Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Relic of Skepticism

During the Christian apologetics course I took in my senior year of high school, I read Lee Strobel's popular book The Case for Faith, which attempts to answer some of the most common objections to Christianity. In Chapter 2, Strobel interviews apologist William Lane Craig about miracles, which is essentially just a pretext that allows Craig to present five arguments for the existence of God. They're all very well-known, so eventually I hope to cover each of them in more depth. However, I was doing some spring cleaning the other day and came across a paper I wrote related to this chapter, dated November of 2006. I was still a Christian at the time.

Unfortunately, I can't remember whether the assignment was to critique the chapter or just to respond to it. Either way, though, I think I did a pretty good job, especially considering that my knowledge of skeptical arguments at the time was basically nil. I don't agree with everything I wrote here—especially not the ultimate conclusion, of course—but overall I'm proud of how well I responded:
Craig makes five main arguments for the existence of a miracle-working God: He makes sense of the universe’s origin, the universe’s complexity, objective moral values, and the resurrection of Jesus, and He can immediately be experienced. When taken together as a whole, I believe these arguments provide sufficient evidence for one to rationally believe that such a God exists. However, there are certain individual parts of the argument that might appear weak, particularly to a skeptical atheist. I will examine each point to see how it holds up from an atheist’s perspective.
One important point to make is that because the book is designed to build the case for the Christian faith, it will generally be slanted towards the creationist/Christian side of the argument. Strobel goes to Craig without going to an evolutionist/atheist to hear their side of the story. For the sake of simplicity, I will assume unless otherwise noted that all the claims made in the book are correct and not biased or misleading in any way.
First, we have the claim that God makes sense of the universe’s origin. Craig states that whatever begins to exist has a cause, that the universe began to exist, and that the universe therefore has a cause. However, as I understand it, many scientists believe that the universe at the time of the Big Bang consisted of a tiny sphere that contained all of the matter in the universe. If we can assert that this sphere has been expanding and contracting for an infinite amount of time – that is, if there have been an infinite number of Big Bangs – it is possible that the universe never began to exist and never had a cause, and if so this part of the argument is negated.
I consider Craig’s second point, that God makes sense of the universe’s complexity, to be the most convincing. His facts regarding the low probability of the creation of life are hard evidence for a creator. However, I don’t think that Craig gives enough credit to the Many Worlds Hypothesis, the idea that in an infinite number of universes, one would probably be capable of sustaining life. In fact, to be more accurate, in an infinite number of universes, an infinite number would almost certainly be capable of sustaining life. While this hypothesis cannot be proven, I don’t believe it’s as outlandish as Craig claims it to be.
The third point Craig makes is that God makes sense of objective moral values. I believe that this is one of the weaker arguments. Humans might develop some objective moral values based on their personal realization of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. This axiom is plain common sense: for example, you don’t like to have pain inflicted upon you, so it’s a safe bet that others don’t like having pain inflicted upon them. Naturally a person would consider anything that is done to him that he dislikes to be “wrong”, and the simple application of that standard to others essentially creates a universal standard of morals.
His fourth point is that God makes sense of the resurrection of Jesus. What bothers me here is that much of his evidence comes straight from the Bible itself, which many atheists see as somewhat or even completely unreliable. In proving the resurrection to unbelievers, non-Biblical historical evidence is absolutely crucial, and yet the argument is severely lacking in this area.
For the skeptical atheist, Craig’s final point is by far the weakest. When we claim to have experienced God, it is not inconceivable that our minds are playing tricks on us. Rather than the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us, it could just be a subconscious impulse that only appears to be coming from an outside source. The mind can heal the body simply by making us believe we are supposed to be healing (the placebo effect). If the mind has such power over the physical aspect of our lives, the same could be true for the spiritual aspect.
In spite of the weaknesses I have listed here, the five arguments as a whole provide enough solid evidence, perhaps not to prove, but at least to justify a belief in a miracle-working God. The points put forth, even with their flaws, make a convincing case that even the most intelligent and knowledgeable atheist would be hard pressed to refute entirely.
My memory from around this time is somewhat fuzzy, but I see this short paper as a kind of relic that gives me insight into my first grasps at skepticism. As I read each paragraph I can imagine my mind at work, parsing the arguments and searching for the holes. Based on what I've written here—and in spite of my conclusion—it's not at all surprising to me that I eventually ceased to believe.

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