Monday, December 14, 2009

Ex-Christians and William Lane Craig

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 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.


Geds said...

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.

This is actually a problem I've run in to on several occasions since leaving Christianity. I'll have people, some of whom I'd known for years, show up and attempt to understand why I left. The short version of my story is that I had a "crisis of faith" that precipitated a complete re-evaluation of my religious beliefs, so even if there was an emotional issue all it did was create the necessary room for an intellectual decision. And I didn't want to leave, either. It meant losing friends, having to chart a whole new career path, and, most importantly (at the time), having to give up on the possibility of a relationship with a specific member of the opposite gender.

I've found that it's best to ignore the would-be apologists who occasionally enter my life, however. None of them get it and, more importantly, none of them want to get it. So I've had people tell me I've been tricked by the Devil or just wanted to go out and lead an immoral life (which is hilarious, since the primary difference between my life now and my life then is that I don't go to church. That's literally the only noticeable difference). I've also been told that it's too bad I wasn't around "the right kind of Christians," which usually came from the sort of people I'd known for several years, which makes it kind of laughable, but in a sad, sad way.

The people who are more introspective tend to try to come up with more complex reasons, but it still all boils down to, "It's too bad you weren't with the right kind of Christians," or an invitation to come back to church because everyone (who were those same wrong Christians, mind you) really loves me. They are in no way capable of responding to my actual intellectual arguments against Christianity and prefer to avoid them entirely in favor of conversations with the version of me that only exists in their heads.

So, yes, I've seen that tension time and again. Part of the reason I tend not to engage when I see it is because I don't want to force anyone to go through what I went through. It's not the easiest thing in the world.

Anonymous said...

So I've heard. I've been an atheist all my life, I'd say. Although I "dabbled" when I had Christian friends in school, I just couldn't get into the mindset and stay there. My upbringing was entirely secular and church-based activities were actually frowned upon in some cases.

I still have no clear idea why I didn't get to go to bible camp when I was a kid and it was only six miles away. Was it about money, or did they really not want me spending two weeks with "those people"?

I've read a few de-conversion stories since then and met a few now through my Freethinkers group who say it was incredibly traumatic, painful and sad - losing both friends, but also losing the faith that everyone else seemed to cling to so willingly.

MS Quixote said...

Hey Tele,

Perhaps you guys are the exception. In my experience, the percentage of non-believers who are capable of framing and defending an intellectual argument for atheism is astoundingly low. It mirrors the percentage of believers capable of performing the same from the other side of the fence. Thus, I would tend to classify you as a "high church" atheist, one who, for instance, could articulate the Euthyphro dilemma. The rest, and by far the more numerous class of non-believer, is of the "low church" variety, or what I might term a "when you're dead, you're dead" atheist. They approach non-belief with mere non-belief, and perhaps with a notion that the world is evil, the church is full of hypocrites, or that the Bible is an old book.

Regardless, though I can envision a scenario where some might be, I'm not in the least daunted by those who leave the faith, as far as it relates to my own. You have to make the decision that presents itself to you as most reasonable, as do I. After all, would you suddenly experience a non-faith crisis simply from hearing reports that an atheist has converted?

Teleprompter said...

MS Quixote,

As usual, I find myself largely agreeing with your analysis.

One of the things I believe it is important to do is to imagine what it's like to hear something from someone else's perspective - which is why I agree with you that it's hardly a big deal when I hear that an atheist has converted or you hear that a religious person is no longer religious.

However, that's not the main point of this discussion for me.

It's not that people would find conversion a shock to their faith or non-faith - it's that people might have a good reason (particularly a strong intellectual case) for doing so that may be a shock or cause doubt for some individuals.

I already consider the intellectual reasons given by C.S. Lewis, Strobel, Flew, and A.N. Wilson from their accounts of leaving agnosticism/atheism as I ponder my beliefs about the supernatural. Are some other people as willing to consider that there may be an intellectual case against their beliefs by evaluating testimonies from those who hold opposing views? Dr. Craig and others have not shown a willingness to concede this possibility.

As always, it has not changed that many non-believers and believers do not attempt to delve deeper into the hows and whys of their approach to religion. However, I assume we both accept that majority opinion is not relevant to the veracity of beliefs.

MS Quixote said...

"It's not that people would find conversion a shock to their faith or non-faith - it's that people might have a good reason (particularly a strong intellectual case) for doing so that may be a shock or cause doubt for some individuals."

Ah, I see, Tele. I missed this distinction initially, and I have to agree with you: anyone of faith who thinks that all atheists are mindless heathens with no intellectual foundation the their view has a geunine shock coming to them!

My only quibble here, then, would be that Dr. Craig specifically does not seem to fall in this category. You're right, there's hordes of believers who do, and there's no shortage of them; he just doesn't seem to be one of them, especially noting his close ties, and even friendships, I think, with many of the world's top atheist and skeptical philosophers.