This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. William Lane Craig,
I would like to first off thank you for all the work and encouragement you brought to me when I was a Christian. It's only been about two days since I openly claimed to be agnostic and I guess it's weak and fresh enough to be torn away, but Dr. Craig, something destroyed my faith.
As a former Christian who loved science, I made it my goal to show that Christians were not scientifically illiterate, so I began reading books by Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, then I ventured into evolutionary biology. I knew about Richard Dawkins and how anti-theist his views were, but I assumed that as long as he was writing biology it wouldn't do any harm. In a very slow and progressive way, I began to simply accept Darwin's Theory of Evolution and Human Evolution. But then I realized a HUGE problem with Human Evolution and Christian theism.
You see, with the problem of evil and suffering, there was once a point in time when God had everything right or at least Adam and Eve were not against each other and had not sinned. Let's suppose that there was animal death but not physical human or spiritual death. That view makes sense, it's simple to understand and explains why there is evil and death, diseases, and savagery in men. Our Sin. But now, the evidence shows that humans evolved. That there was always death and suffering, that in every generation we have lived, we were afraid and alone in the universe. I either had to throw out Genesis and turn towards a faith whose main core had been removed (the fall of man) or I had to accept a view that God intentionally created the universe bad. He wanted and did create a universe in which humans would die and suffer, regardless of if we sinned. To me that seemed preposterous. I chose neither of the two and instead chose agnosticism. I don't want to give up my Christian faith, but I had to once the main core didn't make sense. If there was no fall of man, what sin is there to save us from? If death had always been there because God created it to be, then how could man be blamed for anything? It didn't make any sense.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
I certainly hope that your agnosticism is “weak and fresh enough to be torn away,” Suan, because, it seems to me, you’re overreacting to the concerns you raise. Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that “Darwin's Theory of Evolution and Human Evolution” is correct. How is that a defeater of Christian belief? What adjustment to a Christian worldview would that require? That God does not exist? That Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead? Obviously not! As a student of my work, you should have good reasons for affirming those truths, reasons which are independent of and so in no way undermined by the standard account of evolutionary origins. So why are you so easily divested of those beliefs?
I suspect that the reason your faith was so easily abandoned is that you had a terribly warped and distorted vision of what a Christian worldview is. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but you need to hear this. The Christian worldview can be thought of as a web of beliefs, rather like a spider’s web, with core doctrines represented by the innermost strands of the web and less important doctrines represented by the strands radiating from the web’s core to its periphery. Changes in core doctrines will result in great reverberations throughout the web, whereas changes in less central doctrines will require adjustments to the web but will not destroy the entire structure.
At the core of the Christian web of beliefs lie such doctrines as the existence of God, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, the sinfulness of man, and so on. The reason you could not give up instead some minor belief like the scientific character or reliability of Genesis, but chucked Christian theism altogether, lies in your mistaken conviction that “the main core” of the Christian worldview is “the fall of man,” where the fall of man is apparently understood to imply, not only the doctrine of original sin, but also the origin of human disease and death as a result of human sinfulness.
This is a horribly distorted view of Christianity. Not even the doctrine of original sin is essential to Christianity, as the example of Eastern Orthodoxy plainly shows, since Orthodoxy does not accept the Catholic doctrine of original sin and yet is one of the major branches of Christendom. You protest, “If there was no fall of man, what sin is there to save us from?” That’s easy to answer: every man’s own sin. You hardly need to believe in the doctrine of original sin in order to recognize that all men have sinned and are therefore in need of God’s forgiveness. Indeed, this is the message that is emphasized throughout the Bible, not the doctrine of original sin.
Moreover, the idea that human physical death and disease is the result of sin or the fall, though championed by Young Earth Creationists, cannot be found in the biblical text and is widely rejected by many committed Christians (including me). You say, “If death had always been there because God created it to be, then how could man be blamed for anything? It didn't make any sense.” Come on, Suan, it’s your objection that doesn’t make sense. Even if physical death had always been there, man is to blame for murder, theft, envy, strife, and the whole catalogue of human sins. Having a mortal body does nothing to excuse man for his sins.
Now you think it “preposterous” that God “wanted and did create a universe in which humans would die and suffer, regardless of if we sinned.” Well, now hang on! Don’t jump to conclusions. The view being rejected is that physical death and disease is the result of sin and the fall. Rejecting that view does not imply that God would have created a universe in which humans would die and suffer even if there were no sin. Perhaps God knew that a world of mortal creatures would be the most appropriate kind of place for a creature who would eventually fall into sin. It might be that such a universe is the best arena in which the human drama of God’s plan of salvation, including Christ’s death on the cross, would be played out. This world is a sort of vale of decision-making in which we mortal creatures determine, by our response to God’s initiatives, our eternal destiny. Suffering and death may not be the result of man’s sin, but it may anticipate man’s sin.
Much more can and has been said about this. You don’t evince any acquaintance, Suan, with the vast literature by Christian philosophers on the problem of evil and suffering. Why not take a look, to begin with, at my chapter in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview?
Finally, Suan, I feel I have to chastise you for your methodology. You say that because you “wanted to show that Christians were not scientifically illiterate” you began reading books by Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and Richard Dawkins! What were you thinking? Why weren’t you reading the works of eminent Christian scientists like George Ellis, Christopher Isham, or Francis Collins, or even better the works of eminent Christian philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, Robin Collins, or Del Ratsch about science? That is where you would have learned about the scientific literacy of Christians, not from the spurious attacks of its detractors.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org