This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
Recently I read some books on the philosophy of science, especially the debate between scientific realism and anti-realism. The topic is fascinating to me, knowing that scientists can work together despite their differing stance on the debate. It is also interesting to see that theology, in some senses, can be categorized as science. My question is two-fold (for theists and for atheists). I want to ask whether we, as Christians, can believe in God in the same sense as Anti-realists believe in electrons. Do you think that the case for God is analogous to the case for electrons? When you say that "God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe, life-tuning, and the existence of objective moral values," can an atheist take it in an anti-realist way? I'm just wondering if the 'war of worldview' between theism and atheism will cease (or much reduce), just like the scientists in regards to the electrons; say, theists take God in a Realist way and atheists take God in an Anti-realist way.
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
While Christians can be anti-realists about various posits of theoretical physics, such as virtual particles or even electrons, they cannot, I think, be anti-realists about God. For the person who takes an anti-realist perspective toward certain theoretical entities in physics doesn’t believe that such entities really exist. They’re just useful fictions that help us to get along in the world. His attitude toward such entities is at best agnostic, if not outright denial.
Clearly, a Christian cannot take such an attitude toward God. Such a person would in fact be an agnostic or atheist. Such an attitude is the polar opposite of saving faith and love. A God which is a useful fictitious posit cannot be counted on to ground objective moral values or impart objective meaning to our lives, nor preserve us beyond death and bestow eternal life. Such a make-believe God is a pious delusion, however helpful such a delusion may be in getting along in life. Taking an anti-realist attitude toward God would end “the war of worldview” only by surrendering to non-theism.
The interesting question you raise is whether the atheist might not take such an attitude toward God. I suppose he could, though I’m not aware of any who do. That would leave him in the bizarre position of maintaining that God does not exist even though the evidence says that He does. Why won’t the atheist follow the evidence where he admits it leads? Such a position would leave the atheist deeply conflicted, which is perhaps why no one I know of adopts such a position. In science, theoretical entities like electrons are posited because of their instrumental value in making predictions and advancing empirical discoveries, even if they don’t really exist. Theism doesn’t seem to be like this. What would it mean, for example, to say that God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe and of the fine-tuning of the universe for life, but that such a being does not really exist? If He doesn’t exist, then how is that the best explanation of the origin and fine-tuning of the universe? The non-theist, I’m sure, doesn’t want to be in the position of the dinosaur anti-realist, who maintains that dinosaurs are the best explanation of the fossil evidence but denies or does not believe that they really existed.
Sadly, some post-modernist theologians take a sort of anti-realist perspective on God. God for them is just an interpretive construct which an individual believer imposes on the world. In my debate several years ago with John Dominic Crossan, for example, I asked him whether in his view God existed during the Jurassic Period.
“A meaningless question!” he retorted.
“But surely that’s not meaningless,” I insisted. “During the Jurassic Period, when there were no human beings about, was there such a being as God?”
“Well, I guess I’d have to say, No,” he admitted.
Such post-modern theism amounts to nothing more than atheism.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.