer, establishing his House Rules. The rules call for their deaths unless they kill at least one of the four. They have less than 12 hours to find a way to survive. At sunrise the game is over and everyone dies if the killer’s demands aren’t met. What they quickly learn is that the only way out… is in. But going further into this house–where unknown challenges await them–is equally deadly. Written by Anonymous

NIGHTS IN RODANTHE

Another Movie that will make it to the silver screen in NZ on October 30th is Nights in Rodanthe staring Richard Gere and Diane Lane and directed by George C. Wolfe. This film is a Drama / Romance by the same Christian author Nicholas Sparks that bought us Angels in the Outfield, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle and The Notebook. From the Synopsis it looks as if this film is more in line with his latter work with questionable ethical standards, rather than his earlier work where strong Christian values were prominent. There is little question the film will be a success with the star power of Lane and Gere and Sparks story-telling ability but it remains to be seen if it can be utilised in any effective way for evangelism or apologetics like House.

Synopsis from IMDB
Adrienne Willis, a woman with her life in chaos, retreats to the tiny coastal town of Rodanthe, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to tend to a friend’s inn for the weekend. Here she hopes to find the tranquility she so desperately needs to rethink the conflicts surrounding her — a wayward husband who has asked to come home, and a teen-aged daughter who resents her every decision. Almost as soon as Adrienne gets to Rodanthe, a major storm is forecast and a guest named Dr. Paul Flanner arrive. The only guest at the inn, Flanner is not on a weekend escape but rather is there to face his own crisis of conscience. Now, with the storm closing in, the two turn to each other for comfort and, in one magical weekend, set in motion a life-changing romance that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives. Written by Drew ToLoweJarrBar

Apologetic events in Tauranga and Auckland this week

Tauranga

Tonight the Tauranga Thinking Matters study group will be kicking off its series on Relativism. Dr Matthew Flannagan will be speaking. Matthew currently teaches part time at the Bible College of New Zealand. He holds a Masters degree in Philosophy from the University of Waikato and a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago. He has debated notable New Zealand skeptics including Bill Cooke.

Relativism remains an attractive position in our society today. Moreover, it is often suggested that relativism promotes tolerance and safeguards us from dogmatism and authoritarianism. But even if we recognise that there are a wide range of moral viewpoints – that something may be wrong for me but seem perfectly acceptable to someone else, or another society – is this all we can say on the matter? For any moral belief you have, should the mere fact that you believe it alone justify its truthfulness? Matt will consider the implications of this view, it’s ultimate incoherence and how a Christian can formulate a response.

If you’re in the region, it is free to attend. And there will be time for questions and answers.

When: 7-9pm
Where: Bethlehem Community Church Center – 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem

Download the brochure or for more information and for the rest of the Tauranga events this month (including a lecture by Mark Mullins on religious pluralism) check out the Tauranga website.

Auckland

Tonight, Dr Steve Kumar is continuing a week-long apologetics training course at the Baptist Tabernacle. The sessions have been organised for those interested in university campus ministry but anyone is welcome. The subjects will be broadly accessible for those wanting to deepen their appreciation of the intellectual credibility of Christianity and in widening their resources for the articulation and defense of their faith. There is no cost to attend.

Steve has been involved in apologetic ministry in New Zealand for almost thirty years and is a regular speaker at universities, conferences and churches throughout Australasia, Europe and the US. He has debated several notable skeptics and philosophy HoDs and is the author of several books including Christianity for Skeptics, Think Why You Believe, and Answering the Counterfeit.

The Baptist Tabernacle is on 429 Queen Street in the CBD (at the very top of Queen Street) with parking available at the church.

Timetable:

Tuesday. Examining atheistic worldviews: normativity and meaning under a secularist outlook.

7.30- 9.30. On Level 3.

Wednesday. The evidence for God and assessing common objections to the Christian worldview

7.30-9.30. On Level 1 Room 4

Thursday: Understanding the basic beliefs of the major world religions in comparison to Christianity.

7.30-9.30 Lounge

Friday: Christianity and the cults: the ambit of orthodoxy

7.30-9.30 Library

We welcome any news of apologetic events around New Zealand, email us and we’ll be happy to post the details.

Science and Theology: Upcoming Auckland Events

How do we understand the relationship between theology and science? This question has had a troubled history, with proponents on both sides offering rival interpretations that have produced an uneasy, often bitter relationship between the two disciplines. Should we understand each as concerned with distinct realms of reality? And even if we do believe they describe the same reality, should we take them as impossible to harmonize; each having different language games and different mental attitudes that permit no overlap? Is it science that generates the picture of reality that theology then picks up and applies or is it perhaps theology that provides the worldview for the presuppositions of science (for a discussion of how science requires the assumption of certain basic judgements to get off the ground, see Bnonn’s post)?

Anyone concerned with these questions and who in fact do believe that there is scope for integration, mutual reinforcement and conflict between science and theology, there are two upcoming events in Auckland in September and October that may be of interest. For Christians, often it is the account of Genesis that provides the flashpoint for this debate, and these two events will focus on the issues thrown up particularly by the creation narrative in the Bible.

“An astrophysicist looks at Genesis” A L’abri Seminar with Dr Frank Stootman.

Saturday, September 6, 1.15pm.

Dr Stootman is associate Professor of astrophysics, computing and mathematics at the University of Western Sydney and the Head of the Australia L’abri (an international apologetics organisation originally founded by Francis Schaeffer). He will be comparing the Genesis account with the prevailing scientific view and examing whether Adam and Eve are historical or mythological figures, among other issues.

The seminar is at 76 Esplanade Rd Mt Eden but places are limited to 40 so registration is absolutely essential. A donation of $20 is suggested ($10 for students). Contact Peter Bowden 09 6304887 or email psbowden@vodafone.co.nz

“Resolving the Creation versus Evolution Controversy”

The first session is on Saturday September 27 and the second is on October 4, both at 9.30am – 12.30pm

The speaker will be Dr Graeme Finlay, Senior Lecturer in cancer biology and scientific pathology. He will be examining the positions of special creationism and intelligent design, different religious/metaphysical perspectives and their relationship with science and how we should reconcile the Biblical doctrine of creation with the claims of science.

The event will be held on the Auckland Uni Campus, Room 336, Level 3, Building No. 810, 1 – 11 Short Street. Places are limited to 35.

For further information and enrollment, you can go to the Auckland University website.

William Lane Craig in Tauranga

Last Wednesday, July 18, Thinking Matters Tauranga hosted Dr William Lane Craig at Bethlehem Community Church’s new meeting facility. Craig presented two lectures; the first on the importance of apologetics, and the second on whether belief in God is reasonable. For a mid-week, mid-afternoon event, the first lecture garnered more people than were expected; about 100. This was encouraging to see, especially as there were not a few teenagers and young adults in the crowd. The second lecture filled the meeting facility to capacity, with a little over 200 people (if I recall correctly). It was essentially a re-presentation of the same five arguments which Bill used in his debate in Auckland, so I won’t go into detail describing it, as Jason has already blogged the Auckland events.

In any case, the first lecture was by far the better one for me. Bill talked about whether or not apologetics is necessary for evangelism, arguing that although it is not strictly required, it is very frequently a means used by God to bring about conversions. He strongly criticized those Christians who say that apologetics is not needed, or even is not biblical, pointing out that although God doesn’t strictly need apologetics to convert people’s hearts, practicing it certainly is biblical, and it is one of the primary means that God does use. He further argued that evangelism is not conducted in a vacuum, and that apologetics is necessary to maintain Christianity’s place as an intellectually respectable position in the modern world—particularly in universities, where society’s movers and shakers are largely created.

Having talked about the importance of apologetics for affirming Christianity to non-Christians, he then went on to talk about its importance for affirming Christianity to Christians. This is something particularly close to my heart, as most of my own writing is directed toward believers—and not necessarily with the primary aim of equipping them to defeat non-Christians in argumentation. It is extremely important, to my mind, that Christians have rational, defensible, articulate reasons for their belief. It is tragic to hear about people who come to Christianity on an enormous emotional high, and then crash some time later because they have no more solid foundation for their faith than that emotion.

In this vein, Bill told an anecdote of an evangelist he had met while studying for the final oral exams of his theology degree. She had a natural talent for bringing people to God, not through argumentation, but by her charisma and the earnestness of her belief. She was highly successful, and it disheartened him, since he was forced to wonder if all his hard work with intellectual study was necessary. Was he barking up the wrong tree? His conclusion, provided by a friend at the time, was that no—it was extremely necessary. All those people converted by this woman would be coming to people like Bill a few years down the line, because emotion doesn’t provide reasons to believe.

This lecture meshes very well with the first issue of our journal, which will be published soon. It was very encouraging to hear one of the leading Christian apologists in the world saying the same things that we are, and it made for a truly noteworthy and appropriate launch for Thinking Matters in Tauranga. My particular thanks to Rodney Lake for his excellent work getting the Tauranga group up and running, and for organizing the event.

Craig v Cooke: The God delusion debate

The Auckland debate between Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, and atheist historian, Bill Cooke is now up on YouTube (HT: MandM). Commentary has also been available from some of those that attended the debate: Ian Wishart, Dale Campbell, and organiser Matthew Flannagan have offered their reflections on the proceedings (I particularly recommend Matt’s excellent summary). The consensus of their thoughts (and even of those without theistic sympathies) accords with the reaction of most that I talked to on the night: Craig clearly emerged as the better. He offered and defended a more rigorous case for his negation of the moot – that belief in God is not a delusion but a reasonable conclusion from the evidence. Cooke is no stranger to debates and as vice-president of the NZ association of Rationalists and Humanists I expected more from him. On the night, however, he seemed sorely absent. Cooke disparaged the format and theme of the debate, displaying throughout an unwillingness to confront the substance of Craig’s arguments and strangely even refused to respond to some of Craig’s comments during the Q and A session.

Craig marshaled five solid arguments for his position that I thought enabled a good starting point for discussion. Cooke, in his opening address, on the other hand, presented social and political commentary on the consequences of dogmatic religious belief. This was an unnecessary derailment. Of course we should always try to understand and follow the social implications of what we believe, but this is not how we settle questions of truth. Whether dogma inhibits intellectual progress, moral understanding, or religious dialogue is completely beside the point; we need to first test our beliefs against reality. The only other significant argument Cooke raised was a similarly irrelevant discussion of the origin and evolution of monothestic belief. When Craig rightly pointed this out as an instance of the genetic fallacy and dismissed Cooke’s pragmatic notion of truth, the atheist historian retreated chiefly to moral posturing for the remainder of the debate.

However, articulations of moral outrage make for a poor substitute of actual arguments. Cooke’s indignation towards Christian doctrines seemed even more hollow when he equivocated on the objectivity of morality. He decried the anthropocentricity and arrogance of religious belief and affirmed that the true spirit of humanity rests in each of us crafting our own purpose. But Cooke never presented any real metaethical foundation for this view, apart from a discussion of evolution in his rendering of the concept of “reciprocal altruism”. This was simply question-begging. Why should our instincts be followed? And why should we trust natural processes to tell us what is moral or rational? According to the evolutionary framework, our knowledge is directed to what is most conducive to our survival, not necessarily to representing things as the way they are or morally ought to be.

This was further borne out in the Q and A session, when Cooke was asked how it was that morals actually bound him. His response was in the vein of postmodern pragmatist, Richard Rorty, suggesting that we determine our morality on the basis of the reactions we get from others. Craig incisively pointed out, in response, that this is a definition of prudence, not morality. If Cooke is right; that we invent our purpose and own set of principles – what then if we believe that we won’t get caught? What would stop us from changing our principles to suit us? For if we can bind ourselves, then we can free ourselves from those same restraints, because the capacity to create moral principles rests within the same self that crafted them.

In contrast to Cooke’s groundless “cosmic humility” theory of morality, the theistic worldview gives an adequate foundation for objective morality because it is rooted in God’s character and his essential and necessary nature. Christianity provides actual justification for addressing the goals that Cooke is quite right to raise – poverty, hunger and other social inequalities in the world can be tackled because, in Christianity, each human has intrinsic worth. Each bears the image of God, invested with dignity and value as we each reflect the intrinsic value and worth of God.

Overall, Craig was more persuasive; at least one of them showed up to actually debate. Nothing summed up the night more, I think, than Cooke’s complaint about Craig’s “rational edifices” and how the Christian philosopher had anchored his arguments to the “shifting sands of science”. It would have been more satisfying if Cooke had actually provided more of a challenge to Craig but it was still a great evening. It was really exciting to see such a great number students (during the middle of exams, no less) and many others interested in these important issues.

William Lane Craig in Auckland, Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

The argument for God’s existence from design in the universe has a biography of vertiginous highs and lows. Its roots travel as far back as Socrates and the ruminations of ancient thinkers such as Cicero, who wrote in De Natura Deorum; ‘What could be more clear or obvious when we look up to the sky and contemplate the heavens, than that there is some divinity of superior intelligence?’ Since its early forms in ancient philosophy, the argument held particular favour through the middle ages and the modern world before it fell victim to the metaphysical blade of David Hume and the evolutionary theory in the twentieth century. In more recent times, with deeper scientific insight into the elegance and reliability of the laws of nature and the finely tuned physical constants necessary for life, the argument has been recovered and even responsible for swaying some of its most ardent critics (I’m thinking particularly of the intellectual conversion of Anthony Flew, one of the twentieth centuries most esteemed atheists, well-known for popularising the invisible gardener challenge against the design argument).

Many opponents however remain unconvinced. Richard Dawkins, zoologist and chair at the university of Oxford, has expended significant effort to undermine the credibility of the design hypothesis. From his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker to his more recent writings, Dawkins has contended against the Intelligent Design movement and those that see a divine mind behind the beauty and regularities of the cosmos.

Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, at a public lecture at the Bible College of New Zealand, addressed Dawkins’ discussion of the design inference and his chief objection against belief in the existence of God. Craig demonstrated that this argument, found in Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, simply does not succeed in its aspirations; its form is invalid and its failure; catastrophic.

Craig extended his assessment further and, after considering some of the other weaknesses of the syllogism, narrowed his focus to Dawkins’ third premise (“the temptation [to view the appearance of design as actual design] is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer”). Craig saw this as the most problematic step in Dawkins’ reasoning. He argued that, first of all, it was false for Dawkins to claim that one must explain the designer in order to accept the design explanation. When assessing the strength of a theory, the only test is whether the explanation is the best one.

Craig was also critical of Dawkins’ claim that the design hypothesis offers no ‘explanatory advance’ because of the supposed need for greater complexity on the part of the designer. In theory assessment, Craig maintained that simplicity is only one criteria that is used to judge an explanation. Other considerations include: explanatory power, explanatory scope, degree of ad hoc-ness, and plausibility. In certain cases, simplicity can be jettisoned when these other criteria are satisfied to high degree.

Finally, Craig argued that Dawkins most fundamental mistake was his assumption that a divine designer is comparable in complexity to the design in the universe. Craig demonstrated that this, however, is an unwarranted assumption. As a non-physical mind, God is uniquely simple and not composed of parts. What might be considered parts: self-consciousness, volition, rationality, are all essential to what makes a mind a mind. Its very nature requires all its parts to be what it is (in comparison to features of the universe which are contingent).

Craig’s discussion of the argument went for no more than fifteen to twenty minutes. The rest of the evening (an additional hour and a half) was left open for questions, which drew out some useful comments.

Understandably, most of the discussion was on Dawkins and many of his other opinions about Christianity. One member of the audience asked how the Oxford professor is viewed by present atheistic philosophers of religion. Craig mentioned in response that, those atheists he had contact with, confessed that they do in fact see Dawkins’ arguments as weak but that they are attracted by the positions that the biologist defends. Such atheists view Dawkins as a catalyst for the discussion of religious issues in popular discourse, even if they are squeamish about the incredibly sloppy arguments he employs.

Another question concerned the popularity of Dawkins and the New Atheists: given that their arguments could be refuted so easily, why were they so well received? Craig surveyed some socio-cultural considerations he believed were relevant to why the movement has had so much impact. He explained that Harris, Dawkins, and others appealed to a climate of anxiety that surrounded events of terrorism in the West. Through their exaggerated claims, the dangers of extremism and fundamentalism have became dangers that are associated with all forms of religion. And when all of religion has been cast as promoting violence, intolerance, and ignorance, the idea of eliminating religion not just from the public square, but from the private sphere becomes very attractive.

It was also asked: if Dawkins has not raised any original or particularly strong arguments against belief in God, does Christianity therefore face an even greater challenge? Must we now go beyond merely responding to individual arguments but addressing the climate the allows such opinions to flourish and find footing? This was a great question, and Craig answered it at great length, explicating the importance of apologetics and the pressing need for the church to recapture the life of the mind. This, he believed, was where the church had failed and marginalized itself.

He made the easily misinterpreted statement that the most important institution shaping society is not the church but the university. For Craig, the university is where future decision-makers and leaders are trained and taught. The university is where lawyers, journalists, and artists subsume and develop their understanding of reality, ethics, and truth. The church must see the university, therefore, as the beachhead of change. If the church truly wants to regain its influence on culture – it must first regain its influence at the university. He emphasized that Christians must look beyond mere piety and realise that the gospel will only be heard, understood and believed when the plausibility structures of society are open to Christianity as an intellectually viable option.

This led to questions about Christian engagement and the perceived conflict between science and Christianity. Craig handled these questions well, also devoting considerable time to queries surrounding evil and suffering, the land conquest of Israel in the Old Testament, and how best to mobilise the church to reverse the subculture of anti-intellectualism.

Craig’s discussion of postmodernism I also found interesting. He admitted the possibility that New Atheism was perhaps more than a challenge to the post-Enlightenment mood and could even be the early reverberations of its death knell. He argued that postmodernism has never in fact been the dominant view in society and that this is rather a “myth perpetuated by Christian youth leaders”. Scientism and verificationalism cast a long shadow over our society and Dawkins and others stand firmly within this tradition. If it was true that we live in a postmodern society, Craig argued, Dawkins’ book would never have had the positive reception that it has had.

Craig did not pull any punches on the night. His commentary on Dawkins was clinical and unsparing. He showed how the British zoologist has shirked any real investigation of the debates in the current literature and just how insubstantial his actual arguments are. Craig’s subsequent survey of the church and contemporary culture was equally sobering and really galvanized my own thinking. He is right: if the church listens to those commentators within it who say we should abandon rational presentations of the gospel, the witness and influence of the Christian community will become “utterly impotent”.

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)