God is Not Dead Yet? Redux

After my previous post on Christianity Today’s article God is Not Dead Yet, Nathan Schneider asked me in a comment to have a look at the review he did. I also later saw John Stackhouse respond on his blog, which I thought also warranted comment.

First up, I look at Schneider’s fairly lengthy and informed review. He does seem to fail to realize that this is an article in a popular-level magazine, expecting more nuance from Craig on the arguments for God’s existence than is reasonable. That being said, his critique of the argument from fine-tuning was the most amusing part of the article:

The fine-tuning argument is like suggesting that, just because Britney Spears was born in America, America exists in order to give birth to Britney Spears.

Indeed, so much natural theology does seem to argue from the conclusion to the premises, rather than the other way around. And even where these arguments might be plausible, there is a vast chasm (noted by Pascal) between the god of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Schneider only addresses this aspect in a brief paragraph, while I think that it should be the crux of any disparaging of natural theology.

He does note that Craig’s projects is essentially saying Ja! to counter Karl Barth’s (in)famous declaration of Nein! towards building theology on a “natrual” foundation. (A bit more on Barth’s nein!) This debate is far more interesting and central to Christian witness than whether or not arguments for the existence of God “work,” and I wish that it would have received more pride of place in Schneider’s article, rather than being relegated to its last few paragraphs. But this is all grinding my own theological axe, and I recognize that Schneider did a pretty good job of contextualizing the debate between Craig and the “new” atheism.

Now, on to Stackhouse’s response to Craig’s CT article. Although Stackhouse seems to grant place to Craig’s natural theological approach (which I don’t), he goes on to say the following:

Apologetics, however, is more than analytical philosophy of religion… or the history of the New Testament. It’s about anything that points to the plausibility and credibility of the gospel. And that means a very wide range indeed of Christian activity.

That is an insightful point, one that recognizes that human life and its possible intersections with God are much more multi-faceted than arguments for or against God’s existence can speak to. Stackhouse’s list of candidates is well-thought, even if I would quibble with him on a few selections. He points in the right direction, the path where our best apologetic is simply living, acting and speaking as though we really believe that the God who created the world was incarnated in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who died on a cross and rose from the dead. Which is, of course, far from simple.

5 responses to “God is Not Dead Yet? Redux”

  1. Matt,
    Many thanks for your thoughtful reply. I do contest the claim that I “fail to realize that this is an article in a popular-level magazine, expecting more nuance from Craig on the arguments for God’s existence than is reasonable.” I repeatedly discuss Craig’s remarks in light of the fact that they are in Christianity Today, a popular magazine with a specific audience, including many people who are learning about these issues for the first time in any detail. The main concern of the first part of my response is that he is misrepresenting the debate to these people, not that he isn’t writing a treatise when he’s only trying to write an article. I even note in my piece, “Admittedly, Craig has limited space in the magazine format and cannot be expected to cover everything. He can, however, steer clear of libel against intellectually-fulfilled atheists.”

    That said, I am in 100% agreement that the more interesting side of the discussion was with Barth, etc. As I’ve already confessed elsewhere, I think I got a little carried away tangoing with the apologists in the first part of the article and lost sight of the big picture.

    To me, in fact, the difference between the God of the philosophers and the God of the Bible is less a reason to dismiss natural theology completely as a reason to explore why people find it so compelling. I am in the process of writing a book on the subject.

    It certainly isn’t my interest to disparage natural theology in general—that wasn’t why I brought up Barth (nor was it, as Dr. Craig seems to think, to compare him to Hitler). The intention, rather, was to show that, as times and circumstances change, the terms under which theological debates occur can be radically different. Here I meant to add to, not to subtract from, Craig’s interesting reflections on natural theology in culture.

    This all reminds me of a time when I was hiking in the Sierras for three weeks, with no contact with civilization whatsoever. I brought a Bible along. A few days into the trip, I tried reading it and couldn’t believe how irrelevant it felt—what was the point of all the kings and prophets and poetry and so forth when I was surrounded by the Glory and the Silence already? It is odd how, even though the Gods of nature, philosophy, and the Bible (or even different books of the Bible) are so different, they find their way to a similar place in people’s hearts.

  2. Nathan: Good reply, cheers. You’re right, the bit about popular-level writing was almost a throwaway line that I should probably have just left out.

    I’m definitely interested in your project to ask about why people (in certain quarters) are finding natural theology so compelling. It’s a similar question about the context in which things are believed to what Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” is doing, I think.

    How large a role do you think is played in this by the felt need for natural law is? I saw a book review of Sennett & Groothuis’ “In Defense of Natural Theology” by James K.A. Smith who said the following:

    The editors overreach when they claim that the volume is evidence that “natural theology is alive and well in contemporary philosophy” and that natural theology has experienced a “revival.” This is true only within a narrow orbit of evangelical philosophers still committed to evidentialism and interested in natural theology because of its political implications for grounding natural law.

    Oh, and now I saw that Craig thought you were calling him Hitler! That is well and truly hilarious. I might actually have to go read it.

  3. About the “God of philosophers vs the God of Abraham”, I think that it is not so much that they are diferent, but that the God of philosophers exhibits a set of characteristics of God of Abraham, or in other words, that God of philosophers is a portion of God of Abraham.

  4. mountainguy: I’m much more hesitant to extend any overlap between the two than you are, for a variety of reasons. The seeming overlap has come about in many cases due to theology’s historical uncritical capitulation to Greek philosophical categories, rather than it being a necessarily good picture of the Father of Jesus Christ. I’m especially thinking about impassibility here, and possibly even omniscience.

    Furthermore, the god of the philosophers tends to be a servant of various human projects, such as justifying the existence of the “powers that be,” and providing a convenient explanatory source for the whole of being. This is not a god to be worshiped, but rather an idol. I talk lots about this aspect in the first chapter of my thesis, which I won’t blame you at all for not having read ;)

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