The “glory days” of religious thought domination are over. Fewer and fewer theologians can get away with saying that Christian doctrine is true “because the Bible says so” or “because the Church says so.” Reason and science have proven to be so superior in gaining knowledge that many theologians must now appeal to reason and science to justify their ancient doctrines. “My heart tells me so,” is no longer a credible justification, and so theologians publish works like The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, which attempt to justify Christianity with appeal to reason and science.
Atheists protest that this is disingenuous. Christians do not believe in Jesus because of the ontological argument or the cosmological argument or the teleological argument. They believe in Jesus because they were raised that way, or because Christian faith filled a need in their life, or because they had a weird experience that they interpreted as God, or because they just felt God must be real. All these complicated philosophical arguments are just post hoc justification: Christians found their conclusion first, and then looked for justification, content to find whatever seemed to support their cherished personal beliefs. (This process is a nearly unavoidable fact of human psychology called confirmation bias, not exclusive to theists.)
Many theists defend certain arguments for God, but they do not pretend that these arguments are why they believe Christian doctrines. Nor do they pretend certain arguments are why they “know” Christian doctrines to be true. One such example is apologist William Lane Craig. He says he knows Christianity is true “by the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit,” but he shows Christianity to be true by providing arguments and evidence:
This sounds like doxastic suicide1 to many atheists, for it seems that Craig would remain a Christian even if he found that all his arguments fail and that some atheistic arguments succeed. And why? Because he has a strong inner feeling (which he interprets as the ‘Holy Spirit’) that it is true. (Of course, Craig must ignore all the others who have a strong inner feeling that other gods exist, which they interpret to be something like ‘the self-authenticating witness’ of those gods.)
Is it true that Craig would keep his faith even if all the evidence contradicted it? Apparently yes, for he writes:
I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason. The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel…. Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter.
…We’ve already said that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role.2
So for Craig, non-Christian hypotheses are not even “on the table” as options. And yet he accuses atheists of closed-mindedness:
I think many skeptics act in a closed minded way [and] will not allow supernatural explanations even to be in the pool of live options.3
Mark Smith confirmed Craig’s position when he asked:
Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let’s pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.
Craig told him he would still believe in the resurrection of Jesus, due to the “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit.” If that’s not willfully blind faith, I don’t know what is.
Craig also denies that anyone could ever become an atheist due to lack of evidence for God:
When a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.4
I find it astonishing that Jews and Muslims “want nothing to do with God.” Moreover, Craig seems to deny all the memoirs of people who lost their faith (due to reason and evidence) despite their best attempts to keep their belief in God and serve him fully – including my own.
Despite a career spent on giving reasons for Christian belief, the reasons don’t seem to matter to Craig at all. What matters is his inner feeling that Christianity is true. Craig embodies the hypocrisy of Christian “evidentialism.”