Humanism for Children: A Reply to William Lane Craig
William Lane Craig is right. There has been “a resurgence of interest in arguments for God’s existence.” So-called “new atheists” aside, what he fails to mention is that there has also been a resurgence of interest in arguments against God’s existence by philosophers like J.L. Schellenberg, Quentin Smith, Paul Draper, Stephen Maitzen, Michael Martin, and many others.
Indeed, Craig’s biased, selective summary of recent work in philosophy of religion, like many of the arguments for God’s existence, understates the relevant evidence. As Draper has persuasively argued, these arguments, at best, successfully identify general facts which are evidence for God’s existence. They ignore other, more specific facts, which are evidence against God’s existence.
For example, assume that the beginning of the universe is evidence for God’s existence. Given that the universe began to exist, the fact that it began to exist with time, not in time, is more probable on naturalism than on theism.
Or again: assume that sentient life is evidence for God’s existence. Given that there is sentient life, the biological role of pain and pleasure is much more likely on naturalism (and nature is “blind” to the moral value of pain and pleasure) than on theism (which requires that all pain and pleasure have both biological and moral value).
Another example: assume that the existence of objective moral values is evidence for God’s existence. Given that objective moral values exist, the fact that there are reasonable moral disagreements is more likely on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the universe is morally indifferent) than that theism is true (and there is a morally perfect being who wants us to be moral).
So at best, we have evidence both for and against God’s existence. It’s far from obvious that, on balance, the theist’s general facts outweigh the naturalist’s more specific facts.
But the ambiguity of the evidence is itself evidence: evidence against God’s existence. Surely that fact–that evidence about God’s existence is ambiguous–is much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the universe is religiously indifferent) than on the assumption that theism is true (and there is a perfectly loving God who wants a relationship with each of us). A loving father does not need “intelligent and articulate defenders” developing “creative, new arguments” to prove his existence to his children; a loving Father (capital ‘F’) even less so.
But what about the argument that naturalism cannot be rationally affirmed? Draper has shown that “the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable.” He concludes that the long term survival of our species is “strong evidence” that our cognitive faculties are reliable.
Why should naturalists be humanists? Craig is right that humanism is not the only option for naturalists. Again, however, he doesn’t tell the full story. God-based morality is not the only option for theists. Plato believed that objective moral values exist abstractly, necessarily, and are metaphysically ultimate. That is to say, they are uncreated and impersonal.
This is important because it underlines the fact that a supernatural person (God) is not needed to ground objective moral values. Indeed, if Platonism is true, then theists like Craig have it backwards. Goodness is not grounded in God; rather, God, if He exists, is in one sense grounded in the Good. Craig may not like this option because it conflicts with his version of theism, but it is an option, for both theists and naturalists.
Moreover, from a practical perspective, humanists believe that the ability to recognize moral values and handle moral disagreements is much more important than abstract, theoretical discussions about the grounding of morality. Even people who believe, like Craig, that God somehow grounds morality still reasonably disagree with one another about moral issues ranging from war, sexuality, abortion, capital punishment, gun control, and much more. Humanists, on the other hand, offer an approach to moral questions based on facts about human flourishing. So, again, it’s far from obvious that theism has an advantage over naturalistic humanism.
Finally, as for encouraging kids “to think critically about the tough questions” concerning worldviews such as naturalism and theism, I think humanists clearly have the upper hand here. Humanists have always encouraged critical thinking through doubt and skepticism, even skepticism about skepticism! Craig, on the other hand, seems to want people to have faith in faith; he has even warned fellow believers to avoid “doubting their faith.”
Theists have often written as if evidence about God is merely “nice to have.” Indeed, Craig himself has admitted he would continue to be a Christian, even if he saw with his own eyes that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Humanists, on the other hand, have always held that evidence about God, like any other topic, is a “must have.” Humanists believe we should examine all of the evidence and follow the evidence wherever it leads.