William Lane Craig's Debt to Stuart C. Hackett

I remember my first class with Stuart Hackett at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the Fall of 1982. The class was called "Religious Epistemology," and we studied through George Mavrodes book, Belief in God, William Montague's book, The Ways of Knowing, C. Stephan Evans' book, Subjectivity and Religious Belief, and Arthur Holmes book, All Truth is God's Truth. My memories of Dr. Hackett as a teacher parallel Dr. Craig's memories, as can be read here. As a man Stu was indeed a sort of an odd ball, but he was also brilliant.

Stu argued for a Neo-Kantian "rational/empirical" epistemology, which he would reverse by calling it an "empirical/rational" epistemology. I remember arguing with him in class from time to time. I argued he must choose between being a rationalist or an empiricist because one side or the other must dominate his epistemology, but following Kant he disagreed. Then I argued that Montague's book actually argued against his position, and he did have to agree, even if he wouldn't budge from his own view. In any case, he developed a fondness for me, and I had a respect for him. I remember Stu telling me that some of his best students were the ones who argued against him in class, so he expected good things from me.

The last time I saw him was at a Fall Philosophy Conference held at Wheaton College, probably in 1987. After a Christian philosopher had presented a paper, there was a time for questions and answers. Time was running out when someone said that if the evidence was against Christianity we must give up our faith, and Stu blurted out "NO!" Since the time was up, the moderator closed the session and directed anyone who was interested in what Stu had to say to discuss it with him. So people from all over the room came to listen to him, and some listened to him for about a half an hour.

I suppose it's too bad I now argue against what Stu argued for, but that's how life goes sometimes. We must follow the evidence, and if the evidence is against Christianity we must reject it, period. I argue that the evidence is indeed against the Christian faith and therefore should be rejected by civilized, scientifically literate educated people.

In any case Dr. Craig said this about Dr. Hackett's 1957 book, The Resurrection of Theism (which you can download for free):
I am convinced that if The Resurrection of Theism had been published by Cornell University Press rather than Moody Press, then the revolution in Christian philosophy that began with the publication of Alvin Plantinga’s God and Other Minds in 1967 might well have begun ten years earlier.
This book was subtitled as a "Prolemogena to Christian Apologetics". It was an introduction to the knowledge of God, which was to be followed by two other volumes, but they didn't appear. Hackett, however, did write what he called "my Magnum Opus," titled Reconstruction of the Christian Revelation Claim: A Philosophical and Critical Apologetic, in 1984. To read a very brief description of Hackett's views see chapter three in Gordon R. Lewis' Testing Christianity's Truth Claims: Approaches to Christian Apologetics.

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Edit on November 17th, 2012: I just learned of the death of Stu Hackett. My continued reflections upon his death can be found here. He will be missed.

15 comments:

Burt Pena said...

John, you say we must follow the evidence, but haven't you said elsewhere that even if you were to admit that Christianity were proved to your satisfaction that you would not follow it?

Could you explain how that is following the evidence.

John W. Loftus said...

Pena, the belief system that the initial evidence supports is to be considered part of the evidence itself, and as such, it should be included when examining the whole case. If, for instance, the evidence supported accepting militant Islam, where I am called upon to kill people who don't believe, then I must make a choice between the initial evidence that led me to believe and that belief system itself. And such a belief system, even if the evidence initially supported it, renders that evidence null and void. I would have to conclude that I misjudged the initial evidence, or that I'm being misled, or something else. In other words, a rejection of such a belief system like militant Islam trumps the evidence, for I cannot conceive of believing it unless the evidence is completely overwhelming, and there is no such thing as overwhelming evidence when it comes to these issues. So I don't see a problem at all. Why do you? This is elementary critical thinking. Since you raise this issue all of the time and it reveals such a poor grasp of critical thinking skills, no wonder you believe. For with thinking skills like this you would believe ANYTHING you were raised to believe.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

So what you are saying is you follow the evidence until it leads to something you don't 'like'. Then you ignore the evidence, because if you don't 'like' it, it can't be true.

And how do you make a determination regarding what you 'like'? I may not like militant Islam, you obviously don't, but what threshold does a belief system have to cross before it must be rejected regardless of the evidence?

John W. Loftus said...

Pena said...So what you are saying is you follow the evidence until it leads to something you don't 'like'.

I'm not saying this any more than you would if the evidence favored militant Islam where you were called upon to kill people who didn't believe. The evidence here that trumps the initial evidence is your sense of morality.

Pena said...Then you ignore the evidence, because if you don't 'like' it, it can't be true.

I do not ignore the evidence, silly. I claim that the evidence undermines Christianity.

Pena asked......what threshold does a belief system have to cross before it must be rejected regardless of the evidence?

No belief system must be rejected "regardless of the evidence," silly. But we must weigh belief systems by all of the available evidence, including the coherence of the belief systems themselves.

I cannot say how much evidence I'd need to overcome my rejection of the barbaric morality found within the pages of a book you believe was inspired by a perfectly good God. But at least some of this.

Burt Pena said...

John, your ad hominems aside, and the post from anonymous is not from me, you beg the question.

In effect, you have already decided that there is not valid evidence, because if it does not support YOUR position, there must be something wrong with it.

Your lack of intellectual integrity is truly striking, matched only by your baseless arrogance.

If only you had finished your Ph.D.! You might have been a contender
Bahahahahahahahahaaaaa!!!!!!

thoughtcrossed said...

I think we're now waiting for you to present the evidence that undermines and therefore debunks Christiianity (you know, the title of this rant and rave blog). We know of your rant and whine parades and your grievances against what was your former life as a minister. Those experiences don't constitute as a debunking.

William Hawthorne said...

That was a fair request, thoughtcrossed. John, perhaps you could state precisely what you mean by 'Christianity' and then formulate your argument for the conclusion that Christianity is false.

M. Tully said...

“In effect, you have already decided that there is not valid evidence, because if it does not support YOUR position, there must be something wrong with it.”

I certainly am not speaking for John, but the way I understand his argument, I can fully support it.

Let’s say new, striking evidence comes to light (judging from the record to date, I find it highly unlikely but for the purpose of discussion) that I must empirically accept, shows that the Abrahamic God exists and that Joshua of Nazareth was this God incarnate.

If that is what the data reveals then I must accept it. However, does that mean I follow the all of the tenets of Christianity if the evidence shows I shouldn’t? e.g. Do I stone to death my insolent sons? Do I advocate the death penalty for adultery? Do I proclaim, “It is justice to subject someone to the torments of an eternity of torture for failing to understand the evidence of God presented to them?” No. I would not. Other empirical evidence shows that the above is not the way to establish a moral, civil society.

So, although I would then be a believer, I would not be a thorough going Christian by any stretch of the imagination.

billf said...

Well, I can't speak for John.

Although I think that the existence of the Christian God is extremely improbable, I am open to evidence to the contrary.

That does not mean I am open to worshiping the Christian god. Even if God or Jesus came down from the clouds tomorrow, in my direct view, that would not by itself make them worthy of worship. They or it would have to justify their support for totalitarianism, slavery, racism, sexism, and the like. Or explain how the Bible and the Church have got the whole story wrong up till now.

Might does not equal right.

gap said...

What kind of argument is "Bahahahahahahahahaaaaa!!!!!!"?

"If only you had finished your Ph.D.! You might have been a contender
Bahahahahahahahahaaaaa!!!!!!"

Anyone can click on my profile to get some idea of who I am. That's deliberate and keeps my integrity intact--a check system to help me keep my big mouth shut. Try it?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for any confusion using the Anonymous handle caused, I am a relatively new arrival to your blog,(ran into it a while ago, forgot about it and stumbled upon it again today), and have no blog of my own to link to, so Anonymous seemed like the simplest approach. I typically don't leave comments on blogs as comments are a horrible medium for any real discussion, however I felt the need to ask a follow on question to your response to Mr. Pena. It was, I thought, a simple question to clarify your point and I must say you come off as a bit of a jerk in your responses.

I’ve looked around your site a bit more since I first arrived and am intrigued by your back-story. I’ve added your book to the queue and intend to look into further. I have a few quick questions if you don’t mind, and if you do please feel free to tell my ignorant self to take a hike.

(This is all from memory since I don’t feel like taking the time to find exactly where I read these things due to the very real possibility, based off the tone of your above responses, that you will tell me to take a hike). If you’ve answered these before I apologize for asking you to repeat yourself, but it is hard to digest all the information from your blog, and I have yet to read your book.

You stated that when you became a Christian it delivered you from a hard life of drugs and so forth. If you hadn’t had your ‘Christian experience’ do you think you would have been able to over come your struggles? Are you aware of any atheist testimonies relating to an individuals rationalism delivering them from a life of drugs and alcohol? This is just to satisfy my own curiosity, I have found Christianities transformative power as some rather convincing evidence in it’s support.

You stated that there was an event that happened and based on that event your Christian community abandoned you. You stated that if they hadn’t responded in the way they did you might still very well be a Christian today. So how do I not take your book and this blog as your emotional response to a perceived slight by God and Christians?

I appreciate you time.

zilch said...

Anonymous- I'm an atheist, always have been. I used to do lots of drugs, and now I don't. It's called "growing up", and I'm sure lots of people do it without any gods being involved. Of course it's not as dramatic as having Jesus scrape me from the bottom of a barrel, and it didn't happen in a flash of humanistic insight, but it did happen. End of testimony.

John W. Loftus said...

Hawthorne said...That was a fair request, thoughtcrossed. John, perhaps you could state precisely what you mean by 'Christianity' and then formulate your argument for the conclusion that Christianity is false.

Hawthorne, I'm rewriting my answer. I'm under some degree of stress lately. I also lose patience with people who comment anonymously. Sometimes I'll blast them as if they are the same person. I suspect sometimes that they are the same person. I consider some of them to be Blog terrorists. They are not here to debate the issues but to throw around ad hominems unrelated to the issue before us. If you've subscribed to this thread then you've seen it for yourself.

Now to your request. I debunk evangelical Christianity almost daily here. The fullest argument is found in my book. But a summary of my whole case can be found here.

If the shoe fits wear it. If it doesn't, then tell me what you believe and I may consider tailoring what I wrote to your specific beliefs after you explain to me why Christians have so many different beliefs. Remember, it's merely a summary, so get my book.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Anon said...It was, I thought, a simple question to clarify your point and I must say you come off as a bit of a jerk in your responses.

Perhaps so, but if you were asked the same question by the same person who repeatedly asked it to try to make you look bad, then you would lose some patience too. And I suspect this was the case. And so I turned the tables on him.

Anon said...I’ve added your book to the queue and intend to look into further.

Thank you! Let me know what you think.

Anon said...You stated that when you became a Christian it delivered you from a hard life of drugs and so forth. If you hadn’t had your ‘Christian experience’ do you think you would have been able to over come your struggles?

Most certainly, since I grew older. And even if the Christian faith did help me overcome my juvenile delinquency that says nothing about the truth of the Christian faith. It only shows the power of an individual person’s faith, regardless of the object of that faith.

Anon said...Are you aware of any atheist testimonies relating to an individuals rationalism delivering them from a life of drugs and alcohol?

Young male atheists who decide to settle down by getting married and having children, plenty of them. Atheist prisoners who decide to go straight when released. Atheists who simply decide they deserve better than a life of drugs, plenty of them. And the basis for their decision is not because of any authoritarian approach to living life based on an outdated superstitious barbaric Bible, but rather as the result of thinking for themselves. By contrast, I know plenty of Christians who live a life filled with prescription drugs, even illegal narcotics, and alcohol. The Christian people I know from being a counselor in the churches I’ve served have just as many psychological problems and addictions as atheists.

Anon said...This is just to satisfy my own curiosity, I have found Christianities transformative power as some rather convincing evidence in it’s support.

Then you need to read what Ed Babinski wrote about it.

Anon said…You stated that there was an event that happened and based on that event your Christian community abandoned you. You stated that if they hadn’t responded in the way they did you might still very well be a Christian today.

No one knows what would’ve resulted if something different had happened in their life, that’s all. Do you know if you would still be a believer today if you were raised by an atheist, or if a preacher/priest you trusted molested you, or your daughter? No one knows, except God, if he exists. And if he does exist and he knew what it would’ve taken to keep me in the fold, and he didn’t do what it took, even though Christians themselves are morally obligated to do what it takes to keep people like me in the fold, then God failed miserably in my case. He's also a hypocrite. His motto is this: “Do as I say but not as I do.” And he really does not love people like me either, for now all that awaits me according to your faith, is everlasting hell. And he doesn’t care about anyone I will reach with this Blog or my book, if he foreknew I would do this once I left the fold. You’d think a foreknowing God would’ve given Hitler a heart attack before starting WWII, and that he would’ve done whatever it took to keep me in the fold. Don’t tell me he couldn’t do this, otherwise God cannot answer any prayers for the salvation of another person, or prayers for Christian people who are experiencing doubts. And he couldn’t turn the hearts of kings, for instance, either: "The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." (Proverbs 21:1)

Anon said…So how do I not take your book and this blog as your emotional response to a perceived slight by God and Christians?

There is an emotional component to all decisions that have to do with our personal lives. This is unavoidable since we are not logical machines. We are persons with feelings, and as such, we react emotionally to stimuli. I could just as well ask you if your decision to become a Christian was an emotional one based upon hearing the most wonderful story of a father-type God who loved you so much to die for you, even though no sense can be made of the existence of such a triune God who didn’t cease being divine when he became incarnated in a human being, who supposedly died on the cross for your sins, even though no sense can be made about why his death was necessary for this, and even though there isn’t enough evidence to believe in any of this, including the claim that he arose from the dead, which is subsequently disconfirmed by the fact that Jesus did not return to earth as he predicted in the lifetimes of the people of his era.

Anon said…I appreciate you time.

No problem. I treat reasonable people reasonably, and you seem reasonable.

Cheers.

bob said...

William Hawthorne said...John, perhaps you could state precisely what you mean by 'Christianity' and then formulate your argument for the conclusion that Christianity is false.

Can I chime in? In my mind, as a former fundamentalist Baptist Christian, Christianity, or rather, a Christian, is any person who honestly believes himself to be a Christian, whether Catholic, Mormon, Protestant, etc. Christianity is nothing more than the people that apply the title to themselves. It is the adherents of Christianity that can not agree on a definition of what Christianity is.

As for Christianity being "false", I do not subscribe to that particular notion. But I do consider the claims of Christians concerning the existence of their God, to be based on myths and legends. I mean, isn't that what it all comes down to, one person making a claim, and the other asking to see the evidence?