Dr. Craig interacts with Greg Boyd on a proper view of the Atonement
KEVIN HARRIS: Hey, there. Welcome to the podcast. It’s Kevin Harris. This is Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We’ve done some podcasts before interacting with Dr. Greg Boyd. The reason why that is is because he is so interesting. I find him very interesting. I find myself reading Greg and listening to him and then saying, Boy, I’ve got to do a podcast on this with Dr. Craig, and then presenting it to Bill and saying, Why don’t we discuss this a little bit, interact, especially when it comes to the atonement because that has been the focus of Dr. Craig’s work lately. This is a crucial issue. Again, we are not picking on Greg. I think this goes without saying that he is a brother, and we love and appreciate him. When we come to this podcast, though, obviously we are going to try to dig down and look at some critical issues in a critical way. Thank goodness for Dr. Craig, I get to be a student just like you. I get to listen and learn and hopefully ask some intelligent questions.
Let me just quickly say, please pray for us. We really do need your prayers. Pray for me and my family. This is recorded at the beginning of a holiday season, and it has been only two years since we lost my son who was a senior in high school in a motorcycle accident. It has been two years but it feels often like it was only yesterday that we lost Tanner. We appreciate your prayers. Pray for Dr. Craig and Jan and the Reasonable Faith team. Pray for Pastor Boyd and his work.
By the way, we have some new things, some new updates, a fresh new look at ReasonableFaith.org. So be sure you stop by there.
We are going to do a two-part series interacting on the atonement. We are going to start part one right now.
Dr. Craig, let’s talk about the atonement. That’s really been on your mind a lot lately.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: My favorite subject!
KEVIN HARRIS: Not only can we join you in your study via video to have you teach on the atonement, a couple of books are coming out as well.
DR. CRAIG: They are in the works, and there are numerous lessons in my Defenders class that listeners can watch that discuss the doctrine of the atonement and the work of Christ in great detail.
KEVIN HARRIS: We have interacted with Pastor Greg Boyd a couple of times. I have to compliment Greg. He did a great job in a debate against Robert Price on the historicity of Jesus. He has done great work against Oneness Pentecostalism and defending the Trinity. But there seems to be some disagreement here on the atonement. Let’s listen to some portions, clips, of Greg’s podcast where he interacts on this with you.
INTERVIEWER: Greg, you reject penal substitution which is the view that God the Father vents his wrath on Jesus so that he doesn’t have to vent his wrath on us.
DR. CRAIG: Can we stop right there? It is so important in discussing theories of the atonement that we characterize them accurately. The doctrine of penal substitution is not the doctrine that the interviewer described – that God vents his wrath upon Jesus rather than upon us. That sort of theory would be consistent with saying, for example, that you are angry with a certain friend but instead of beating up your friend you go out and find some person on the street and you beat him up instead and vent your wrath on him. That is clearly not the doctrine of penal substitution. The word “penal” in this phrase has to do with legal or forensic terms. It denotes the idea of a penalty or the satisfaction of divine justice. The doctrine of penal substitution says that Christ satisfied God’s justice on our behalf. Out of his self-giving love Christ bore the penalty for our sins that we deserved so that we might be pardoned and freed from bondage to sin. So it is all about this legal transaction that takes place at the cross. It is not about God just venting his wrath on Jesus instead of on us.
KEVIN HARRIS: Continuing with the interview:
INTERVIEWER: I think that it is significant that the dominant view of the atonement was not the penal substitution view but rather it was the Christus Victor view which says that Jesus died primarily to defeat Satan.
DR. GREG BOYD: Right.
KEVIN HARRIS: Is that the dominant view?
DR. CRAIG:That is not right. This is the view that I thought also dominated among the church fathers. That is what the interviewer is referring to. Not the dominant view of the atonement today. Hardly anyone holds to this view of the atonement today. But during the first several centuries of Christianity the claim in the secondary literature is typically that these early church fathers held to a ransom theory of the atonement or to this Christus Victor model that the atonement is about achieving victory over Satan, death, and hell. This is what I assumed based on the secondary literature when I began my study of the atonement. Part two of my book is a survey of the principal theories of the atonement which have been offered down through history. What I was shocked to find is that penal substitutionary theories of the atonement, satisfaction theories of the atonement, these are all in the church fathers along with ransom and Christus Victor. It is simply not true that this is the sort of dominant view among the church fathers.
The truth of the matter is that the church fathers were so occupied with the person of Christ that they had almost nothing to say about the work of Christ. That is to say, they were preoccupied leading up to the Council of Nicaea and then the Council of Chalcedon with the deity of Christ as well as his full humanity. So they were concerned to enunciate a proper doctrine of the true humanity and the true deity of Christ. This concern occupied them for several centuries and became codified at the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Chalcedon. As a result, for the first 900 years of Christianity there was never a treatise devoted to the subject of the atonement, to the work of Christ. Nothing. They simply did not reflect in any depth on this doctrine. Where you find the church fathers speaking to this issue will be in brief comments of, say, a paragraph in length that would be extracted from, say, their commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, or their commentary on the Gospel of John when they get to the crucifixion narratives. Then they will say something about it. But there is no reflective in-depth analysis of the doctrine of the atonement until you get to St. Anselm in the Middle Ages. All of the motifs of the New Testament – Christ’s death as a sacrifice, as an expiation for sin, as a propitiation of God’s wrath, as ransom, as victory over death and Satan, as penal substitution – all of these are found in the church fathers, and I can give you quotations from Eusebius, Origen, Cyprian, and others that affirm penal substitution.
This is one of those unfortunate misrepresentations that is rampant in the secondary literature on the atonement that is not correct when you actually look at the primary sources.
KEVIN HARRIS: Christus Victor? A victory of Christ over the devil, over the forces of evil.
DR. CRAIG:Yes, that’s right. That Christ conquers death, Satan, and hell by means of his death on the cross.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s continue:
INTERVIEWER: Now Craig says that this is odd that you affirm in other places that Jesus is our substitute and that he suffered the death consequences of our sin. But in what sense does Jesus’ dying as our substitute accomplish redemption if he wasn’t paying the penalty for our sin? If the goal was to defeat Satan surely an omnipotent deity could do that without having Jesus die. Craig rejects your suggestion that the defeat of Satan is the foundation of other aspects of the atonement. To the contrary, what Craig says is that it was Jesus’ removal of the sentence of death over us that is the foundation for his defeat of Satan and death. So he cites Colossians 2:13 as proof it was by meeting God’s demands for justice and nailing all of our trespasses to the cross that Satan and the powers are disarmed.
DR. BOYD:Okay. I will first say this. This has been a classic problem that Augustine wrestled with and others since then. That is a question: why didn’t God just defeat Satan or just terminate Satan the moment Satan rebelled? Why let him go on afflicting humanity and all of creation for the millions of years that he has been doing that? Although Augustine didn’t know that the world was millions of years old.
DR. CRAIG:Could I interrupt at this point? That is not the question here. The question is not terminating Satan the minute he fell. Greg will give some reasons as to why God allows Satan to continue on his rampage. The question rather is this, and Anselm posed this question forcefully: if the principal aim of Christ’s death was the defeat of Satan then why was Christ’s death necessary at all? God could have defeated Satan with a snap of his fingers. It didn’t require the incarnation much less this horrid death on the cross of God the Son. What rationale remains for the death of Christ if the principal object of Christ’s death was simply to defeat Satan? That could have been achieved with utter ease and facility by an omnipotent God. Satan had no rights over us. He was a usurper of his authority. God could have simply defeated Satan with a snap of his fingers had he wished to. So why this extraordinary death of God the Son?
DR. BOYD:The assumption is that since God is omnipotent he could just annihilate Satan. So if God let him go on afflicting us in creation it must be because it is better to have a Satan who afflicts us in creation than not having Satan afflict us in creation. That gets into all sorts of . . . to say everything Satan does is ultimately good. I don’t want to say that. I don’t think God could just annihilate Satan. It is not because God doesn’t have enough power but it is because of the kind of world God created. When God gives us and angels free will it consists of an ability, a say-so, to go in this direction to this extent and that direction to that extent. We have a sort of reservoir of power that he gives us. If God were to revoke that just because he didn’t like that we went in that direction rather than the direction he wanted then he didn’t give us the ability to go this way or that way to this extent or that extent. So by definition, if free will is the ability to go this way to that extent and to this way to that extent God can’t revoke that way just because he doesn’t like it. It is built into the very definition. Apparently, Satan was initially given an enormous amount of say-so. He used it to bless creation and bless humans for eons and eons but the reverse of that is he can choose to use it to afflict creation and humans for eons and eons. Until that say-so that has been given comes to an end I think God has to work around what he is doing and defeat him by other means.
DR. CRAIG:The idea of annihilating Satan is a red herring. That is not the question that we are raising. The question is: if the object of God is to defeat Satan and free us from his control, why this extraordinary death of Christ? God on Boyd’s view could have simply forgiven our sins. Just grant us a free pardon of sin and given us the power of his Holy Spirit to resist Satan. He could have curbed Satan’s power. Defeated him in other ways. How does the death of Christ serve to defeat Satan? And why take such an odd and extraordinary step when Satan’s defeat would be so easy for God? This suggests that there is something more going on here than simply defeating Satan. In fact, on Boyd’s view, as we will see later in the interview, he indicts the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement for placing a violent God at the center of Christianity. That is exactly what Boyd’s view does. Why have this violent event of Christ absorbing the wrath of Satan, allowing Satan to shoot at Jesus and vent his wrath on Jesus, rather than simply defeating Satan as God wants to do? The death of Christ just becomes bizarre on this view. It is not clear how it really works to atone for our sins. It seems that God simply forgives them, and he could do that without having Christ die in our place. Why this extraordinary violent event at the center of Christianity?
DR. BOYD:The second thing I will say is this. Craig seems to assume that the only way that God could be our substitute is by being the scapegoat unless the Father vented his wrath so he wouldn’t have to vent on us. Since I deny that Jesus was a scapegoat he is understandably puzzled over why I still talk about Jesus as our substitute. Here is the thing. Someone can be a substitute in ways that don’t involve taking the blame for somebody else. If somebody is shooting at you and I jump in the way and take a bullet for you (which I, of course, obviously would) you could say that I substituted my life for you. But it wasn’t because I took the blame for something you did. It is just that I jumped in the way and gave my life to prevent you from having to take your life. That is the sense in which I think Jesus died as our substitute. I can press the analogy a little further. In the penal substitution view it is as though God the Father is shooting at you with bullets of wrath and Jesus jumped in the way and saved you by taking the bullets instead of you. I’d rather argue that it was Satan who was shooting at you. He is the accuser, not God. He is the one who holds our sin against us, not God. So Jesus died to free us from Satan’s wrath, not from God’s wrath. So I affirm that Jesus died in our place. I just don’t think he did it to absorb the Father’s wrath.
DR. CRAIG:Greg is quite right in emphasizing that substitutionary suffering does not need to be penal. Think of the illustration I gave before of where you pick somebody to substitute for the person you are angry with and you beat him up and vent your wrath on him. He is a substitute but not a penal substitute. So he is absolutely right. I think the point is that that kind of substitution is morally objectionable. It is horrendous because it doesn’t serve any just purpose. It is precisely the fact that Christ is paying the penalty for our sins voluntarily on our behalf that makes his suffering atone for our sins and takes away the just desert that we bear for our sins.
On Greg’s view, again, it is very difficult to understand how the death of Christ works. He says Satan is shooting at you. Satan is trying to vent his wrath on you. And Jesus somehow steps in the way and takes the wrath of Satan. How does that do anything to overcome your sin and guilt and alienation or to defeat Satan? I just don’t see what the theory is here. How does that work to bring about atonement for sin? I think rather on Greg’s view really God just chooses to blink at sin. He just doesn’t punish it. He just chooses to overlook it and to forgive. The business with Satan is really just sort of extraneous, and again there is no reason to see why God would need to send his Son to die and absorb the wrath of Satan in this way when God could just forgive sins and liberate us from Satan’s power without such an extraordinary act on Christ’s part.
KEVIN HARRIS: Could it be that in the penal substitution view of the atonement that Satan is just kind of a side issue with that? As a result of all the elements of the penal substitution, Satan also is made a spectacle of.
DR. CRAIG:I liked what the interviewer said earlier. Because our sins have been forgiven and the justice of God satisfied we are now free from condemnation. Paul says “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We have become new creations in Christ. Therefore, Satan is defeated as a result. It is precisely because of our redemption from sin that Satan no longer has any claim against us. We have been pardoned before the bar of divine justice.
KEVIN HARRIS: We will continue with the interview:
DR. BOYD:There are a ton of problems with the penal substitution view that I can’t get into. I talk about them in the book Four Views of the Atonement, or The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, it is called. It puts a big split between the Father and the Son. The Father has got this rage towards us, but really the Son ends up saving us from the Father which is kind of odd when you think about it. But Jesus says he came to reveal the love of the Father for us. There is no dichotomy between the Father and the Son.
DR. CRAIG:Here we see again the caricaturing of the doctrine of penal substitution as this angry, vengeful God who is bent on getting us and Jesus somehow steps in the way. He gets in the way of the wrath of God and absorbs it himself so that we are free. That is not, and never has been, the doctrine of penal substitution. Rather, the doctrine of penal substitution says God loves us so much that even though we are enemies of God, we are sinners in rebellion against him and under his just judgment, he (in the person of his Son) takes on human flesh and dies to pay the penalty for sin that we deserve and that his own justice exacted thereby voluntarily giving himself as a self-sacrificial offering to pay the penalty for our sins and thereby to free us from condemnation. So there is no split between the Father and the Son on this view whatsoever. The doctrine of the atonement from beginning to end is motivated by the love of God who loves us so much that while we were still enemies Christ died for us.
KEVIN HARRIS: Before we continue the interview, he is describing another view of the atonement which you would also reject in calling it the penal theory of the atonement.
DR. CRAIG:That’s right. Our listeners need to understand that this caricature of traditional atonement theories is rampant among the critics of that doctrine, particularly those who hold to liberal theology. They represent the traditional theories of the atonement as a bloodthirsty, wrathful God who is bent on getting us and Jesus gets in the way and somehow changes God’s attitude toward us from anger to compassion and love and forgiveness. That is not the traditional doctrine. You read Anselm. Read Luther and Calvin and others. The atonement is motivated from beginning to end by the love and the compassion of God who wants to save us from our sinful rebellion against him. But he does so without compromising the demands of his own justice. He doesn’t just blink at sin. Rather, he maintains the demands of his own justice but at his own expense rather than at ours.
KEVIN HARRIS: We will pick it up right there next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Thanks for joining us.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
Dr. Craig fields questions from Australia, Iran, and the U.S.
KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, are you ready for some questions? Because we have them. Let’s look at some questions from all over the world. We will start here at random with Joel in the USA. He says,
Hi, Dr. Craig. I recently listened to your podcast about whether or not your Christology is orthodox, and I greatly enjoyed it. I think the view makes a lot of sense, and I am troubled by how many people have considered it heretical when it is clearly historically orthodox. I did have a question about it though. Most theologians believe God is genderless, but if that is true doesn’t that mean a genderless spirit was inhabiting a male body in the incarnation? That seems potentially problematic from an ontological perspective as humans are, of course, male or female. What are your thoughts on the matter?
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I am inclined to think that because the Genesis narrative says that God made man in his image –male and female he created them– that men and women alike are created in God’s image and that, therefore, God includes in himself the properties that go to make up masculinity and femininity. Therefore, it is not that Jesus would be genderless. He would be a man – he would have a male body – and included in the divinity are the properties that go to make up masculinity that would be represented in him.
KEVIN HARRIS: A question from Will in Australia.
In your article, What Was Herod Thinking?, you say it is blindingly obvious that Herod didn’t mean to say that Jesus was literally a revivified John because Jesus and John were contemporaries. Is it so obvious? Couldn’t one suppose that Herod wasn’t very well informed in this matter?
DR. CRAIG: Since he’s got more than one question, let’s take them one at a time. It is obvious because John and Jesus were about the same age, and Herod certainly knew that Jesus was a person who was having a ministry in Judea at this time and that John the Baptist was doing the same thing. It is not as though one man was from one generation and the other man from a later generation after the first had died. They were about the same age and therefore clearly contemporaries.
Secondly, you make a clear distinction between revivification and resurrection. That is fair. However, couldn’t Jesus’ disciples have believed he was revivified initially and the claim have been heightened later, sort of like arguments made about the people’s view of Jesus becoming more exalted over time?
DR. CRAIG: I think this is implausible.If Jesus were simply revivified in the way that Lazarus was (a return to the earthly mortal life but would die again) then his resurrection from the dead would not have the theological import that the earliest Christians attributed to it. There is no evidence that early Christians considered Jesus to be anything less than raised to glory, immortality, eternal life, and thereby was vindicated in his messianic claims. So the earliest sources we have which are in Paul would, I think, say that right from the beginning the disciples were proclaiming that Jesus was raised from the dead in the proper Jewish sense of that word.
Lastly, and I am sorry you may have addressed this elsewhere but, how is the reliability of the disciples’ timidity prior to the resurrection appearances established historically? Yes, it is fair to assume that they would have been timid, maybe terrified, but if the Synoptics were written from a shared source and John was aware of them at the time of writing his Gospel, couldn’t a skeptic suggest that this was all part of an early Christian apologetic established only by one independent source? Or does this defame the apostles too much to be a fabrication?
Could the Gospel writers have wanted to defame the apostles?
DR. CRAIG: I would say that this is not only independently attested by multiple witnesses, such as John and the Synoptics as well as multiple sources within the Gospels themselves, but the criterion of embarrassment (which is what he refers to in defaming the apostles) would be a very powerful reason for thinking that in fact the disciples upon Jesus’ crucifixion were afraid and cowering. There wouldn’t be any reason for the Gospels to invent stories like the apostasy of Peter or the women disciples being courageous and observing the crucifixion and the burial and the empty tomb and the disciples cowering in fear unless this were in fact the case. I think there is a sort of, as he says, verisimilitude to these narratives as well. This is exactly what one would expect in such a case in which one’s leader has been arrested and brutally executed. You would fear for your life as well.
KEVIN HARRIS: This is a question from Chris in the USA.
Dr. Craig, I have a question that has been vexing me for some time. It has to do with the eschaton and the nature of everlasting time. [The eschaton being the end times, end things. Jumping down to the third paragraph, he says. . .] Here is my vexation. As a Bible-believing Christian I do believe that I will have an embodied, finite existence in the eschaton. I do believe it will be an everlasting experience, world without end. However, I cannot fathom how my finite mind could possibly process an unending succession of moments. Given an infinite future, would not all probabilities be realized and all potentials become actual? Wouldn’t I master every instrument in the symphony orchestra? Wouldn’t I play chess better than Deep Blue? Wouldn’t I memorize every word of every book? Wouldn’t I converse with every redeemed being an infinite number of days? Wouldn’t we all? After 10 billion billion successive moments, wouldn’t all residents of heaven become drearily identical? Dr. Craig, can you help me escape this vexation?
DR. CRAIG: I agree with Chris that we will have finite human minds in the new heavens and the new Earth, but we need to understand the difference between a potential infinite and an actual infinite. Our lives in the eschaton will be potentially infinite in that they will go on and on and on forever. But they will always be finite. There will always be a finite number of experiences or memories or facts that one will know even though the limit of those is infinite. So one will never arrive at an actual infinity of experiences or knowledge. It will be an unending quest for greater and greater knowledge and more and more experiences. I would agree with him that no finite good could ever suffice to satisfy such an infinite longing. That is why we should think of the eschaton primarily as coming to know God more and more deeply because God as infinite and truly inexhaustible and therefore can never be completely plumbed by any finite being.Given the infinite good that God is, I think that the eschaton will be an exhilarating and thrilling experience as our experience and minds grow and grow without limit in our knowledge of God.
KEVIN HARRIS: I will tell you what else will help him is, by the same token, if all these possibilities and potentialities are realized then the possibility and the potentiality of him figuring out how to handle it will also be realized.
DR. CRAIG: He also doesn’t take an account of the fact that maybe you would forget certain things. If it is true that the finite mind can only hold so much, well then you simply forget things that are far in the past just as we forget now.
KEVIN HARRIS: From Iran it says,
Hello, Dr. Craig. Peace and greetings. I watched one of your debates with Yusuf Ismail regarding the identity of Jesus – Is Jesus Man or Both Man and God? In that debate you provide a model for proving the hypostatic union based on the movie Avatar. The question that I have is if we accept that God and man are two contradictory notions – man is limited in the full sense and God is unlimited in the full sense; for example, God is omnipotent whereas man is not – then using that analogy would become fallacious because Jack Sully in the movie has two natures but they are not contradictory. He is limited in both his natures and therefore it could not be a good model for proving Jesus to be fully God and fully man. First, how can you logically make these two natures on logical grounds possible? Thanks, Ali from Iran.
DR. CRAIG: I appreciate the question. It is important to understand that I am not appealing to this movie to prove that Jesus is truly God and truly man. It is meant simply to be an illustration of a person who has two different natures. I think it is a very effective illustration. If you have seen the movieAvatar you can see that this character has a human nature and then he has a Navi nature. Ali objects to the analogy by saying that these two natures that Jack Sully has are not contradictory. But I would say the same thing of divinity and humanity – these are not contradictory. It would be contradictory to say that Jesus is merely a man and that he is also God, but it is in no way contradictory to say that he has both a divine nature and a human nature. He is omnipotent in his divine nature but he is limited in strength and power in his human nature. He is omniscient in his divine nature but he is limited cognitively in his human nature. There just isn’t any inconsistency between those. The divine nature exceeds the powers and capacities of the human nature, but there is no contradiction between one person exemplifying both of these natures.
KEVIN HARRIS: Final question today.
Hello Dr. Craig, thank you for your so needed work. I am having a little trouble with your hypothesis for the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ. If Christ was fully God and fully man then you suggest that somewhere in the unconscious/subconscious part of the mind of the man Jesus that the God or divinity aspect of Christ was present according to some insights you suggest come from some discipline related to deep psychology. But if the man Jesus had a less than human unconscious/subconscious aspect in his human nature then it seems to follow that Jesus wasn’t fully human since all humans share an equally fully human conscious and subconscious mind. If something in the human subconscious mind of Jesus was not human in nature but divine then Jesus was not fully human since all humans have both a fully human conscious and subconscious mind. Maybe I misunderstood something in one of the premises of your argument. But if I’m making a strawman then it is an unintentional one. Again, thank you for your work and your response. Felix in Puerto Rico
DR. CRAIG: I appreciate Felix’s question. I think it is important to understand that the orthodox doctrine of Christ is not that Christ is fully God and fully man but rather that he is truly God and truly man. To say fully God and fully man makes it sound like he is 100% God and he is 100% man which is a contradiction in terms. Rather, it is that he has all of the essential properties that make up divinity, and he has the essential properties that make up humanity. I think that when the second person of the Trinity brings to the body of Christ – the biological body of Christ – a rational person, that completes the human nature of Christ because what it is to be a person is already included in the divine nature. So the divine nature by its union with the human body makes a complete human nature. It brings a rational soul to this human body so that you have here a body-soul composite which is a human being. Now, he is not merely human, as I said a moment ago, because he is also divine. But he is truly human. So that is why we should reject this language of “fully God and fully man.” That is ambiguous. That would suggest that Jesus had to be merely human, and that is not the orthodox view. Jesus is truly human but he is not merely human. He has the essential properties that make up humanity (being a rational soul and body) but he has additional properties that we don’t possess in virtue of which he is divine.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
Is atheism the biggest threat to Christianity?
KEVIN HARRIS: Glad you are here for the podcast. This is Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. I’ve got some great things to say about Jon McCray who is a chapter director and speaker for Reasonable Faith. He also runs a ‘doubters’ club which schedules regular hangouts which encourages people who think differently to become friends over coffee. In addition he runs a YouTube channel called “Whaddo You Meme??” You know what a meme is. He examines the facts and logic of these popular memes that you run into. Sometimes it is just a picture with a slogan typed across it. It can be a video or whatever. Dr. Craig, he says in this article, which is posted on Capturing Christianity, that apologists are fighting the wrong battle. This really got my attention. I want to run it past you. Jon says,
Believe it or not, the biggest threat to Christianity is not Atheism. After all, atheists make up a significantly low percentage of the population. In my mind, given this, we shouldn’t be directing all (or most of) our apologetic resources towards a group that only makes up about 3-5% of the population, and are often the most resistant to the gospel and spiritual things (Matt. 7:6 may be applicable). Apologists are fighting the wrong battle.
He hastens to say,
I’m not saying apologetics geared towards atheism is not necessary and beneficial; it has great benefits for believers and unbelievers alike. However, we should be addressing issues that are affecting the masses. This naturally leads us to ask, what sort of issues are these?
Before we get into that, let’s look at this. I find myself time and time again, and for decades, addressing the arguments of atheists, atheism, agnosticism, and interacting with them. I think that is because it is the most challenging perhaps. I think they have tremendous impact on the universities which are the centers of culture and learning (mostly culture). What do you think of his opening salvo?
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG:I hesitate to disagree with a Reasonable Faith chapter director but I have to say that I share your reservations. I don’t think that the fact that those who are self-identified as atheists is merely 3% to 5% of the population is a good argument for saying that our apologetics should not be significantly directed toward atheism. I think that there are a number of reasons why this is absolutely vital. First of all it is the importance of maintaining a cultural milieu in which belief in the existence of God is a rational thing for people to do. If this is a tiny percentage of the population, that is wonderful, and we need to do everything we can to keep it that way so that the Gospel can be heard as a legitimate option for thinking men and women. What lies ahead of us here in the United States is already evident in Britain and in Europe where far larger percentages of the population are atheistic and therefore uninterested in Christianity. I think we need to do everything we can to preserve a theistic cultural milieu in this country in order to allow the Gospel to be heard in a reasonable way.
Moreover, as Jon acknowledges, there are great benefits of natural theology not simply for unbelievers but for believers as well. This strengthens the confidence of believers to have good arguments for thinking that God exists and spurs evangelism and helps them to go out with confidence. It helps them to deal with times of doubt or struggle when God may not seem real. Particularly with regard to the problem of suffering and evil, it is absolutely vital that we be able to provide a good intellectual response to this so that the emotional problem will not be so devastating when that enters a believer’s life.
I frankly think that natural theology (that is, arguments for the existence of God) have been under-emphasized in Christian apologetics. Apart from me, who is championing arguments for the existence of God? It seems like most Christian apologists are focused on Bible apologetics or historicity of Jesus or the resurrection sort of apologetics. I don’t know of too many Christian apologists who are doing a good job of defending things like the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments for God’s existence. So I believe that this is actually an aspect of the apologetic task which has been really emaciated in evangelical Christianity until very recently. I am very thrilled to see that we are coming back now and offering a more robust natural theology for the existence of God which serves, as I say again, as a foundation for Christian belief. Your apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus will be vastly, immeasurably more effective if a person already believes that God exists when he hears that evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. If you’ve got the person across the Grand Canyon from atheism to theism then getting him across the gulch from theism to Christian theism is going to be a lot easier.
KEVIN HARRIS: I think we all need to be reminded of 2001. You can point to that year 2001, 2002, when the New Atheism movement broke out. I’ve never seen anything like it. It continues. There are indications – some people say – it is slowing down. That was a huge atheistic movement where it became acceptable to be atheist. It was the New Atheism. It wasn’t the old Madalyn Murray-O’Hair group. It is definitely something to look at here. One more thing to look at what he says here. This kind of resonates. He says, “They are often the most resistant to the gospel and spiritual things.” When you get on the Internet and things like that, that is often true. They are there to debate or to one-up you or to have an adversarial kind of a thing. They are real resistant.
DR. CRAIG:Yeah. Sure. But remember the point that I made. The significance of a robust natural theology extends far beyond your personal evangelistic contact. It shapes our culture. It shapes a cultural milieu in which the Gospel can be heard as a reasonable option. People may not come to believe in Christianity because of the cosmological argument or the moral argument, but it can give them the permission to believe intellectually when their hearts are moved by the preaching of the Gospel. So it is myopic to focus just on your immediate evangelistic appointment and say, Well, these people aren’t interested in or persuaded by these theistic arguments therefore we ought not to focus on them. I think that is too narrow a perspective.
KEVIN HARRIS: I’m sorry I had to make you make that point twice. The other day a guy sent me a picture of himself, and he had a t-shirt on that said, I’m an atheist, debate me. He wasn’t interested in truth, I don’t think.
DR. CRAIG:Probably not, although I have been amazed at the Facebook messages and emails I get at Reasonable Faith from people who were hostile, angry, bitter, anti-Christians who then have come to Christ through watching a debate or seeing videos or reading a book. I got a Facebook message from a fellow recently who said, I was one of those who was the most bitterly opposed to Christianity, to God. He says, Now I’ve come to faith, and I’m getting baptized next week. It is just thrilling.
KEVIN HARRIS: Jon continues. He says, “Each generation has their own set of concerns with Christianity that must be overcome by the believers of that era.”
DR. CRAIG:Let me respond to that. This is my second concern with Jon’s perspective. While this is true, focusing on those types of concerns can make one’s apologetic faddish and tied to your immediate cultural situation rather than constructing an apologetic that is of enduring quality. I don’t want to invest my life in faddish trends that are currently fashionable. I want to craft something that is of more enduring value. The danger here about just focusing upon what is hot in our current culture is you are going to tie your apologetic to those cultures and in a new generation it will be obsolete.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
Not too long ago it was the issue of evolution and the age of the Earth. Today, I believe less non-Christians actually care about these things. They are far more concerned with what Christianity has to say about issues like sexual ethics. For present purposes, I will argue that three of the biggest threats to the Christian faith are divine relativism, sexual ethics, and biblical illiteracy.
DR. CRAIG:As you look at those three, they are very different. Divine relativism is a kind of religious pluralism. Sexual ethics would be primarily, I think, opposition to a Christian ethic for human sexuality. But biblical literacy is not an objection to Christianity. That is just ignorance. What he calls threats here are very different in nature. The first two present objections to Christianity whereas the third is just a kind of condition of our culture. People are ignorant and illiterate that inhibits the effectiveness of apologetics.
KEVIN HARRIS: Just jumping to that what he says about illiteracy, if I may, he says,
In my estimation, well over 80% of what the New Atheist authors and speakers say about Christianity are demonstrably false or misleading. But this raises the question: If their claims are false, why is it that Christians weren’t able to correct these falsities, shutting them up right away? Part of it is simply because of the brute force of their rhetoric. Another part is because Christians are largely illiterate about what it is that they claim to believe.
DR. CRAIG:He is certainly right about that ignorance. That underlies, I think, the importance of training people to be able to articulate and defend what they, as Christians, believe. That is the sort of thing we are about in our Defenders class as well as in these animated Zangmeister videos that we are providing for people to be able to give an answer for the hope that is in them. I am an enemy of ignorance as determined as anyone. I quite agree with Jon that we need to overcome the tremendous illiteracy that exists not only in our general culture but sadly in our churches as well.
KEVIN HARRIS: I think we would say “amen” to so much of what Jon is saying here in this article. It leads me (to what you just said) to another article from Tom Gilson who writes about this very issue that you brought up – keeping the cookies on the lower shelf when it comes to church. I have heard pastors saying this very thing. I don’t know; I guess you pick it up at seminary or something. He says,
“I try to keep the cookies on the lower shelf.” I keep hearing pastors saying that. It bothers me.
Oh, I get it, to a certain extent. The idea is keep sermons accessible. Everyone should be able to keep up with what’s being taught, no matter how short a time they’ve been in the faith, and no matter how little education they might have had.
It makes sense in a way, but still pastors must ask: who are we reaching that way, and who aren’t we? What are we communicating about the faith, intentionally and unintentionally? And what does the Bible say about lower-shelf teaching?
I think you see where he is going with this. What we mean by keeping the cookies on the lower shelf is a crude way of putting it – dumbing everything down because you have to reach everybody and pastors can’t get very deep. That is why you have so many shallow sermons. With a class like Defenders, maybe you can give us some direction here.
DR. CRAIG:Let me say a couple of preliminary comments on this first. I think Tom is right in saying that it is a really sobering thought to think that in one’s congregation there are public high school teachers, there are doctors, there are lawyers, there are accountants and businessmen who are intellectually sophisticated and for whom there is nothing in many of these sermons. Surely in our sermons we can have something for them as well; something that would stimulate their thinking. Tom is absolutely right. The sermon is not a lecture. It cannot be pitched at such a level that most people won’t understand it. But there surely could be elements in the sermon that would be intellectually stimulating and go deeper even if, after having done that part of the sermon, one then recurs to something simpler.
I think there are techniques that the pastor can use to help make his sermon more intellectually substantive. One way is to simply deal with different views on the text that he is preaching. If he is preaching through a particular New Testament epistle or Gospel and he is dealing with a passage, he can say, There are at least three ways in which Christians have understood this, and then explain them. And then give which view he thinks is the best interpretation and why. Just exposing people to alternative viewpoints helps them to think and gives them confidence that you are being objective on what you are teaching them. I think the use of PowerPoint and illustrations can be very powerful. For example, our assistant pastor a few years ago was preaching on the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee and as part of the sermon he showed slides of that first-century fishing boat that had been excavated from the mud in the Sea of Galilee. It really made it real to us. It made us realize that this is a real boat. This is what it looked like that the disciples were in. On another occasion, the same pastor was preaching on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. And he put up on the PowerPoint what a Mesopotamian furnace looked like and how it was used to fire bricks and things of that sort. Again, it just made the passage come alive. There are all kinds of techniques one can do to add some intellectual substance: by giving the historical background, or alternative interpretations of the passage that you are preaching on.
Having said that, however, I find that Tom’s article is quite unsatisfactory because he doesn’t offer any positive suggestions as to how to deal with this problem. Does he want pastors to simply make the sermons more difficult, more intellectually challenging? I don’t think that is the solution. Rather, what we need to recognize is that there are different venues in the local church for preaching, teaching, and discipleship. What we need to do is to be sure that in the local church we are offering either Sunday School classes or small group studies that do go into greater depth than what the pastor is able to do in the sermon. This brings me to our Defenders class. I teach an adult Sunday School class in a church in which we do a survey of Christian doctrine and also talk about Christian apologetics as we survey Christian doctrine. This is a chance for people to go into much, much greater depth than what the pastor can do in a morning sermon. I would say that in our churches we need to exploit these adult Sunday School classes to do things like teach courses on church history, New Testament survey, Old Testament survey, apologetics, a survey of doctrine. Why couldn’t we even have classes on New Testament Greek? I think there is no reason you couldn’t find a layperson who would be able to teach people how to use a Greek dictionary and lexicon and to use an interlinear English-Greek New Testament, to recognize the letters of the Greek alphabet, and to be able to work with the text. I think there is just a lack of imagination, and a lack of vision, in too many of our churches. The pastor is too busy to do this himself. But we need to empower laypeople to exploit these other venues for providing top-shelf teaching to our congregants.
KEVIN HARRIS: The Sunday sermon is a different animal, isn’t it?
DR. CRAIG:It really is. It is not a teaching tool. It is meant to convict, encourage, inspire, and move people to consistent Christian discipleship and the worship of God. But it is not to teach them Old Testament survey, for example.
KEVIN HARRIS: Tom concludes his article with some Scriptures that are pretty convicting that say, for example, in Hebrews and Paul says, as well, to get off the milk and get into the meat. So we have some marching orders there. To put the elemental things . . . you’ve said that before.
DR. CRAIG:Where I would demure is saying that the Sunday morning sermon is the vehicle for doing this. I think, as we’ve said, that is probably a misconception. The venue for getting off the milk and into the meat is going to be in one’s personal devotional study and then in these group Bible studies or adult Sunday School classes where people can be trained to go deeper.
KEVIN HARRIS: Thanks, Bill. I want to remind everybody as we wrap up the podcast today that there is a new look at ReasonableFaith.org. Check out our updated website at ReasonableFaith.org. We’ll see you next time.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome back to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We are continuing to look at this interview with philosopher Tim Maudlin on the nature of time. And when you get time be sure to go by our website. It’s new! We have some new features at ReasonableFaith.org. Go there often. We appreciate you supporting this ministry. And you can do that through our website safely and easily at ReasonableFaith.org. Here is part two of our podcast series on Tim Maudlin and time.
Bill, real quick – a quick side road – why would it be more possible to time travel on a B-theory of time then on an A-theory?
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I think simply because on the B-theory of time the future is just as real as the past whereas on the A-theory of time there is no such thing as the future. It doesn’t exist. So it is impossible to travel from there to here.
KEVIN HARRIS: Tse then asks him,
If time has a direction, is the thermodynamic arrow of time still a problem?
Dr. Maudlin says,
The problem there isn’t with the arrow. The problem is with understanding why things started out in a low-entropy state. Once you have that it starts in a low-entropy state, the normal thermodynamic arguments lead you to expect that most of the possible initial states are going to yield an increasing entropy. So the question is, why did things start out so low entropy?
DR. CRAIG: This is highly significant. What Maudlin, I think, is implying is that thermodynamics does not give time its arrow. He said that time has a direction, right? That is called the arrow of time. There is a directionality to time from earlier than to later than. What he is saying is that thermodynamics, namely the claim that entropy increases over time, that doesn’t supply time with an arrow. On the contrary, exactly as he said before, that presupposes that time has an arrow. Because when you say that entropy is increasing you mean it is going from a lower state to a higher state. That presupposes that there is a direction of time rather than saying it is decreasing from the higher state down to the lower state. So he says the interesting question is not what about the thermodynamic arrow of time, the interesting question is why did things start out with such a low entropy? And that is right at the heart of the thermodynamic arguments for the beginning of the universe that I use in support of premise (2) of the Kalam cosmological argument; namely, the second law of thermodynamics shows that the universe began in an extraordinary low entropy condition. Why was there this low entropy condition in the past? Here Maudlin says,
One choice is that the universe is only finite in time and had an initial state, and then there’s the question: “Can you explain why the initial state was low?” which is a subpart of the question, “Can you explain an initial state at all?” It didn’t come out of anything, so what would it mean to explain it in the first place?
This is exactly the Kalam cosmological argument. In order for there to be an initial state of the universe as shown by this low entropy condition there needs to be a transcendent cause which brings the universe into being because something cannot just pop into existence from nothing, or as he says not out of anything. Now, he goes on to say,
The other possibility is that there was something before the big bang. If you imagine the big bang is the bubbling-off of this universe from some antecedent proto-universe or from chaotically inflating space-time, then there’s going to be the physics of that bubbling-off, and you would hope the physics of the bubbling-off might imply that the bubbles would be of a certain character.
This is where the famous Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem becomes so relevant because what that theorem shows is that there cannot be this past-eternal, chaotic inflationary bubbling off that Maudlin describes here. So the first alternative, I think, is the better choice – that the thermodynamic properties of the universe imply the absolute origin of the universe at a point in the finite past with a special initial low entropy condition.
KEVIN HARRIS: Edwin Tse says,
Given that we still need to explain the initial low-entropy state, why do we need the internal directedness of time? If time didn’t have a direction, wouldn’t specification of a low-entropy state be enough to give it an effective direction?
Talk about that question there a little bit.
DR. CRAIG: It is presupposing this very widespread view that it is thermodynamics that gives time its direction, its arrow. But there is no reason to call that low entropy state “initial” unless you already presuppose that time has a direction. Why not call it the final state? Even that would presuppose a direction in the other direction. So words like “final” and “initial” betray that you are already presupposing an arrow of time to begin with. So thermodynamics cannot furnish it.
KEVIN HARRIS: If you have an initial then you’ve moved from it so that you can look back.
DR. CRAIG: Right! Right! Which is a direction; that shows directionality.
KEVIN HARRIS: He answers,
If time didn’t have a direction, it seems to me that would make time into just another spatial dimension, and if all we’ve got all are spatial dimensions, then it seems to me nothing’s happening in the universe. I can imagine a four-dimensional spatial object, but nothing occurs in it. This is the way people often talk about the, quote, “block universe” as being fixed or rigid or unchanging or something like that, because they’re thinking of it like a four-dimensional spatial object. If you had that, then I don’t see how any initial condition put on it — or any boundary condition put on it; you can’t say “initial” anymore — could create time.
DR. CRAIG: Do you notice the way he corrects himself? You can tell this is a genuine interview. He says, “I don’t see how any initial condition” and then he corrects himself: “Any boundary condition . . . you can’t say ‘initial’ anymore.” Because you’ve just got this tenseless spatial block. This again betrays, or indicates, that his slip is showing, so to speak. His A-theoretical tensed-time slip is showing here, because on a tenseless theory of time change just means that as you go across one of the dimensions things look differently at different points on that dimension just as the scenery can be said to change from west to east. There isn’t any change in the sense of becoming, but there would be difference between the universe at say 3 minutes after the Big Bang and 10 billion years after the Big Bang. But for Maudlin that’s not enough to have real change. For real change, for things to be really happening in the universe, he seems to want to have the reality of tense and temporal becoming, which I cheer and applaud.
KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,
Suppose on one boundary there’s low entropy; from that I then explain everything. You might wonder: “But why that boundary? Why not go from the other boundary, where presumably things are at equilibrium?” The peculiar characteristics at this boundary are not low entropy — there’s high entropy there — but that the microstate is one of the very special ones that leads to a long period of decreasing entropy. Now it seems to me that it has the special microstate because it developed from a low-entropy initial state. But now I’m using “initial” and “final,” and I’m appealing to certain causal notions and productive notions to do the explanatory work. If you don’t have a direction of time to distinguish the initial from the final state and to underwrite these causal locutions, I’m not quite sure how the explanations are supposed to go.
DR. CRAIG: Very good. You’ve got to have the direction of time in order to even talk meaningfully about entropy increase or decrease, or initial and final.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
But all of this seems so — what can I say? It seems so remote from the physical world. We’re sitting here and time is going on, and we know what it means to say that time is going on. I don’t know what it means to say that time really doesn’t pass and it’s only in virtue of entropy increasing that it seems to.
DR. CRAIG: That clearly indicates, I think, his belief in the objectivity of tense and temporal becoming. He says, I don’t even know what it means to say that time doesn’t really pass and it’s just an illusion produced in our minds by entropy increase. That seems to be, again, one of those telltale indications that Maudlin here wants to endorse a tensed theory of time. Here then he is going to take back with the right hand what he’s just given with the left. Go ahead.
KEVIN HARRIS: Edwin Tse then asks:
You don’t sound like much of a fan of the block universe.
There’s a sense in which I believe a certain understanding of the block universe. I believe that the past is equally real as the present, which is equally real as the future.
DR. CRAIG: Let me just interrupt there. Here he does endorse the block universe and the ontological parity of all events in time whether past, present, or future. This is a view of time in which there is no temporal becoming; that everything just exists. And yet, as we’ve seen, so often already in this interview other things he says seem to betray that view but here he seems to want to affirm the block. But now read the next couple of sentences.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
Things that happened in the past were just as real. Pains in the past were pains, and in the future they’ll be real too, and there was one past and there will be one future. So if that’s all it means to believe in a block universe, fine.
DR. CRAIG: Notice here he gives a completely different characterization of the block universe. Now instead of present tense verbs he suddenly reverted to past tense and future tense verbs. He says things that happened in the past were just as real. Not that they are just as real. They were just as real. Pains in the past were pains, and in the future they will be real. They are not real, but they will be real. There was one past; there will be one future. And I agree with him. If that is all it means to believe in a block universe, fine. Every tensed theorist believes that. So I think here we see the kind of inner-contradiction or inner-incoherence in Maudlin’s view. I don’t think he is entirely conceptually clear on what tensed view of reality involves. He ought not to be affirming the ontological parity of all events past, present, and future. Rather he ought to affirm what he has said here in the latter part of the paragraph: things in the past were real, things in the future will be real, and that suffices.
KEVIN HARRIS: This is a complex paragraph here where he says,
People often say, “I’m forced into believing in a block universe because of relativity.” The block universe, again, is some kind of rigid structure. The totality of concrete physical reality is specifying that four-dimensional structure and what happens everywhere in it.
Then he gets into Newtonian mechanics. Can you expand on this a little bit?
DR. CRAIG: Yes. In Newtonian physics you can cast that physics in terms of a four-dimensional spacetime. What is distinctive about Newtonian spacetime is that it has an absolute foliation, that is to say slicing or division into moments of time that are present, past, or future absolutely relative to each other. There is a universal worldwide time in Newtonian physics which is the same for everybody in the universe. So if an event is present for one observer in the universe, it is present for anybody else at that time. There is this universal time. But then he says in relativity you don’t have this kind of absolute slicing of spacetime. Rather different observers in spacetime will slice up the four dimensional block differently so that there wouldn’t be any sort of absolute simultaneity. But he says, “I don’t see how that different geometrical character gets rid of time or gets rid of temporality.” It would just mean there isn’t any absolute simultaneity. What Maudlin doesn’t mention here but he could have is that Einstein’s original special theory of relativity was not formulated in terms of spacetime. It was formulated in terms of ordinary three-dimensional objects enduring through time. So you don’t need to have this geometrical interpretation in order to cast special relativity. I think he is quite right in saying that just having this different geometrical structure of spacetime doesn’t do anything to show that temporal becoming or tense is illusory. It would just mean it is relative to reference frames. That is not my view but that would be consistent with Einstein’s original 1905 paper which did think of temporal becoming and tense as real and objective but just relative to observers and reference frames. But I love what Maudlin says next. He says,
The idea that the block universe is static drives me crazy. What is it to say that something is static? It’s to say that as time goes on, it doesn’t change.
And you can’t say that about the block universe because it is not in time, rather time is one of its internal structuring dimensions. So he really doesn’t like this sort of tenseless block universe and yet he is not entirely consistent it seems to me in affirming the objectivity of tense and temporal becoming.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
Physics has discovered some really strange things about the world, but it has not discovered that change is an illusion.
DR. CRAIG: And notice again there in order to characterize change as illusory he is presupposing that change involves this idea of tense; that it is not enough just to have different descriptions of the universe at different times. In order for change to be real there has to be some kind of a process that goes from one to the other. He wants to affirm the reality of temporal becoming; that things turn into something else.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is then asked,
What does it mean for time to pass? Is that synonymous with “time has a direction,” or is there something in addition?
There’s something in addition. For time to pass means for events to be linearly ordered, by earlier and later.
DR. CRAIG: And here again he is taking back with the right hand what he gave with the left. This seems to be confused. Again to appeal to Adolf Grünbaum – Grünbaum argued for the anisotropy of time. He says that time is linearly ordered. It has an earlier-than direction and a later-than direction. And yet Grünbaum was a vociferous critic of the idea that time passes. So it is not correct for Maudlin to say for time to pass means for events to be linearly ordered by earlier and later. That is insufficient for the passage of time. What is needed in addition to anisotropy, as Grünbaum recognized, is the objectivity of temporal becoming. And that is what Grünbaum denied and rejected. Grünbaum affirmed the directionality of time, the anisotropy of time, but he rejected the idea of temporal becoming. I think that that is what is needed in addition to linear ordering in order for time to pass.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
The causal structure of the world depends on its temporal structure. The present state of the universe produces the successive states. To understand the later states, you look at the earlier states and not the other way around. Of course, the later states can give you all kinds of information about the earlier states, and, from the later states and the laws of physics, you can infer the earlier states. But you normally wouldn’t say that the later states explain the earlier states. The direction of causation is also the direction of explanation.
DR. CRAIG: And why is that? It is because of the objectivity of temporal becoming. Otherwise why not have retro-causation? You can infer the earlier states from the later states, so why not say it is retro-causal, backward causation? Because of the objectivity of temporal becoming. The later states result from the earlier states. The earlier states become, or turn into, the later states. So I think Maudlin is grasping quite right here that the order of explanation, the order of causation, is fundamental and it is going to be rooted in the objectivity of temporal becoming.
KEVIN HARRIS: He asked,
Am I accurate in getting from you that there’s a generation or production going on here — that there’s a machinery that sits grinding away, one moment giving rise to the next, giving rise to the next?
DR. CRAIG: Isn’t that a clear question about the objectivity of temporal becoming? One moment giving rise to the next and then that giving rise to the next; a principle of generation or production. The interviewer is saying, Are you affirming this notion? And Maudlin replies,
Well, that’s certainly a deep part of the picture I have.
So he does seem to be wanting to affirm the objectivity of temporal becoming. I think he goes on to say that the machinery just is the laws of nature. But as he has already admitted the laws of nature allow you to infer either forward or backwards in time. There has got to be something more than the laws of nature to explain this process of one moment giving rise to the other. There needs to be temporal becoming. So as he says here, if I may jump ahead,
Other things are derivative from, produced by, explained by, derived from the laws operating.
That notion of deriving from, being produced by, and so forth, I think all presupposes the objectivity of temporal becoming.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
And there, the word “operating” has this temporal characteristic.
It is hard to get around the language.
DR. CRAIG: Right. I want to say more than that in that people like Grünbaum and other B-theorists or tenseless time theorists do affirm the reality of time. So they would say yes it is a temporal characteristic. But it is more than that. As the interviewer says there needs to be something in addition to just this sort of linear ordering. And that “in addition” is becoming. That is what the word “operating” has behind it as its characteristic.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is asked,
Why is yours a minority view? Because it seems to me, if you ask most people on the street what the laws of physics do, they would say, “It’s part of a machinery.”
DR. CRAIG: I think that the question is misconceived because, as I say, the laws of physics itself don’t explain the difference between past and future. You need temporal becoming to explain why the later states derive from or are produced by the earlier states. But Maudlin says,
I take “time doesn’t pass” or “the passage of time is an illusion” to be a pretty bizarre view.
Here he affirms unequivocally the idea of the passage of time which I take to be an affirmation of temporal becoming. And he actually says the view of physicists and some philosophers that temporal becoming is illusory and that time doesn’t really pass in that sense he thinks it is bizarre. And I agree with him.
KEVIN HARRIS: The final question that he is asked, Edwin Tse says,
What does this all have to say about whether time is fundamental or emergent?
You might want to talk about that question a little bit.
DR. CRAIG: This is a debate among philosophers of time as to whether time is part of the most fundamental description of the way reality is, or on the most fundamental level is the universe really timeless and then time is a sort of emergent property at a higher level of description of the way the universe is. To try to illustrate this, one might say that the wetness of water is not a fundamental property of water. H2O, the hydrogen and oxygen atoms combined, those describe the fundamental properties of water, but at a higher level of description this emergent property appears that water is wet. But the wetness isn’t a property of that fundamental level of description of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Those aren’t wet. That would be analogous to the way some theorists think of time. They want to say reality is not at its most fundamental level temporal; that time is just an emergent reality or a higher level of description. And I love Maudlin’s response. He is so much like the little boy who says the emperor is wearing no clothes. Why is the emperor naked? He says,
I’ve never been able to quite understand what the emergence of time, in its deeper sense, is supposed to be.
He doesn’t even understand what it means. He says,
How do we understand — and is the emergence a temporal emergence? It’s like, in a certain phase of the universe, there was no time; and then in other phases, there is time, where it seems as though time emerges temporally out of non-time, which then seems incoherent.
He is absolutely right. It is incoherent to say that in its earliest initial phases the universe was timeless and then later on time emerged because that presupposes time. You can’t have a temporal emergence of time. So when emergentists talk about the emergence of time they are not talking about a chronological emergence. They are talking about different levels of description. Rather the universe at its most fundamental level of description doesn’t include time but then at a higher level of description the property of time is part of the description. That in no way implies that time is therefore illusory any more than the wetness of water is an illusion. I tend to agree with Maudlin though that there is no reason to think of time as an emergent property especially if you think of time in the way I do as a metaphysical reality that isn’t dependent upon physics or its laws. Maudlin says, to close out the interview,
And for me, again, the notion of temporality or of time seems like a very good place to think I’ve hit a fundamental feature of the universe that is not explicable in terms of anything else.
Time is at the bedrock of our understanding of reality. And for Maudlin, time, as we’ve seen, I think, involves the objectivity of tense and temporal becoming. What that implies is that if there was an initial state of the universe then that initial state just popped into existence from nothing unless you have a transcendent personal creator of the universe to bring it into being.
Renowned philosopher Tim Maudlin takes a more traditional view of time.
KEVIN HARRIS: Today we’re going to start a two-part series. It’s an interview with philosopher Tim Maudlin on time. I am learning a lot from Dr. Craig just going over this interview with this renowned philosopher Tim Maudlin. Today, part 1 on Reasonable Faith.
We’ve talked about Tim Maudlin, a great philosopher, on several of our podcasts. We found this article of his, and it’s an interview. I haven’t read his book but he’s talking about one of your favorite topics that you’ve written on – the reality of time. This is an interesting interview by Edwin Tse for Quanta Magazine. A couple of things about it. First of all, it seems to confirm a lot of what you’ve written about. It’s also funny that in the introduction here he calls this view of time, this more traditional A-theory of time, “homey” and old-fashioned as if the newer theories of time that are out there are more exotic. But what do you think? Maudlin seems to be kind of rejecting some of those and saying no.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: As I read the interview it really does seem that Maudlin is endorsing the so-called tensed theory of time. That is to say that time is not like a spatial line that is stretched out before you but that time is characterized by a kind of temporal becoming. Now, there are aspects of the interview that suggests the opposite, I have to say. With all due respect, I’m not sure that Maudlin is entirely conceptually clear on these different views of time. Sometimes, as I read the interview, I get the impression that he does affirm what he calls (and many have called) a sort of block view of space-time – that all events in space and time are equally real and the whole four-dimensional block just exists tenselessly, and what he is adding is an intrinsic direction to time. One of these directions in space-time has an intrinsic directionality to it. That is entirely consistent with a B-theory of time. You could have a spatial direction even that has an intrinsic direction to it. Adding a direction to one of these dimensions doesn’t turn it into time. But then, on the other hand, there are other places in this interview where he seems to explicitly affirm the notion of the passage of time and that things come into being. I think almost in spite of himself he does seem to be endorsing this tensed theory of time (or A-theory of time that you mentioned) and that lies at the foundations of the kalam cosmological argument as I have enunciated it. Because if a tensed theory of time is true, that means that the beginning of the universe represents the point at which the universe comes into being. It is not just a sort of tenselessly existing front edge. Rather the universe comes into existence out of nothing, that is to say not out of anything, and that surely calls for some sort of transcendent cause. So I think there are deep metaphysical or theological implications of this view of time. It seems to me that you’re quite right that Maudlin seems very sympathetic to this view.
KEVIN HARRIS: In the first paragraph Edwin says, “Tim Maudlin thinks our direct impressions of the world are a better guide to reality than we have been led to believe.” I think what that is making reference to is this arrow of time – that time seems to have this forward motion.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, and our experience of time. I love what the interviewer says in this first paragraph. He says, “Physicists and philosophers seem to like nothing more than telling us that everything we thought about the world is wrong. They take a peculiar pleasure in exposing common sense as nonsense.” Maudlin challenges that and takes a stand with the common-sense man. And I say amen to that! I think it is absolutely true that our experience of time – our experience of tense and becoming – is fundamental and foundational, and any theory of reality that denies that is for that reason in real trouble.
KEVIN HARRIS: Maudlin is a philosopher of physics.
DR. CRAIG: Right.
KEVIN HARRIS: So time would be kind of a side-study of his.
DR. CRAIG: Except, you see, in the 20th century philosophy of time for a great many theorists became part of science because it was time as is studied in physics that became the object of philosophical speculation. That’s very different from the way time has normally been understood. But one of the vestiges of positivism was what W. V. O. Quine called the abandonment of first philosophy. Rather it is science – physical science – that gives philosophy its marching orders, and so for many philosophers of time what they’re studying is that entity in physics that goes under the name “time.” One of the fundamental challenges that I have issued in my work on time to this view is that what physics studies isn’t really time at all. It’s our measurements of time. It’s our empirical measures of time that physics studies – clocks and things of that sort. But not time itself, which is a metaphysical reality that can exist wholly in the absence of any physical measures or even physical objects.
KEVIN HARRIS: Going down about the middle of the page – and there’s a lot to this interview. We’re going to try to get the high points here. He says, “Modern physics, he argues, conceptualizes time in essentially the same way as space. Space, as we commonly understand it, has no innate direction — it is isotropic.” What? Equally in all directions?
DR. CRAIG: Yes. It is the same in all directions. So there isn’t any real up or down, so to speak, in outer space. Right? That is just your perspective of your observer. There isn’t any literal objective here or there. In space everything is equal. There is no intrinsic direction to space. That isn’t inherent to space itself. In Aristotelian physics, for example, space did have a direction. Aristotle thought the Earth was at the center of the universe and things have a natural tendency to fall downwards and to go toward the center – the sort of sinkhole of the universe where we were. Having a direction, as I said earlier, isn’t sufficient to turn a spatial direction into a temporal direction. Some of the things that Maudlin says seems to suggest that it would. What differentiates time from space is that time does have a direction. In that sense it is different from space. Well, I think that’s certainly true that whereas spatial dimensions don’t have direction or an arrow, time does. It runs from past to future. But I see that arrow of time as rooted in a deeper metaphysical reality, namely the reality of temporal becoming – of things coming to be and passing away. That is why time has this arrow. But it’s not sufficient to simply say that time and space are distinct because time has a direction. The question will be: why does it have a direction?
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s go to the first question that he’s asked. “Why might one think that time has a direction to it? That seems to go counter to what physicists often say.” Maudlin says he thinks that is a little big backwards.
DR. CRAIG: Right! He says,
I think that’s a little bit backwards. Go to the man on the street and ask whether time has a direction, whether the future is different from the past, and whether time doesn’t march on toward the future. That’s the natural view. The more interesting view is how the physicists manage to convince themselves that time doesn’t have a direction.
So he says the real question is how could physicists come up with a view that is so contrary to our everyday experience. Everybody admits that the view of the common man is that time has a direction and it does involve this becoming. Maudlin seems to blame this delusion of modern physics on standard geometry. He says,
Standard geometry just wasn’t developed for the purpose of doing space-time. It was developed for the purpose of just doing spaces, and spaces have no directedness in them. And then you took this formal tool that you developed for this one purpose and then pushed it to this other purpose.
So he is saying think of Euclidean geometry – the geometry of a plane or of cubes and spheres and things of this sort. These are just talking about spatial objects, spatial geometry. And he said what physics did was pressed this spatial geometry into service in analyzing this four-dimensional geometrical object called space-time, but this is not a four-dimensional space! This is a space-time. There is one dimension of this entity that is different than the other dimensions and is unique. So he seems to think that the blame is with using geometry in this sort of uncritical way to analyze time as well as space. I think that is true. People think of time as a continuum composed of points which is stretched out at a line, and even if you add a direction to it and say one direction on the line is past and the other direction is future (or better, one direction is “earlier than” and the other direction is “later than”) you’re still thinking of it as like a geometrical line which is stretched out rather than as a dynamic process of becoming.
KEVIN HARRIS: In answer to how they managed to convince themselves that time doesn’t have a direction, Edwin Tse says, “They would reply that it’s a consequence of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which holds that time is a fourth dimension.” Maudlin says, “This notion that time is just a fourth dimension is highly misleading.”
DR. CRAIG: Yes. What he goes on to point out is that even in relativity theory even though you can analyze space-time in terms of this four-dimensional geometrical structure one of the dimensions, as I say, is different. And this shows up in the equations. It has a different sign – rather than plus it shows up as a negative (minus). So even in relativity theory time is distinct from space in terms of the way in which these dimensions manifest themselves in the equations.
KEVIN HARRIS: He goes on to say a little bit later here that geometry just wasn’t developed for studying this. It works in algebra, but it doesn’t work in geometry.
DR. CRAIG: What he points out is that special relativity has a mathematics which is algebraic. There are algebraic equations for transforming space and time coordinates. He points out that a mathematician can say, Well, what would happen if I start putting negative numbers in for these quantities? He says that is a perfectly good algebraic question to do. You can use negative quantities.
KEVIN HARRIS: You can do it all day!
DR. CRAIG: Yeah! Or imaginary quantities. Use imaginary numbers and see what happens. He says the problem is it is not clear what that means geometrically. To use my own illustration, what could it possibly mean to talk about the lapse of two negative seconds or an imaginary hour of time? What is normal for the algebraist or mathematician is just a metaphysical fantasy when you try to translate it into reality.
KEVIN HARRIS: Next the interviewer says, “And so you are trying to allow for the directionality of time by rethinking geometry. How does that work?” He says, “I really was not starting from physics. I was starting from just trying to understand topology.” When I started to look into what topology was, Leipniz was one of the earlier developers of topology. That is the proportions of space that are perceived under continuous deformities. A shape can be stretched or bent or whatever but it maintains certain properties even though you can deform it, twist it, bend it, and things like that. So it is a study of topology.
DR. CRAIG: Topology would be the most basic fundamental primitive property of a space. Then you could lay a geometry on top of that topology to provide measurements of units. Maudlin gives an illustration here. He says,
Suppose I just hand you a bag of points. It doesn’t have a geometry. So I have to add some structure to give it anything that is recognizably geometrical. In the standard approach, I specify which sets of points are open sets. In my approach, I specify which sets of points are lines.
So he wants to begin with geometrical lines as primitives. You put down a linear structure on a set of points, and then you will develop your geometry from there. So he sees lines as in a sense more primitive than points. You begin with your linear structure.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is next asked, “Why is this kind of modification important for physics?”. Maudlin says,
As soon as you start talking about space-time, the idea that time has a directionality is obviously something we begin with. There’s a tremendous difference between the past and the future. And so, as soon as you start to think geometrically of space-time, of something that has temporal characteristics, a natural thought is that you are thinking of something that does now have an intrinsic directionality.
DR. CRAIG: This was where my antenna went up because it seemed to me that this is a non-sequitur. Let’s think geometrically of space-time, this four-dimensional space-time geometrical object. And let’s suppose, as he says, that it has an inherent directionality along one of its dimensions which is time. He says “a natural thought is that you are thinking of something that does now have an intrinsic directionality.” I don’t see that that follows at all. When you are introducing the word “now” you are introducing into this four-dimensional reality a privileged present, that there is something that is true about this “now” rather than just saying it tenselessly has an intrinsic directionality. This may be Maudlin’s surreptitiously beginning to introduce these notions of tense into his theory of the universe. That it is not enough to have this block universe that has a direction along one of its dimensions but that there are these tensed facts about it now having a certain directionality. So that’s highly significant when he starts using locutions like this.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is next asked, “Physicists have other arguments for why time doesn’t have a direction.” Maudlin says, “Often one will hear that there’s a time-reversal symmetry in the laws. But the normal way you describe a time-reversal symmetry presupposes there’s a direction of time.”
DR. CRAIG: Right. I really like this point. He gives the example of the glass falling onto the floor and shattering into a thousand pieces, or of a film-reversed version of that where the pieces assemble and the glass jumps off of the floor back onto the table. He says you can do that. You can run the laws of nature either way. But he says that itself presupposes a causal directionality. He says,
. . . they presuppose that there’s a difference between the glass falling and the glass jumping, and there’s a difference between the glass shattering and the glass recombining. And the difference between those two is always which direction is the future, and which direction is the past.
So he’s rightly saying that the reversibility of the laws of nature doesn’t show that time is illusory or that there is no direction of time. On the contrary, it actually is presupposing and assuming that there is a difference between earlier and later. That’s why I thought that the title of this article or this interview is a misnomer – “A Defense of the Reality of Time.” This isn’t about the reality of time. I think this is a defense in the end of the reality of tense and temporal becoming. Unless you take the view that McTaggart did that time without tense and becoming isn’t really time at all. In that sense it could be a defense of time.
KEVIN HARRIS: So he’s not arguing against time being an illusion? Time being illusory?
DR. CRAIG: No. B-theorists don’t think that time is an illusion. They just think that time doesn’t have a direction and that temporal becoming is an illusion. But they would recognize relations of earlier than and later than along the direction of time. Adolf Grünbaum, who is a philosopher of space and time, wrote an article many years ago on the anisotropy of time in which he defended the view that time has a direction, that time is not isotropic like space. There is an “earlier than” direction and there’s a “later than” direction. But Grünbaum vociferously resisted any interpretation of time as involving tense and the objectivity of temporal becoming. He was a deeply committed B-theorist or tenseless theorist of time. And Maudlin seems to be wanting to break loose from that although sometimes it sounds like his affirmations are really the same as Grünbaum’s. He is just confirming the anisotropy time, and that’s not sufficient to give you the common sense view of time which involves tense and becoming.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. We’ll pick it up right there next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
Various voices in the Christian church are denigrating the meaning of Christ’s blood atonement
KEVIN HARRIS: Right up your alley, Dr. Craig. You have been spending time on the atonement, not only on video (and people can join you in your study via video on the atonement) but also two books on the atonement that you’re working on. So this article about the Southern Baptist refuting efforts to soften the atonement should really be of interest to you right now.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: It really was. I was greatly heartened by the Southern Baptist vote at their annual meeting to affirm the doctrine of penal substitution because I am convinced that this is the biblical doctrine of the atonement of Christ. The article is certainly correct in saying that this is one of the most hated doctrines in Christianity today. Here in Atlanta there is an Episcopal church that was previously called The Church of the Atonement, and they were declining in their attendance, as is true in general for Episcopalian churches. They hired a consultant to help them determine what they needed to do in order to attract more parishioners, and he recommended (believe it or not) changing the name of the church! He said that calling it the Church of the Atonement is repulsive to people. It connotes blood sacrifice. So they changed the name of the church as a result. I have no idea yet whether or not that has increased attendance. I doubt that it will have much effect in the long run, but it is a vivid illustration of the opposition that the traditional doctrine of the atonement does face today.
KEVIN HARRIS: The article begins – this is from Bob Allen from Baptist News:
Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, satisfying the wrath of a holy God, according to a Southern Baptist Convention resolution adopted June 13, 2017.
So the satisfaction of God’s wrath, which atonement view would that fall under?
DR. CRAIG: That element of the atonement would be affirmed by a couple different theories of the atonement. That is not what makes this statement, I think, so significant. For example, St. Anselm enunciated a theory of the atonement that is typically called the satisfaction theory of the atonement. But what Anselm meant by satisfaction was compensation. God had been offended by sin. We had failed to give to God the honor that is due to him, and therefore we owe God a sort of infinite compensation which we cannot pay. On Anselm’s view, God became incarnate in the person of Christ to give his life as an offering to God – a compensatory gift to God on our behalf to pay for the dishonor that we had rendered to God. Anselm believed that if compensation was not made to God for our sin then God’s only alternative was punishment. So either compensation or punishment was the result of sin.
Now what the Protestant Reformers affirmed was that in fact there was punishment for sin, but instead of punishing us for our sins God became incarnate in the person of Christ. On the cross he bore the punishment for sin that we deserved thereby freeing us from our liability to punishment and affording us a divine pardon and forgiveness and new life in Christ.
So satisfaction of divine justice would be affirmed both by Anselm which tends to be the Catholic theory of the atonement (which is really a matter of compensation) or you could say what satisfies God’s judgment is substitutionary punishment. And what the Southern Baptist has affirmed is substitutionary punishment.
. . . messengers to the 2017 SBC annual meeting passed a resolution affirming “the truthfulness, efficacy and beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.”
. . . the resolution says the denial of penal substitutionary atonement “constitutes false teaching that leads the flock away” and “leaves the world without a sin-cleansing savior.”
DR. CRAIG: Right. Now I think that this is correct.Let’s unpack this a little bit. The keywords there are “penal substitutionary atonement.” The word “atonement” is used in the Old Testament of the sacrifices that were offered in the tabernacle and then later in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem for the impurities and the sins of the people. These sacrifices made atonement in the sense that they would cleanse of impurity and they would also cleanse of sin on the part of the people. So the sacrifices served the purpose of what theologians called “expiation,” which means the removal or the expunging of sin and impurity. They also served the purpose of what theologians call “propitiation.” That is, they satisfy God’s justice and thereby nullify his wrath upon sin. By expiating our sin, these sacrifices propitiate God and remove his wrath so that we no longer stand under his wrath. So the word “atonement” involves this expiatory and propitiatory offering to God on behalf of human sinners that will remove their guilt and condemnation and result in appeasing God’s just wrath upon them.
This is said to be substitutionary atonement. What does that mean? That means that someone else does it for us. It is vicarious suffering that Christ undergoes. This is already implicit in these Old Testament sacrifices. All of the animals sacrifices in the tabernacle and the temple were accompanied by a very important hand-laying ceremony. The person who brought a goat or an animal to be sacrificed was required first to lay his hand upon the head of the animal before he slaughtered it. He actually killed the sacrificial animal himself. But before he did so he laid his hand on the head of the animal. The Hebrew expression here is quite emphatic. It means to press your hand into the animal’s head, and then you would slay the animal. And this act of hand-laying I think is symbolic of the worshiper’s identification with the animal and thereby the animal’s death represents symbolically the worshiper’s death. The consequence of sin is death, and the animal dies in the place of worshiper. The offerer identifies himself symbolically with the animal, and then the animal is slain and its blood dispersed upon the altar or other aspects of the tabernacle paraphernalia. So already in these Old Testament sacrifices there is this element of substitution of an animal for the worshiper.
Now the New Testament tells us that the blood of bulls and goats can never really take away sin. This was just a provisional arrangement that God had made for the sins of the people until Christ should come. The place that you find substitutionary atonement most clearly taught is in Isaiah 53. In Isaiah 53 we confront this enigmatic person called the Servant of the Lord who is God’s righteous servant. He is described as high and exalted; lifted up. These are words which the Hebrew Bible only uses of God himself, and yet they are used of this righteous Servant of the Lord. This Servant of the Lord is then punished or suffers in the place of the people. It says, He was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our infirmities, on him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his stripes we are healed. The New Testament authors over and over again identify Jesus as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. In fact Jesus himself thought of himself in terms of the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and quotes Isaiah 53 in application to himself. So you have a clear teaching of substitutionary atonement on Christ’s part.
In the final and third aspect of this is that it is penal. That is to say it has to do with punishment. I don’t think we want to say in the case of these Old Testament sacrifices that the animal was punished in the place of the worshiper. You don’t punish an animal. It is a brute. It couldn’t understand what was being done to it. It is not being punished. Rather the animal suffers the fate which would have been the worshiper’s punishment had it been inflicted upon the worshiper instead. So the animal bears the suffering which would have been the just desert of the offerer of the sacrifice had it been inflicted on the offerer. When you get to Isaiah 53 there you are no longer dealing with an animal substitute but with a person who bears the suffering of the people. In this case I think you do have him being punished for the sins of Israel. It says, Upon him was the punishment that made us whole. In the New Testament, over and over again Christ is affirmed to be that Servant of Isaiah 53. It says, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, reflecting the language of Isaiah 53.
What we want to say minimally is that Christ suffered the fate which would have been our punishment for sin had it been inflicted upon us instead. Instead Christ himself bore that fate. And I would want to even go so far as to say that Christ was punished in our place.
That’s the doctrine of penal substitution. I think that the Southern Baptist convention was absolutely right in saying that this belongs at the very center of the Gospel. It is the means of our redemption.
KEVIN HARRIS: This resolution was drawn, it seems, due to contemporary voices, they say, attempting to soften the image of an angry God in order to appeal to modern sensibilities.
DR. CRAIG: That’s absolutely right. And here I want to alert our listeners to the way in which traditional Reformation atonement theories are caricatured and misrepresented. Contemporary authors who are unsympathetic with penal substitution will represent it as the view that there is an angry, bloodthirsty God who is bent on punishing sinners but that somehow Jesus of Nazareth gets in the way and bears the wrath of this angry God thereby changing his attitude from one of anger and wrath to one of love and grace. And that is a gross caricature not only of New Testament teaching but of traditional atonement theories. N. T. Wright, for example, characterizes these traditional atonement theories as saying that God so hated the world that he killed his only son. That is obviously not what Anselm and the Reformers were saying. From start to finish these theories recognize that the atonement is motivated by God’s love. It is out of God’s overwhelming love and grace expressed toward sinners that he gives in the person of Christ this substitutionary atonement on our behalf thereby satisfying the demands of his own justice. It’s not that Christ’s atonement somehow switches God’s attitude from one of anger and wrath to one of love and compassion. From start to finish the atonement is motivated by God’s love and compassion, and he himself bears the punishment for sin that his own justice had demanded thereby freeing us. So it is really important to understand these theories accurately lest we be misled by the misrepresentations of its critics.
KEVIN HARRIS: They give two examples of contemporary voices that are trying to soften the atonement or soften this image. One would be William Paul Young, author of the best-selling novel The Shack. It is now a movie. Boy, Bill, we’ve been talking about The Shack for a long time. People have criticized that. Listen to what he says:
. . . if God originated the cross “then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner.”
DR. CRAIG: I think you can see how silly that is as a characterization of the traditional atonement theories I’ve just described. God is not a cosmic abuser; he is a cosmic savior who goes to the extent of taking on human flesh and paying the penalty for sin that his own justice had demanded in order to rescue sinners who are lost and without him going into everlasting perdition. So this is just a gross mischaracterization. Even worse is this statement by Young that is quoted in this article. He says:
“Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense,” Young continued. “And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one.”
Here he seems to say it’s better to be an atheist then to believe in God. But it is this caricature of God that he rejects, not the God of these traditional atonement theories.
KEVIN HARRIS: The second contemporary voice that they talk about is Christian musician Michael Gungor. Now, Bill, I have met some contemporary musicians who are very sophisticated in their theology. Michael Gungor is not one of them. He tweeted back in February:
“I would love to hear more artists who sing to God and fewer who include a Father murdering a son in that endeavor.”
DR. CRAIG: It’s just ridiculous the way in which these theories are caricatured.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “If you can’t think of anything to sing to God other than gratitude for taking your shame away through bloodshed, stop singing and look around,” Gungor said in a follow-up tweet.
I don’t know where our modern sensibilities are. We don’t need to cave into modern sensibilities and soften hardcore biblical truth.
DR. CRAIG: The thing the Southern Baptists realized is that this is a beautiful teaching. They affirm the truthfulness, the efficacy, and the beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. This is a doctrine that is not about a cruel and monstrous deity but rather about a loving heavenly Father who so yearns for his erring children that he goes to the extent of taking on human flesh, joining them in their historical situation, and there allowing them to abuse him and kill him in the most horrendous fashion thereby satisfying the demands of God’s justice so that they can be pardoned, cleansed, and forgiven. It is a beautiful doctrine of self-giving love for the sake of others.
KEVIN HARRIS: On the last page here I was looking at this quote by Billy Graham. In 1957 he said, “Some might say that blood is somewhat revolting, but blood given is a blessing.” This was in a 1957 sermon explaining Christ’s vicarious death in the place of sinners. So here is this attempt, I guess you would have to be a sociologist to comment on this but they keep talking about our modern sensibilities. What are we squeamish about the atonement to the point that we have to mangle it and soften it? I wonder if we are that schizophrenic because movies and cinema are more violent than they’ve ever been. The number one show on TV is The Walking Dead. There has never been a more violent, grisly, gruesome production.
DR. CRAIG: So often in film or literature we admire characters who are willing to give their lives to save others, who will sacrifice their lives to save innocent people.And they will do it for their friends or their colleagues, but the Christian doctrine of the atonement is that Christ voluntarily gave his life to save people who were his enemies and who hated him and were in rebellion against him. This is all the more beautiful a doctrine that we ought to affirm. I wonder if Billy Graham when he said this “blood given is a blessing” was thinking of when they have a blood drive and you give your blood at the Red Cross or something for the sake of others. Christ gave his blood, but he gave his life! He didn’t just make a donation! He gave his life for our sake and our salvation. So it is a doctrine that is, I think, a beautiful doctrine that does elicit proper praise of God for his self-giving sacrifice.
Dr. Craig responds to a critique by the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry regarding Molinism.
KEVIN HARRIS: Is Molinism biblical? If you are still not sure what Molinism is, we have lots of resources at ReasonableFaith.org – some writings, some podcasts. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris.
My dear friend Matt Slick of CARM (Christian Apologetics Research Ministry) doesn’t think that Molinism is biblical. Matt is more of the Calvinist persuasion. We are going to look at an article today on CARM that Matt wrote in response to Molinism. Again, Matt is a good friend of mine. I’ve been in his home; stayed with his family. He’s had me speak at a couple of conferences. We’ve been friends for years. I want to tell you a quick story. During the mid-90s when the Internet was growing and still kind of new Matt had the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM) website. There were some titanic battles on the CARM boards on every topic imaginable. There were some popular atheist websites as well – the Internet Infidels. We would go over there to their boards. They would come over to CARM. We would go at it tooth and nail sometimes. I learned a lot about apologetics and philosophy and every topic under the sun, and also forged some lifelong friendships, not only among Christian apologists and philosophers but among atheists and agnostics. Those friendships were forged and are still around today. Some of my good friends I met online during those apologetics battles back in the mid-90s. A few years ago Matt was able to go full-time with CARM and CARM.org is still there. Internet Infidels are still there. But now there are thousands of websites on both sides of the issues. I just have to tell you, Dr. Craig, I look back on those days with a lot of affection.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I think this is a great illustration of how Calvinists and Arminians and Molinists can all work together in a common cause. We can agree to disagree about certain non-essential issues and yet still support and applaud each other’s efforts to defend the faith.
KEVIN HARRIS: I was up all night typing these written debates. My wife nearly left me; my dog ran away. He begins an article at CARM.org:
According to Molinism, Middle Knowledge is the knowledge that God has about any free will choice any person might make at any time, in any circumstance.
DR. CRAIG: That’s not quite right. It is very important, as he himself recognizes, that the knowledge that God has about how people would freely choose in different circumstances be logically prior to his decree to create a world. Up until the modern era all theologians believed that God had knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances including Matt Slick. The question is when does he know it, so to speak? Does he know it logically prior to his decree to create a world, or does he know it only logically posterior to his decree? Does he himself decree how persons will act in any circumstance he places them in? Is there a kind of divine determinism that Christians have to affirm? Or are God’s choices of which world to actualize guided by his logically prior knowledge of how people would choose in different circumstances? The alternative that God knows them logically prior to his decree would be a Molinist position. The position that God knows them only logically posterior to his decree would be a Thomist or a Calvinist position.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He says,
This means that God’s knowledge about people is contingent on human free will choices in a libertarian sense. This is called middle knowledge because it is in between what is called God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge. Natural knowledge is where God knows all things that are possible and logically necessary. Free knowledge is the knowledge that God naturally has due to his omnipresence so that he exhaustively knows all things that exist.
DR. CRAIG: Again, that’s not quite right. God’s free knowledge is the knowledge that he has of the actual world whether past, present, or future logically posterior to his decree to create a certain world. It is not due to his omnipresence. I find it odd that he says that. It is simply the result of his decree to create a certain world and his knowing how different persons would freely choose in various circumstances. So free knowledge just sort of falls out as a consequence of middle knowledge and the divine decree.
KEVIN HARRIS: He continues on the second page:
Libertarian free will is the freedom that an unbeliever has to make uncoerced, self-generating choices that are not completely incapacitated by his fallen nature. These choices, in particular, the act of receiving Christ, are made possible by God’s prevenient grace, which when applied to an unbeliever’s life, will result in the unbeliever’s ability to choose to receive Christ or not. This foreseen knowledge of choice made by the unbeliever, which is possessed by God eternally, is called God’s Middle Knowledge. Therefore, God’s middle knowledge depends upon what he foresees people will choose to do under different circumstances . . .
DR. CRAIG: Again, that’s not quite right. I don’t want to be pedantic but it is important that we get this correct or it will result in confusion. It is not correct to say that God’s middle knowledge depends on what he foresees people will do. That would be foreknowledge – simple foreknowledge. Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what people would do freely in any set of circumstances, and those people may never exist. God may decide not to create a world in which those people are real. So middle knowledge is not based in any way upon foreseeing what people will do. That’s foreknowledge, not middle knowledge.
The Molinist certainly does want to affirm libertarian free will in the sense that the unbeliever can make these uncoerced self-generating choices, but that doesn’t mean that the Molinist thinks that this person is not incapacitated by sin. He could well think that the person is incapacitated by sin but there is a kind of healing, prevenient grace given by the Holy Spirit that can help to remedy the natural man’s resistance to spiritual things and bring him to a point where he can either acquiesce in that drawing of the Holy Spirit to God or he can further resist it.
KEVIN HARRIS: He goes into the next section: “Is middle knowledge biblical?”
DR. CRAIG: And here he expresses his reservations about it. In this section it is important to characterize correctly my position. He quotes me as saying that the content of God’s middle knowledge is not essential to God. That is to say, God could have had different middle knowledge than what he does have. Since creatures could choose differently than they would, God could have different middle knowledge in terms of its content. But then he characterizes this by saying that, Dr Craig says that God’s middle knowledge is not essential to God. That is apt to engender misunderstanding. I do think that it is essential to God to have middle knowledge, but it is the content of the middle knowledge, which is not essential to God. I’m going to say later that I think even Matt is committed to saying that not all of the content of God’s knowledge is essential to God. The reason he thinks that this is troubling that the content of God’s middle knowledge is not essential to God is he says,
So, now we have things happening in the universe outside of God’s sovereign control . . . how is anything that occurs in a universe that God created and which all things work after the counsel of his will, be outside of his control.
I think that objection is misplaced because it is precisely middle knowledge that gives God sovereign control of a world of free creatures. For the Calvinist, God can only providentially control a world in which there is no libertarian free will. He can only control a world by determining unilaterally everything that happens. The Molinist, I think, has a more exalted view of God’s sovereignty and providence because the Molinist holds that God can control a world of free creatures by knowing how they would freely choose in various circumstances and then deciding to create certain people and put them in those circumstances so that he can actualize that situation without having to unilaterally determine it himself. So I would categorically reject that there are things happening in the universe that are outside God’s sovereign control. On the contrary, it’s middle knowledge that gives him that sovereign control.
KEVIN HARRIS: Matt seems to be a little disturbed about your quote in a long article that was online:
“The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him [God] are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.” (William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-and-the-soteriological-problem-of-evil-once-more)
That image there of God having to play the hand he has been dealt. It seems that would be disturbing to people.
DR. CRAIG: The import of this metaphor of playing the hand you’ve been dealt is to say that God doesn’t determine unilaterally everything that happens, that there are truths about how people would freely choose under different situations. The image here is of a deck of cards in which different counterfactuals are on these cards, and God has a hand of the cards that are the true counterfactuals of freedom. This is contingent because different counterfactuals of freedom could have been different. Creatures could choose differently in the same circumstances. They are not unilaterally determined by God. Were they to choose differently in these different circumstances then God would be holding a different set of cards. So God now plays with the cards that he’s been dealt. But in no way is this meant to imply that there are actual entities or things outside of God that he has to deal with. This is simply an illustration of the fact that the truth value of these counterfactuals of freedom is not unilaterally determined by God, that libertarian freedom is truly possible.
KEVIN HARRIS: I knew exactly what you meant by that when I read it! [laughter]
DR. CRAIG: Oh good!
KEVIN HARRIS: But I’ve got the advantage of having a lot of conversation with you but I also read some of your work. I knew exactly – I thought it was a great illustration.
DR. CRAIG: I love it! I think it is very good to illustrate the way in which a sovereign God works with the counterfactual choices that people would make so as to bring about his purposes.
KEVIN HARRIS: The whole thing is . . . Matt is asking whether this is biblical.
DR. CRAIG: Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: He cites four or five scriptures here that seem to mitigate against Molinism and give a little hard predestinarian view.
DR. CRAIG: Right. He quotes a number of scriptures that affirm that God accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will. The difficulty in interpreting these passages to mean that God unilaterally determines everything that happens or could happen is that the Scripture also affirms things like God is not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance(2 Peter 3:9). Here Peter affirms that it is God’s will that no one be lost, or in other words that everyone be saved. And yet we know that that will is not accomplished. It is these passages that teach the universal salvific will of God for all persons to be saved that persuades me that Matt is wrong in quoting these passages to say that everything that happens is God’s will. God’s will takes into account how creatures would freely choose under various circumstances, and therefore there are things that happen that are contrary to God’s will including human sin and evil, and in particular (as 2 Peter 3:9 says) the fact that some people do not come to repentance and perish eternally. This is not God’s will, Peter says, and yet it happens. For that reason I think that while everything is under God’s sovereign control, that control takes account of the fact that human free decisions are not unilaterally determined by God and that therefore they sometimes do things that God does not will.
KEVIN HARRIS: I heard a theologian quote that verse the other day about God’s not willing that any of us should perish. He said God is an aspiring universalist. God would be a universalist but God knows that sadly it’s not going to happen.
DR. CRAIG: Right. So the Calvinist needs to reinterpret these passages to say it really means that God wants all types of persons to be saved but it’s not really his will that everyone be saved otherwise everyone would be saved. I think that it is a much more plausible interpretation of these passages to take them at face value.
KEVIN HARRIS: He continues:
Therefore, God’s knowledge has areas of contingency. But this makes no sense because whatever occurs does so because God has ordained it to happen.
DR. CRAIG: I find this very puzzling. Does Matt not believe that God is free to ordain differently than he has ordained? If all knowledge is essential to God then that means God could not have ordained differently than he has, and that denies divine freedom, not human freedom. So I think Matt himself, if he thinks about it, will want to affirm God’s freedom to ordain differently. That is what sovereignty means. In that case, God could have had different knowledge than what he does, and so there are areas of contingency in divine knowledge.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
Furthermore, such middle knowledge, which is based on God’s perceived libertarian free will of creatures, risks violating God’s aseity. This is the teaching that God is eternally independent, noncontingent, and self-sufficient in all that he is. But, Molinism says that God’s Middle Knowledge is contingent upon God eternally knowing foreseen, human, libertarian free will choices.
DR. CRAIG: Here I don’t think there’s any violation of divine aseity (which says that God is a self-existent being) because the Molinist can be an anti-realist about possible worlds, counterfactual propositions, and any other sort of thing that you might think to violate divine aseity. On the Molinist view it is perfectly consistent to say that everything that exists is either God or created by God and dependent upon him. So the affirmation of the possibility of libertarian freedom isn’t in any way a violation of divine aseity in the sense of God’s self existence.
KEVIN HARRIS: The conclusion. He says,
Middle knowledge is not biblical because it requires that God’s knowledge is, in some sense, contingent upon the libertarian free will choices of creatures. Therefore, God’s knowledge is not absolute in all things but is contingent upon his creation. This violates God’s aseity which is his non-contingency in all things. And, libertarian free will violates Scripture by assuming that the unbeliever is capable, under the right circumstances, of freely receiving Christ. So, middle knowledge which is based on God’s contingent knowledge libertarian free will creatures is false.
DR. CRAIG: That is just a summary, and I’ve already responded to all of those points. I think Matt himself is committed to God’s having contingent knowledge because surely Matt would want to affirm that God is free to ordain differently than he has. I don’t see any problem in affirming that God doesn’t unilaterally determine everything that happens. Indeed, I think it leads to a higher view of divine sovereignty that God can sovereignly direct and control a world of free creatures rather than just a world of puppets or marionettes whose strings he pulls. So I’m persuaded that middle knowledge is actually a better reading of Scripture than unilateral determinism.
KEVIN HARRIS: I have to say in conclusion that Molinism is really growing as a view just from my own anecdotal look at things. There is tremendous excitement about this view. For a lot of people it is the insight that they’ve been looking for in their Christian faith and Christian walk. There’s a group on Facebook – they are the most enthusiastic people. There is a Molinist group on Facebook! They are downright enthusiastic.
DR. CRAIG: I’ve received email messages or Facebook messages from listeners or readers who have testified to the revolutionary effect that this doctrine has had in their Christian lives. It has revitalized them which is just wonderful. And I think it is growing in popularity. Dean Zimmerman, a fine Christian philosopher at Rutgers University and not himself a Molinist, has said that Molinism is probably the most popular view of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human choices. That doesn’t mean it is a majority view. It might be, say, 35% but every other view is 20% or 15% or less. So it is the most popular view out there, he says, among philosophers.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
Dr. Craig comments on an article that shows the pitfalls of “identity politics” and certain aspects of sexual identity.
KEVIN HARRIS: Heaven help us! We are getting into some deep waters here. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Today, we are checking out an article by a woman who mentions the Nashville Statement and recounts her story of being in a mixed-orientation marriage. She offers, as we will read in a moment, lots of caution in this article. This whole issue continues to be front and center in the culture, doesn’t it?
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Yes, it really is. And it does have relevance to Christian worldview. This is not just a political issue. This is a moral and theological issue.
KEVIN HARRIS: I know that a lot of people ask you to comment on things outside of your expertise because you are a Christian leader nonetheless.
DR. CRAIG: But if I might say, I typically refrain from expressing myself politically on these various issues because I don’t want evangelical Christianity or the Gospel to be thought to be in lock step with right wing conservative politics. But an issue like transgenderism or homosexual behavior is not for me a political issue. These are ethical issues that are addressed explicitly by Holy Scripture and on which the Christian therefore needs to take a stand however politically unpopular it might be.
KEVIN HARRIS: This article came to my attention. There is a minister named Matt Moore who puts out a newsletter and some writings. He is a man who has same-sex attraction and yet lives in purity and is celibate as a minister and as a single person. He writes on how we should respond to those who have same-sex attraction inside and outside the church and how we can present a Christian witness. He says we must read this article. So I said, OK, I’ll read it. It is from Monica who has the “Deliberately Domestic” blog. She was married to a man who was homosexual. They have three children together. They call it a mixed-orientation marriage. I think that is relatively rare, but apparently there are some of these. It brings up an issue of whether someone who has just an almost dominating same-sex attraction and who is a Christian – should they marry a woman (say if they are a man, someone of the opposite sex) or should they remain single? You’d have to look at each individual case I guess.
DR. CRAIG: I think so. That would be a question for a psychological counselor, certainly not for a philosopher or ethicist.
KEVIN HARRIS: I’ve heard of at least two successful marriages like this where they thought it would be the right thing to do. They loved each other as individuals even though the man continued to struggle or had to walk in God’s grace with same-sex attraction. They’ve been successful. This one wasn’t. They ended in divorce. Monica says:
I have attempted to be private about the details of my divorce and what led to it. I hope I have done right by protecting my former husband and by not airing laundry the world did not need to know. And yet, our marriage was very public in many ways. For those of you who have known me for years, you remember when we were writing publicly about Brian and I’s mixed orientation marriage. You remember seeing me post pictures at Pride Parades, having countless LGBT-friendly gatherings in my home, and may even know we were on track to writing a book on the subject. In my mind, I was trying to create a bridge between the two worlds I found myself in: the gay world filled with many people who were dear to me and the conservative Christian world I was raised in and continue to choose to align myself with.
And since all of that was very public, I’m sure many of you have wondered where I stand now. How do I look back on it all? Would I endorse the positions I held and wrote about back then? Do I agree with the ways we conducted ourselves? How do I feel about controversial events happening on a national level, with the Nashville Statement coming out this past week and LGBT issues in the news constantly? How do I feel when I see the kinds of views my ex-husband is posting publicly and everything he now stands for?
Well, I’m going to answer those questions to the best of my ability while continuing to preserve discretion where I can. I think we were wrong. Not for getting married, not for attempting to stay married, not for pursuing Christ and forsaking all others. Those things were right and I wholeheartedly believe our marriage could have survived based on that foundation. But we were wrong to embrace “being gay” as an identity. We were wrong to move away from the gospel and to move towards figuring out some new way to exist. When I look back on what we wrote, I think, “dear Monica, run to Jesus. He is ever and only the answer. There is no other way. Don’t succumb to pressure, don’t give in to what feels comfortable and more palatable. Cling to God and truth.” Brian slowly, inch by inch walked away from faithfulness to the Scripture. Our hearts can only serve one god, and he chose identity in his sexuality above all else. He eventually sacrificed everything on that altar: his relationship with God, our marriage, and our family.
When I read the Nashville statement, all I can think is “YES. Thank you.” I wish this was written twenty years ago and that I had never begun to depart from it. I obviously bear responsibility for allowing myself to be moved on a variety of topics, but I felt helpless to do otherwise. Like many, if not all of you, I had heard that because I did not personally experience these issues that I could not have a voice in the discussion. I trusted Brian. I trusted him to lead me and our family, and so I often deferred to his judgment. When he said “we don’t like what so-and-so is saying” I agreed. I didn’t bother to read for myself or figure out how things were lining up with Scripture. I planted my flag in the ground, defending him at all costs whether I fully understood why or not. That is my fault. I should not have done that. . . . Because you cannot get away with calling sin “good”, just because it feels more loving. Because I know where attempting to find a middle ground leads. I know because I watched it happen first hand in the person I loved more dearly than any other in this world. I watched this man who loved Jesus turn into someone who I do not recognize. There is no middle ground. There are only two ways to live — towards and for Christ or away and against Him. I choose the former.
OK, Bill, there is a lot to this. Apparently in their attempt to build a bridge and to be loving toward the homosexual community nevertheless they fell prey to the false teaching and false concepts that can exist. You should not identify as a “gay Christian” – it sends the wrong message.
DR. CRAIG: That does seem to be the lesson that she is drawing from this. It is an enormous mistake to attach your identity as a person with your sexual orientation. So long as her husband continued to think of his personal identity in terms of his sexual orientation he could not finally be free of that. It was just too powerful. So she seems to be advising us to think of our identity as who we are in Christ rather than as wrapped up in our sexual orientation. We can think of analogies to this, I think. For example, do I think of my personal identity in terms of being an American? Or being a caucasian man? Or being even a philosopher? Is that who I am as my personal identity? If you think of who you are in terms of your sexual orientation then you are never going to be free of that, she is suggesting. It is going to overwhelm you in the end. So it seems that she is saying that in this mixed-orientation marriage he needed to find a new identity. He needed to think of himself as a person in Christ, a sinner redeemed by the grace of God, and not to think of himself as, as you put it, a “gay Christian.” That is a fundamental mistake.
KEVIN HARRIS: It sends the wrong message. Just what you said. That is why Matt Moore doesn’t call himself a gay Christian. He says he is a Christian, and he has, for whatever reason, struggles with same-sex attraction.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah. You think of yourself as a Christian. That is the way you identify. My personal identity is in Christ. Then I have all of these hangups and sinful proclivities that I am dealing with and fighting against but they don’t touch the core of my being because my essence is that I am a Christian. A new creation as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 – if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; all things have become new. Perhaps here there wasn’t that sense of the new creation – of a new identity. It was still clinging to the old identity. That just then proved insuperable for this fellow.
KEVIN HARRIS: She makes reference in this article – we’ll touch on it quickly – a counter-statement to the Nashville Statement. A group called Christians United put their own statement out. It is practically the opposite of everything in the Nashville Statement. We won’t go over the whole thing. Maybe it is another podcast. But something I did want to ask you about did kind of jump out to me. Whereas Christians United had this article that says that it is OK to have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex, that God ordained that and that is OK with God. God created it. Yet when I look at the entire Christians United statement, I didn’t see anything that would indicate that they say, “Yes, it is OK for people of the same sex to engage in sexual behavior.” They wouldn’t go that far. Why not? It is almost like: We still can’t get there. Our intuitions are screaming at us! They use the word “romantic” which you can be a romantic but . . .
DR. CRAIG: That’s playing with fire. It really is playing with fire. I think that is the lesson of this blog. If you play with fire in that way it is going to ultimately incinerate you. You need to make a decisive and clean break with that former lifestyle. Not just the lifestyle but even the identity she is saying. You must not self-identify anymore in this way, otherwise it will eventually overcome you. For people to say, Be involved in romantic dating relationship or something of that sort with the same sex – that is just folly if you think that it cannot lead anywhere legitimate.
KEVIN HARRIS: I don’t want people to misunderstand her either because she said, We had gay-friendly people, homosexual people, over to our home. That is a good thing. Paul told the Corinthians if a non-believer invites you over for dinner and you want to go, go and eat whatever is put before you. It is not like you can’t have a person in your home. But she just said that the sum total of attending these Pride Parades and having these gay-friendly parties in their home led to their demise.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, because he still identified with that community though a Christian. I wonder, in a case like this (and I am just speculating here), whether or not for a person trying to make a mixed-orientation marriage work if it wouldn’t be better to sequester yourself from these kinds of relationships and ministries. Let other people reach out to those communities to try to help them and win them. But for you, you’ve got to make this mixed-orientation marriage work, and therefore you ought to perhaps sever any sorts of relationships that would be tempting or conducive to immorality. It would be, for example, like an alcoholic who’s trying to recover from alcoholism. He doesn’t go to the bars to try to minister to other alcoholics there and try to win them over. That would be silly for him to put himself in those sorts of environments and positions. He needs to sever himself from anything that might lead him to indulge in alcoholism, at least until years have gone by and he is safely delivered from that sort of proclivity and temptation. Similarly here, I just wonder if it wasn’t imprudent for them to try to continue to immerse themselves in this other community while trying to make a mixed-orientation marriage work. Different people are at different places in their lives. What might be prudent and profitable activity for one person might not be prudent and profitable for another person. Indeed, for that other person it might be destructive and dangerous to be involved in that kind of activity. Maybe the bottom line is this: if there are any of our listeners who are thinking about going into a mixed-orientation marriage, they need to do so with their eyes wide open to the dangers and pitfalls that this can involve and to try to find their identity in Christ alone.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcst Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
Dr. Craig comments on a growing Theistic Evolutionist movement.
KEVIN HARRIS: Today we’re going to get into theistic evolution. Some of the latest stuff that’s going on in that area. It is always a good reminder to go to ReasonableFaith.org and check out everything that’s going on there. We sure do appreciate your support – your prayer support and your financial support as we continue this work. Even if you are not a Christian but you appreciate the information, the conversations that we try to bring to you, be sure and let us know. Just go to ReasonableFaith.org and contact us there. Thank you very much for your support.
Dr. Craig and I were in the studio a few days ago talking about theistic evolution:
Bill, they are being called the new theistic evolutionists – “BioLogos is a non-profit foundation formed by Francis Collins in 2007 to promote the view that an evolutionary scientific position is fully correct and compatible with Christianity.”
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG:You are talking about with regard to biological complexity and evolution. This is a very specific area of science.
KEVIN HARRIS: Have you looked much into Francis Collins and his work with the Human Genome Project.
DR. CRAIG:No, I haven’t frankly, personally, because this isn’t an area of specialization for me. While I have an interest in it as a lay person, it’s not something that I’ve looked into in detail.
KEVIN HARRIS: One thing I’ll just say from the outset here because I can just hear people’s wheels turning immediately – BioLogos takes no position on Adam and Eve, the historicity of Adam and Eve. They leave that a completely open question as to how God did that. BioLogos is becoming quite influential. The Templeton Foundation gave them 8.7 million dollars. That’s “enough to bring campus ministry leaders to all-expenses-paid conferences in Manhattan, expanding BioLogo’s influence.” The key difference between BioLogos and the intelligent design movement is that “design cannot, in principal, be scientifically detected in nature, or that design could be . . . but isn’t.” A key difference there but BioLogos believes that the evolutionary consensus should not be questioned and maintains non-experts should defer to the consensus. That seems to be kind of the bottom line.
DR. CRAIG:I think this article by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute really shows how very close the advocates of intelligent design and the folks at BioLogos are. Where they differ is on this issue that you mentioned – whether or not design can be scientifically detected in the natural world, specifically in the bio-world. The emphasis is on the word “scientifically.” Here is a statement on page 5 of the article from BioLogos.
We are skeptical about the ability of biological science to prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer . . . while ID advocates are confident.
What Luskin emphasizes is that while intelligent design theorists treat design as a scientific hypothesis, not a theological doctrine, they would say that a failure scientifically to detect design doesn’t mean that God was somehow theologically absent. They would say natural explanations don’t remove God. The question really is a question about the limits of science. The BioLogos people will agree that the world is designed by God, but they would say that on the basis of a theological conviction. They would say that this design is not scientifically detectable. One of the reasons for this is because the BioLogos folks tend to be committed to methodological naturalism. This is explained on page 6 of the article:
Methodological naturalism (MN)—the view that we must pretend the supernatural doesn’t exist when practicing science—is another disagreement. BTEs [Those who hold to theistic evolution] generally believe that MN is vital for science, especially within origins research.
And ID theorists would not. So that is a critical assumption. If you do believe that methodological naturalism is vital for doing science then of course you will say that it is impossible to scientifically detect design in the natural world. But that wouldn’t preclude a philosopher like me from inferring that design is the best explanation of the biological complexity in the world. It just wouldn’t be a conclusion that a scientist could draw because he operates under this methodological constraint that I, as a philosopher, don’t operate under. I think you can see here that the line gets very thin between those who would say that there could be an argument for design that would be a metaphysical argument or a philosophical argument rather than being a part of a scientific theory in the way that the ID folks want to say.
KEVIN HARRIS: They say,
They fear that when Christians challenge the consensus, this produces “anti-science attitudes” that “hinder evangelism.” BioLogos defends the consensus, despite recent scientific discoveries affecting theories regarding the origin of life, neo-Darwinian evolution, common ancestry, and junk DNA, which contradict the consensus.
What do you think about that?
DR. CRAIG:I guess I do think that it is good to have mavericks who will challenge the consensus. There are some interesting examples in the article of where this has taken place. The old consensus that biological complexity is the result of natural selection operating upon random mutations is now being seriously questioned. The old consensus is eroding. Moreover, he rightly points out that in some areas such as origins of life there is no consensus! So it is not as though one can submit to the scientific consensus there because there just is none. It remains up for grabs. So I do think that one should be an independent thinker and ready to challenge the consensus where the evidence leads otherwise. I suspect that the BioLogos people would agree with that, though he is able to show that there are quite a number of statements where their representatives have said that we need to go with the scientific consensus. But if that scientific consensus would begin to change, surely they would have the good sense to recognize that scientific advance is possible and that even scientific revolutions can take place.
KEVIN HARRIS: Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute (an ID theorist organization) in his article says, “This might prevent some Christians from becoming atheists, but it gives atheists essentially no intellectual reasons to become Christians.”
DR. CRAIG:That is an odd concern. That is an apologetic or evangelistic concern, isn’t it? It seems to assume that the only arguments for God’s existence are scientific arguments or arguments that appeal to biological design. That is simply not true. As you know there is a wide range of arguments of natural theology for the existence of God and not just arguments based upon biological complexity. I would also say, though, that I did appreciate the point he made in the article that when he surveyed BioLogos blogs he found that less than 2% of them were devoted to offering a critique of the New Atheism whereas more than 34% were devoted to promoting scientific evidence in favor of evolution, 40% promoted pro-evolutionary theological or historical views. I think that is telling. I think that would worry the BioLogos people themselves if they were aware of that – that their literature is primarily focused on convincing Christians to embrace the theory of evolution rather than on being directed toward secularists and convincing them of the compatibility of theistic faith with modern science. They do need to, I think, have an outlook that reaches out more.
KEVIN HARRIS: If you are going to claim to be a Christian, even evangelical, organization which they tend to be then evangelism would be a concern rather than just all the in-house fights. I think that Casey Luskin sums up what he thinks at the bottom of the first page. He just says, I think a lot of this is due to cultural pressure and BioLogos tends to be caving into that rather than all this new discovery or the way science is going or recent discoveries and things like that. They are embarrassed by an anti-scientific attitude, or at least a reputation, even if it is warranted or unwarranted, for being anti-science Christianity. And God-of-the-gaps – they are afraid of that. They are afraid of those two things. Therefore they are saying let’s just go with the consensus. It can all be done.
DR. CRAIG:I think undoubtedly cultural pressure would be felt by informed Christians today which might make BioLogos an attractive option for them, but I don’t think that the commitment of BioLogos to evolutionary theory is simply due to cultural pressure. I think they would say that this is where the evidence points and that they’re following the evidence where it leads. That will be a question to be discussed between groups like BioLogos and Reasons to Believe and Answers in Genesis and others that are involved in debates of his sort. Discovery Institute, of course.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s just take a look at some of the things that BioLogos believes. Collins really spelled a lot of this out in his book The Language of God. The listener can look at that book and see. By the way, Francis Collins is no longer the head of BioLogos. There has been a leadership transition. But he says that part of the reason that theistic evolution is so little appreciated is that it has a terrible name. So he embarked to find an acceptable term and proposed to rename theistic evolution as “bios through logos” or BioLogos. What would that be? That would be life through the word.
DR. CRAIG:Right. The new name for theistic evolution is “evolutionary creationism.”
KEVIN HARRIS: Wow!
DR. CRAIG:Which I find a very interesting term.
KEVIN HARRIS: Talk about a loaded term!
DR. CRAIG:They are wanting to cast their view as a view of creationism. It is a kind of creationism because they believe that God has created life on this planet, but they would say it’s evolutionary creationism – God did this through biological evolution. It’s really the same thing, I believe, as theistic evolution but it’s perhaps a more congenial name. As Collins said the other one was an off-putting name and “evolutionary creationism” is a more attractive way of packaging it.
KEVIN HARRIS: ID theorists – intelligent design theorists – and BioLogos theistic evolutionists both agree that Christianity and science are compatible.
Christianity has contributed positively to the development of modern science. Both would also agree that science (rightly understood) contributes positively to society, that scientific research is an important and dignified calling, and that Christians should consider new scientific discoveries, no matter who makes them.
I think all of that is important, but I tell you, most of the Christian church, at least seems like in the West, are really getting this. They are saying, yeah, we embrace science.
DR. CRAIG:I don’t see anti-scientific attitudes to be prevalent in the church. The disagreement between these ID or intelligent design theorists and the folks of BioLogos is really very, very subtle, and it has to do with whether or not the inference to a designer is an inference that can be scientifically made. Can the scientist qua scientist infer justifiably that biological complexity is due to some sort of guiding intelligence. Notice that the ID people are quite willing to admit that this may be non-miraculous, that it may be evolutionary in the sense that there is common descent from prior lifeforms, that biologically complex lifeforms have evolved from simpler ones. The degree of agreement between them is very extensive. It all gets down to this issue of whether this is a scientific inference or not, and that will largely depend upon your attitude toward methodological naturalism which is not a metaphysical difference between them. It’s a methodology. It’s just which methodology do you want to adopt.
KEVIN HARRIS: How does this relate to your teaching? You’ve taught us so much. And that is scientific discoveries can provide philosophical inferences and that’s what we look at.
DR. CRAIG:It does relate to what I’ve argued specifically with regard to the fine-tuning of the universe or the origin of the universe. What I’ve argued is that science can provide evidence for a religiously neutral premise in a philosophical argument for a theologically significant conclusion. That avoids a god-of-the-gap problem. It avoids the problem of methodological naturalism. What it is simply saying is you can give scientific evidence for premises that are neutral theologically but in the context of a philosophical argument can lead to a conclusion that is pregnant with theological significance. So, for example, when you take the fine-tuning argument, one of the premises is that the fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or to chance. The arguments that people give against physical necessity have nothing to do with God. They indict that hypothesis on purely scientific grounds. Similarly, those who think that the fine-tuning is not plausibly explained by chance don’t do so on theological grounds. They provide theologically neutral arguments against explaining fine-tuning by chance, and in particular through the multiverse hypothesis. So the question would be I suppose: could you frame arguments of that sort for intelligent design in biology without saying I am offering an alternative scientific hypothesis? I am simply using the scientific evidence to support premises in some sort of philosophical argument for an intelligent designer.I’ve not tried to do that. This isn’t my area. But it is not clear to me why not. I don’t think that the inference to an intelligent designer needs to be scientific in order to be respectable, justified, and warranted. It is a matter of indifference to me whether you call it a scientific inference or a philosophical inference. The question would be: is such an inference justified in light of the evidence?
KEVIN HARRIS: If I could make this observation, it would be so good to do what you say to do, and that is (I’m paraphrasing here): You know what? We’re free as followers of Christ to relax and follow the evidence where it leads. The landscape is so inflamed right now that it is hard to do that. If you were to go to college and you said, You know, I’m going to study science (and you are a Christian). Your science professor more than likely is going to be in a very inflamed state because of how political everything is right now and because of the work of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis and all the young Earth creationists and all this stuff is very inflamed.
DR. CRAIG:I think that the reason that the debate in biology has become so poisoned as opposed to the debate in physics for example over fine-tuning or the origin of the universe is because of the battles over teaching creationism in the public schools. It has become politicized in biology where proponents of creationism tried to make room for creationism to be taught as an alternative in public school science classes. The court has repudiated that over and over again and pushed creationism out of the public schools. That I think has resulted in the inflamed and emotional state of the conversation in the realm of biology today that thankfully isn’t characteristic of the debate in physics that I’m more involved in.
KEVIN HARRIS: Francis Collins writes here on page 5 toward the bottom:
“science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science.” Under Collins’s view, God’s “domain” is seemingly fenced off from “nature,” which belongs to “science.”
DR. CRAIG:I don’t feel comfortable with that statement by Collins either. I can understand why he would say that we cannot explore the spiritual domain using the tools of science. That would in a sense be an expression of methodological naturalism. But to say that God’s domain is somehow in the spiritual world is contrary to the Christian view that God’s lordship is also over creation. God isn’t hermetically sealed off in some sort of a spiritual heaven. His lordship does include the physical natural world as well.
KEVIN HARRIS: I thought the same thing because Paul says that God’s handiwork can be clearly seen and Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God and it gives forth knowledge and speech.
DR. CRAIG:Right. The question would be: is that a scientific inference or not? The ID people would say it is, and the BioLogos people would say no this is not a scientific inference. So the difference between them can be very subtle.
KEVIN HARRIS: But wouldn’t that be one of the reasons that you would not want to fence God off from nature?
DR. CRAIG:I would say it is more like the Christian doctrine of creation that would lead me not to fence God off. God is lord over the universe that he has made, he is providentially active in it, he has chosen its laws of nature and set them, and everything is under the providential, sovereign direction of God. BioLogos people and ID theorists would both agree with that, I think. I think Collins’ statement is mischosen myself.
KEVIN HARRIS: In the middle of page 6 it says,
BioLogos calls the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in studying nature no more than “a hint of the presence of the Creator” since “a logical demonstration” of God’s existence “is not available.”
Does that conflict with your view on mathematics?
DR. CRAIG:Let me just look at the footnote. This is a reference to an article by Ted Davis – “Belief in God in an Age of Science.” I’m not sure the degree to which Ted Davis speaks for BioLogos. I suspected he doesn’t. He may be a member of BioLogos but I would say Ted Davis assesses the argument in that way. The question there would be whether or not the argument from the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics is a powerful argument for God’s existence or just sort of a suggestion that God exists. I think it’s fairly powerful myself. I think it’s very difficult to find any sort of explanation for the applicability of mathematics to the physical world apart from theism. So I’m inclined to think of this as a fairly strong argument for God’s existence. But I don’t think of it as a scientific argument, I guess. I think of it as a philosophical or metaphysical argument.
KEVIN HARRIS: We can spend a lot of time on how to handle the consensus, and this article does. We don’t have time to look at all of it here.
DR. CRAIG:Let me say one thing about that. In preparing for my debate with the evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, I read a number of things that he had written. I thought it was very helpful when he pointed out that the word “evolution” has a broad range of meanings, and depending on how you define it will determine whether or not there is a consensus today concerning it. If by “evolution” you mean simply the theory of common ancestry; that is to say that existing lifeforms have evolved from earlier lifeforms then he says, yes, there’s a consensus on that – present-day lifeforms evolved from earlier lifeforms. Indeed I think even many creationists would believe in that. That doesn’t mean that there is a single common ancestor for all lifeforms. Maybe there was multiple origins of life and these different forms evolved from there. But Ayala would say that’s where the consensus exists concerning evolution – complex lifeforms have evolved from earlier less complex lifeforms. The second definition of evolution is that this evolutionary process is to be explained in terms of random genetic mutations and natural selection. He says this on the other hand is much more controversial, and there is no consensus about that. In fact, as Luskin mentions, in 2008 Ayala participated in a conference in Austria in which these mechanisms were sharply challenged and they basically said the old neo-Darwinian synthesis is dead. These explanatory mechanisms are inadequate to explain the state of biological complexity that we observe. So there isn’t a consensus on that point. The third definition of evolution Ayala mentioned is the reconstruction of the tree of life that we’ve all seen in textbooks with its various branches leading finally to homo sapienson one of the twigs on one of the branches. Ayala says there it is just completely in chaos. No one has any confidence about how to reconstruct the evolutionary tree of life. So when Luskin talks about challenging the consensus, what you will notice is that it is mainly about challenging evolution in the sense 2 or sense 3 – the explanatory mechanisms and the evolutionary tree. As Ayala has already admitted, yeah, there is no consensus on those things. But there is consensus about the thesis of common ancestry. ID theorists typically don’t dispute evolution in that sense. They are not creationists. ID theorists don’t commit themselves to believing that God created biological lifeforms out of nothing, but may well have used earlier lifeforms to evolve or develop to lifeforms we see today. So the question isn’t evolution in sense 1 or challenging that consensus. The question would be whether or not evolution in that sense warrants an inference to an intelligent designer and whether this is an inference that a scientist as a scientist can draw.
KEVIN HARRIS: As we conclude, what do you think? Is this a good strategy? Is the BioLogos strategy good?
DR. CRAIG:I think it is good that they’re on the scene. I think it’s good to have a big umbrella and have young earthers and progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists. If they want to call themselves evolutionary creationists, sure. That’s all right. I think it is good to have a diversity of perspectives. I guess what bothers me is when these organizations take a doctrinaire position that excludes people like myself who are genuinely inquiring and haven’t yet come to a firm conclusion – hasn’t made up his mind. When I heard Deborah Haarsma, who is the current president of BioLogos, speak at the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Society a couple of years ago, I was troubled by the fact that there is no room in BioLogos for a person like, say, Fuz Rana who works at Reasons to Believe who hasn’t bought into the neo-Darwinian paradigm, who is still open to other explanations. There wouldn’t be room for someone like me who is still inquiring and hasn’t come to a firm conclusion. I think that is a shame. I would like to see these organizations more open, more of a big tent or big umbrella that would welcome people of differing perspectives because they all do recognize that a commitment to biblical Christianity permits a diversity of perspectives. So why shouldn’t their organizations reflect that diversity?
A Muslim writes in the the New York Times that the Islam world needs to listen to Jesus!
KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, there is an article in The New York Times from a Muslim called “What Jesus Can Teach Today’s Muslims.” Without even looking at this article, I bet you probably have a lot of thoughts just from your studies in Islam on what Jesus can teach today’s Muslims. Let’s get those comments from you, but also look at what this Muslim himself is saying. Mustafa Akyol says,
What is the trouble with Islam? Why are there so many angry Muslims in the world who loathe the West? Why do self-declared Islamic states impose harsh laws that oppress minorities, women and “apostates”? Why are there terrorists who kill in the name of Allah?
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: The thing that immediately struck me about these questions is that the answers are not the same in every case. It seems to me that there are quite different answers to these various questions.
KEVIN HARRIS:He says,
Many in the West have been asking these kinds of questions for decades. . . . The Islamic civilization, once the world’s most enlightened, has lately been going through an acute crisis with severe consequences.
In your study of Islam, is that true? Was it once the most enlightened?
DR. CRAIG: That is hard to say. Certainly medieval Islamic culture was highly advanced scientifically and artistically. But the Christian and Jewish minorities within those lands were still discriminated against. They were referred to as the dhimmi. They were second-class citizens who weren’t granted full rights. So the idea that this was some sort of a tolerant society such as we would espouse in the West today is a myth. Also, I don’t know whether it would be fair to say that this was more enlightened than, for example, Chinese civilization or medieval Europe. It is hard to say. But in any case certainly it was a great civilization.
KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, when you look at the kalam argument, how developed that was. Then you’ve taken it since. The article continues:
One of the prominent minds of the past century, the British historian Arnold Toynbee, also pondered the crisis of Islam, in a largely forgotten 1948 essay, “Islam, the West, and the Future.” The Islamic world has been in a crisis since the 19th century, Toynbee wrote, because it was outperformed, defeated and even besieged by Western powers. Islam, a religion that has always been proud of its earthly success, was now “facing the West with her back to the wall,” causing stress, anger and turmoil among Muslims.
DR. CRAIG: Although I haven’t read this essay by Toynbee, it seems to me that this is a very perceptive analysis. What we need to appreciate about Islam is that when the Muslim looks out at the extent of Islam around the world today he does not feel proud of this. He sees a failure. Islam is supposed to take over the entire world and bring all nations into submission to the teachings of Islam and of the Qur’an, and it has failed to do so. Instead, as Toynbee says, the Western powers have defeated the forces of Islam, the great Ottoman Empire, which persisted with the Caliphate in Istanbul for some eight to nine centuries, collapsed by the end of the First World War. The Islamic countries of the Middle East were dominated by British and European powers. So it is very true, I think, that the contemporary Islamic world suffers from a deep inferiority complex, from a sense of failure. It has not succeeded in the way that they anticipated or promised that it would. This, I think as Toynbee rightly saw, results in stress and anger and turmoil.
KEVIN HARRIS: Toynbee says if you want to see a parallel in history, look at a much older religion:
. . . the plight of the Jews in the face of Roman domination in the first century B.C. The Jews, too, were a monotheistic people with a high opinion of themselves, but they were defeated, conquered and culturally challenged by a foreign empire. This ordeal, Toynbee explained, bred two extreme reactions: One was “Herodianism,” which meant collaborating with Rome and imitating its ways. The other was “Zealotism,” which meant militancy against Rome and a strict adherence to Jewish law.
Looks like a pretty good parallel, don’t you think?
DR. CRAIG: Well, it is sort of interesting. It is probably oversimplistic, but as the author points out you can point to parallels today in Muslims that would accommodate themselves to Western culture and values and thinking and imitate it. He gives the example of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern-day Turkey, who is deeply committed to the triumph of Western culture and value and society in Turkey and rebuilt modern Turkey after his image – an image which is now being deeply compromised by the increasingly conservative government in Turkey which seems to be betraying Ataturk’s vision of a secular society in a Muslim country. Then, on the other hand, he says you have those who would be like the Jewish Zealots who would be using violence in the defense of Islam. I would simply add that there is a strong difference here between Jewish Zealots and those who perpetrate jihad in the name of Allah. There is nothing in the Old Testament that would say Jews should carry out religious wars to propagate Judaism. War and violence was not a means of evangelization. Jews were never commanded to spread Judaism by the sword. Yet, in the Qur’an, you do have commands given to faithful Muslims to fight against both pagans and the people of the book (namely, Jews and [Christians]) in order to spread Islam and to bring other nations into submission to Islam. The reason that there are jihadis and those who would use violence to propagate Islam is because this is commanded in the Qur’an and they are fundamentalists who take these commands literally and are seeking to obey them faithfully.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says Muslim intellectuals and reformers have been looking for a third way for a long time – somewhere between the Herodians and the Zealots. Neither one of those is acceptable, so there needs to be a third way. Now he is starting to point to Jesus.
Jesus claimed to be the very savior — the Messiah — that his people awaited. But unlike other Messiah claimants of his time, he did not unleash an armed rebellion against Rome. He did not bow down to Rome, either. He put his attention to something else: reviving the faith and reforming the religion of his people. In particular, he called on his fellow Jews to focus on their religion’s moral principles, rather than obsessing with the minute details of religious law.
DR. CRAIG: And here is where I think he goes wrong. He interprets Jesus as a moral reformer – that the burden of Jesus’ ministry is to focus on these broad ethical principles rather than legal minutiae. That is not the burden of Jesus of Nazareth. The burden of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was the proclamation of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in human history in his person. When he celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples he symbolically portrayed in the blood and the bread his death and inauguration of a new covenant between God and man in which he would bear the sin and the wrath of God that would make reconciliation with God possible. In any case, even if you think that the proclamation of Jesus as dying for our sins and bringing salvation and eternal life wasn’t the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry, it was clearly the message of the apostles. And it was this message that changed the Roman Empire and eventually the Roman world so that within three centuries Christianity becomes the religion of the Roman Empire. It was the message that the apostles preached of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, the sin-bearer, and the one who reconciles us to God and redeems us. The problem there, you see, is that there isn’t anything comparable to that in Islam. There is no such person that can play that role. So this author can advocate that Muslims also adopt ethical reforms whereby they get rid of the legalities of Sharia Law in favor of broad ethical principles. That is fine, but that is not going to give you a person like Jesus which can bring about the change that he wrought in the world.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
Christians, of course, know this story well. Yet Muslims need to take notice, too. Because they are going through a crisis very similar to the one Jesus addressed: While being pressed by a foreign civilization, they are also troubled by their own fanatics who see the light only in imposing a rigid law, Shariah, and fighting for theocratic rule.
Just stopping right there, obviously Jesus did address the extremes – the legalism. There was a lot more to him than just moral reformation.
DR. CRAIG: Right.
Would it be a totally new idea for Muslims to learn from Jesus? To some extent, yes. While Muslims respect and love Jesus — and his immaculate mother, Mary — because the Quran wholeheartedly praises them, most have never thought about the historical mission of Jesus, the essence of his teaching and how it may relate to their own reality.
Wow. Do you think they are ignorant of Jesus?
DR. CRAIG: That is undoubtedly true of the average, nominal Muslim. But more to that, I think he is ignorant of Jesus and at least what the message of Jesus was that changed the world and that introduced this change into the Roman world that eventually changed the world. It wasn’t the sort of ethical reform that he contemplates for Islam. There just isn’t anything in Islam that occupies the position of Jesus that can produce this third creative way that he is looking for.
KEVIN HARRIS: At the end of the article he quotes a notable Islamic scholar – Muhammad Abduh, an Egyptian scholar who was impressed with Jesus. He says,
As a Muslim, he did not agree with the Christian theology about Jesus, but he still was moved by Jesus’s teachings, which were relevant to a problem Abduh observed in the Muslim world. It was the problem of “being frozen on the literal meaning of the law,” he wrote, and thus failing to “understanding the purpose of the law.”
What are we getting here? The letter of the law and the spirit of the law?
DR. CRAIG: Right. He wants to have an ethical reform within Islam which would give up the legalism of Sharia Law in favor of broad ethical humanistic principles. He thinks that this can bring about a revolution comparable to what Jesus brought about in the first century. My argument is that he has got it wrong about Jesus and what produced that revolution within the Roman Empire, and therefore in the absence of a person like Jesus there really isn’t any hope for this kind of creative alternative in Islam.
KEVIN HARRIS: He wraps it up by saying in the same way that Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” he says,
Can we Muslims also reason, “The Shariah is made for man, not man for the Shariah”? Or, like Jesus, can we also suggest that the Kingdom of God — also called “the Caliphate” — will be established not within any earthly polity, but within our hearts and minds? If Jesus is “a prophet of Islam,” as we Muslims often proudly say, then we should think on these questions. Because Jesus addressed the very problems that haunt us today and established a prophetic wisdom perfectly fit for our times.
DR. CRAIG: Well, the way they could do this would be to turn to Jesus!
KEVIN HARRIS: Really!
DR. CRAIG: They could turn to Jesus as their Savior and suggest that he has established the Kingdom of God, not as an earthly kingdom but within our hearts and minds, and that he is in fact the Savior of the world. He is more than a prophet. So, yes, the Muslim can abandon Islam and turn to Jesus!
KEVIN HARRIS: But you just can’t do that if you are a Muslim.
DR. CRAIG: No, you’d have to cease to be a Muslim.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is not quite willing to go there, is he?
DR. CRAIG: No. And that is because he has this diminished view of Jesus as just an ethical reformer.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK, Bill, I think that kind of sums it up. There might be a pragmatic or practical solution here in a third way of a more liberal Islam that says Sharia Law was made for man, not man for Sharia Law, but it does miss the point of who Jesus is and the claims of Christ.
DR. CRAIG: Right. Nor does it address the inferiority complex and anger that Toynbee spoke of that lies at the source of so much of the frustration and anger and bitterness that exists in the Islamic world today.