Nathan Schneider emailed me today, informing me of his response to William Lane Craig’s recent cover article in Christianity Today. I mentioned that article briefly here on July 4, which was a day for family and not for blogging. Nathan’s article, Rumors of God’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated, provides a timely opportunity to say more.
Craig spoke in CT of a striking resurgence in evangelical scholarship, especially in philosophy. He illustrated this with an an all-too-brief summary of several apologetic arguments. Schneider’s response to Craig’s article is best summed up in this one sentence:
Whispering to his coreligionists in Christianity Today, to his subculture, Craig does not do justice to what the revolution is up against.
Schneider believes the resurgence of Christian scholarship is visible only from inside the culture. In other circumstances I might have acknowledged an element of truth to that. Christian readers may call to mind the names of our contemporary “heroes,” names including Chuck Swindoll, John Piper, Billy Graham; or musicians like Mercy Me, The Newsboys, or Kutless. You can add your favorites to the list. Here’s the sad fact: other than Billy Graham and Mercy Me, most of the rest of the world has never heard of them.
Schneider is saying something like that is the case with Christians in academia, and that the situation is nowhere near as rosy as Craig presents it. He dismisses Craig’s view of “bygone atheism” as “a straw man,” noting the continuing crop of atheistic bestsellers in the bookstores as evidence that atheism is not dead. He complains that Craig did not inform Christianity Today readers of objections to arguments for God, briefly outlined in the article. It is with open disdain that Schneider describes Craig as “almost cheerful about intelligent design theory, though he fails to mention its lack of support among credible biologists,” and he goes on to offer a rebuttal of the fine-tuning argument Craig had mentioned in his CT article. But he missed what Craig was intending to do with this article. He almost recognized it, as we see here:
Again, I do not mean to insist that these arguments are categorically wrong. Only that atheists and theists alike will never quite prove their “intellectual muscle” until they stop misrepresenting each other and misinforming their readers. Admittedly, Craig has limited space in the magazine format and cannot be expected to cover everything.
But it was never Craig’s purpose to properly represent the arguments, certainly not in all their substance and nuance. Rather he was trying to make readers aware of the discussion, and to illustrate the kinds of things that are being debated. To complain, as Schneider did, that he did not address the major objections is to miss the point. The article was not a work of apologetics, but a work of journalism about apologetics, with brief examples to illustrate, and a suggested reading list.
Craig obviously recognizes the reality of the debate. In the CT article he wrote,
Of course, there are replies and counterreplies to all of these arguments, and no one imagines that a consensus will be reached. Indeed, after a period of passivity, there are now signs that the sleeping giant of atheism has been roused from his dogmatic slumbers and is fighting back. J. Howard Sobel and Graham Oppy have written large, scholarly books critical of the arguments of natural theology, and Cambridge University Press released its Companion to Atheism last year. Nonetheless, the very presence of the debate in academia is itself a sign of how healthy and vibrant a theistic worldview is today.
It seems to me in view of this that Schneider is being singularly uncharitable with respect to Craig’s treatment of the arguments.
Regarding the cultural ghetto Schneider thinks Craig is mired in, he may simply have missed this brief reference Craig made to a source well outside Christian culture. It was early in the CT piece:
In a recent article, University of Western Michigan philosopher Quentin Smith laments what he calls “the desecularization of academia that evolved in philosophy departments since the late 1960s.” He complains about naturalists’ passivity in the face of the wave of “intelligent and talented theists entering academia today.” Smith concludes, “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”
Philo is published biannually at the Center for Inquiry [“A Global Federation Committed to Science, Reason, Free Inquiry, Secularism, and Planetary Ethics”] with assistance from Purdue University. Its goal is to publish original, conceptually precise, and argumentatively rigorous articles in all fields of philosophy. Although not devoted to any specific branch of philosophy, Philo encourages the submission of work that examines philosophical issues from an explicitly naturalist perspective…. Philo is the publication of the Society of Humanist Philosophers.
That’s not exactly the monthly mimeograph newsletter from Chigger Creek Baptist Church (begging J. P. Moreland’s pardon—Chigger Creek Church being a favorite phrase of his). And what does Quentin Smith say, that Craig did not have space to quote more fully? Things like this:
The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967….
Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians.
Elsewhere Craig actually says he thinks the “one-quarter or one-third” estimate may be high. He is by no means breathlessly and blissfully unaware of what’s going on in the wider world, as Schneider seems to think he is. In view of his concern over theists and atheists “misrepresenting each other and misinforming their readers,” Schneider may want to re-examine how he has treated William Lane Craig’s work of journalism on a scholarly topic.