Earlier today, Demian Farnworth, author of the blog Fallen and Flawed, sent me a link to this podcast from Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig.
Tonight, I will be live-blogging my reactions to Dr. Craig's commentary, having never heard this podcast before. Let's see how this goes.
Question: It seems like more and more Christian apologists are leaving the faith and actively promoting atheism on the Internet. What do you think? Further, is it really possible to leave the faith for intellectual rather than emotional reasons?
Dr. Craig: You could say that the increasing number of people leaving the faith who have studied apologetics is simply a function of the increasing number of people who are studying apologetics.
Other Host: I think we have to look at in on a case-by-case basis. Could someone leave the faith for any intellectual reasons, or is it emotional?
Dr. Craig: I think it's for moral reasons, frankly...I say that not on the basis of case studies or investigations, but on the basis of what Scripture says.
Me: Whoa, I was with you up until then. You haven't done any case studies, you haven't done any investigations - you don't have any stories or rumors. Just Scripture...not very convincing.
Dr. Craig: Scripture says that if you inculcate godliness into your character, you will not fail [emphasis mine].
Me: 'The Scripture says'. I've read entirely too many deconversion accounts where people have specifically related that losing their faith was the last thing they ever wanted to do, that they wanted to serve their God but just could no longer believe. 'The Scripture says' isn't doing it for me, because unlike Dr. Craig, I actually have read up on "case studies".
Dr. Craig: This is why Christian apologists must make sure that we're keeping our lives clean and pure and holy before God.
Me: Fine. But you honestly think every other person who ever deconverted didn't try that? That's the great thing about defending Christianity: it's so difficult that no one can reasonably be expected to live it, so easy that you can get a child to do it.
Dr. Craig: I think, ultimately, that no one either fails to come to faith or falls away from faith due to intellectual difficulties alone. Ultimately, it's a spiritual matter about the orientation of that person's heart, and whether that person truly wants God and is open to God, or whether that person is closing God out of his heart and mind.
The Other Host and Dr. Craig: Some other stuff about Paul.
Dr. Craig: Some of these Christian apologists who have fallen away will often be very open about the moral difficulties which have led to their falling away: immorality, pornography, adultery"
Other Host: It's pretty easy to get burned out...so the last thing we want to do is to start taking a hardened stance towards people.
Me: That sounds like fairly good advice to me for any profession.
Dr. Craig: Another danger is becoming too cerebral...Alvin Plantinga, his book talks about how because of sin we love ourselves instead of God...the Holy Spirit helps repair that and help us respond emotionally to God and love Him. And if we ignore that side of our personality, then we can become dry and burned out.
Other Host: Sometimes people need just a human touch.
Me: Again, that sounds like good advice.
Dr. Craig: I think when you look at the some of the narratives of those who have left the faith, you will find a bitterness and a disappointment with those in the Christian Church because people did not come along side of them and help them when they were going through their time of struggle.
Me: And that's pretty much the end of the discussion on that subject.
Dr. Craig is clearly sincere about his beliefs. When presented with the potential problem of people who shared the same beliefs as Dr. Craig and no longer believe what he believes - it's only natural that Dr. Craig should find a way to reconcile his opinion that he has correct beliefs with evidence that contradicts his beliefs. By dismissing those accounts, which very obviously contradict his beliefs if he grants that some of the people who've deconverted may have done so for intellectual reasons, he's reaffirmed his beliefs from doubt. Once one begins the path of 'there may be intellectual reasons against my belief', one's priority is going to be critical thinking, and one is going to end up questioning one's beliefs.
Of course, there are plenty of religious people who are good critical thinkers. But the beliefs of Dr. Craig clearly have the most important place in his life, subordinating all other interests and motivations. Intellectual reasons for deconversion? No way. It can't be. Get out of here. There must be some other reason for this incident - they must have sinned or something, or maybe they were never Christians in the first place? It's easy to rationalize, and in the end, that's what I think this process is.
When sincere religious believers such as Dr. Craig become aware that other people around them no longer share their beliefs, there's some tension that has to be resolved. If the belief is correct, then logically people wouldn't leave the faith for intellectual reasons. If people may have left for intellectual reasons, then the faith may not be all it's cracked up to be, and that's clearly an unacceptable option for Dr. Craig and for many others who present similar arguments about the true nature of ex-Christians.