It’s midnight here, and I just got done listening to the latest Reasonable Faith Podcast in which William Lane Craig and Kevin Harris discuss an article I wrote for Capturing Christianity. William Lane Craig is a brilliant philosopher and theologian, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him and all the work that he has done for the Christian faith. So it was an honor to learn that my article was chosen for discussion on his most recent podcast.
The article is called Apologists are Fighting the Wrong Battle. In the article I argue that we should not be marshaling most (or all) of our apologetic resources to a demographic that makes up a very small portion of society; namely atheists. Not only are they a significantly small portion of society, but also can often be the most resistant to spiritual things. It is late here, but I wanted to quickly address the 3 main reservations that Craig had with my article.
Kevin Harris quotes me from my article:
Craig responds to this point by arguing that he does not think that just because atheists only make up 3-5% of the population, “it is a good argument for saying that our apologetics should not be significantly directed towards atheism.” He goes on to give his reasons for this. He says that he thinks it’s important that we do so in order to show people that belief in God is rational. He expresses that if atheists only make up 3-5%, we need to do everything we can to keep it that way, and we can do this by directing our apologetics towards atheism.
On this point I realize that it isn’t so much that Craig and I disagree, but rather that we are directing our efforts to different aspects of the same problem. I am suggesting that we spend more time reaching the 95-97% of our culture that aren’t atheists, whereas Craig’s goal seems to be focused on keeping atheists at 3-5% of the population. In my view, both goals are important and necessary for apologetics. Our goals here are not incompatible, but rather just directed at different targets.
This is why I stressed the point that most people are not atheists. Given this fact, it would seem that most people do not take belief in God to be irrational (or at minimum they do not take irrationality to be a stumbling block for belief). So trying to convince them that Christian belief is intellectually viable must serve a secondary function rather than the primary purpose that Craig appeals to. However, again, this is more of a difference of where we are directing our efforts.
As stated in the article, statistically, most people believe in what Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. In their research they found that most teens more or less believe the following:
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Given this information, and for several other reasons that space will not permit me to include, people reject Christianity, not due to a lack of rational coherence, but rather due to a lack of emotional coherence. In this way, people are less susceptible to structured arguments and reasons and are more vulnerable to arguments that more strongly appeal to our feelings and emotions. There is plenty more to say about this, but better left for another time.
The basic point of my article was to encourage Apologists to take more of a balanced approach in how we decide to marshal our resources; we need to expend more resources on the current demands of culture.
Kevin quotes from my article again:
Craig replies by saying, “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.” He then goes on caution that in responding to trends and what is “hot” allows one’s work to be vulnerable because they will not last. He claims that he doesn’t want that for his life. Instead he wants his apologetic work to last throughout the generations.
I can certainty understand his reservations with this point, and once again realize the difference in what goals we deem most important. While Craig sees responding to current cultural objections as making one’s apologetic faddish, I see it as making one’s apologetic relevant! Here I think of Jesus and Paul and how they adjusted their apologetic to cater to the cultural and personal needs of their audience.
I think Craig and I both want to do our best to remove the actual barriers that are preventing others from accepting Christianity, however, it seems we may disagree as to what those barriers actually are. The main difference is that he is intent on removing barriers towards Christianity that I argue most people don’t actually have (given that most people aren’t atheists).
Lastly, Kevin quotes me again:
Craig responds to this by pointing out that my first two categories are objections, but the last category is not an objection. He stresses this point by mentioning it more than once. He says, “biblical illiteracy is not an objection to Christianity; that’s just ignorance…”
The reason I categorized the points the way I did was to offer three different kinds (or types) of threats to Christianity. Craig’s response tempts me to believe I didn’t communicate that as well as I could have. He seems to have interpreted me as using the word “threat” to be synonymous with the word “objection,” which was not how I intended the word to be used. This would explain why he finds it odd that I categorically include biblical illiteracy along side the others. He adds, “what he (Jon) calls threats here are really of different natures. The first two are present objections to Christianity, whereas the third is just a kind of condition of our culture.”
I must admit that without further clarity, I may be incorrect in Craig’s interpretation, and will gladly modify my statements if I am in error. However, the categories I made were meant to be informative threats rather than proper objections to Christianity. Something doesn’t need to be an objection in order to be a threat.
I want to express my appreciation and gratitude for all that Dr. Craig and Kevin Harris are doing. It is difficult to overstate the impact of Christianity in academia that Dr. Craig has made. I also wish to say that I am thankful for them sharing their thoughts on my article.
I hope this brief response clarifies that I am not against apologetics geared towards atheism. My objective was not to show that they don’t have value, but rather emphasize why it is crucial that we balance our apologetic resources to meet the demands of culture.
Lastly, I hope to be clear that I am not against apologists; I am an apologist myself who has dedicated the last several years to the serious study and use of apologetics. Instead, I am right along side of you all, doing my best to help as much as I can!