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Psychic Epistemology: The Special Pleading of William Lane Craig

My focus in this paper is to expose the special pleading of William Lane Craig’s psychic epistemology (or spirit-guided epistemology) as I correctly call it—rather than reformed epistemology as it’s known. I consider this to be an extension of a book of mine, where I offer good advice to the Christian apologist. In part one, after questioning the need for apologetics and warning about the monumental challenges to it, I tell apologists to become honest life-long seekers of the truth, to get a good education in a good field of study, to accept nothing less than sufficient objective evidence, and especially to determine how to know which religion to defend. I offer good solid tongue-in-cheek advice for apologists.[1]

In part two I continue my advice by exposing how Christian apologists operate. I force readers to either do a better job of defending the Christian faith, or not attempt it at all. Here’s how I describe it at the start of chapter 7 of How to Defend the Christian Faith:

All apologetics is special pleading. If you want to be a Christian apologist you must perfect this art. It’s what you’d be taught in any college or seminary apologetics program. However, if you want to be a good Christian apologist you must avoid doing so entirely. The risk here should be clear. If you didn’t special plead your case you wouldn’t be an apologist at all. In this part of the book you will see how special pleading is used to defend the faith. It’s done by punting to possibilities rather than sticking to the probabilities. It’s done by gerrymandering districts like politicians do to gain seats of power over others for God. It’s done by mischaracterization. And it’s done by lying for Jesus, at least by some.[2]

Special pleading is an informal fallacy where someone uses a double-standard in assessing similar types of claims, by favoring one’s own preference over others, without providing a justifying reason for the double-standard. Christian apologists are special pleading when using an outsider’s perspective to assess other religious faiths, while using an insider’s perspective to assess one’s own faith, without providing a justifying reason for the double-standard.[3]

I know a bit more about William Lane Craig’s apologetics than most people, having majored under him for a Master of Theology degree (Th.M., 1985) at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. One class I took under him in the Winter of 1984 was on “Plantinga’s Thought.” In it Craig introduced students to Alvin Plantinga’s works so far, in which he supported his psychic epistemology. So it’s clear to me Craig knows he’s using a double-standard in assessing different religious faiths, favoring his own sect-specific Christian faith over all others. He simply believes he has a justifying reason for the double-standard. It’s found in his alleged inner witness of a disembodied publicly undetectable (holy) spirit guide from “the other side.” I will disembowel Craig from his god-of-the-guts in what follows. Others before me have shared their objections, which I recommend, such as Jaco Gericke[4], Felipe Leon[5], Michael Martin[6], Matt McCormick[7], Robert M. Price[8], Phillip Quinn[9], and some others.[10]

How Does William Lane Craig Know Christianity is True?

Craig tries to make a distinction between how he knows Christianity is true from how he shows others that Christianity is true. He says he knows Christianity is true by a (holy) spirit guide, just as a psychic knows s/he has been contacted by “the other side.” When it comes to showing Christianity is true, Craig uses philosophical arguments for the existence of his God, along with alleged testimonial evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In other words, Craig admits his attempts to show Christianity is true are all a sham, a ruse, a mere debating tactic just to win for show, since he, along with every other Christian, already knows Christianity is true by a spirit guide.

To show this Craig offers some analogies.[11] In one of them Craig argues he might legitimately say he knows he didn’t commit a crime, even though he cannot show twelve jurors he’s innocent. He personally knows he didn’t do the crime despite the fact sufficient objective evidence shows he’s guilty.

Even though cases like this one are real, it is disanalogous and even disingenuous for Craig to claim he knows what took place in ancient history based on a spirit guide, rather than on the efforts of historians who utilize the standard of reasonable evidential verification. If the historical evidence isn’t conclusive it is unreasonable to punt to the vices of faith in order to leap over wherever the probabilities stop.

The accurate analogy is not Craig’s innocent man, but rather jurors who determine someone’s guilt based on reading their tea leaves in the morning, or by consulting a psychic. No one should think doing that is reasonable. So likewise, Craig cannot know that a snake or donkey talked, or that a guy named Moses forced the Egyptian Pharaoh of his day to release two million slaves who escaped across the bottom of a Red Sea, or that a virgin gave birth to a god’s incarnate son, or that this same divine child arose from the dead because a spirit guide told him so, alleged to be “holy” or not, alleged to be spoken by a psychic or not, alleged to be a god or not. Craig’s own scriptures warn him that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Once someone believes in Satan then all bets are off the table.[12] For all Craig and Plantinga know, Satan may be the one inspiring them to accept psychic epistemology, and with it their sect-specific conservative religion which is false, and has harmed great numbers of people.[13]

Nonetheless, Craig says he knows the miraculous events in the Bible happened because of the witness of a (holy) spirit guide. Craig says this witness is “self-authenticating.” What does he mean by that? “I mean that the witness, or testimony, of the Holy Spirit is its own proof; it is unmistakable; it does not need other proofs to back it up; it is self-evident and attests to its own truth.” Hitchhiking on the philosophical work of Alvin Plantinga’s defense of a properly basic belief in God[14], and quote-mining the Bible (e.g., John 14:16-26; 16:7-11; Galatians 3:26; 4:6; 8:15-16; 1 John 2:20,26-27; 3:24; 5:7-10), Craig writes: “I would agree that belief in the God of the Bible is a properly basic belief, and emphasize that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit that supplies the circumstance for its proper basically. And because this belief is from God, it is not merely rational, but definitely true.”[15]

Craig says he knows Christianity is true not because of any historical evidence. He writes:

In considering the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, it is important to avoid giving the impression that the Christian faith is based on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian faith is based on the event of the resurrection. It is not based on the evidence for the resurrection.

This distinction is crucial.

The Christian faith stands or falls on the event of the resurrection. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christian is a myth, and we may as well forget it. But the Christian faith does not stand or fall on the evidence for the resurrection.[16]

Craig explains:

If we insist on a historical, evidential foundation for faith, then we consign most of the world’s population to unbelief. To me this is unconscionable. Therefore, if one’s religious beliefs are to be rational, there must be some other basis for them than the evidence. We are therefore not dependent on historical proofs for knowledge of Christianity’s truth. Rather through the immediate, inner witness of God’s Holy Spirit every person can come to know the truth of the Gospel once he hears it. Through an existential encounter with God Himself every generation can be made contemporaneous with the first generation of believers.[17]

Craig cites the Bible as the ultimate authority on this, concluding:

The Bible says all men are without excuse [Romans 1]. Even men who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no good excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit. Therefore, the role of reason in knowing Christianity is true is to be a servant. A person knows Christianity is true because the Holy Spirit tells him it is true, and while reason can be used to support this conclusion, reason cannot overrule it.[18]

Therefore, Craig concludes:

It is never an appropriate response to defeaters to abandon Christian faith and reject Jesus Christ and the witness of the Holy Spirit. Rather, God can be trusted in such circumstances where we feel at a loss as to how to answer the defeater and we have no extrinsic defeater of the defeater, God can be counted on to so intensify the witness of the Holy Spirit that that will enable us to have an intrinsic defeater-defeater so that the appropriate response is to continue to believe with the hope that someday we may, in fact, find an error in that defeater and be able to expose its falsehood. The witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater.[19]

To see just how deep he goes, Craig says, “I am asserting that not only should I continue to have faith in God on the basis of the Spirit’s witness even if all the arguments for His existence were refuted, but I should continue to have faith in God even in the face of objections which I cannot at that time answer.”[20]

Craig is not alone. He stands in a long line of theologians, philosophers, and apologists who disparage evidential reasoning in favor of blind faith—the only kind of faith that exists. It begins with Jesus, who purportedly said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Luke 10:21). Paul wrote: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). In Colossians 2:8 we read, “See no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” Tertullian (160-220 CE) asked: “What has Athens [the seat of philosophical reasoning] to do with Jerusalem [the seat of religious faith and theology]?” In words suggestive of Søren Kierkegaard, Tertullian wrote of the incarnation of Jesus by saying, “Just because it is absurd, it is to be believed … it is certain because it is impossible.” Martin Luther called reason “the Devil’s Whore.” As such, reason “can do nothing but slander and harm all that God says and does.” Immanuel Kant said that, “I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”[21]

There is something wrong with a religious faith that needs to disparage reason like this. It’s admitting Christianity cannot be defended by reason. If that’s so, why should anyone think otherwise? In fact, a great many Christian theologians don’t think highly of apologetics. Following in the footsteps of Karl Barth, acknowledged as the greatest theologian of the last century—whom I wrote my M.A. master’s thesis on—they think apologetics is a failure.[22] In their colleges there is no apologetics department, or apologetics classes. They say, “God is his own witness. Only God can reveal God. Revelation from God can only come from God.” Or, as Barth himself said, “the best apologetics is a good dogmatics.”[23]

The Importance of Craig’s Conversion Testimony

William Lane Craig has publicly shared his personal testimony of how he became a Christian on his website.[24] It basically tells us all that we need to know about Craig’s approach to Christianity. I have previously weighed in on the difference between Christian conversion testimonies compared with deconversion/defection testimonies of former believers. The difference is striking.[25]

Craig tells us he wasn’t raised in a church-going family. But when he became a teenager in the sixties he started searching for something real, by asking questions, like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” So he searched for answers by attending a Christian church. He didn’t search for answers by attending a Muslim Mosque, nor Jewish Synagogue, nor Hindu Temple, because he was raised in a Christian culture that prejudicially set the limits of answers he would accept. At this church, all he saw with his young prudish judgmental eyes were “a pack of hypocrites” who were “pretending to be something they’re not.” Apparently, the young Craig could read people’s minds. Usually the person claiming to do this is only revealing his own mind. Regardless, Craig became very bitter and angry toward the people in that church, and arrived at the fallacious hasty generalization that “Nobody is really genuine.” People were “all just a bunch of phonies,” he says.

He became angry at his own hypocrisy, which is a religious guilt trip he placed on himself, that led him to falsely say, “I couldn’t see any purpose to life; nothing really mattered.” This is an unjustified either/or fallacious conclusion. There can be plenty of purposes and plenty of things that matter in one’s daily life (like family, friends, and meaningful work), without needing one single final absolute unchanging purpose in life.

Then Craig met a girl. Her name was Sandy. She “always seemed so happy it just makes you sick!” he tells us. Upon asking Sandy why she was so happy, she told him “the God of the universe loved him and wanted to live in his heart.” Sandy also introduced him to other Christians. Of them he said, “I had never met people like this! Whatever they said about Jesus, what was undeniable was that they were living life on a plane of reality that I didn’t even dream existed, and it imparted a deep meaning and joy to their lives, which I craved.” I myself was part of a teenage Pentecostal group of evangelistic Christians who were happy on the outside. But we also had our hidden struggles, sins and failures. It was pretty clear on hindsight we put on an outward show for evangelistic purposes. Lost on him was that cult members in the Charlie Manson gang also came off as happy.

Anyway, Craig says that seeing happy people like this “hit me like a ton of bricks.” The thought that the God of the universe really loved him “just staggered me.” Continuing he said, “To think that the God of the universe should love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet Earth! I just couldn’t take it in.” He recollects:

I thought to myself (and I’m not kidding) I thought if there is just one chance in a million that this is true it’s worth believing…. Far from raising the bar or the epistemic standard that Christianity must meet to be believed, I lower it. I think that this is a message which is so wonderful, so fantastic, that if there’s any evidence that it’s true then it’s worth believing in, especially when you compare it to the alternatives like naturalism or atheism or other forms of life…. When someone really knows what it’s like to experience the love of God and to have this hope in eternal life and forgiveness of sins then it seems to me that he will gravitate toward that alternative. It will be so attractive and that it would take really, really decisive disproofs to make him give up his Christian faith and abandon it.[26]

Craig then began a period of soul-searching for six months. He got a New Testament and read it from cover to cover, not the Koran, nor the Old Testament, nor any other religious, or nonreligious text. Instead, he says, he read Christian books, attended Christian meetings, and sought the Christian God in prayer. That’s how he investigated his faith, which is doing very poor research, even if his studies included the apologetics books available at the time by G. K. Chesterton, Frank Morison (aka Albert Ross), C. S. Lewis, Bernard L. Ramm, and J. Edwin Orr. Craig knows by now that when researching into a subject he needs to read the original sources, the ones Chesterton, Morison, Lewis, Ramm, Orr and others had quoted from and disputed. As my abovementioned book conclusively shows, apologists, especially of the conservative tribe, all special plead their case. So reading apologetics books is not giving due diligence to an honest search for truth. If Craig had honestly and carefully investigated his faith he should also have researched the major religious alternatives and considered their claims, and counterarguments, including those of moderates, liberals, deists and nonbelievers.

Craig should have done what he would do when buying a brand new vehicle. He would consult Consumer Reports, research into their prices, gas mileage, safety ratings, dependability, and so forth, to figure out which one to purchase. Then he would research into the car dealer who has the best customer satisfaction ratings and take some vehicles for a test spin, along with consulting CARFAX, Inc., for the vehicle’s history records. There is no indication Craig did this with his religion, nor does he urge anyone else to do so. In fact he discourages doing so. [27]

Finally, one night Craig came to the end of his rope and cried out to God. He subsequently “felt this tremendous infusion of joy!” Then he rushed outdoors, and as he looked up at the Milky Way galaxy of stars he thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!” That moment changed his whole life, he tells us. “Knowing God suddenly brought eternal significance to my life.” That’s when he decided he should spend his entire life spreading this same message. Many ex-Christians have known this same feeling. But one’s feelings of exhilaration depend entirely on if such a story is objectively true, since feeling can mislead us into a false sense of undue certainty. Psychologist Valerie Tarico tells us:

The “feeling of knowing” (rightness, correctness, certainty, conviction) should be thought of as one of our primary emotions, like anger, pleasure, or fear. Like these other feelings, it can be triggered by a seizure or a drug or direct electrical stimulation of the brain. Once triggered for any reason, the feeling that something is right or real can be incredibly powerful—so powerful that when it goes head to head with logic or evidence the feeling wins. Our brains make up reasons to justify our feeling of knowing, rather than following logic to its logical conclusion. For many reasons, religious beliefs are usually undergirded by a strong “feeling of knowing.” Set aside for the moment the question of whether those beliefs tap underlying realities. Conversion experiences can be intense, hypnotic, and transformative. Worship practices, music and religious architecture have been optimized over time to evoke right brain sensations of transcendence and euphoria. Social insularity protects a community consensus. Repetition of ideas reinforces a sense of conviction or certainty. Religious systems like Christianity that emphasize right belief have built in safeguards against contrary evidence, doubt, and the assertions of other religions.[28]

There was just one problem. At the end of his chapter on the problem of miracles Craig confessed: “In my own case, the virgin birth was a stumbling block to my coming to faith—I simply could not believe such a thing. But when I reflected on the fact that God had created the entire universe, it occurred to me that it would not be too difficult for Him to make a woman pregnant.”[29] It appears as if Craig was reasoning himself into belief after all. However, the young Craig reasoned poorly. While he’s correct that a creator-god wouldn’t have any trouble getting a virgin woman pregnant, that’s not the problem. The problem is whether a creator-god really did that in this particular case with the virgin Mary. Since Craig didn’t understand the problem he got the solution wrong. His reasoning is a big non sequitur: “Since a creator-god could do it he must have done it like the Bible says.” Craig failed to take seriously the overwhelming objective evidence against such a miraculous claim. He also failed to grasp why the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t believe the virgin birth tale, even though they were there, and believed in God, in Old Testament prophecy, and in miracles.[30]

We can learn some significant things from Craig’s conversion testimony.

Craig was not reasonably converted into the faith he now defends. Happy people did the trick since he was an unhappy anxious teenager. It’s pretty clear the only religious faith he “investigated” was one sect within western protestant Christianity. He read the Christian New Testament allegedly produced by his spirit guide, who in turn confirmed it. That’s like using the book allegedly produced by Allah to inform or educate us about the activity of Allah, who in turn confirms it.

Craig fallaciously believed the Christian story has more going for it than other religious stories, and that this was a good reason for him to believe. But almost every religion provides a purpose to life, a sense of importance in the grand scheme of things, an intimate awareness of a spirit world, a zest for life, relief from any real or imagined guilt, and an assurance of being saved from the drudgery of a mundane worldly existence in an immeasurable universe. They also offer a deep sense of community and love by other believers.

By contrast I can imagine a religious story that is much better, one with a god who loves and forgives us unconditionally as a perfect father would, with no punishment for any offenses, and with no need for an atonement so that everyone ends up in a blissful afterlife when we die. I can imagine a god placing us in a much better world than he has done too, for which see my anthology God and Horrendous Suffering. That being said, the specific religious story told has little or nothing to do with whether or not that story is true. The only religious stories that count, if any of them do, are the ones having a sufficient amount of evidence for them. A story about a horrific god like Whiro: Evil God of Māori Mythology, or Lilith: Female Demon of Jewish Folklore, or Loviatar: Finnish Goddess of Death, Pain, and Disease, or Apophis: Evil God of Chaos in Ancient Egypt would be preferable if the objective evidence led us to think so.

The bedrock of Craig’s faith is subjective, felt in the inner witness of a disembodied publicly undetectable spirit guide from “the other side.” This is the basis for him showing his faith is true, even if he fails to show that it’s true.

Mormonism and Craig

Doubt is the adult attitude, as I’ve argued.[31] But with Craig there is no sense at which he thinks doubt is a virtue. It’s not a reasonable option for him. He claims to have a spirit guide who assures him he’s right. So he never expresses the fact that doubt is a means to get at the truth. He cannot urge Christians to doubt the inner witness of a spirit guide, since it’s the basis for everything he believes.

I took a masters class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with Craig on the work of Catholic philosopher René Descartes in the Winter of 1985. Contrary to Craig, Descartes argued by example that it is a good thing to doubt everything in order to see what he could legitimately accept afterwards. Descartes calls upon every adult to doubt as a means for honestly searching for truth: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Craig did not do this. He doesn’t recommend it.

Craig thinks he can special plead his way to his sect-specific Christianity because of his spirit guide. He can’t legitimately do this. We just need to compare his spirit guide to the spirit guide of Mormon missionaries.

One of the chief defenders of Mormonism is Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture and former dean of religious education at Brigham Young University. Millet wrote a book called Getting at the Truth: Responding to Difficult Questions about LDS Beliefs.[32] He argues as Craig does, like they were twins or something, saying:

In a very real sense believing is seeing. No member of the church need feel embarrassed at being unable to produce the Golden Plates or the complete Egyptian papyrus. No member of the church should hesitate to bear testimony of verities that remain in the realm of faith, that are seen only with the eyes of faith.

In the end the only way that the things of God can be known is by the power of the Holy Ghost… the only way spiritual truth can be known is by the quiet whisperings of the Holy Ghost.

I’m grateful to have, burning within my soul, a testimony that the father and the son appeared to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820, and that the Church of Jesus Christ the Latter-Day Saints is truly the kingdom of God on Earth.

Millet then shares what other important Mormons have said:

President Ezra Taft Benson: “We do not have to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The book is its own proof. All we need to do is read it and declare it…. We are not required to prove that the Book of Mormon is true or is an authentic record through external evidences—though there are many. It never has been the case, nor is it so now, that the studies of the learned will prove the Book of Mormon true or false. The origin, preparation, translation, and verification of the truth of the Book of Mormon have all been retained in the hands of the Lord, and the Lord makes no mistakes. You can be assured of that.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley, regarding the Book of Mormon: “The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence lies not an archeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable individuals may sincerely question its origins, but those who read it prayerfully may come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true.”

Craig advocates a duo approach to Christianity. On the one hand his spirit guide is all he needs in order to know Christianity is true. But on the other hand Craig says he can show reasons for his faith that confirm the inner witness of his spirit guide. Whether it’s the Mormon spirit guide or the Book of Mormon given by the Spirit, this is what important Mormons also say.

So a very serious problem emerges. How can they dispute each other’s spirit guide claims when their different faiths originate from self-attesting spirit guides, apart from any evidence or argument? Each of them denies the need for any evidence, so they cannot show the other spirit guide’s witness is wrong by means of evidence. Doing so would deny their respective claims that the evidence isn’t needed. All they can say is that their spirit guide testifies to their specific religion, which de facto denies each other’s religion. So it’s no surprise, that’s exactly what Craig does when asked about the Mormon faith claim. “They are wrong” he asserts. “I’m right” he asserts. That’s the end of the matter.[33]

It should be crystal clear that if two different Christianities (or religions) both reject the need for evidence, then claim to know their faith is the correct one based on a spirit guide who leads them into the truth (e.g., John 14:26; 15:26; John 16:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 1 John 2:27), something is seriously wrong. It reveals the sham of psychic epistemology as an apologetic ploy, because it justifies believing whatever one wants to believe, defeaters, both intrinsic and extrinsic be damned.[34] If it can lead believers to conflicting Christianities[35] then a spirit guide from “the other side” should be rejected if one honestly desires to know which religion is true, if there is one.

The Propositional Content Objection

The Mormon doctrinal difference is an egregious example of a fundamental problem. Let’s highlight here the propositional content of spirit-guided epistemology. Consider what Plantinga says. The Christian believer can be rational in knowing “God has created the world even if he has no argument at all for that conclusion[36],” and in having a “full-blooded Christian belief”[37] in “the great truths of the gospel.”[38]

Plantinga says:

[W]e don’t require argument from, for example, historically established premises about the authorship and reliability of the bit of Scripture in question to the conclusion that the bit in question is in fact true; for belief in the great things of the gospel to be justified, rational, and warranted, no historical evidence and argument for the teaching in question, or for the veracity or reliability or divine character of Scripture are necessary.[39]

Plantinga believes we all have a sense of divinity (or sensus divinitatis, if you prefer the Latin) within us, a (holy) spirit guide who gives witness to “the great truths of the gospel” when reading the Scripture. This is the same kind of thing psychics claim they can do by reading tea leaves and tarot cards. He’s effectively saying the spirit world gives Christians these same kinds of psychic abilities.

Pay close attention to what Plantinga says. “Faith involves an explicitly cognitive element; it is, says Calvin, knowledge … and it is revealed to our minds. To have faith, therefore, is to know and hence believe something or other.” And Christian beliefs come “by way of the work of the Holy Spirit, who gets us to accept, causes us to believe, these great truths of the gospel. These beliefs don’t come just by way of the normal operation of our natural faculties, they are a supernatural gift.”[40] If this is not claiming to have psychic abilities then I don’t know what is.

Now take a look at the propositional content Craig proposes. He says his spirit guide “produces an awareness of the truths of the Gospel, assurance of salvation, conviction of sin, things of this sort.” Based on it he says “you can know that God exists and that Christianity is true wholly apart from arguments” and “know with confidence that Christianity is true… and the great truths of the Gospel are correct.”[41]

Their spirit guide imparts a whole host of doctrines, which ends up largely being the essentials of a whole religion, based on creedal affirmations by the dozens and dozens.[42] Every “essential” doctrine within Christian theology has been endlessly debated and some have even been fought over. Do Craig and Plantinga fail to realize that eight million Christians killed each other during the French Wars of Religion, and the Thirty Years War, over such things as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and who was the legitimate authority to administer it? Where was the spirit guide?[43]

Look at the virgin birth again. What does Craig do with Christian disagreement here? In the United States according to a 1998 poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy, the following ministers said they didn’t believe in the virgin birth:[44]

  • American Lutherans, 19 percent
  • American Baptists, 34 percent
  • Episcopalians, 44 percent
  • Presbyterians, 49 percent
  • Methodists, 60 percent

In the United Kingdom a poll surveying 103 Roman Catholic priests, Anglican priests, and Protestant ministers found that “25 percent didn’t believe in the virgin birth,” while in Scotland the state church found in a 2004 survey of ministers that “37 percent don’t accept the virgin account.”[45]

Apparently Craig’s spirit guide can convince other Christians to accept false doctrines, ones based on poor judgment, poor reasoning and/or poor evidence. Craig was right to question the tale of a virgin birthed son of a deity, as I have argued.[46] It never happened. That makes Craig’s (holy) spirit guide ignorant of the facts, or okay with people believing on insufficient evidence based on poor reasoning, or at worst, the Holy Spirit is a liar.

So which view of how Jesus came into the world is the authentic spirit guide’s version of Christianity? Which god and which Christianity is the Christian Spirit attesting to? We don’t have to ask Craig. We know. He teaches a weekly Sunday School class at his home church, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. It’s a conservative Baptist church. So guess what? His spirit guide confirms his conservative Baptist Church’s Creedal Statement of Faith, since he must accept it to teach his weekly Sunday School class.[47] It’s what he means by “Christianity” even though there ain’t no such thing as Christianity, only Christianities.[48] What Craig ends up saying is that his church denomination is the true one with the most truth to it, and that he knows this despite any argument and any evidence to the contrary. A more deluded belief cannot be found. There must be a spirit guide for each denomination and each sect.

Cognitive Biases Run Amuck

The bottom line is that William Lane Craig fails in searching for religious truth given the human propensity to fool ourselves. The first person he’s deceiving is himself, and secondarily he’s giving Christian believers permission to deceive themselves.[49] This makes Craig himself an unreliable guide to religious truth, despite all of his arguments, both philosophical and historical.[50]

Believers like Craig simply create their own religion, their own gospel, and their own God in their own image. A major psychological study has proven this very point.[51] Craig’s spirit guide is used by others who identify as Christians to justify theologies that Craig would reject as illegitimate, heretical, unusual, and strange. If Craig’s spirit guide is really doing this he/she/it is justifying conflicting Christianities, some of whom have gone to war with each other over their faiths. The best explanation is that Craig’s spirit guide is identical with his own inner subjective feelings, despite all his obfuscations and special pleadings.

Cognitive biases act on our brains just like viruses. They adversely affect the ability of our brains to honestly evaluate our religious cultural indoctrination. Cognitive biases are known for giving people permission to confirm our biases despite the fact they are false. So we must bring our reptilian brains to heel by demanding sufficient objective evidence that would convince an outsider.

Confirmation bias is the mother of all cognitive biases. It is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. People display this bias when they select information that supports their views, ignoring contrary information, or when they interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing attitudes. The effect is strongest for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply entrenched beliefs. We are in constant search of confirmation, hardly ever do we seek disconfirmation. We reject and dismiss out of hand what does not comport to existing beliefs, and easily embrace beliefs that do.

There are other relevant biases, like anchoring bias, in-group bias, belief blind spot bias, belief bias effect, illusory truth effect, agent detection bias, objectivity illusion bias, the ostrich effect, hindsight bias, and so on.

These biases lead us to reason fallaciously. Believers are susceptible to fallacies like tu quoque (“you, too”—appeal to hypocrisy, whataboutism), possibiliter ergo probabiliter (“possibly, therefore probably”), straw man/person, argument from ignorance, appeal to popularity (ad populum), equivocation, false analogy, post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”), cherry picking, hasty generalization, circular reasoning, red herring, non sequitur, and especially special pleading.

The only way to disarm the brain (yes, basically the only way), is to adopt the perspective of a nonbeliever, an outsider to our indoctrinated religious beliefs. Given the power of cultural indoctrination doing this will allow believers to be open-minded to the scientific evidence of the nature of nature, its workings, and its origins, which in turn will allow believers to question any religion that holds beliefs contrary to scientific findings. The highest authority is the consensus of scientists working in a given field of studies. The only way for a nonscientist to reject these findings is to await a new consensus from scientists working in the same field. More than anything else this perspective can help the brain avoid cognitive biases in the honest search for truth. It will help force the believer’s brain to follow the objective evidence wherever it leads. Treat your own religion the way you treat all other religions, with no double-standards and no special pleadings. Assume your own religion has the burden of proof. See if your faith survives.[52] What do you have to lose? Craig is scared he’ll lose everything he’s worked for, which would discredit him as a person, so I don’t expect him to give up on his faith. Perhaps what I write can help others though.

Plantinga and Craig are prime examples of what philosopher Stephen Law said: “Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.”[53] Or as anthropology professor James T. Houk said: “Virtually anything and everything, no matter how absurd, inane, or ridiculous, has been believed or claimed to be true at one time or another by somebody, somewhere in the name of faith.”[54]

Given the existence of worldwide religious diversity, even among different Christianities, Peter Boghossian tells the naked truth: “We are forced to conclude that a tremendous number of people are delusional. There is no other conclusion one can draw.” He says, “The most charitable thing we can say about faith is that it’s likely to be false.”[55] No wonder Boghossian goes on to make a difference between sitting at the adult table from sitting at the children’s table. People like Craig, no matter how highly he’s regarded, or how brilliantly he uses empty rhetoric without substance, are not allowed at the adult table for discussion until they first disavow faith in a (holy) spirit guide as a means for knowing the truth about god, gods, goddesses, religion, and theology.


[1] John Loftus, How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015).

[2] Loftus, How to Defend the Christian Faith, p. 121. In part three of the book I show how disingenuously apologists deal with the problem of suffering. See also Loftus (ed.), God and Horrendous Suffering (Denver, CO: Global Center for Religious Research, 2021).

[3] An outsider has a nonbelieving agnostic perspective, whereas an insider has one specific religious perspective. See Loftus (ed.), The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion is True (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013).

[4] Jaco Gericke, “Fundamentalism on Stilts: A Devastating Response to Alvin Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology (August 1, 2022). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2022/08/jaco-gericke-fundamentalism-on-stilts.html>.

[5] Felipe Leon, “The Real Problem With Craig’s Version of Reformed Epistemology” (December 27, 2012). Ex-Apologist blog. <http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2012/01/real-problem-with-craigs-version-of_27.html>.

[6] Michael Martin, “Craig’s Holy Spirit Epistemology” (April 15, 1998). The Secular Web. <https://infidels.org/library/modern/michael-martin-holy-spirit/>.

[7] Matt McCormick, “Is Belief in Plantinga’s God Properly Basic? Dr. Matt McCormick Responds in Three Talks” (July 31, 2022). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2022/07/is-belief-in-plantingas-god-properly.html>.

[8] Robert M. Price, “Robert M. Price Shows William Lane Craig’s Apologetics is a ‘Sham’” (July 27, 2022). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2022/07/robert-m-price-shows-william-lane.html>.

[9] See the 80s and 90s journal debate between Plantinga and Quinn as summed up in Leon, “Intrinsic Defeaters and the Plantinga-Quinn Debate” (February 18, 2010). Ex-Apologist: A Philosophy of Religion Blog. <http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2012/01/real-problem-with-craigs-version-of_27.html>.

[10] Others includes Keith DeRose, James K. Beilby, and Andrew Chignell as cited in Leon, “Quote(s) for the Day” (January 15, 2012). Ex-Apologist: A Philosophy of Religion Blog. <http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2012/01/quotes-for-day.html>.

[11] Craig and Plantinga throw up a lot of different analogies like these. Some of them purport to show there are things we know to be true based on personal experiences that only we have had, which we cannot in turn show (or prove) to others. Some other analogies purport to show there are things we know to be true without any proof or evidence. They argue by analogy that if these types of analogies succeed, then by extension Christians can legitimately believe in their God along with his revelation, even though they cannot in turn show (or prove) its existence to others. In one analogy, since believing there are other minds is rational without evidence, so also is belief in their God.

The major problem with them is that possibilities don’t count. Only probabilities do. It may be remotely possible we’re living in the Matrix right now, or dreaming, or being deceived by an evil demon. But I’m not changing anything I do or anything I think based on a possibility. We must think exclusively in terms of the probabilities. I’ve concluded that all of these scenarios are disanalogous to believing in a God who acted in history. The only reasonable way to know that a god acted in history is for the inference of its intervention to be based on sufficient historical evidence. Barring that, no one should believe a god acted in history. For more see Loftus, “The Demon, Matrix, Material World, and Dream Possibilities” (September 30, 2022). The Secular Web. <https://infidels.org/kiosk/article/the-demon-matrix-material-world-and-dream-possibilities/>.

[12] On this see David Kyle Johnson, “Justified Belief in the Existence of Demons is Impossible” in Philosophical Approaches to Demonology ed. Benjamin W. McCraw and Robert Arp (New York, NY: Routledge, 2017): 175-180.

[13] This is thoroughly documented in my 555-page anthology Christianity is not Great: Why Faith Fails (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2014). See also Richard Carrier, “What’s the Harm? Why Religious Belief is Always Bad” (September 10, 2018). Richard Carrier Blogs. <https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/14557>.

[14] See Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[15] William Lane Craig, Apologetics: An Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984), pp. 18-22.

[16] Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1981), p. 7.

[17] Loftus, “William Lane Craig’s Answer to Lessing’s Ugly Broad Ditch” (July 19, 2022). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2022/07/william-lane-craigs-answer-to-lessings.html>.

[18] Craig, Apologetics, p. 22. The Bible says it. That settles it, right?

[19] Craig, “An Objection to the Witness of the Holy Spirit” (April 19, 2021). Reasonable Faith podcast. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/an-objection-to-the-witness-of-the-holy-spirit>. See also Craig, “Answering Critics of the Inner Witness of the Spirit” (August 17, 2014). Reasonable Faith podcast. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/answering-critics-of-the-inner-witness-of-the-spirit>.

[20] Craig, “The Witness of the Spirit as an Intrinsic Defeater-Defeater” (November 23, 2009). Reasonable Faith website. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/the-witness-of-the-spirit-as-an-intrinsic-defeater-defeater>.

[21] Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), p. 29. (Original work published 1781).

[22] In my anthology The Case against Miracles (United States: Hypatia Press, 2019), I wrote a chapter called “The Abject Failure of Christian Apologetics.” In it I show how upward to 80% of Christian apologists reject the requirement for evidence (i.e., evidentialism) in favor of four other apologetic methods. The best explanation for why they’ve come up with different methods of defending their faith is because they themselves don’t think the evidence is good enough.

[23] Karl Barth, Table Talk ed. J. D. Godsey (Edinburgh, Scotland: Oliver & Boyd, 1963), p. 62.

[24] Craig, “Personal Testimony of Faith Written” (October 13, 2008). Reasonable Faith website. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/personal-testimony-of-faith>.

[25] Loftus, “The Evidential Value of Conversion/Deconversion Stories: Reviewing Mittelberg’s Confident Faith (Part 7)” (February 22, 2018). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2018/02/the-evidential-value-of.html>.

[26] Craig, “Questions on Quantum Mechanics, Certainty, and Extreme Resistance” (July 18, 2022). Reasonable Faith podcast. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/questions-on-quantum-mechanics-certainty-and-extreme-resistance>.

[27] Craig, “Garbage In, Garbage Out” (October 21, 2013). Reasonable Faith website. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/garbage-in-garbage-out>.

[28] See Valerie Tarico, “Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science (Part 3 of 6) (June 10, 2009). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2009/06/christian-belief-through-lens-of.html>.

[29] Craig, Apologetics, p. 125.

[30] See Loftus, “Christianity is Unworthy of Thinking Adults: Three Decisive Cases in Point (April 20, 2018), §2 (“Case in Point Two: Why Should We Believe if the Jews Didn’t?). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2018/04/christianity-is-unworthy-of-thinking.html>.

[31] Loftus, “Why Doubt is the Adult Attitude and How Science Helps Us (June 27, 2012). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2012/06/why-doubt-is-adult-attitude-and-how.html>.

[32] All of the following quotes are from Robert L. Millet’s Getting at the Truth: Responding to Difficult Questions about LDS Beliefs (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 2004), pp. 36-39, which are shared by Mark Mittleberg, Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Beliefs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), pp. 106-108. Italics are mine.

[33] Craig, “Counterfeit Claims to the Witness of the Spirit” (June 28, 2010). Reasonable Faith website. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/counterfeit-claims-to-the-witness-of-the-spirit>.

[34] For an introduction, see Michael Sudduth, “Defeaters in Epistemology” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy ed. James Fieser (Martin, TN: University of Tennessee at Martin, n.d.). <https://iep.utm.edu/defeaters-in-epistemology/>.

[35] I refuse to judge between believers who claim to be Christians. I accept whatever label they use, since it’s just a label.

[36] Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God” in Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God ed. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Notre Dame, IL: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983): 16-93, p. 65.

[37] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 200.

[38] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 245, 262

[39] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, p. 262.

[40] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 245-246.

[41] Craig, “Religious Experience: Subjective or Objective?” (February 3, 2009). Reasonable Faith podcast. <https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/religious-experience-subjective-or-objective>.

[42] John H. Leith (ed.), Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982). This 748-page turner of a book offers, in one comprehensive book, the major Christian statements of faith from biblical times to present.

[43] In a chapter written for The Christian Delusion (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2010) titled “What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate,” I look at these doctrinal disputes and their results, and question the wisdom and care of the Spirit.

[44] These statistics are cited in: B. A. Robinson, “The Virgin Birth of Jesus” (December 23, 2007). Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance website. <https://www.religioustolerance.org/virgin_b7.htm>.

[45] Robinson, “The Virgin Birth of Jesus.”

[46] Loftus, “The Gateway to Doubting the Gospel Narratives is the Virgin Birth Myth (June 13, 2020). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2020/06/the-gateway-to-doubting-gospel.html>.

[47] See “Beliefs and Values” (n.d.). Johnson Ferry website. <https://johnsonferry.org/default.aspx?page=4349>.

[48] See: Loftus, “There is No Such Thing as Theism or Christian Theism or Mere Christianty (March 14, 2014). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2014/03/there-is-no-such-thing-as-theism-or.html> & Loftus, “There is No Such Thing as ‘Theism,’ ‘Christian Theism,’ or ‘Mere Christianty’ (March 5, 2014). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2014/03/there-is-no-such-thing-as-theism.html>.

[49] Loftus, “William Lane Craig Utterly Fails in Searching for Truth Given the Human Propensity to Fool Ourselves (August 12, 2022). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2022/08/william-lane-craig-utterly-fails-in.html>.

[50] I have written on the “5 Things that Disqualify People as Trusted Experts in Religious Matters (August 8, 2022). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2022/08/5-things-that-disqualify-people-as.html>. Craig fails the tests.

[51] Loftus, “The Danger of Belief is Thinking You Believe What God Does (March 10, 2011). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2011/03/danger-of-belief-is-thinking-you.html>.

[52] See Loftus, The Outsider Test for Faith.

[53] Stephen Law, Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2011), p. 75.

[54] James T. Houk, The Illusion of Certainty (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017), p. 31.

[55] Peter Boghossian, “Faith-Based Belief Processes are Unreliable (April 11, 2012). Debunking Christianity blog. <https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2012/04/peter-boghossian-faith-based-belief.html>.