Thursday, December 13, 2012

Anti-Humanism: William Lane Craig on Kids Without God

The American Humanist Association [AHA] has launched a new website for kids and teens called Kids Without God which is an excellent resource for those still in school who are moving away from mythological and religious beliefs. If you haven't seen it I would suggest checking it out and referring interested kids to the site. It has a very positive, upbeat message, and is fun and non-judgmental when dealing with those who still believe.

William Lane Craig
Of course, not everybody likes this. Despite the existence of hundreds, if not thousands of religiously themed websites for kids, having even one site that caters to non-believers is somehow too many, and worthy of scorn. The Washington Post published a piece by theologian William Lane Craig that attacks the site on philosophical grounds, his reasoning being that Humanism has no philosophical justification. Summing up his arguments Craig says,
The new humanist Web site never encourages kids to think critically about the tough questions concerning the justification of humanism itself. Humanists tend to be condescendingly dismissive of theism and oblivious to nihilism. Meanwhile, they blithely extol the virtues of critical thinking, curiosity, and science, apparently unaware of the incoherence at the heart of their own worldview. 
Craig's argument, as best I can make sense of it, is based on the idea that either "objective moral values are grounded in God" or "that moral values are ungrounded and therefore ultimately subjective and illusory." Craig mischaracterizes the Humanist position as "objective moral values are grounded in human beings" and that a Humanist "must show that in the absence of God, nihilism would not be true."

This is, as the great philosophers say, bullshit.

Nihilism is not the opposite of theism. For instance, one could posit the existence of a God that damns us all no matter what we do. Such a universe would be bereft of hope and ultimately nihilistic, and still have a God.

Humanists, knowing that there is no God, are tasked with creating their own meaning. This meaning is not purely subjective, it is bound by rules to be found in the natural world, and created by humans on a pragmatic, compassionate basis. We humans are capable of creating our own meaning. 

Craig leads us into an artificial and unhelpful dichotomy between objective and subjective moral truths. Instead, let's look at morality as a series of attempts to maximize well-being for humans. Even if Craig is right that without a God there is no way to objectively know how we ought to be behave, such an idea says nothing about whether God exists or not. It simply becomes an argument for the necessity of God, not his actuality. 

Further, if Craig is right and there is a God, nothing in the world seems capable of telling us how God wants us to behave. Craig certainly has his opinions on what God wants us to do, but I could find dozens of Christian theologians who will disagree with him on virtually everything. In the end, the hard work of determining morality falls on us humans, whether we spend our time interpreting mythological fairy tales or do the hard work of determining our own philosophical meaning.

Note; After i wrote this and before this was published, my friend and mentor John Shook wrote the following piece on the CFI website that does a much better job laying out possible philosophical foundations of Humanism entitled "What Does Humanism Stand On?" Check it out.

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