The Course of Reason

Possibly the Most Insulting Apologetic I’ve Ever Read

July 23, 2011

Dr. William Lane Craig is well known in some atheist circles for his elusive and slippery style of debate, and for his contributions to apologetics in the form of valid (but hardly sound) arguments, some of which I’ve even discussed on this blog. I’ve never admired Dr. Craig, but until now I’ve never been offended by him either. The argument to which I’m referring isn’t new; it’s actually from his 1994 book Reasonable Faith (which incidentally just made my reading list if for no purpose other than blog fodder).

Briefly, Dr. Craig argues that atheists’ values are inconsistent because they borrow from a Christian framework, and that the only consistent outlook given to atheism is one of unending despair; life has no meaning, value or purpose. There are several reasons I chose to write about this: first, I think this is a self-refuting argument; second, I’m finding it hard to repress the schadenfreude I get from Dr. Craig’s evident cynicism; third, I am genuinely offended at Dr. Craig’s rejection of the validity of the humanist values I hold dearly.

To quickly address the flaw in the argument, Dr. Craig is trying to affirm that the only legitimate basis for values is divine (read: authoritarian) in origin. He ends up arguing that our humanist values such as democracy and freedom (which are not derived from Christianity, as Dr. Craig argues) are only valid if spoon-fed by a divine dictator. Hence, Dr. Craig’s argument refutes itself.

I’ll ignore for just a minute (not for too long, I promise) the reasons I was so insulted by this argument, and the reasons you should be as well. I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Dr. Craig, and I have to say that if this is his genuine outlook, I hope he doesn’t lose his faith. I would not wish such pessimism, hopelessness and despair on any enemy, real or ideological. I also think it’s unfortunate that such an evidently brilliant person as Dr. Craig seems to struggle with the worthwhile endeavor to find and create meaning in life, and so feels that it must be imposed from an authority.

This is my main objection to this argument on humanist grounds: authority is not a genuine source of meaning, value or purpose. Value cannot be coerced, in large part because it is not strictly voluntary; giving in to a Divine edict concerning what I must or must not value says nothing about what I do, in reality, value. Values are inherently first person experiences. Therefore, a value taken from authority ceases to be a value and becomes a command.

Not only does Dr. Craig’s view sully the actual meaning of value (and the value of meaning, but I’ll come to that shortly), but violates the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative by reducing moral agents (people) to means rather than ends in themselves. That is Dr. Craig’s real objection to the lack of cosmic purpose with atheism.

In short, Dr. Craig is worried that if there is no Creator, then we have no cosmic utility.

You’re damned right! The meaning, value and purpose of my life (and every life!) should not be dependent on my utility to your god. Sentient life has inherent value with or without a supervising creator, and I’m sorry to see that Dr. Craig is cynical enough to disagree.

I want to end on a positive note. While Dr. Craig was right that without a God there is no imposed meaning, value or purpose to our lives, he fails to recognize that we have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow sentient creatures to live ethical lives and leave this world better off for our time on it. This responsibility is of the highest order; it comes from genuinely valuable and sentient beings around us who have real experiences every day. Some of these experiences are truly nightmarish, and part of the meaning of my life is to do what I can to ameliorate their condition. It is this meaning that Dr. Craig would besmirch by crediting it as merely a divine mandate.

We humanists do not help our fellow creatures because it is expected or commanded by any authority. Rather, we choose to do it because we recognize the inherent value of the experience of sentient creatures. This duty is higher than any calling issued by anyone’s god.

This post originally appeared on the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers’ blog.

 

 

About the Author: Cory Derringer

Cory Derringer's photo
Cory Derringer is a senior at the University of Northern Iowa where he is studying Psychology. He is the current President of the <a href="http://www.unifreethought.com/">UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers</a>, a group he has been involved with for three years.

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