Who said it?

I have a new favorite quote.

The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

Guess who said that?

These, ladies and gentlemen, are the words of William Lane Craig, as discovered and reported by the Uncredible Hallq. Almost amazing, isn’t it? And yet somehow not surprising at all. Chris suggests that this proves once and for all that Craig is a charlatan, but I think it’s a bit more subtle than that. I think he’s just got a serious case of denial.

Read the quote again. What Craig is telling us is that he has seen reason through to its end—and flinched. He didn’t like where reason was leading him, and so he balked. He deliberately abandoned reason at some point, took refuge in irrational faith, and warned his peers in piety not to travel too far down that road, lest they discover their God is a sham. [Update: No, while it might seem like that reading the quote out of context, Craig is making a different point. That’s my mistake, not The Hallq’s. Craig’s argument still has problems, though, as I discuss in more detail on my other blog.]

He knows the truth, and simply can’t bring himself to admit it. The cost is too high. He’s staked his whole career on defending a God who is clearly a figment of superstitious imagination. And that’s why he’ll make whatever argument it takes to reinforce his own denial. He knows too much to escape the cognitive dissonance, and the rest is garden variety psychology.

It’s a shame, really. He’s got a lot of talent, and he’s wasting it on a futile struggle against the truth.


  1. says

    Thanks for the link love.

    To clarify: I don’t think Craig is a charlatan in the sense of merely pretending to believe in Christianity. The issue is when he pretends to his audience that he’s just an honest scholar, following the evidence where it leads.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Hi, Chris, thanks for the clarification. I would tend to agree, but I’m not sure it’s deliberate on Craig’s part. I think he’s convincing himself first and foremost that he’s just following the evidence, despite the fact that at key points he has to rely on making assumptions that are informed purely by the dogmas of men.

  2. wholething says

    Ah, so that is why Craig relies so heavily on his “personal experience”. The waking dreams and the warm, fuzzy feelings are the only things they have and he knows it.

  3. says

    Not the first to notice:

    “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
    —Martin Luther, Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148.

    • Ysanne says

      Context matters, though.
      I’ve read this (or at least a very similar) sentence as a part of Luther’s explanation of why god’s will cannot be determined through reason, and the whole rant condemning reason is aimed at the pseudo-logical theological reasoning that pretends to deduce god’s will “rationally” from observations. (Around p.336 in this edition.)

      • Ysanne says

        Well, I appreciate it as a remarkably honest assessment of how little belief has to do with rational thinking.
        Also, I just find it a little unfair how this quote is used out of context as an example of generalised “reason-bashing”, which it’s really not: Luther actually elaborates in quite a bit of detail how reason and observation are the right principles to govern one’s interaction with the real world, and then contrasts this with attempts to “rationally” prove the will of god, and that’s where the diatribe starts.
        I pretty much agree with Luther’s on this: It’s annoying as hell when believers pretend that their religion makes sense and claim to know for sure what god wants everyone to do.

  4. jerthebarbarian says

    Read the quote again. What Craig is telling us is that he has seen reason through to its end—and flinched. He didn’t like where reason was leading him, and so he balked.

    No. Keep clicking through all the links and read the whole quote in the context Craig is delivering it, because it’s not quite that:

    A robust natural theology may well be necessary for the gospel to be effectively heard in Western society today. In general, Western culture is deeply post-Christian. It is the product of the Enlightenment, which introduced into European culture the leaven of secularism that has by now permeated Western society. While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

    Properly understanding our culture is important because the gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the background of the current cultural milieu. A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the gospel. But you may as well tell the secularist to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ!

    Craig is making an argument in favor of his form of apologetics. That’s the context of the posted sentence. He’s arguing against postmodern approaches to religious evangelism (the idea that you don’t need to be able to rationally discuss your religion, but instead can just appeal to emotions and make that the focus of your evangelism) and in favor of his approach to apologetics. Which is to place enough of a veneer of reason and rational thought over religion to make it look like a respectable pursuit to the intellectuals in academia.

    It’s about social engineering. He’s not admitting that reason inevitably leads to agnosticism and atheism, he’s saying that without his type of apologetic approach, scholars dismiss theology as pointless and that leads to a culture where agnosticism and atheism are the inevitable end point.

    This is utterly unsurprising to me – it’s part and parcel of what I’ve seen of his apologetics. They have a veneer of respectability, but are in fact not very rigorous at all and can only serve to give those that find their faith on shaky ground a life preserver to hang onto to convince themselves that it’s not all a house of cards. They’re not convincing if you don’t already mostly believe them before you start listening to him speak.

    • dcortesi says

      Thank you, jerthebarbarian, for following through several layers of links to find the original. I did too and had just come by to post the “fairies and leprechauns” line which is almost as astonishing — Craig admitting that his Gospel story has no more intellectual power than trivial mythology!

      I also saw as you did, that the burden of Craig’s talk is a defense of his style of dense, reasoned argument. But I do not see how that mitigates the jaw-dropping admission of the key sentence. He doesn’t qualify it at all, he doesn’t say “The person who follows the pursuit of reason in the context of enlightenment naturalism…” or “…without adequate theological guidance…” He just flat says, pursue reason to its end and lose your god-belief, period. Maybe he mis-wrote, but the guy is nothing if not skillfully verbal. I can’t imagine him successfully claiming a mistake or a mis-quote for that matter.

    • HFM says

      Right. He’s arguing that someone “who follows the pursuit of reason” – that is, someone immersed in intellectual culture – will be influenced by the views of religion in that culture. If most of the people you respect think theology is on par with leprechaun studies, you’re going to be more skeptical of your own existing beliefs, and less eager to pick up new ones. Therefore, atheism.

      I see where he’s coming from, but it seems futile to me. It’s getting harder and harder to make an argument for natural theology that can compete on its intellectual merits. The believers who care about that generally end up as atheists. Not everyone does care, of course, but they aren’t the target audience…

      • Brian M says

        But the problem is ALL beliefs are based on a cultural milieu. The pure, child-like faith in christianity is based on growing up Christian. Why is THAT cultural milieu automatically assumed to be correct?

    • says

      I’m not sure the context really changes the conclusion of the OP. WLC’s still saying that following unadulterated reason where it leads, necessarily leads to atheism or agnosticism. He’s just saying that’s a problem that needs to be addressed by appropriate tactics. However, in order to come to this conclusion, he must have followed reason himself, even as merely a thought experiment. He knows that rationally, he’s got nothing. The only chance he’s got, given the “secular cultural milieu”, is to make his apologetics *appear* to be reasonable.

  5. left0ver1under says

    It’s another example of how the religious are selective about what they believe, use and quote.

    1 Corinthians 13:11 applies to childish people like Craig.

    • sc_33e53aef590e6945971c086c050fc9ca says

      Thanks for the quote from 1 Corinthians 13:11. I kept reading and found this little gem about faith in verse 13.

      And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

      I wonder how Christians feel about the relative positions of faith and charity.

  6. scotlyn says

    I’m not sure I completely agree with Craig’s quote, or this post’s interpretation of it, in the following sense. I think human reason is quite capable of bringing us fairies, leprechauns, and God (where else did such things come from, after all?). It is the road-test of reality that is helpful in distinguishing which products of human reason are true and which are not.

    The last thing Craig wants is to dispense with human reason. What he wants to dispense with is the necessity to reality test all the products of human reason (including the gods of natural theology), thereby putting his human reason products on a par with everyone else’s.

    • mikespeir says

      Reason’s kinda like a rifle. It’ll shoot anything you aim it at, so you have to be careful which way you point it.

  7. =8)-DX says

    Following the post by jerthebarbarian this seems like an obvious quotemine. And knowing WLC’s arguments, he definitely did not mean simply that the dogged pursuit of reason would lead to atheism. Instead he is positing that in a secular post-Christian society, reason is seen as mere empirism and cannot lead to Christianity. WLC often says that it is internal revelation that leads to Christianity, reason only leads him to deism (c.f. his 5 arguments).

    So this isn’t really a surprising quote from him.

  8. Azuma Hazuki says


    And he conveniently glosses over all the myriad issues with his particular God Yahweh. Clever, sneaky, oily little dodge, is that. I don’t think anyone with all the facts would soberly declare complete, “gnostic” atheism, but the Yahweh mythos makes many testable and falsifiable predictions and all the ones that can be falsified in a reasonable time have been.

    He is, again, conflating the “Philosophers’ God” (the Deist type) with Yahweh. For this, the evidence (or lack thereof) does speak, we are on grounds of plain reason, and he is wrong. To make that final leap, he must effectively elevate his own emotional state to Godhood. William Lane Craig worships his own brain.

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