This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig
I have a question about the epistemology of Christian belief. To me Christianity seems the most coherent and plausible worldview available, but it also has an air of unreality about it. The arguments for basic theism I find compelling but getting from there to belief in the Resurrection I find more problematic. The historical arguments are a good starting point, as you and others have shown. They show that it's reasonable to believe that it happened. But they are insufficient to show its truth beyond reasonable doubt.
It seems therefore to me that something else is needed. I've as yet, so far as I can tell, no experience of what you call "the witness of the Holy Spirit", so it seems the only way to belief for me at present would be a pragmatic "leap of faith". Certainly it seems to me that a person who loves life and doesn't want it to end with physical death is rational in grasping the hope offered by Christianity.
However, I'm not aware personally of feeling particularly unhappy about the prospect of death being the end: human day-to-day life seems to me at its best pleasant but trivial: a series of meaningless moments whose continuation into eternity doesn't on the face of it seem all that desirable. Yes, we may have occasional intimations of some underlying purpose but they are rare and pretty nebulous - hard anyway to interpret as pointing clearly and specifically to the Resurrection.
In addition, rational people do believe things which seem to me obviously false (atheism for example!) which tells me that we can always find arguments when we really want to believe something and that consequently, if we care about truth, we should be cautious in our judgements on ultimate matters. If Christianity is true I certainly want to believe it, since I care about the truth. It's hard to see how this could happen though, yet clearly non-Christians do sometimes come to believe. Do you have any general thoughts on how this may happen? To what extent do you feel the "Holy Spirit" is involved and to what extent the individual will?
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
Thanks for your very thoughtful question, Grant!
My immediate reaction upon reading your letter was that you’re imposing an unreasonably high standard of certainty for rational belief in Christ. Demonstration “beyond reasonable doubt” is a legal standard required in U.S. criminal courts in order to secure a “Guilty” verdict against the accused. Because of the danger of convicting an innocent person, especially in a capital case, the justice system has set this extremely high bar of proof in criminal proceedings. By contrast in civil cases, proof beyond reasonable doubt is not required, but just the preponderance of evidence, in order for someone to be found blameworthy and, hence, liable. And, of course, in non-legal contexts, such as science and history, and in everyday life we do not require proof beyond reasonable doubt, lest we be led into paralysis and scepticism.
It seems to me that so long as the evidence makes Jesus’ resurrection from the dead more likely than not, then the rational man ought to believe in it. This is consistent, as Soren Kierkegaard saw, with great fear and trembling, anxiety, and uncertainty in believing. In view of what is at stake in this matter, we should not risk losing our lives and happiness by insisting upon an unrealistic level of proof in order for belief to be justified. Fortunately, the evidence makes Jesus’ resurrection more than just 51% probable. It is surely much higher than that and therefore ample to make belief in Christ justified.
When you say that “I'm not aware personally of feeling particularly unhappy about the prospect of death being the end,” that feeling is predicated upon a naturalistic view of life, one that you poignantly describe as “a series of meaningless moments whose continuation into eternity doesn't on the face of it seem all that desirable.” I agree and have argued as much. Mere prolongation of existence is not a sufficient condition of meaningfulness: we need God in order to contextualize our lives and see them in their proper perspective. If we can escape from the Sisyphean monotony and triviality, then to have meaningful existence both now and for eternity is an incomprehensible good. God in Christ affords us this, making the choice to believe all the more significant existentially.
Yes, self-delusion is always a danger. But this danger threatens everyone alike, non-Christians as well as Christians. We just need to do a good job in assessing the arguments. I do agree that you need to be alert to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit in your life. God may impress certain truths upon your heart. You need to be open to Him. We can close our hearts to the Holy Spirit and short circuit His work. But whether you feel anything or not, the Holy Spirit is at work in drawing you to Himself through quite natural means, such as a news report of a tragic accident which prompts you to reflect on eternal matters or an aesthetic experience or a conversation with a friend. God is at work in all these secret ways to bring you freely to a knowledge of Himself. May you follow the evidence where it leads!
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.