Bill Craig Shares His Personal Testimony of Why He Became a Christian

Don't get me wrong here. I like Bill; very much so. And I respect him as a person. I don't mean to pick on him. It's just that he is one of the world's leading apologists for the Christian faith and he writes something each week on his website, some of which is worthy of further consideration by me. I have challenged Christian apologists to do what I did in the opening chapter of my book, to tell us the initial conditions and reasons why they became Christians in the first place. Bill does so right here. Let me comment...

I'm thankful for his openness and honesty with this. I've argued that people who first choose to believe do not initially have sufficient reasons to do so. I've argued that the initial choice to believe is like putting on "God Glasses," from which all other evidence is subsequently viewed and forced to fit, much like a person who has been brainwashed.

It was only later after having examined my faith more thoroughly that I realized these initial reasons were not good ones to believe. From reading his story I don't think Bill had good initial reasons to believe either. What do you think?

Notice in his personal story his need for happiness, love, genuineness, significance and meaning. Notice also the fact that he read the Bible uncritically along with some Christian books. But think about this. How does someone properly investigate whether a claim is true or not? A person doesn't do it by only reading the literature of the people who advocate it. He does so by also reading the best critiques of the people who disagree with it, and Dr. Craig now knows this. By now he also knows there is a lot of hypocrisy and unhappiness among church people. He was personally "shocked" when a particular pastor friend of a church he attended was caught in adultery nearly 20 years ago, or so. As a Christian I was unhappy for periods of time, and also hypocritical. Surely this has been Bill’s experience as well. It's a human problem that Christianity does not solve. That's why people come to church weekly to get an emotional boost. They come because they are unhappy and hypocritical. Does this subsequent experience of his cause him to doubt the initial youthful rush of friends and the happiness he felt at the time? I suspect so, or it should. By now he also knows the need for significance and meaning isn't a good reason for believing a religious story, since there are many to choose from. He also knows that the Bible was pieced together from several different authors and sources. I'll bet he also can pick up those very same Christian books he first read and find several large holes in their arguments, since apologists disagree with themselves.

So the question I have is whether Bill would've believed in the first place if he knows what he does now. Remember, back then he didn't have any “God Glasses” on, so he was merely investigating the Christian faith as "an outsider." The difference is that the “God Glasses” he now has on provide him with a presumption which causes him to view all of the evidence from that presumption.

I dare say that if he knew what he does now and hadn't already chosen to put on the “God Glasses” he would not have chosen to believe in the first place.

31 comments:

Evan said...

I'm a little confused:

Your ministry and work has been a tremendous asset in my walk as an Ambassador of Christ.

In Him,
Ryan

Dr. Craig responds:

I guess I just haven’t had the negative experiences with people’s personal testimonies that you have, Eric.


Is this a correct match between letter and response?

eheffa said...

Interesting testimony...

WL Craig is like most Christians; coming to faith in Christ because the message of forgiveness & loving acceptance answers a deep personal & psychological need. The investigation of whether the message is grounded in anything verifiably true or not takes a back seat to the wonderful sense of relief in "knowing" that your sins are forgiven & God loves you. ( A nice little perk is that those happy cute Christian girls will like you a lot more if you've been "saved".)

This testimony only confirms the suspicion that most people not raised in the church become Christians because of the need to believe & only later start looking for rational reasons to keep on believing. The entire purpose of these apologetic arguments is to keep believers in the fold & happy to think that their faith makes sense.

I doubt that there are many otherwise skeptical seekers who upon investigating the historicity & claims of the Christian faith, would conclude that there is a good case to be made for believing that the Bible holds the inspired word of god.

This apologetic exercise seems to be a post hoc justification for an already accepted set of presuppositions & beliefs. WL Craig is no exception to this generalization.

-evan

Atheist943 said...

Many people become theists for bankrupt reasons, and many people become nontheists for bankrupt reasons.

Nevertheless, as long as the theist or nontheist can justify his reasons for being a theist or nontheist, it is irrelevant how they became one.

I think I can justify my belief that the Abrahamic god doesn't exist.

John W. Loftus said...

Atheist943, I'm pointing out that if Craig knew what he knows now he wouldn't believe in the first place. This is where my Outsider Test for Faith comes into play. The need to believe based on meaning and friendship and the afterlife is a compelling but not sufficient reason to believe on either side of the fence. Divorced of these psychologically need-oriented ideas and looking at the available evidence is what is called for in evaluating the case for such truth claims. Since a disspassionate investigation of these types of beliefs won't emotionally push people in the direction of faith, it's more likely that this is the way to adopt a set of beliefs in the first place...something that the outsider test calls us to do...which when taken leads us to the presumption of skepticism about all metaphysical claims.

Jacob said...

In a similar vein to eheffa's comment;

If I were a Christian apologist I would shy away from using personal testimonies as witnessing tools because there seems to be, from what I've seen, one common factor in so many conversion stories: vulnerability.

There's nothing wrong with expressing or being vulnerable, but when you are in a vulnerable space it's much easier to launch yourself wholeheartedly at anything that will alleviate that vulnerability. And thinking through/analysing one's own actions probably takes second fiddle to the need to alleviate the vulnerability.

But then, I think Christians are buoyed by these kind of anecdotal stories in which people are lifted from despair by the "power of the Lord". But looking at it from the outside, it just looks like vulnerable people being fed fantasies to overcome their vulnerabilities.

I suspect that Christians look at deconversion stories in a similarly dismissive light.

Jeffrey said...

jacob,

I think the effect depends on who it is. Calvinists have many theological layers that protect them from data, but I had little of that.

When I read my first deconversion story, it shook me badly. The idea that a Christian could seek God with all their mind and come away convinced that the evidence is overwhelmingly against Christianity did not fit anywhere in my theology.

This was not one of my primary reasons for walking away from faith, but seeing how my theology was unable to explain academically honest apostates played a role.

Reuben said...

Continuing with the theme of personal testimonies, I suggest that anyone interested read what Peter van Inwagen has written at:

http://www.people.umass.edu/jaklocks/Phil383/pvi.htm

Being a bit of a anti-/testimony junkie, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a more detailed account written candidly by an eminent philosopher, and thought that others might share such an interest. Note, the first half is where it's at, whereas the last is more argumentative.

Damien said...

Craig's testimony hits really close to home with me. I would say I had a nearly identical experience in my teen years, except for one thing... it wasn't Jesus themed. I had the same questions I wanted answered, I had the same pitiful feelings towards other people, and attempted to figure things out by absorbing myself in study the same way. I had the late night epiphany, the sudden rush of "THIS IS IT!" I had joy, I had inner peace, and I had love that I was ready to spread to the world. But there was no Jesus.

When you're young, in distress, and looking for answers to the greatest questions in life, you can make yourself believe anything in a rush. And convincingly, too.

I agree with you, John. I don't think he'd be very impressed even with his own conversion if he wasn't wearing his God Goggles.

Steven Carr said...

At last we get to hear what Craig's inner witness of the Holy Spirit was 'I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst!'

That's it. He felt joy.

Notice , of course, that in his testimony, he had already learned 'the great things of the Gospel' BEFORE his personal experience, while his apologetics demands that he and Plantinga claim that Christians learn the 'great things of the Gospel' as a result of their personal experiences.

Why do Christians lie so much?

John W. Loftus said...

Jacob said...I suspect that Christians look at deconversion stories in a similarly dismissive light.

Yes some of them do. A Catholic named Dave Armstrong started disecting our deconversion stories a couple years back by claiming we didn't have good reasons to leave to fold. This irritated me to no end because none of our stories written here are complete enough. They only roughly outline what led us to disbelief. The most complete deconversion story I know of is written by Joe Holman in his book Project Bible Truth.


But others like Craig seem affected by them. You can hear Craig saying so here. He said our "reverse testimonies" are "very powerful."

Icelander said...

"I knew the blackness, the despair, of a life lived apart from God."

*dripping with sarcasm* - "Yup. It's all blackness and despair without god."

Am I the only one who gets a little irritated when people say stuff like this?

Ann said...

"To make a long story short, my spiritual search went on for the next six months. I attended Christian meetings; I read Christian books; I sought God in prayer. Finally, one night I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God.

This is what I hear in every conversion story I've ever encountered - the experience of a sudden revelation while in a vulnerable or isolated state. It would seem more likely that they finally just make up their minds to believe, without regard to real convincing proof. Like Craig, I spent a long time searching for God - many years. Despite everything I read, every service, meeting or study I attended, I was never convinced, neither by my study nor my experience. And it would appear, neither was Craig. He says he reached the end of his rope, not a defensible conclusion, after all this study. The "truth" that he probably realized was that his need to identify as a Christian and belong to that group was stronger than his need for convincing proof.

Philip said...

Icelander,

I completely agree. That's part of my big problem with Christianity, is that it claims to know more about me than I do. Christians claim all sorts of things about nonbelievers, like that our lives actually are miserable even if we don't know it, that we know the Bible is true even if we don't admit it, and that the reason we're not Christians is because we love sin, even if we don't think so.

It's frustrating because though we give them our perspective, they just look to their Bibles and say "but my bible says that the law is printed on men's hearts" and assume that their bible by default knows us better than ourselves.

Charlie said...

Criticizing somebody's initial motivation, years ago, for believing (or disbelieving) implies next to nothing about whether they can currently present justification for their (or disbelief).

For an example, "Friendly Athest" says of his initial motivation, "I turned away from God for an admittedly hasty reason. My family had to move right before I began high school. I had to leave my old friends and start over somewhere else. At the time, I thought this was the worst thing to ever happen to anyone."

Besides, seeking meaning is a perfectly natural and proper motivation to consider the existence of God carefully. We should never be dismissive of that.

Charlie said...

Ann,

"This is what I hear in every conversion story I've ever encountered - the experience of a sudden revelation while in a vulnerable or isolated state. It would seem more likely that they finally just make up their minds to believe, without regard to real convincing proof."

With all due respect, why exactly would that seem "more likely"? Are you a psychic, Ann? Where is your sound logical argument and concrete, observable evidence for that claim (bolded)?

And what does it take, in your opinion, for something to count as "convincing proof"? What are your standards? After you have explained your standards in precise terms, can you please tell me, Ann, whether there is convincing proof for the positive claim that all of reality is physical and mechanistic? Would you be so kind as to provide your convincing proof for a downtrodden agnostic like me?

Have you ever experienced a vulnerable or isolated state, Ann? Is there something wrong with such a condition? Do you have convincing proof that everybody who claims to have experienced the a divine presence during moments of suffering and humility is being deceitful (or mistaken)?

Thnx

Steven Carr said...

Craig claimed only that he felt joy after crying out bitterness and anger.

A good cry does a lot of people a lot of good.

There are many people who feel joy after being flogged to the point that they cried and sobbed.

How does the experience of Sado-Masochist practioners differ from Craig's experiences of feelingh joy after crying out of bitterness and anger?

Charlie said...

Huh? Yeah, Craig, along with everybody else in the world who has cried and been happy at times, must obviously be the same as sadomasochists. Right. Makes perfect sense.

Btw what's a practioner?

Keith said...

Charlie,
I don't think Steven Carr is saying that anyone who's ever cried and been happy is the same as a sadomasochist. He's just saying that people find intense emotional releases in many ways, even through S&M. So how can you tell which instances of intense emotional release are "the witness of the Holy Spirit"?

Jacob said...

Ok. Long post here. There's a scrollbar to your right if my ramble is below par. -->

Thanks for the links, John.
I guess (de)conversion testimonies can have more effect than I gave them credit for. But I think they're kind of a paradox, in that they evidently can affect others yet they also open you up to all sorts of personal criticism from those who aren't swayed by your account.

But, then again, people cop criticism for their beliefs even if (and also because) they've never converted to or from a religious position.

The question of whether Dr Craig would have converted, had he known what he knows now, is interesting, but I don't know if it really leads anywhere. I mean, it's a loaded question for Craig because he can't answer 'no, I wouldn't have converted' without defeating his own position.

For those who don't hold Craig's position the question is somewhat synonymous with; "What holds Craig to his beliefs, given that we consider him equipped with enough information to cease believing the way he does?"

One answer could be that he's just sticking to his guns, despite the contrary information that he's encountered, but he sounds too intelligent to be doing that.

Now, to go waay out on a limb, I could speculate that Dr Craig could attest to being convicted by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit at the point of his conversion, and this would be the same thing that's holding him to his beliefs at present.

And, in all fairness, if God does exist, I don't think he would be knowable to us only in complex ways (i.e. we wouldn't all need Phd's or D.Phils. or to have read nearly every argument both for and against God, to come to know/believe in God) so this inner witness business fits the bill as something that is accessible to all (apparently), as God would be.

Whether that's actually a defensible position, or whether it's just a fancy way of saying; "I'm gonna stick to my guns despite the contrary information", is yet another question.

Andre said...

How this testimony is not insulting to one's intelligence, is beyond me. Interestingly though, he and I do share similar perceptions, around the same age, in regards to people. Only, as an observer of human behavior, and with my belief in Jesus, being born into Christianity, I had always associated my observations with him in mind. (Though I shouldn't forget to include the devil here also.) I thought since God is the reason everything exists, there must also be a reason why everything is the way it is. This of course, includes the way we behave as human beings. So similar to Mr. Craig, I did not understand people who considered themselves Christians, who said and did things unchristian-like.

Sin was the easy answer for me then, but when I realized sin was an illusion, it somewhat forced me to look at human behavior as simply "human behavior". This is a perfect example of the bible's negative influence. It tells you people are evil and bad because they're of the devil, because they don't believe in God, and that you need Jesus to be good. The bible was the reason I use to look at people the way Mr. Craig did. Now I know I am no different from anyone else, in the sense that as a humans, I'm capable of doing whatever you're capable of, depending on the state of mind.

Now, as to why I think his testimony is insulting, (and I should mention, so are many stories from the bible insulting, especially the God said this, God did this, Jesus said this, and Jesus did this type) am I to believe this was the work of the Holy Spirit, coming in his life so he could be saved also? Why doesn't the Holy Spirit go to places where Jesus and the bible doesn't exist, and where these people are suffering from starvation from the time of birth till death, and have these people saved? Could it be that Mr. Craig is living in an environment where he has access to a book that tells him, if he believes in this imaginary friend, it can change his life for the better?

Steven Carr said...

I see Charlie could not tell us the difference between the intense emotional release Craig achieved by crying out his bitterness and anger and the intense emotional release apparently claimed by S+M devotees after they have been flogged to the point of crying.

Craig cried out his bitterness and anger.

Psychologists know perfectly well that sometimes a good cry is good for people.

That doesn't mean there is a god. Just endorphins.

Charlie said...

Steven Carr has cried at least once in his life and then he's went on to be joyful.

Therefore, Steven Carr is the exact same thing as sadomasochists!

Even psychologists know this!

(See how fun it is using Carr-logic?)

Steven Carr said...

Charlie is correct that I have cried bitterly at one time, and then felt peaceful after I had finished crying.

But he cannot explain what is so special about Craig's experience when it is so normal, and experienced by so many people.

AdamH said...

You respect Craig as a person, Loftus?

Even thought you call him delusional and a liar?

Who ya kiddin, Loftus?

You just can't help talking out of both sides of your mouth can you?

Charlie said...

Billions of humans have reported spiritual experiences in moments of heartache. Yet they haven't fooled Steven Carr, who has the ability to read minds, and who has apparently won the nobel prize for proving once and for all that reality is only physical and mechanistic. In a moment of dogmatic triumph, Steven stares down at these groveling, downtrodden masses and declares them all delusional "sadomasochists", for Steven knows with certitude that nothing spiritual can exist. And certitude always trumps reason in Steven's world.

Steven Carr said...

Charlie still cannot explain what is so special about Craig's experience when it is so normal, and experienced by so many people.

Charlie can not tell us the difference between the intense emotional release Craig achieved by crying out his bitterness and anger and the intense emotional release apparently claimed by S+M devotees after they have been flogged to the point of crying.

His total inability to answer this point is matched only by his sarcasm at people who raise it.

Steven Carr said...

But I did appreciate Charlie's compliments on my ability to spot that Craig's release of emotion by crying out his bitterness and anger is no different in essentials from the release that SM devotees obtain.

As Charlie said , Craig didn't fool me.

eheffa said...

Charlie,

Your sarcasm is showing...

You seem to be avoiding the real issue here.

The fact remains that Craig's deceit is the pretence that he is committed to forming his conclusions on the basis of the evidence. In actual fact, he is committed to using & twisting the evidence in any possible way he can to justify & rationalize an emotionally driven commitment he made to an ideology back when he was an emotionally needy teenager. The "rational faith" thing is a facade and a sham & at its heart a deliberate deception. Very few people, (& Craig is certainly not one of this minority), make their decision to believe the Christian version of reality on the strength of the evidence for its claims.

It's analagous to the sophisticated wooden models one can find in monasteries in Europe which show the Solar system with the Ptolymeic terracentric organization. The complex workings could explain the observed data & could predict planet positions & eclipses etc. but it was an unnecessarily complicated hypothesis as it was obliged to adhere to the absolute dogma of a terracentric solar system.

Craig's handling of the evidence is exactly the same. An ardently held & emotionally derived dogma looks to the evidence to justify the assertion that it is "rational". Craig's testimony confirms that this is the process he has used. His conclusions are therefore suspect if not fatally flawed.

-evan

Evan said...

Billions of humans have reported spiritual experiences in moments of heartache.

How does one differentiate a spiritual moment from an emotional one, Charlie?

Steven Carr said...

PLANTINGA
A belief is warranted if it results from the operation of a
properly functioning cognitive mechanism


CRAIG
Finally, one night I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God. I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”

CARR
SO crying is a 'properly functioning cognitive mechanism'!

If you see a child crying in the street, tell it to stop using its properly functioning cognitive mechanism.

And looking upwards is also a 'properly functioning cognitive mechanism'

Especially on clear nights.

There is such a contrast between Plantinga's claim that Christian beliefs based on religious experiences are warranted as they arise from 'the operation of a properly functioning cognitive mechanism', and Craig's admission that his religious experience consisted of a lot of crying, until he was all cried out.

Can any reasonable person think that crying is a 'properly functioning cognitive mechanism'?

Philip said...

I wonder why Charlie's still here. Hasn't he gotten enough of our "arrogant" worldview that says we don't have to take religious claims seriously?

It seems to have literally been his only purpose here, to be the one to say "can't say it ISN'T possible, so nyah" while offering close to no real arguments with no real evidence to back them up. Just kinda seems like he's wasting his time, and ours.