Unpacking Atheism

Part I: Dr. William Lane Craig

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Part 2 | Part 3

On October 14, 2012, Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg hosted a conference designed to both help Christians understand atheists and help atheists understand the journey many have traveled from atheism to a faith in Jesus. Guest speakers included Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Holly Ordway, and Got Questions Ministries board member and co-founder Randall Niles. The conference was simulcast, but no DVD will be offered.

Dr. William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. He has PhDs in philosophy and theology. He did not grow up in the church, but always had the impression that there was something else out there—some distant and removed creator. He understood from science that one day the universe, the human race, and he personally would cease to exist. This wasn't a comforting thought. An encounter with a Christian girl in high school led him to understand that this creator wasn't so remote after all. In fact, the Creator loved him and was seriously interested in his life. He went home, read the New Testament, and came to the point where he couldn't refuse the person of Jesus. Because he was surrounded by non-Christian family and friends, he had to go directly into apologetics to defend his choice. A stint at Wheaton College helped him take the truth from the Bible and the beliefs in his heart and integrate them into his daily life and worldview.

The Evolution of Atheism

Dr. Craig explained the evolution of modern atheism at the Unpacking Atheism conference. In the days of Bertrand Russell and David Hume, atheists generally believed that religion was harmful and therefore had no place in public discourse. What one believed in private was their own affair, but religion and any reference to God should not be a part of politics. Many people, including Christians, still adhere to this line of thought. New Atheism, on the other hand, seeks to actively abolish belief in God in both public discourse and private belief.

Ironically, the increase in vehemence in atheistic thought has been paralleled with a decrease in rationality. The older anti-religious philosophers were more likely to qualify themselves as agnostic or skeptic. They understood that atheism is a truth claim that asserts "there is no God". As such, as with any truth claim, there needs to be scientific or logical proof or the statement is invalid. Since a negative claim like "there is no God" is not disprovable, older agnostics and skeptics rejected religion on philosophical grounds as dangerous and inappropriate, and left the existence of God to preachers and poets.

New Atheism is more personal. Instead of a statement about the nature of the cosmos, new atheists use the term "there is no God" to define their personal worldview. It is an autobiographical, psychological state. The statement, then, becomes both unprovable, because it is not intended as a description of fact, and un-debatable, because there is no way to argue against personal conviction. Strangely enough, the statement applies the term "atheist" to every being who does not believe in God—including babies and cats.

Atheism vs. Deism

During the conference, this question was raised: "What is the strongest argument for atheism?" Dr. Craig stated that the strongest argument is rarely brought up in the many debates he's engaged in, but is referred to in literature: the problem of evil. If God is all-powerful, He could eliminate suffering; if He is all-loving, He'd want to. The issue, however, is emotional, not philosophical. There is an emotional impetus behind the question that is best addressed by pastors and counselors. As a philosopher, he believes the intellectual problem is contrary; evil actually proves the existence of God because without a being that is morally superior to humanity, there can be no objective truth, and therefore no universal evil. Everything becomes culturally relativistic, that is, evil is in the eye of the tribe. This is, of course, the Moral Argument for the existence of God.

The arguments for the existence of a Creator-God is far more compelling. Dr. Craig mentioned several which we have articles for. In the interest of space, I'll just give summaries and list the articles.
  • The Cosmological Argument expands the Islamic Kalam argument that says anything that had a beginning must have a cause.
  • The Anthropic Principle, also known as "fine-tuning," uses statistics to show that the chance of the universe having all the characteristics needed to support human life is so small as to be impossible. For more, see Robin Schumacher's post on the multiverse.
Craig also mentioned the Ontological Argument which says that God is the greatest being that can be conceived. Existence is necessary for greatness, so God must exist. This is more of a logical exercise than proof of God's existence.

Finally, Craig brought up the aforementioned Moral Argument. But he was careful to note that belief in God is not necessary for moral behavior. The difference between a moral Christian and a moral atheist is that the Christian can explain why morality is important and where it comes from.

Which God?

Given the overwhelming arguments for the existence of God, the question becomes: which God? Of all the different religions and worldviews out there, which is correct? What proof is there that Christianity and the Bible are right?

As my theology prof from years ago also insisted, Dr. Craig explained that the Christian-Judeo God is the god Who reveals Himself through history. But Craig went on to say that because of this, the proof of God hangs on the veracity of biblical history. In other words, the Christian-Judeo God can be quickly counted out if the historical stories in the Bible prove to be untrue.

Again, we have several arguments that cover the historical accuracy of the Bible. In particular, the existence of the historical Jesus and the fact of His resurrection.

Finally, Dr. Craig explained that for many atheists, the big hang-up is miracles, both biblical and modern. Atheistic science discredits the existence of miracles because everything in the universe must be explainable by the physical sciences. Craig pointed out that if God is an active factor in the goings-on of the universe, miracles become a non-issue because God can do whatever He wants within the context of the universe.

For more on Dr. William Lane Craig, see his website at

Next up: The Artist & the Lawyer

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Published 10-22-12