Intellectual excuses come later? Reflections on Craig and Loftus
John Loftus wrote an interesting post in response to a Bill Craig interview in which Craig attributes Loftus’ apostasy to adultery and pornography addiction. You can read Loftus’ response here: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.ca/2012/11/william-lane-craig-is-shamelessly.html
While Loftus notes that adultery was a factor in his deconversion, he emphatically denies that pornography addiction ever was. If this is true (and presumably Loftus would know) then Craig is guilty of a very serious error and one that, I would think, would require a public retraction.
However, my interest is not on the nature of Craig’s charges but rather on his reasoning. Let’s start with the video itself:
Let’s focus on the point where Craig, after enumerating the charges of adultery and pornography addiction, concludes:
“And it’s for those reasons that he fell away from the faith. It was primarily moral and relational problems. And these intellectual excuses come later because, after all, if you have ‘intellectual’ reasons for your unbelief that’s socially acceptable, that’s impressive. But if your reasons for your unbelief are moral like pornography use and so forth, well that’s not credible, that doesn’t give you any prestige or cache.”
While I’m not particularly interested in defending Loftus, I think that Craig has done himself no favors. In this portion of the interview he seems to suggest reasoning like this:
If there are non-rational factors behind a person’s conversion from one belief system to another then subsequent arguments in support of that conversion are merely “excuses” to ensure the social prestige or cache of one’s earlier decision.
Once one adopts this principle, one finds that it applies equally well to Craig himself. Here’s his testimony:
I wasn’t raised in a church-going family, much less a Christian family—though it was a good and loving home. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask the big questions of life: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” In the search for answers I began to attend on my own a large church in our community. But instead of answers, all I found was a social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate. The other high school students who were involved in the youth group and claimed to be Christians on Sunday lived for their real God the rest of the week, which was popularity. They seemed willing to do whatever it took to be popular.
This really bothered me. “They claim to be Christians, but I’m leading a better life than they are!” I thought. “Yet I feel so empty inside. They must be just as empty as I am, but they’re just pretending to be something they’re not. They’re all just a pack of hypocrites.” So I began to grow very bitter toward the institutional church and the people in it.
In time this attitude spread toward other people. “Nobody is really genuine,” I thought. “They’re all just a bunch of phonies, holding up a plastic mask to the world, while the real person is cowering down inside, afraid to come out and be real.” So my anger and resentment spread toward people in general. I grew to despise people, I wanted nothing to do with them. “I don’t need people,” I thought, and I threw myself into my studies. Frankly, I was on my way toward becoming a very alienated young man.
And yet—in moments of introspection and honesty, I knew deep down inside that I really did want to love and be loved by others. I realized in that moment that I was just as much a phony as they were. For here I was, pretending not to need people, when deep down I knew that I really did. So that anger and hatred turned in upon myself for my own hypocrisy and phoniness.
I don’t know if you understand what this is like, but this kind of inner anger and despair just eats away at your insides, making every day miserable, another day to get through. I couldn’t see any purpose to life; nothing really mattered.
One day when I was feeling particularly crummy, I walked into my high school German class and sat down behind a girl who was one of those types that is always so happy it just makes you sick! I tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned around, and I growled, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about anyway?”
“Well, Bill,” she said, “It’s because I’m saved!”
I was in utter shock. I had never heard language like this before.
“You’re what?” I demanded.
“I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior,” she explained.
“I go to church,” I said lamely.
“That’s not enough, Bill,” she said. “You’ve got to have him really living in your heart.”
That was the limit! “What would he want to do a thing like that for?” I demanded.
“Because he loves you, Bill.”
That hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, so filled with anger and hate, and she said there was someone who really loved me. And who was it but the God of the universe! That thought just staggered me. To think that the God of the universe should love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet Earth! I just couldn’t take it in.
That began for me the most agonizing period of soul-searching that I’ve ever been through. I got a New Testament and read it from cover to cover. And as I did, I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was a wisdom about his teaching I had never encountered before and an authenticity in his life that wasn’t characteristic of those people who claimed to be his followers in the local church I was attending. I know that I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Through reading the New Testament, I discovered what my problem was. My own moral failures—in thought, word, and deed—had made me morally guilty before God and so spiritually separated from Him. That’s why God seemed so unreal to me. But the Good News was that God had sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to pay the death penalty for my sin, thereby freeing up God’s love and forgiveness to pardon and cleanse me and restore me to the relationship with God that I was meant to have.
Meanwhile, Sandy introduced me to other Christian students in the high school. I had never met people like this! Whatever they said about Jesus, what was undeniable was that they were living life on a plane of reality that I didn’t even dream existed, and it imparted a deep meaning and joy to their lives, which I craved.
To make a long story short, my spiritual search went on for the next six months. I attended Christian meetings; I read Christian books; I sought God in prayer. Finally, one night I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God. I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”
That moment changed my whole life. I had thought enough about this message during those six months to realize that if it were really the truth—really the truth—, then I could do nothing less than spend my entire life spreading this wonderful message among mankind.
Admittedly Craig’s conversion to Christianity is not quite as salacious as Loftus’ conversion away from it (even if you remove the charge of pornography addiction). But all the basics are there. Thus, we can conclude that Craig the disconsolate youth was needing meaning in his life and envious of psychologically well-adjusted Sandy, and so after converting to Christianity in search of meaning he has spent the last forty years securing the prestige and cache of his teen decision by proffering an endless range of intellectual excuses from the kalam cosmological argument to historical arguments for the resurrection.