William Lane Craig on creation and anthropology
Published: 13 August 2020 (GMT+10)
Dr William Lane Craig is an internationally known Christian apologist, and is famous for being an excellent debater. Some of his debates are enjoyable to watch, as he is skilled at making his case and presents arguments well. We have particularly respected his use of the Kalām Cosmological Argument,1 although it is unfortunate that he chose to incorporate Big Bang cosmology into it unnecessarily. Like all others, he is an imperfect scholar. Sadly, in recent years, Craig has moved further and further away from his specialty of ‘classical apologetics’, making defenses for the existence of God and for the Resurrection of Christ. Instead, he has begun commenting on wider areas of science and theology, and the more he has had to say, the worse things seem to have gotten. This was highlighted in his recently released YouTube video series on the doctrine of man. These were filmed during his weekly Sunday school lessons given at a church not far from CMI’s US office.2 Additional insights can be gleaned from other recent presentations, for example an interview Craig gave to Remnant Radio and a video he did with Joshua Swamidass3, all from the Reasonable Faith YouTube Channel.
The Bible, Science, and History
Craig reduces Genesis to the point where it has no historical significance. The only use for Genesis in his methodology is for theology, and even then he is often on shaky ground. This allows him to accept most of evolution and deep time while still paying lip service to Genesis as Scripture. However, certain things, like the historical Adam, are too important in Paul’s writings for Craig to explain away, so he accepts a historical Adam and Eve. But even they must have been far different from the biblical Adam and Eve in his way of thinking. For one thing, they had parents. For another, they existed far earlier than the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 would allow, and far too late to be the cause for the actual introduction of death and suffering into the world. Many scholars before him have wrestled with the sin-before-death conundrum, and none who have adopted a long-age mentality have solved it. But his approach is worse than many others. It’s almost as if Craig wanted a worst-case scenario that solves none of the problems and makes no one happy!
The Bible as ‘mytho-history’
Craig calls Genesis “mytho-history”—a term he borrowed from OT scholar Dr Bill Arnold. He has to admit it’s history in some sense, because Abraham is indisputably seen as a historical individual (e.g. Matt. 1:1, Matt. 1:17, Luke 3:8, John 8:39, Acts 3:25), and Abraham’s genealogy goes back to Adam, Eve, and the pre-Flood Patriarchs with no appreciable break. But Craig cannot accept Gen 1–11 as straightforward (actual) history, because that does not allow for millions of years. This is why he appeals to Arnold’s idea of “mytho-history”, which allows him to explain away inconvenient details of the text—such as Adam and Eve being direct supernatural creations of God—while keeping the historical details required for orthodoxy in Christian faith. Please note that we are not questioning his orthodoxy on most of the important biblical doctrines. However, we are pointing out a glaring error in his logic on several important doctrines, errors that could easily lead someone following him into apostasy. We have said this many times before.
When presented with actual historical questions, like for example when Adam and Eve actually lived, he feels the need to consult evolutionary science. In a series of gymnastic maneuvers, and with the help of Dr Joshua Swamidass (though he doesn’t agree with him on everything), he arrives at his solution that Adam lived somewhere between 500–750 thousand years ago. He also claims Adam was what the paleoanthropologists call a Heidelberg man (Homo heidelbergensis). To our knowledge, this is the first time Craig has ventured to clearly enunciate his views on Genesis and human origins.
But by associating Adam (and Eve) with Heidelberg man, he inadvertently raises all sorts of problems. For example, Heidelberg man is thought, by many evolutionists, to be an ancestor to the Neanderthals of Europe. He was not involved in the African bottleneck that supposedly led to the evolution of Homo sapiens several hundred thousand (imaginary) years ago. He is not thought to be the ancestor to the main people group(s) that contributed to modern man and is not the ancestor to sub-Saharan Africans. If Adam is not ancestral to humans alive on earth today, we fall right back into outdated arguments from prior centuries that were used to justify slavery and the fallacious thought that Europeans were superior to the other ‘races’. Associating Heidelberg man with Adam comes with a lot of baggage. Craig should have known this.
Craig believes that Adam and Eve were the first humans to come from a long, evolutionary line of pre-humans. They would have been the first ‘humans’ but only in the spiritual sense. The difference between them and their non-human peers may have been entirely imperceptible to the naked eye, and they would have been very similar physically to the non-human ‘people’ among whom they lived, to the point where there were no reproductive barriers. Even though Craig believes they were intellectually and spiritually superior to the others, Adam and Eve would have merged with the ape-men. Does this sound remotely like the historical account we find in Genesis?
Craig points to elements of Genesis he sees as symbolic—the tree of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a talking serpent, and God presented as an anthropomorphic being physically walking in the Garden—as evidence that Genesis is not intended to be interpreted literally. However, one could point to elements in the Resurrection accounts (which Craig does interpret literally) to make the same sort of argument. In other words, his argument from incredulity4 is being selectively applied to only the parts of Scripture he prefers to interpret figuratively.
But what about places where Genesis seems to give sufficient detail for us to take it as a plainly historical statement? He finds reasons to dismiss those as well. For instance, Genesis clearly says Adam lived 130 years before fathering Seth, after which Adam lived another 800 years. In fact, there is a direct line of descent from Adam to Moses, with ages at birth and total lifespan at every step. This reads like straightforward history, with as little mythological imagery as we might hope for. But because Moses never totals up the years between Adam and Noah, Craig feels free to dismisses the obvious chronological implications.
Appeal to science
When it comes to questions like, “How long ago did Adam live?” and, “How old is the earth?” Craig seems to rely completely on the latest secular scientific opinions. However, anyone who has followed the creation/evolution debate knows that today’s ‘settled science’ is often completely rejected tomorrow. That’s why we say that theology wed to science will soon be widowed.
Lowest common denominator (‘Mere’) Christianity
Craig intentionally minimizes the historical details in Genesis, paring everything down to what is required to be a Christian believer. This is also his general apologetic approach in debates: he wants to persuade the unbeliever to accept the minimum degree of belief about Jesus (according to Craig) in order to be saved:
“The arguments of natural theology for God’s existence don’t depend upon biblical inerrancy, nor does demonstrating the crucial facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, including his radical personal claims, whereby he put himself in God’s place, and the key events undergirding the inference to his resurrection from the dead.
Popular Christian apologists have long given lip service to this point but did not really take it seriously, as revealed by their resorting to implausible harmonizations in order to defend the Gospel accounts against any allegation of error. Such measures are unnecessary … So I almost never argue with an unbeliever about biblical inerrancy. … For the apologetic task it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which day of the week he was crucified, how many angels were at the tomb, and so on. So long as the central facts are secure, the unbeliever ought to become a Christian.”5
In the above quote, it is clear that Dr. Craig does not consider belief in the Bible as the infallible word of God within the definition of “Christian”.
Technically, Craig is correct: to be saved by Christ, one need only believe the Gospel, which Paul defines as:
“… that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-8)
However, if you would have suggested to Paul that someone might believe his Gospel while at the same time rejecting the Scriptures as being the word of God (and therefore infallible), we’re sure the idea would have seemed preposterous to him! In reality, the nature of the Gospel is such that it is couched in, and undergirded by, the assumption that the Scriptures are true. Nothing about the Gospel can be logically divorced from the rest of the Bible. If Jesus is really God (and Craig believes this), we can believe Jesus when He tells us that, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:18)
The doctrine of inerrancy states that the Bible, in its original copies, is without error in everything it teaches, whether in history, theology, science, or anything else.6 As we said earlier, Craig attempts to push most of Genesis’ teaching into the theological realm and limit its claims about early earth history, the origin of the universe, and the origin of human beings. But if Adam lived 130 years before he fathered Seth, and so on, Genesis puts Adam far later than Craig’s theory would allow.
It makes little sense to believe Jesus died for your sins, and is God, and yet to simultaneously believe the Scriptures contain error. Is God not strong enough to preserve an accurate testimony of Himself? Would a God who wants us to have faith and trust in Him not also want us to know He is true by maintaining his word free from error?
Craig says he wants to make it as “easy as possible for a person to become a Christian.”7 In one sense, this is a good strategy, at least from a debating perspective. But his approach is a bad strategy for creating new disciples in the long term, for he is putting stumbling blocks in people’s way that will prevent them from believing the rest of the Bible. Most new Christians struggle with significant aspects of biblical theology and biblical history. It generally takes people some time to come to terms with things like the age of the earth specifically. Being a Christian involves a process of being conformed to the image of Christ and we do not understand all doctrine on day 1 of our walk with Him. Christians should not have a hard road to believing the Bible, miracles and all. If God is real, then God is more than capable of doing miracles. Yet Craig writes, “I don’t want to make them have to jump through the hoop of believing … that Jesus was born of a virgin.”7 That is not a “hoop”. In fact, it is one of the first things that a Christian should be taught. It is so basic to Christianity that it is found in all the early Christian statements of faith, such that no mainline scholars debated it until very recent times, and then only in very liberal circles.
He maintains that we can’t read the portions of the Bible written later into Genesis. Nor can we apply modern science to Genesis. In one sense this is accurate—Moses didn’t have either microscopes or the doctrine of the Trinity. However, if we take the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture seriously, we would know that God has a greater knowledge of the physical world than any scientific instrument can give us. We would also understand that He could easily put details in creation that would be clarified in light of later revelation.
A reluctant compromiser
As one listens to Craig, one cannot help but feel empathy and compassion for the man. He is clearly deeply disturbed by his own conclusions, and he would prefer to hold to the straightforward, literal, biblical creationist position! This is in stark contrast to the flippant attitude displayed by Swamidass.8 Craig agonizes over these matters because he has come to the realization that they are not a side issue. He knows the very deity of Christ is at stake when we question the validity of Genesis.
He even says that he feels like a child who has just been told there is no Santa Claus. There are many extremely telling and honest confessions that Craig makes in the interview we cited above, to our genuine surprise. Yet, at the end, he still states, “Flood geology is just hopeless.” He doesn’t explain why he came to that conclusion, and he ignores all those who believe otherwise. We genuinely wish he would give creation science a second look.
Craig wants to believe the Bible but cannot, because he has placed secular ‘science’ on a pedestal higher than the Bible itself. Craig states that, “ … interpolating into the history of this planet things that the Bible would seem to exclude,” is a bad thing! In his interview, Swamidass sharply rebukes him immediately by saying, “Isn’t that what you’re doing with the Old Earth?” Craig can only reply sheepishly, “Good point.”
We do not need to compromise!
The most disappointing aspect of Craig’s almost wholesale capitulation to ‘science’ is that we have better evidence for the Bible’s historicity than ever before. At a time when we should be more confident than ever, many well-known ‘defenders of the faith’ are giving over precious ground to secularists. As you might imagine, this sends the exact opposite of the message we should be sending, as Christians and apologists of the faith.
Predictably, his compromise does not often yield the results Craig, and others like him, hope for. Giving so much ground on Genesis does not tend to impress skeptics, but rather it comforts them in their unbelief; i.e. they aren’t just skeptics with Genesis 1–11. They think it is just as impossible for Jonah to survive three days in a great fish, for the sun to stand still ‘for about a day’ in Joshua’s time, or for a man to rise from the dead on the third day and ascend into Heaven! It is a mystery to us why Craig, Swamidass, and others are willing to believe ‘impossible things’ in the New Testament but refuse to apply similar thoughts to Genesis. The only consistent defense of Scripture starts with a strong stance on biblical inerrancy, beginning from the very first verse. Please pray for Drs Craig and Swamidass, that they would reconsider their compromise and become better defenders of biblical Christianity.
References and notes
- Craig, W., On Guard, David C Cook, Colorado Springs, 2010, pp. 73–104. Return to text.
- Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA. Return to text.
- Craig, W., and Swamidass, J., The Search for Adam & Eve with Dr. Joshua Swamidass | Peaceful Science, youtube.com, 8 June 2020. Return to text.
- ‘Argument from Incredulity’ is one of the classical logical fallacies. Return to text.
- Craig, W., #454 Scriptural Inerrancy and the Apologetic Task, reasonablefaith.org, 27 December 2015. Return to text.
- See The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, defendinginerrancy.com/Chicago-statements/, accessed 15 June 2020. Return to text.
- Craig, W., An Objection to the Minimal Facts Argument, reasonablefaith.org, 6 May 2018. Return to text.
- The Search for Adam & Eve with Dr. Joshua Swamidass | Peaceful Science, youtube.com, 8 Jun 2020. Return to text.