The New Theist: How William Lane Craig became
Christian philosophy’s boldest apostle
By Nathan Schneider
When, during a conversation in a swank hotel lobby in Manhattan, I mentioned to Richard Dawkins that I was working on a story about William Lane Craig, the muscles in his face clenched.
“Why are you publicizing him?” Dawkins demanded, twice. The best-selling “New Atheist” professor went on to assure me that I shouldn’t bother, that he’d met Craig in Mexico—they opposed each other in a prime-time, three-on-three debate staged in a boxing ring—and found him “very unimpressive.”
“I mean, whose side are you on?” Dawkins said. “Are you religious?”
Several months later, in April 2011, Craig debated another New Atheist author, Sam Harris, in a large, sold-out auditorium at the University of Notre Dame. In a sequence of carefully timed speeches and rejoinders, the two men clashed over whether we need God for there to be moral laws. Harris delivered most of the better one-liners that night, while Craig, in suit and tie, fired off his volleys of argumentation with the father-knows-best composure of Mitt Romney, plus a dash of Schwarzenegger. Something Harris said during the debate might help explain how Dawkins reacted: He called Craig “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists.”
In the lobby afterward, the remarks of students seemed to confirm this. “The apologist won because his structure was perfect,” one said. “Craig had already won by the first rebuttal!” A Harris partisan lamented, “Sam kinda blew it.”
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Well-publicized atheists like Dawkins and Harris are closer to being household names than William Lane Craig is, but within the subculture of evangelical Christians interested in defending their faith rationally, he has had a devoted following for decades. Many professional philosophers know about him only vaguely, but in the field of philosophy of religion, his books and articles are among the most cited. And though he works mainly from his home, in suburban Marietta, Ga., he holds a faculty appointment at Biola University, an evangelical stronghold on the southeastern edge of Los Angeles County and home to one of the largest philosophy graduate programs in the world.
Surveys suggest that the philosophy professoriate is among the most atheistic subpopulations in the United States; even those philosophers who specialize in religion believe in God at a somewhat lower rate than the general public does. Philosophers have also lately been in a habit of humility, as their profession’s scope seems to shrink before the advance of science and the modern university’s preference for research that wins corporate contracts. But it is partly because of William Lane Craig that one can hear certain stripes of evangelicals whispering to one another lately that “God is working something” in the discipline. And through the discipline, they see a way of working something in society as a whole…
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