Craig on Appeals to Common Sense

Here is something written by a reader who asked not to be further identified. I think he makes a good point and raises the interesting question of when appeals to common sense are reasonable and when they are not. The author begins by commenting on a reply made to me by Craig in our 1998 debate.

….but I recently watched (and enjoyed) your 1998 debate with William Lane Craig and found myself rather irked by something Craig said.  The result is what you see below, which I thought you might find interesting. I’m probably going to share it with a couple other people, but thought I would share it with you first.

At approximately 1:12:22 of your debate, Craig said this…

Now, what about the resurrection of Jesus? We really disagree on this idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Look what he [Parsons] said in his last speech. “It’s just common sense.” 

Boy, your antenna should go up immediately when somebody makes that kind of appeal, because that means there’s a want of an argument here. There’s no argument as to why that’s true.”

Which is funny, because WLC routinely cites common sense. In fact, WLC says 1) apologetic persuasion “can best be done by appealing to….intuitions that are commonly shared (common sense)”, and 2) “we have no choice but to take common sense and intuition as our starting points”, and 3) “to prove merely that [a miracle] happened…one need be no scholar but simply have five good senses and common sense”, and 4) WLC criticized Lawrence Krauss for “attack[ing] common sense”, and 5) said “I want to stick with common sense. I don’t want to depart from that”, and quite a few other examples, as well.

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (page 45)

“Since we cannot hope to persuade everybody, our aim should be to make our cumulative apologetic case as persuasive as possible. This can best be done by appealing to facts which are widely accepted or to intuitions that are commonly shared (common sense)

William Lane Craig, July 1 2012

First, it seems to me that we have no choice but to take common sense and intuition as our starting points.  I very strongly suspect that even those who claim to place no stock in common sense and intuition in fact rely on them all the time with respect to unconscious metaphysical assumptions.  So when a philosophical viewpoint flies in the face of common sense and intuition (e.g., that the external world does not exist), then we may justly demand a very powerful argument in favor of that viewpoint.  In the absence of some defeater of what common sense and intuition tell us, we are rightly sceptical of that viewpoint and perfectly rational to reject it.  So while the deliverances of common sense and intuition are certainly defeasible and may on occasion need revision, still they are an indispensable starting point which should not be lightly abandoned.

William Lane Craig, “The Problem of Miracles:  A Historical and Philosophical Perspective

…did the gospel miracles occur? Although Hume discounts the testimony of the apostles because they were unlearned men, it is clear that to prove merely that something happened (for example, a disease’s being healed by sheer verbal command) one need be no scholar but simply have five good senses and common sense. In fact, the New Testament witnesses fulfill even Hume’s conditions for credibility of reports of miracles. Thus, Hume should concede the historical certainty of the gospel miracles qua events.

William Lane Craig, 1998 debate with Massimo Pigliucci

There is no physical reason why these constants and quantities should possess the values they do. … Similarly, Fred Hoyle remarks, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics.”

William Lane Craig, The Unbelievers Movie, Part 2 (movie review)

Kevin Harris: … Krauss says that the universe could plausibly come from nothing. Plausibility being the key here.

Dr. Craig: This really jumped out at me, Kevin, because I have wondered, what is the criterion for truth that these men would advocate? They have attacked logic, as you know, in many cases; they attack common sense.

William Lane Craig, Radio New Zealand interview

DR. CRAIG: In the following way: 1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. That is a religiously neutral statement that I think is extremely plausible. Things don’t pop into being out of nothing.

MS. HILL: Well, we don’t know that yet. It is common sense, we’ll hang onto that. A lot of science and theology is not common sense.

DR. CRAIG: But I want to stick with common sense. I don’t want to depart from that.

William Lane Craig, July 19, 2015

It surprises me, Tim, that any right-thinking person could disagree with what I’ve said about the recklessness of immature Christians’ exposing themselves to material which would endanger their spiritual lives. Parents don’t allow their children to go in the deep end of the pool until they’ve taught them to swim. The Army does not send school teachers and accountants to the battlefield until they have gone through basic training. This is just common sense. You don’t expose people to danger until they are equipped to deal with it.

William Lane Craig, The Doctrine of God (part 2)

The A-theory of time is acknowledged on all hands to be the common sense of reality. This is the view of the man in the street. This is the common sense view that most of us hold – the past, present, and future are not equally real, temporal becoming is a real and objective feature of the world, things do come into being and pass away. This common sense view is rooted in our experience of temporal becoming. We experience the passage of time. We experience in our thought life ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Having studied this issue for many years – for well over a decade – my studied conclusion is that there is simply no good reason to deny that experience. I think that philosophically there is no reason to deny the reality of that experience of temporal becoming. Therefore, I am inclined to say that the common sense view of time – the A-theory of time – is correct.

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith podcast

In [Lawrence Krauss’] video lectures on YouTube he wears this T-shirt as a kind of gag: it says “2+2=5 for very large values of 2.”

…here comes this quotation that I give from Michael Ruse where he says, “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says two plus two equals five.” So what Ruse is saying there is that these moral truths have the same sort of logical necessity that fundamental truths of arithmetic have. And to say that it’s morally acceptable to rape little children is as absurd as saying 2+2=5. Well Krauss, when he heard that, this clicked in his mind because he was wearing his 2+2=5 shirt. And so he says the reason he did this was to show that common sense is often overruled by rigorous science; that what seems common sensical and true turns out not to be true when you investigate it scientifically, and even 2+2 might equal 5 for very high values of 2. Well, Kevin, if you take that point seriously what he’s suggesting there is that it might well in fact be true that it is morally acceptable to rape little children—that’s what he’s affirming.

I don’t think he appreciated what he was saying. He was wearing the T-shirt under his coat and tie, he heard me say this example of 2+2=5, and he just sort of thoughtlessly takes that as a springboard for pulling his standard gag in attacking common sense, not realizing that what he’s saying there is that Michael Ruse could in fact really be mistaken about this—it really might well be acceptable morally for us to rape little girls and rape little boys. 

I think that in his later comments he kind of backed away from [attacking Craig’s use of probability]. I think he was just saying you can’t use common sense, or something of that sort, to argue for these things, you’ve got to use science. But that’s not an effective refutation of my arguments because I did appeal to science and to the best established facts of human experience and a wide range of disciplines so my arguments aren’t at all just sort of appeals to common sensical notions, though I think they fit with common sense.