There’s a thread going on at The Secular Outpost that started with JJ Lowder defending William Lane Craig against charges of incompetence and dishonesty. I comment as soon as I saw the post, in part because I think Craig’s dishonesty needs to be more widely recognized, but also because I’m genuinely curious as to what people who aren’t fans of Craig can say in his defense.
After contributing a half-dozen comments, though, I had to stop and wonder: Why am I doing this? Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus my energies on people who are at least honest? But after thinking about it for awhile, I’m not sure, especially if you care about arguments for the existence of God. This is because respectable defenders of arguments for the existence of God (which I’ll call AftEoGs, for short) are in short supply these days.
Consider this list of “Top Philosophers of Religion by Hirsch Numbers” (a measure of how widely cited an academic’s work is in the academic literature). Here’s the top twelve:
1 Alvin Plantinga
2 Bill Alston
3 Nick Wolterstorff
4 Antony Flew
5 Robert Audi
5 Richard Swinburne
5 Peter van Inwagen
5 John Hick
9 Keith DeRose
10 John Hawthorne
10 Robert Adams
10 Eleonore Stump
As far as I know, only three of these names are of people well-known for their AftEoGs: Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and Robert Adams (if anyone knows otherwise, please tell me). Yet two of the three aren’t great examples.
While Alvin Plantinga once did a rather silly list of two dozen AftEoGs, the one that’s gotten him actual respect is his version of the ontological argument. Yet Plantinga admits that he doesn’t think his argument proves the existence of God. He just claims the premises are reasonable and therefore it’s reasonable to believe in God. So Plantinga isn’t really a classic defender of an AftEoG.
When I hear Adams cited in connection with an AftEoGs, it’s because of his papers on the moral argument. I tracked down a number of these years ago, and what I got out of them is that Adams is very upfront about the problems with his position, and was very willing to change his position to address objections, but in the end he just ended up looking muddled and not very enthusiastic about his own argument. (But hey, anyone want to go to bat for Adams here? Change my mind about this.)
That leaves Swinburne. Swinburne’s belief in his own arguments is beyond question, so you can’t really say there are no top philosophers who think there are good AftEoGs. Yet I can’t help but think of Swinburne as an exception that proves the rule, especially since so few people seem to think his arguments actually show what they’re supposed to. People who say that Swinburne’s arguments are “good” generally seem to mean “worth reading” and nothing more. (Again, please comment on this post if you disagree with anything I’ve said so far.)
Given all this, it’s clear that Craig is one of the biggest living defenders of AftEoG. Maybe even the biggest. On the Hirsch ranking, he’s not as highly ranked as Swinburne, but he’s still in the top 20, and he managed to grab the position of editor of the The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. And unlike Swinburne, he has a serious base of fans who think his arguments work.
But if Craig is the best there is when it comes to defending AftEoG, doing so is basically a dead enterprise. I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently working on a second book, in which the AftEoG section will focus mostly on Craig. I feel incredibly weird about doing this, and keep thinking to myself, “surely there’s someone more deserving of my attention than Craig.” But the more I think about it, the more confident I am that there isn’t.