Editor’s Note: Since this article was posted, Jeff Lowder sent me the following note via email: “I never thought that Craig doesn’t care about the truth. I was careless and sloppy when I said I agreed with Rumraket on everything except for his tally of his debates. I simply didn’t read his comment carefully, and I regret the error and slur against WLC.”
A couple days ago Jeff Lowder posted an “Open Letter to (and Standing Debate Invitation for) William Lane Craig“. I support Jeff’s bid to debate Craig. However, the point of this article is to challenge one of the commenters in the thread and Jeff’s support for his position.
It begins with the commenter, Mikkel “Rumraket” Rasmussen who opined that as regards the
“dispassionate objective search for what is actually true”, “Craig’s achievements are in fact nonexistant. If not outright negative, he’d have to crawl up to reach zero.”
Whoa, them’s fightin’ words.
After challenging Rasmussen on his comments which I found to be completely unfair, he responded with the following putative evidence that Craig is not concerned with knowing the truth:
“Craig doesn’t pursue arguments and evidence in order to discover truth, he does it to discover how best to defend christianity [sic] from disproof. He’s an apologist and an evangelist first, a philosopher 2nd. He says it himself: ‘The way that I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. And this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore if in some historically contingent circumstances the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity I don’t think that that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit.’
“Craig is an outstanding debater and wins pretty much all his debates, with a few draws among them, maybe one narrow loss in his entire career. But oustanding [sic] in his unflinching search for truth? Not so much.”
I might have ignored this except Jeff Lowder then commented by sharing his agreement with Rasmussen’s assessment of Craig’s commitment to truth:
“I agree with your entire comment, except for your tally of his win-loss-tie record.”
In reply, I have three points for Rasmussen and Jeff, keeping in mind the latter’s bid to debate Craig.
First, as Dale Carnegie observed, “A barber lathers a man before he shaves him.” Applied to this context: if you want a person to consider seriously your invitation to debate, it is unwise to go on record affirming the conviction that when that person debates, they don’t care about the truth. Speaking personally, if somebody wanted to debate me and then made that kind of public declaration about my attitude to truth, I would be disinclined to consider their invitation any further.
Second, Rasmussen’s comment appears to appeal to a classic false dichotomy: either one pursues argument to discover truth or one pursues argument to defend one’s belief. But it need not be either/or. Indeed, it rarely ever is.
Apologetics just is the act of providing grounds or evidence in support of one’s beliefs, whatever the subject matter or content of those beliefs may be. You can be an apologist for Christianity, or atheism, or your favorite sports team, or a political candidate, or an environmental policy, or a brand of clothing, or whatever. In all these cases, one is presumably an apologist for the subject matter in question because one believes the claims one is defending are true.
The glaring exception to this is the sophist, i.e. the one who plays the role of apologist not to defend what one believes to be true but rather merely to win an argument. But by no stretch of the imagination is Craig a sophist. He is deeply persuaded of the truth of Christianity. And his conviction in the truth of Christianity is manifested precisely in his spirited and meticulous defense of it.
By the same token, an atheist who was deeply persuaded of the truth of her beliefs could likewise manifest her own conviction in the truth of atheism by her spirited and meticulous defense of it.
Consequently, I find Rasmussen’s claim that “Craig doesn’t pursue arguments and evidence in order to discover truth” to be indefensible. Craig is no sophist and his intention is indeed to discover truth. Whether he does is another question, but one can hardly fault his intentions.
This brings me to my third point. Rasmussen purports to give evidence supporting his claim that “Craig doesn’t pursue arguments and evidence in order to discover truth”. That evidence consists of a quote from Craig. To recap, this is the passage that Rasmussen quotes from Craig:
“‘The way that I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. And this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore if in some historically contingent circumstances the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity I don’t think that that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit.'”
“the fact that Craig defends ultima facie justification does not support the conclusion that he doesn’t pursue arguments to discover truth.”
To illustrate why, we must be clear that Rasmussen’s objection to Craig assumes a general principle which, for lack of a better term, I’ll refer to as the Truth Principle. While Rasmussen never states the principle explicitly, he appears to assume something like this:
TP: If a person maintains that some views they have on a particular subject matter are invulnerable to evidential objections, then that person does not care about the truth of that subject matter.
Consequently, since Craig says that his core Christian convictions are invulnerable to evidential objections, it follows that he doesn’t care about the truth of those Christian convictions.
But as I said, the conclusion doesn’t follow. All this means is that Craig believes there are no arguments that are sufficient to undermine his justification in accepting Christianity.
Consider an analogy from ethics. Let’s say that Dave takes the position that it is always wrong to inflict intense pain on sentient creatures simply because one derives pleasure from doing so. Dave may readily enter into rigorous debate with ethicists who think otherwise. And he may care very deeply about the truth of his conviction. And all the while he may take the view that his convictions in the truth of his position are so powerful that even if he cannot answer the objections of his interlocutors, he would still maintain that it is always wrong to inflict intense pain on sentient creatures simply because one derives pleasure from doing so.
Let’s consider another example. Shelly is deeply persuaded of the existence of herself as an acting subject that exists through time. At the same time, she engages in debates with bundle theorists who deny that there is any reified self which exists through time as a subject. She cares deeply about the truth of her position even as she holds that there is no objection to the self that could be strong enough to shake her conviction.
Examples could readily be multiplied, but this should suffice to demonstrate that TP is false.
To sum up, as I said, I don’t agree with Craig’s position on the ultima facie justification of Christian belief. And I can see how stating his views could, in certain contexts, be counter productive to dialogue and debate. For example, it would make little sense for Craig to declare that nothing will change his mind as a preface to a debate. Such a move would merely encourage retrenchment on both sides.
But it is equally counterproductive to claim that Craig doesn’t care about truth simply because he is of the conviction that no objections could be sufficient to dislodge his religious convictions.