This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
Hi Dr. Craig, I would like to ask if you have a response to Jordan Peterson's view that Christianity is a manifestation of certain psychological archetypes. For example, he states that the concept of God as a judge arose because it is beneficial to act as if we will be judged. The concept of God is simply a symbol for the future, since it is actually the future that judges us for our actions in the present. Christ taking on the sins of the world is another of these archetypal themes that reflect the highest form of living: voluntarily accepting responsibility for those around us. I recently graduated from a Bible college, but I have completely lost my lifelong confidence that God exists, Christianity is true, etc. Peterson's theories seem to fully explain why the Christian worldview rings true for so many people - so far, it's done the best job at representing these evolved archetypes. I have not found a single Christian thinker who addresses this idea, so I am hoping you can speak to it. (I gave my name as anonymous because I haven't yet told my wife & family about my likely abandonment of Christianity)
William Lane Craig's Response
Anonymous, my heart goes out to you because you have been evidently very poorly served by a woefully inadequate Bible school education. The fact that you would be persuaded by such a patently fallacious argument and seem utterly bereft of any countervailing arguments in support of Christian theism leads me to believe that, unless you were asleep in class, you have been terribly trained in philosophy and apologetics.
Peterson’s analysis at most helps to shed light on why the Gospel speaks to our deepest needs, just as God intended. To infer that belief in God is false because that belief arose due to certain psychological archetypes is a classic example of the genetic fallacy. This is the fallacy of trying to invalidate a point of view by explaining how a person came to hold that view. It is fallacious because the truth/falsity of a viewpoint is independent of how a person came to hold that viewpoint. Even if Peterson’s psychological theories were correct, they say nothing about the truth of the proposition that God exists and or that Christ died for my sins. In fact in my dialogue with Jordan Peterson on “Is There Meaning in Life?”, I found him to be very open to the truth of theism and even Christianity.
Indeed, Peterson’s archetypes could mesh very easily with Christian theism. God created us with certain innate archetypal ideas that make it natural and easy to believe in the truth He reveals to us. Indeed, one could very easily understand such psychological equipment to be part of the image of God in man (Genesis 1.26-27). The fact that you “have not found a single Christian thinker who addresses this idea” is again testimony to the poor education your Bible college gave you, for such an emphasis is a hallmark of C. S. Lewis’ thought. As a professor of literature rather than of psychology, Lewis casts the idea in terms of certain archetypal myths which are expressed in various world religions but which come to their truest expression in Christianity. So Lewis could talk of Christianity as a true myth, just as Peterson could talk of Christianity as a true archetypal theme.
Now I say this is on the assumption that Peterson’s speculations are true. But I doubt many psychologists would be any more persuaded of his theories than they are of Carl Jung’s theory of archetypal ideas. These theories are just conjectures with no supporting scientific evidence based on clinical studies. Indeed, if themes like God as judge or Christ as voluntarily accepting responsibility for those around us were really deeply embedded psychological archetypes, then why don’t we find these themes in all world religions? Non-theistic religions like Taoism or Confucianism and religions which inculcate no voluntary acceptance of responsibility for others like Buddhism belie the claim that these are archetypes of the human psyche. The evidence thus falsifies Peterson’s conjecture.
In any case, wholly apart from the question of whatever psychological forces lead us to our religious beliefs, the point is that there are good arguments for theism and evidences for Christ. If you had been trained in these arguments and evidences, then your lifelong confidence in Christianity would not have been so easily shaken by a logically fallacious argument. I implore you, before you give up your Christian faith and bring ruin upon your marriage and alienate yourself from your family, get a book like On Guard and actually study (not just read) the arguments and evidence in support of Christian theism. That may help to prevent you from succumbing to the emotional force of a logically fallacious argument.
This Q&A and other resources are available on William Lane Craig's website.