Saturday, August 22, 2015

Assessing the Philosophical Apologetics of William Lane Craig (Series Index)

Love him or loathe him, William Lane Craig is probably the most popular and successful of the modern philosophical apologists. And even though we view the world in very different ways, I have to admit that I find something admirable about the guy. His scholarly credentials are pretty impressive; he has published a long list of academic books and peer-reviewed articles; his debate performances are polished and precise; and his appetite for philosophically-inclined defences of the Christian faith is seemingly insatiable. There are things to dislike about him too, for sure, but I'm not in the business of disliking people so I won't get into that here.

Over the years, I have written a number of posts assessing various aspects of Craig's apologetical programme. These assessments have never been comprehensive. Those who are familiar with Craig's work, will know that he usually mounts a five-part defence of his faith: (i) an epistemological defence, based on the testimony of the Holy Spirit; (ii) a cosmological defence, based on his re-working of the Kalam Cosmological Argument; (iii) a teleological defence, based on the fine-tuning argument (though this is never particularly well-developed); (iv) a moral defence, based on both modified Divine Command Theory and claims about the lack of value and meaning in an atheistic universe; and (v) a historical defence, based on his argument for the historicity of Jesus' resurrection.

I've only dipped into two parts of this apologetical programme in my writings. First, I have examined various critiques of the Kalam cosmological argument, focusing in particular on the philosophical (as opposed to scientific) aspects of the argument. Second, I have considered challenges to Craig's views about the relationship between God and morality, and between God and meaning in life. This post brings together all my writings on these topics. I have divided into three main sections, deciding to treat morality and meaning as separate topics. I will use this for future updates.

1. The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is very simple. It claims that (i) everything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence; (ii) the universe began to exist; and (iii) therefore, the universe must have a cause of its existence. It then goes on to argue that this cause must be an immaterial, atemporal and personal being (i.e. God). I have looked at challenges to all aspects of this argument. Here is a complete set of links.

  • Must the Beginning of the Universe have a Personal Cause? This four-part series of posts looked at an article by Wes Morriston, who is probably the foremost critic of the Kalam. This article challenged the claim that everything that begins must have a cause of its existence and that the cause must be immaterial and personal in nature. This series appeared on the blog Common Sense Atheism (when it was still running), so the links given below will take you there:

  • Schieber's Objection to the Kalam Cosmological Argument - Justin Schieber is one of the former co-hosts of the Reasonable Doubts podcast, and a prominent atheist debater. Back in 2011 he offered an interesting critique of the Kalam argument. Briefly, he cast doubt on Craig's claim that God could have brought the universe into existence with a timeless intention. I tried to analyse and formalise this critique in one blog post:

  • Hedrick on Hilbert's Hotel and the Actual Infinite - The second premise of the Kalam is often defended by claiming that the past cannot be an actual infinite because the existence of an actual infinite leads to certain contradictions and absurdities. This is probably the most philosophically interesting aspect of the Kalam argument. One of the thought experiments Craig uses to support the argument is Hilbert's Hotel. In this series of posts, I look at Landon Hedrick's criticisms of this thought experiment.

  • Craig and the Argument from Successive Addition - Even if the existence of an actual infinite is not completely absurd, Craig argues that it would still be impossible to form an actual infinite by successive addition. This is his second major philosophical argument in defence of premise (2) of the Kalam. In this post, I look as Wes Morriston's criticisms of this argument: 

  • Puryear on Finitism and the Beginning of the Universe - This post looked at Stephen Puryear's recent(ish), novel, objection to the Kalam. It is difficult to explain in a summary format, but suffice to say it provides an interesting, and refreshing, perspective on the debate: 

2. The Moral Argument

Craig claims that the moral argument is the most apologetically useful one. That is to say, it is the one that is most deeply felt by would-be theists. Most people want there to be cold hard objective moral facts. They fear that in a world without God there would be no such facts. The moral argument plays upon these fears. Craig has formulated the argument in different ways over the years. Roughly, it works like this: (i) if God does not exist, objective moral facts cannot exist; (ii) objective moral facts exist; (iii) therefore, God exists. (Some people worry about the logic of this but it is fine: it includes a suppressed double negation: not-not Q implies not-not P; therefore P). 

I'm not sure that the moral argument is all that interesting from a philosophical perspective. But I think the alleged relationship between God and moral facts is. As are the more general metaethical questions raised by the argument. I've explored this many of my writings. The one's listed below are only those that specifically invoke Craig's work:

  • Must Goodness be Independent of God? - This was a short series of posts about Wes Morriston's article of the same title. The series looked Craig and Alston's solutions to the Euthyphro dilemma. This was one of my early attempts to get to grips with this topic, and is thus probably surpassed by some of my later efforts.

  • Some thoughts on theological voluntarism - This was a post I wrote in response to the Craig-Harris debate way back in Spring 2011. Although prompted by that debate, the post tried to give a decent introduction to theological voluntarism and to highlight a possibly neglected critique of that view, one that Harris could have used in the debate. I have written about this critique subsequently, though never focusing specifically on Craig's work.

  • Craig on 'Objective' Moral Facts -  Craig repeatedly appeals to the notion that there are objective moral values and duties. But what exactly does he mean by saying they are "objective"? This series subjects the crucial passages in Reasonable Faith to a close textual and philosophical analysis. It also suggests a general methodology for determining the merits of any metaethical theory. 

  • God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality - Craig insists that only God can provide a sound ontological foundation for objective moral values and duties. But what would that mean and is it right? With the help of Wes Morriston (once again) I try to answer that question in the negative.

  • Divine Command Theory and the Moral Metre Stick - In his efforts to avoid the Euthyphro dilemma, Craig sometimes relies on William Alston's analogy of the metre stick. According to this analogy, God stands in the same relation to the "Good" as the model metre stick stands in relation to the length "one metre". Does that make any sense? Jeremy Koons argues that it doesn't and in this series of posts I walk through the various steps of Koons's argument.

  • Is Craig's Defence of the DCT Consistent? - Erik Wielenberg has argued that Craig's defence of the DCT is fatally inconsistent. This series looks at Wielenberg's arguments, but also goes beyond them in certain important respects by trying to address the deeper metaphysical reasons for the inconsistency. 

  • Craig and the 'Nothing But' Argument - Craig sometimes argues that on the atheistic view humans are nothing but mere animals or collections of molecules, and that this thereby robs humans of moral significance. Can this really be a persuasive objection to atheistic morality? Using the work of Louise Antony, I argue that it can't.

  • Craig and the Argument from Ultimate Accountability - Craig believes that the absence of any ultimate accountability for immoral behaviour is a mark against an atheistic account of morality. Again, with the help of Louise Antony, I suggest that this is not the case.

  • Is there a defensible atheistic account of moral values? - Craig and his co-author JP Moreland have argued that atheism has serious problems accounting for the existence of moral values. Wielenberg counters by arguing that there is a defensible atheistic account of value, and this account is no worse off than Craig and Moreland's preferred account of moral value.

  • Necessary Moral Truths and Theistic Metaethics - Atheists sometimes respond to Craig's moral argument by insisting that some moral truths are necessary and so do not require an ontological grounding/explanation. Craig has responded by arguing that just because something is necessary does not mean that it does not require a grounding/explanation. I wrote an academic paper (published in the journal Sophia) challenging this argument.

3. God and the Meaning of Life

Craig has a pretty disparaging take on the atheistic worldview. Without God there is nothing but despair. We are condemned to live short, finite lives in a meaningless universe. But with God there is hope. He bestows purpose, meaning and significance on our lives. Is this a plausible construal of the relationship between God and meaning in life? I have a written a handful of posts assessing Craig's answer to this question:

  • Craig and Nagel on the Absurd - Back in the days when I did podcasts, I did this one about Craig and Nagel's arguments about the absurdity of life in an atheistic universe.

  • Theism and Meaning in Life - With the help of Gianluco Di Muzio's, this series of posts tries to do two things. First, it tries to clarify the logic of Craig's arguments against meaning in a godless universe; and second it tries to present an alternative, Godless conception of meaning that avoids Craig's criticisms. 

  • God, Immortality and the Futility of Life - Craig claims that two conditions are necessary for meaning in life: (i) immortality and (ii) God's existence. Both are necessary. But why exactly is immortality required? Toby Betenson suggests that it is because if we live forever there is a chance that we will make a causal difference to something of ultimate significance. But this sets up a tension with Craig's theory of ultimate justice. It turns out that if God exists, then we do not make a causal difference to anything of ultimate significance. This post summarises Betenson's argument.

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