Debunking William Lane Craig: On Non-Belief

I was reading the most recent Reasonable Faith Q&A that is published on William Lane Craig's main apologetic web site and read a rather inane article that even tops the bar usually set by the premier Christian apologetic. Things become much more interesting when Craig delves into theology versus philosophy, something that is more applicable to the layman and is not as esoteric or, I suppose, arcane and inaccessible as some areas of philosophy in which Craig purports to be beyond proficient.

So this Q&A asks the question of why God feels the need to punish nonbelievers who sincerely believe that God is not apparent and that God does not exist. It seems silly (as it most likely is) to punish somebody for a sincerely held belief that is simply wrongheaded. As I have said earlier, given Yahweh's existence, an atheism that is based on evidence and not based on misotheism or antitheism is one that stems from a simple misunderstanding of reality. I don't believe a misunderstanding of reality can be based on "moral failure," as Craig has suggested in the past and this sentiment of his rears its ugly head again in this Q&A. Let's begin.

Christians are supposed to think that God will punish atheists for choosing not to believe. But how can an sincere atheist be blamed for not believing? I don't think belief is a choice.

Suppose your friends push you to believe in Santa Claus. Could you force yourself to believe in Santa? At most you can act like a believer, but you will never be a sincere believer. Therefore you will be a hypocrite!

Now suppose Santa Claus "asks" you to suffer for him. If you do not believe in Santa, will you have enough motivation for endure suffering for him? Can you be blamed for give up suffering for Santa?

Jesus asks the believer to do more then suffer for him. Christ asks the believer to hate his own life in this world (John 12.25). Now how can an atheist have enough motivation for obeying Christ if he even not believes in Jesus?

If an sincere atheist thinks God is a fairy tale, how can he be blamed? If belief is not a choice, no one can be blamed for not believing. It seems absurd to punish an atheist for being an atheist like it is absurd to punish a dog for being a dog.

How should we respond to this objection?

The questioner brings up a very valid point (from Brazil, so the typos are his). This also hits on the idea of Divine Hiddenness, which Craig thinks he has shrugged off. I won't go into it here, but one of Craig's two main arguments for divine hiddenness is that God "whispering" into our ears why certain things happen is akin to living in a "haunted house." Hmm. This presupposes that God can't appear directly to us like a good friend of some type and, after all, if God whispered things into our ear from a nonmaterial distance since we were born, I'm sure it wouldn't seem so absurd. But when dealing with a naive realist and a best-of-all-worlds advocate, you can't expect Craig to think outside of the box here.

The second argument is that God telling us why something bad happens to us would have the opposite effect, if the effect is for us to come closer to God. Now, the problem obviously here is that every bad thing that has ever happened to anybody would have had to have been potentially thwarted by God if he told us. I think that seems unlikely, but that is Craig's argument in a nutshell.

I find that contemporary atheists take great umbrage at the biblical claim that God holds people to be morally culpable for their unbelief. They want to maintain their unbelief in God without accepting the responsibility for it. This attitude enables them to reject God with impunity.
Well, I mean how would you like it if I told you that you must be punished if we reached the finish line of life only to find out that atheism is the case? Obviously we can't do that since we're dead....But you know what I mean.

Now we can agree that a person cannot be held morally responsible for failing to discharge a duty of which he is uninformed. So the entire question is: are people sufficiently informed to be held morally responsible for failing to believe in God? The biblical answer to that question is unequivocal. First, God has provided a revelation of Himself in nature that is sufficiently clear for all cognitively normal persons to know that God exists. Paul writes to the Roman church:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1. 18-21).
For somebody who is a Christian, I'm surprised, but then again I'm not surprised, that I often see Craig quoting or referencing St. Paul more than Jesus. If anything, that's a referendum on where Christianity wound up. As Nietzsche did say, "there was one Christian and he died on the cross."

At any rate, I haven't really addressed the topic so far. So, Craig begins by citing the oft-quoted passage in Romans that states the reason that influences Paul's version of apologetics that gives God the authority to punish non-believers. The answer in this case is simple: You're not really a non-believer, you're just a rebel. Paul takes the equation of non-belief out of the picture, because he thinks nature itself is evident of God's glory. For me personally, when I see the trees, I get an insatiable urge to thank Vishnu for the trees, but that's me. At any rate, Craig thinks that is good enough.

There is also a bit of an interesting bit of psychological warfare going on here. The assertion is made that, "you really know Yahweh exists." This casts doubt upon the mind of a non-believer who may have felt that he was certain in his belief structure. When they make a claim like this, it is highly suggestive and plants a seed of doubt no matter how confident you may be. There's always that possibility that you are just suppressing the knowledge of Yahweh.

In Paul’s view God’s properties, His eternal power and deity, are clearly revealed in creation, so that people who fail to believe in an eternal, powerful Creator of the world are without excuse. Indeed, Paul says that they actually do know that God exists, but they suppress this truth because of their unrighteousness.
This.....This sounds dangerously close to:

Now obviously, this ignores the fact that we're not only talking about "God," but rather Yahweh. We are talking about the ancient God of the Jewish desert. There is not only one proposed God.

Second, wholly apart from God’s revelation in nature is the inner witness which the Holy Spirit bears to the great truths of the Gospel, including, I should say, the fact that God exists. Anyone who fails to believe in God by the end of his lifetime does so only by a stubborn resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing that person to a knowledge of God. On the biblical view people are not like innocent, lost lambs wandering helplessly without a guide. Rather they are determined rebels whose wills are set against God and who must be subdued by God’s Spirit.

The difference, then, between God and Santa Claus, is that (i) there is good evidence in support of God’s existence which is evident to all, and (ii) there is an objective witness of God’s Spirit which warrants belief in Christian truths. Of course, the unbeliever will deny that there is such evidence and such a witness of the Spirit. Fine; we Christians disagree with them about that. We think they’re mistaken. That’s why we engage them in dialogue, to show them that the evidence is sufficient and that their objections are weak.
Isn't there something about this that seems fallacious? Craig appears to be the ultimate presuppositionalist here. We have to establish that Yahweh is active in leading people to the Bible first. But if Craig is only stating the Biblical scenario, I suppose that is okay. I can't pin Craig down on a definition of what the "inner witness" actually is and how it works, but Craig doesn't feel the need to explain.

It is a curious thing that Craig can diagnose non-belief as he does. He believes that atheists deceive themselves into non-belief out of an innate desire to rebel against Yahweh. I don't know that this is the case, but for those who are misotheists or antitheists (I would be the latter as an atheist), it mostly stems from a rejection of a few things. Mostly Yahweh makes it almost too easy to deconvert. It's not quite as easy to deconvert from a belief in gravity since it's strain on us is, quite literally, omnipresent. The evidence for Yahweh simply isn't as sufficient as our recognition of gravity is, and, coming back to Divine Hiddenness, it certainly would make it a lot easier on us if his existence didn't rely on multiple second-hand testimony from fallible human beings.

But more to the point, why do these select humans find the idea of God so repulsive? The inner-slave of many theists believe this is due to a sense of rebellion. But what is so bad about that? The idea of hell and eternal suffering for the mere non-acceptance or non-recognition of a human sacrifice seems so odd to many people. This is something that demands an explanation, but instead of an explanation all they get is threatened with Hell if they deny the necessity or justification for the existence of Hell. If God did implant some "morality chip" in our brains, this is certainly where I would start because it probably is the cause of many deconversions across the globe.

Contrary to what you say, Wagner, on the biblical view, unbelief is a choice. It is a choice to resist the force of the evidence and the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit. The unbeliever is like someone dying of a fatal disease who refuses to believe the medical evidence concerning the efficacy of a proffered cure and who rejects the testimony of his doctor to it and who, as a result, suffers the consequence of his own stubbornness. He has no one to blame but himself.

Atheists and agnostics are not like dogs. They are persons created in the image of God, endowed with freedom of the will, and pursued by a loving Heavenly Father who yearns to reconcile them with Himself. Their unbelief is culpable because it is maintained in the face of the evidence and in defiance of the Holy Spirit.
Oh, poor Yahweh. It almost makes me feel bad for the fellow. He wants me and others so badly, yet can't program us in a way that makes it conducive. I'm sorry that when evaluating competing claims about existence that I demand concrete evidence and not metaphysical speculation. The Christian dogma seems absurd on its face and there are many legitimate criticisms of the Christian religion.

I don't think there has ever been any reliable first-hand testimony of heaven nor anything that validates what Jesus said. The New Testament is full of assertions made by Jesus and we have no way of verifying if Jesus really is God; the assertions made by Jesus could be the same unfalsifiable drivel you might hear from a psychic. To say that the evidence is so clear and that atheists are delusional and/or rebellious in their rejection of God is to steer clear of the entire concept of what it means to be faithful. Christians are supposed to believe in spite of the evidence. They are supposed to hope against all hope. Faith is rendered meaningless in such a scenario, and Craig doesn't seem to realize that. If evidence of the supernatural is as easy to believe in as picking up a book in a library and acquiring factual and unobjected-to information, then why call it faith? [NOTE: Re-reading this, I realize I kind of contradicted myself by making a case for God to reveal himself to humanity, but I'm using a tenet of Christianity against Craig's apologetics in a different context here.]

I believe the questioner (who is a Christian) raises a valid point and it withstands Craig's barrage of theo-rationalizing. It is certainly claimed in the Bible that God makes himself evident, but we don't see that in everyday life. Gee, I hate to sound condescending here, but could it be that the Bible is wrong about the nature of reality? I don't see people in Papua New Gineau think to themselves, "I'm sensing the presence of a figure named Yahweh and his son Jesus Christ. If only there were some missionaries to come here and fill in the gaps." No, they have no clue of who Yahweh is or the doctrines of Christianity. Just as some people feel no spiritual connection. Craig gives me the vibe of an absolutist who is incapable of pondering thoughts other than his own. He is the ultimate universalizer.


Chris said...

Seeing as though the writer of this article isnt a Christian how are they suppose to write an accurate description of what a Christian is suppose to think? The statement "Christian are suppose to think that God will punish atheist for choosing not to believe" is not true. An atheist would be punished for his sins as any other sinner but not particularly ignoring God. Denying being a sinner is simply deceiving oneself and is approximately what the atheist has done.

Anonymous said...

This entire article was written based on the idea that the God of the Christian faith punishes atheist for being atheist. This is a widespread misconception that shows that the writer of this article isn't familiar with the doctrine he so blatantly opposes. It is not the Christians belief that an atheist would go to hell for being an atheist. The Christian doctrine is simply put as sinners go to hell. Those are the rules and Yaweh set them before he created humans. Humans weren't created as sinners but to express the glory of god. Acording to the Christian sin is falling short of the glory of god and all men have done that. So that would make us sinners and subject to gods wrath. And further more once humanity is unholy there is nothing you can do to redeem yourself from your fallen state. Your greatest works are like filthy rags before God. God still loved the world despite its depravity. For example one of the ten comandments are to love the lord your God and to put no other gods or idols before him. You have never loved god the way he ask you to love him. If there is anything in your life more important than god then you are worthy of his wrath. But in all of history there was one who did love god the way god is to be loved and his name is Jesus. Jesus was the only holy man to ever walk this earth. He was sent as redemption for your sins to take the wrath of god that you deserve. Gods wrath is so severe it brought the son of god to his knees begging for it to pass. Gods wrath brought such despair to him that he began to sweat blood. And on the cross Jesus gave his last plea for his father to save him but Yaweh did forsook his son and poured out his wrath on him. For you. God loved you so much that he was willing to suffer your punishment for you. To supply some imagery imagine a man who is so totally and completely in love with a woman. But this woman is not his wife, but a woman who ignores him. She is not beautiful in fact she is absolutely flthy from head to toe and fat. She is not virtuous but a self serving whore. And he willingly dies for her. That is the love that God has for you and humanity.

EH on February 12, 2011 at 11:25 PM said...

How am I supposed to write an accurate article as an atheist? Well, I was a Christian ;)

The point I'm making is that even if you believed you were guilty of being immoral and happened not to believe in Yahweh, you would be punished for that. In the case of a person who would say, "I'm know I'm guilty of wrongdoing, but I don't see reason to believe in God" would have to go to Hell. That person is conscious that they have done wrong and would accept Jesus' sacrifice if they found a reason to believe in it.

The point that Craig is making is that he tries to develop a loophole that says, "they really believe in God, they just suppress it because they want to sin."

Barry on May 6, 2011 at 1:59 AM said...

God does allegedly punish atheists for not believing. Evidence: John 3:16 Only those who believe in him get everlasting life. You could be the most moral person on the planet, yet if you can't believe, you get punished. I could pretend to believe, but if god did exist, I am sure he would see right through the charade.

Criz on March 14, 2012 at 11:58 AM said...

There is no way to convince this people. They are emotionally attached. Its like some person in love , I you are in love, you see a person as the center of the universe, and you cant see thing other way until you are totally out of that attachment, after time you realizes you idealized a person in a VERY irrational way. only ex-Christians have this view.
For a running christian is a life without Jesus is ABSOLUTELY UNIMAGINABLE. (that concept is almost devastating for them.

The sad part is this religion uses this emotional technique , and this qualifies as a sect, because postulates loving Jesus as a urge, a matter of life and death. Then personal toughs are ripped off and people start to talk "bible words", personal toughs a quotes are consider mundane and evil. People loses individuality and becomes part of a nest, the supreme leader decides for them and the supreme leader has the moral code. No one can judge the moral of the leader.

They are a nest, they behave and think like insects.


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