William Lane Craig interviewed in Melbourne by Chris Mulherin on August 16, 2013 just prior to his third Australian ‘conversation’ with Lawrence Krauss. An interview with Krauss can be found here.
What do you think is at stake in these public debates between faith and atheism?
WLC: I think what’s at stake is the public credibility of Christianity and theism in general. In a secular society like Australia, the conventional wisdom is that to be a Christian is to be intellectually deficient in some way and I think that dialogues like this show very clearly that that is a caricature; that Christian faith is an intellectually responsible position for a thinking person to hold today.
Do you think these debates that are going on the world stage at the moment are good for the cause? Are they serving a purpose?
WLC: Very much so. I think that people who listen to these three dialogues with an open mind and objectively will be struck at how really weak the anti-theistic position is in comparison with the theistic position on these issues.
What influences public opinion? Is it the arguments or the rhetoric or are people simply being confirmed in their own prejudices or opinions?
WLC: I think it’s all three depending on whom you’re talking to. Certainly many people are just confirmed in their own view. And I think also what shapes people’s view is often non-intellectual factors. Things like the entertainment industry for example is huge and other cultural and social mores that affect people: consumerism, materialism, things of that sort dampen a person’s spiritual interest.
But then in addition to that there are the intellectual arguments that need to be considered. And too often rhetoric masquerades for intellectual argument, and that needs to be exposed for what it is. And that emerges very clearly in these dialogues. That opening dialogue in Brisbane was the most vicious personal attack that I have ever sustained from an opponent or partner in these debates. And although that may be red meat to the atheists in the crowd, for an open minded and fair minded person I think they will see that this is nothing but empty rhetoric and there was little of intellectual substance to defend Professor Krauss’s view.
On the same sort of theme, tell me about the tension between serious argument versus the sound bite that seems so crucial to the Facebooked, Twitterised media?
WLC: It is true that the person who’s able to give memorable sound bites or one liners or singers will often carry the crowd in his favour, and one can simply hope that as these dialogues are put up on YouTube and watched, rewound, watched again, thought about, dissected, discussed, that the rhetoric and the sound bites begin to fade into secondary importance, and the substance and the arguments really emerge for those who are seriously considering them. So I’m thinking that that audience, in a sense, is more important to reach than the immediate live audience in the hall. It’s the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, who will view these dialogues on YouTube.
Is the war of words that’s going on, is it a morass of misunderstanding? Are you, in a sense… are the atheists and the Christians speaking past one another—for example the way the word ‘nothing’ has been used in the last year or so—is genuine understanding occurring?
WLC: I think that people are beginning to see through the rhetoric of physics explaining the creation of the universe from nothing. There have been some very sharp book reviews of Krauss’s book exposing this equivocation on the word nothing and revealing, or making plain, that he’s actually talking about physical realities, not nothing. So I do think this is becoming more plain to the public, but nevertheless I think that Dr Krauss’s equivocal use of words like ‘nothing’ has been a hindrance to the public understanding of science, rather than an aid. And I think this is tremendously ironic, because he claims to be helping the cause of the public understanding of science when in fact I think he’s actually impeding it.
What do you think about the so-called fundamental conflict between faith and science? How would you describe the relationship?
WLC: This was the subject of the Brisbane debate, and what I think became clear, for those again who can listen to it with a fair and open mind, is that the God rejected by Lawrence Krauss is a caricature. It is a very naïve concept called ‘the god of the gaps,’ where God is used to plug up gaps in scientific knowledge. But in the contemporary dialogue between science and theology, which is flourishing in North America and Europe, no one is espousing this naïve god of the gaps idea. Instead in my opening speech in Brisbane I laid out three ways in which science and theology relate to one another in very nuanced and subtle ways, none of which involves an appeal to the god of the gaps.
So there’s no necessary conflict?
WLC: Exactly. On the contrary, as I see it, science and theology have important mutual interests, and mutual contributions to make to one another, and those who don’t like this can choose not to participate in the dialogue, but that’s not going to shut down the dialogue or show it to be meaningless.
And if we continue with the dialogue, in the end, can we expect proof of any position?
WLC: I think that the word proof is, again, one of those words that is a kind of accordion word that can be expanded or contracted; certainly there’s not going to be a mathematical proof, but if by proof you mean something more modest like a good argument, then I think there are good arguments for believing that God exists, and that’s the subject of the third dialogue in Melbourne, ‘Is it reasonable to believe that God exists?’ And there I argue that there are better reasons to believe that God exists than to believe that atheism is true. And if that’s right, that makes it reasonable to believe in God.
Let me ask about the role of Christianity. What do you see as the role of Christian and other faiths in an increasingly secularised culture?
WLC: I think that it’s important that not only Christians but theists of all kinds be participating in the public arena by giving arguments and defences of theism that are not dependent upon appeals to special revelation or authoritative books, but arguments and evidence that would have a broad intersectarian appeal, and that’s what I specialise in. I think that can be done, and that as Christians we need to be doing this more boldly.
Does atheist naturalism have any resources to draw on to provide meaning and moral purpose?
WLC: One of my arguments is that atheism cannot provide a plausible foundation for the existence of objective moral values and duties. Now what do I mean by that key word ‘objective’? I mean, moral values and duties that are valid and binding independently of human opinion, and it seems to me that on [= according to] naturalism or atheism, moral values are just the accidental spin-offs of biological evolution and social conditioning, and there is no objective binding validity to these. The psychopath, or the person who chooses to flout the heard morality is really doing nothing more serious than acting unfashionably, on [= according to] atheism. So if we want to have a foundation for the objectivity of the moral values and duties that we… I think that we all apprehended moral experience. I think that theism provides the best account for such a foundation. God furnishes a transcendent anchor point beyond culture, beyond evolution, which grounds objective moral values in his own character.
What unsettles your confidence in theism?
WLC: Well, I think the hiddenness of God is puzzling, and could prompt a person to ask, ‘Is God really there?’ So often it seems that God is hidden or silent when we need him the most. In times of innocent suffering or when he doesn’t answer our prayers, and so that might cause a person to wonder, ‘Well, is he really there? Does he care?’ And so the hiddenness of God is something that philosophers wrestle with.
What would you say to a woman who loses her firstborn son of cancer?
WLC: Well that’s interesting, because God also gave his firstborn son for us: Christ on the cross gave his life voluntarily to bestow upon us a life more wonderful than we can imagine, namely eternal life in communion with an infinite good, and so when we go through times of horrible suffering, like that, we do so with the consciousness that God himself is a god who shares our suffering and participates in it. And the hope of eternal life and resurrection can also provide comfort and hope when we lose those that we love to death, temporarily, but with the knowledge that some day we will be reunited with them.
Are you on a crusade?
WLC: [Laughs] The word crusade is tainted by the medieval crusades, which used violence and coercion in the name of religion, and I would not want to be associated in any way with such a movement. I think of myself rather as a Christian intellectual who wants to be a voice in the public square to provide an articulate and intelligent and yet gracious defence of the Christian faith.
What advice would you have for young people who are thinking about the big questions of science, of morality, of meaning, of faith and non-faith…people who are looking for the truth in a culture that offers many different answers?
WLC: One thing I would advise them strongly is to not get all their resources from the internet. The internet not only has good information, but it is also a purveyor of tremendous misinformation, and therefore I think they need to speak to someone who can mentor them and guide them in reading reliable, credible material. The self-educated person who just goes out on the internet looking for things is very apt to be misled and never suspect it. So I would encourage folks who are embarked on the search for truth to try and find a mentor. A youth leader, perhaps, in a church, or a pastor, or a trusted professor or teacher who can help to guide them in this process.
Which people from the opposite camp who are on the world stage do you respect the most?
WLC: Graham Oppy, the moderator of the third debate. Also John Howard Sobel, a Canadian philosopher at the University of Toronto. Both of these men are agnostic and yet I think very credible philosophers who have written big fat books in defence of their view, books with which I have interacted in professional journals. But certainly I have great respect for them.
Could you be wrong?
WLC: Well, I could be. I hope I’m not, and I don’t think I am. It’s interesting, CS Lewis once remarked that after speaking on apologetic evidences and arguments, he would go back to his room and he would feel how weak and paltry these arguments were, and he would seek comfort in the presence of God himself, in the experience of God. I have to honestly say that my experience is just the opposite of Lewis’s. I participate in these debates, or I give these talks on campus and take questions, and afterwards I think to myself, ‘Wow, these are really good arguments! I’m really persuaded by these arguments.’ So, I find them to be very credible and I think that I’m on the side of the truth.
Last question. What are the dangers of a very rational approach to faith, or evidentialism in apologetics?
WLC: I think that the…one of the major differences is becoming lopsided in one’s personality, becoming just a totally left brain kind of person, intellect and logic. And the affective side of one’s personality shrivels up and atrophies. That’s why it’s so important, I think, that Christian scholars be involved in activities that nurture the affective side of the personality. Things like meaningful worship, music, prayer, Christian service, things of this sort. These help one to be more balanced in one’s person and to try to avoid this danger of becoming just a brain. That wasn’t put very well. Help a person to avoid the danger of becoming just left brain personality.