Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Craig a fideist?

William Lane Craig’s recent answer to a question is getting some buzz in the blogosphere:

His answer raises the issue of whether he’s a fideist. On the face of it, it seems absurd to suggest that Craig is a fideist. Few men have done as much or more to argue for their faith.

Still, a hostile critic might say that’s deceptive. In his heart of hearts, Craig is a fideist who merely exploits reason and evidence to rationalize his fideism, to make his fideism more outwardly respectable, to snare unsuspecting converts. So it’s just a charade or calculated ploy.

Of course, that’s the least charitable interpretation of his motives. In this post I’m less concerned with dissecting Craig’s position than addressing the issue at a more general level.

One way of testing a position is to assume it’s true for the sake of argument, then consider what the evidence would look like in that event. If true, what does the position entail? If true, what’s consistent or inconsistent with that position?

A fair-minded atheist should conduct that exercise. If he refuses, then he’s not a fair-minded atheist.

Suppose you’re an atheist. You don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. Still, in order to evaluate Craig’s claim, you should grant his premise for the sake of argument and then consider the consequences of that postulate.

The Holy Spirit is a person of the Godhead. Omniscient, omnipotent, and so on.

If the Holy Spirit exists, is he able to instill in Christians an unfalsifiable faith in Christianity? Can the Holy Spirit create that mental state in Christians? Off-hand, I can’t think of any antecedent objection to that possibility.

Assuming that he could do that, would he do that? Beyond the abstract possibility, is that a plausible suggestion–given the premise?

Well, most Christians in church history don’t have access to reams of corroborative evidence. Likewise, most Christians in church history don’t have the aptitude to formulate rigorous arguments for the faith. So it’s not improbable that if the Holy Spirit exists, he’d give Christians a degree of conviction that’s not dependent on their brilliance or erudition.

In order to reject that appeal, an atheist would have to disprove the existence of the Holy Spirit, or demonstrate that his existence is unlikely. So an atheist can’t justifiably dismiss Craig’s appeal to the self-authenticating witness of the Spirit out-of-hand. He’d have to go back a step and successfully challenge the operating premise. For unless he knows or has good reason to believe there is no Holy Spirit, then he can’t presume that Craig’s appeal special pleading.


  1. This is an issue that atheists have used to try to refute and discredit WLC honesty and the reasonableness of his apologetic. It's often mentioned in his debates (e.g. against Stephen Law, and Christopher Hitchens et al.).

    Loftus himself has done at least two blogs on the topic in the past few months and even as far back as 1998 Michael Martin critiqued Craig's views. Even "Luke M." the one time avid atheist semi-expert on Craig did a blog on it.

    Most of these atheists aren't honest enough to take seriously Craig's distinction between 1. "knowing" and 2. "showing" that Christianity is true. Nor are they self-conscious enough to realize when they are switching (back and fourth) from doing and internal critique of Christianity to an external critique of Christianity.

    They are all beating a dead horse as Steve has just shown (not to mention Paul M. in the distant past). As James Anderson has said, the CHRISTIAN acquires certainty when the external testimony of Scripture (or Scriptural truth) is coupled with the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Or as Van Til said (alluding to the WCF), "I believe in this infallible book, in the last analysis, because 'of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in my heart.' "

    The following are links to some other times when WLC answers questions concerning the Testimony of the Holy Spirit
    Question 68 (click here)
    Subject: The Witness of the Holy Spirit

    Question 136 (click here)
    Subject: The Witness of the Spirit as an Intrinsic Defeater-Defeater

    Question 237 (click here)
    Subject: Is Appeal to the Witness of the Holy Spirit Question-Begging?

  2. It seems to me that the only major deficiency in WLC's answers is that he's not more self-consciously presuppositional and/or transcendental. Even Loftus noticed the likely connection between the testimony of the Holy Spirit and presuppositionalism in one of his blogs today. Why shouldn't he since WLC admits he has come to his views because he has been influenced by Plantinga, and Plantinga got it from Calvinistic Reformed theology/philosophy/apologetics where presuppositionalism itself sprang from and is most at home (and most consistent)?

  3. Another deficiency in Craig's view is the fact that his views on prevenient grace are such that some atheists (e.g. Michael Martin) and use it to argue against the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Whereas in Calvinism's teaching there is a distinction between Common Grace and Efficacious Grace. When a Christian attains certainty of the truth of Christianity it's a result of God's efficacious and irresistible grace working in the heart of a person whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated. God doesn't regenerate everyone nor does He apply efficacious grace to everyone. Since Craig attributes the hinge of salvation to man's libertarian free will, atheists can claim that Craig is a fideist because other people (e.g. atheists or other theistic non-Christians) who have been touched by God's grace don't see the reasonableness of Christianity as he does even though they may have the same amount of external evidence available to them.

    Notice the following quote from Craig, "I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (THOUGH NOT NECESSARILY IRRESISTIBLE or
    indubitable) for him who has it;" (Reasonable Faith page 43, 3rd edition emphasis mine by use of capitalization)

  4. Lastly, like Craig, I'm not claiming that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is indubitable. A real Christian who has been genuinely regenerated by God, can, at times temporarily doubt both his salvation AND EVEN the truth of Christianity (which obviously includes the existence of the Christian God or any God/gods at all).

    However, if Calvinism is true, then any elect professing Christian who has become backslidden or has serious doubts, will eventually be restored to confident faith (or at least sufficient saving faith) by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the efficacious prayers of Christ.

  5. In Martin's critique (footnote #2), he too points out the similarities between Craig's views and presuppositionalism.

    He says, "Serious questions can be raised about whether Craig's views are coherent. For example, as Jeffery Jay Lowder has pointed out in correspondence, Craig's Holy Spirit Epistemology seems inconsistent with his evidentialism. Although Craig, as an evidential apologist, must disagree fundamentally with presuppositionalism, his position seems closer to that of the presuppositionalist."