William Lane Craig: Can You Be an Atheist?

[For five days now I have given religious thinkers a chance to make their case that the meaning of life derives from their god. This is the last one I will do.]

William Lane Craig (1949 – ) is an American Evangelical Christian apologist  known primarily for his work in the philosophy of religion. He is a critic of: evolution, atheism, metaphysical naturalism, logical positivism, postmodernism, moral relativism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, homosexuality, and non-fundamentalist Christian theology. (What does he like?) He is a fellow of the Discovery Institute, whose goal is to force public high schools in the United States to teach creationist ideas in their science classes alongside of accepted scientific theories. (Ok. He’s for make-believe stories! But why not teach other stories besides your preferred one? And who would give this guy a job in an intellectual institution?) He is currently a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, an evangelical Christian university. (Oh, they would.)

Craig’s piece “The Absurdity of Life Without God”[i] argues that life is absurd without a god. The fundamental reason for this is that without a god both the individual and the entire universe will end without a proper resolution. In that case there would be no hope of escaping our fate and life would lack significance, value, or purpose.

Craig argues that there is no ultimate meaning without immortality because if everything dies it does not matter that previously the universe, the human race, or any individual had existed. Still, immortality is not enough for meaning, since an unending life could be meaningless. For full meaning we need a god, without which humans must accept the view of Beckett, Sartre, and Camus—that life is meaningless. In addition, without gods there is no objective morality and moral relativism reigns.

Craig claims that if we really think about the universe as rushing toward oblivion we should realize that there is no hope or purpose without a god. Without a god we are accidents of nature, and there is no reason or purpose for our existence. With a god there is hope; without a god there is only death and despair. The implications of atheism are strong indeed. The basic problem with an atheistic response is that one cannot live happily with such a view. Either the atheist is consistent and recognizes life is meaningless, or is inconsistent and assumes there can be meaning without gods.

All of this leads Craig to the conclusion that it is a practical impossibility to live as an atheist. Without a god life is objectively meaningless, so atheists pretend that life has meaning by saying it has subjective meaning. Without a god, there is no morality and everything is permissible, so atheists assume there is some other ground for an objective ethics. Without a god there is no immortality where justice will reign, where the wicked will be punished and the virtuous rewarded. Without a god there is no purpose in life, so atheists make up some purpose for it.

The despair of the atheistic view contrasts sharply with the Christian world view. In that view a god exists, we are eternal, and we can be with this god. Christianity thus provides the conditions for a meaningful, valuable, and purposeful life. We can thus live happily.

Rejoinder – Craig seems unaware that science and technology will probably give us the immortality he seeks—assuming his followers don’t take us back into the dark ages. They are trying their best though by making sure that children don’t learn modern biology. And if he’s troubled by evolutionary biology, just wait until he realizes what the computer scientists are up to. Eventually, when science defeats death, religion will end. For religion is based primarily on a fear of death. Craig would have been right at home in the Dark Ages. He is a true enemy of the Enlightenment, and of the future.


[i] William Lane Craig, “The Absurdity of Life without God,” in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D Klemke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

7 thoughts on “William Lane Craig: Can You Be an Atheist?

  1. That whole “there is no ultimate meaning without immortality” sounds like some of your posts! Though as you write, he thinks even immortality isn’t enough.

  2. You are correct, and I hate to think I agree with him about anything. And I put my faith in the promise of science not religion. Thanks for reading.

  3. I have always said futurists and transhumanists (me on both) actually want some of the same as the religious and both believe there is no ultimate meaning without immortality. Just in different forms. It frustrates me how so many Christians are against extending human life, Transhuman and reaching some form of digital immortality or merging with machines. They shoukd understand I want they want: life and meaning. Get out of the way and you take the gamble in destroying your brain and see if you still exist but leave humanity out. I also want humanity or post human progeny to go indefinetly into the future and that makes them uncomfortable. Religion is all about the fear of death. Reason it exits.

    I have always found it interesting the two types of “atheists”, for and against scientific techn immortality. I think it’s our salvation and what I have in common the Christians (it’s about it): I want to exist, life to flourish and humanity to last forever but in reality. I really want us to find ETI. Future holds the hope if we don’t destroy or slow down science and technology. It’s our only hope and the religious scare me because they are holding society and politics back.

  4. I’ve come around to Prof. Messerly’s idea that living forever would be cool (given some assurance of comfort or otherwise being able to end it). However the most significant turn around in my thinking has been on “human enhancement”… put simply, I think our intellect has enabled us to compound our power over our environment at a rate that far exceeds our biological ability to improve our memory and reasoning about this power. As a simplification, humans are much too much chimps with nukes.

    I have great qualms that we won’t be able to improve ourselves safely or correctly but I now view that as a lesser risk.

  5. Aside from the various ad hominems in this blog post, I am amazed at your thinking (and that of other transhumanists) that science and technology could give you anything like immortality.

    Science itself tells us that our own expanding universe is doomed to a cold, dark, and desolate future. Entropy is ever increasing; eventually all the energy in our universe will be used up. Even machines (robots, computers, etc) won’t function. NOTHING will function. All life, all technology, everything will die a heat death. Sure, it might take billions of years, but the whole point to transhumanism seems to be to obtain immortality – but that is an impossible dream (and it is science that is telling us this). Unless you want to posit (in an ad hoc move I would say) that somehow your “gods” (that is – science and technology) will find a way to reverse or halt the second law of thermodynamics in the future in order to spare our universe from this bleak future. But of all the laws of nature – surely the laws of thermodynamics are at the top of being the most solid and inviolate. No – as science teaches us, the universe is doomed and we all need to come to grips with that fact.

  6. Omniscient minds, if developed, may decide the fate of the universe. They may be much stronger than physical forces. And there are multiple scientific scenarios as to the fate of the universe.

  7. > Omniscient minds, if developed, may decide the fate of the universe.
    > They may be much stronger than physical forces.

    Are you sure you aren’t a closet theist? 🙂 Because many of your ideas in your writings (including this one) sure sound like what a theist would say. An omniscient mind that transcends the universe IS God (in the orthodox Christian sense anyway) and he IS much stronger than physical forces!

    > And there are multiple scientific scenarios as to the fate of the universe.

    And none would say the universe would live infinitely long in any viable sense such that “creatures” in the universe could survive. Yes, some scenarios say the universe could all collapse on itself (Big Crunch), and some say it could expand forever into a cold and empty state (Big Freeze). I lean towards a Big Freeze due to scientific evidence that the universe is not just expanding but is accelerating in its expansion – but in either case, you cannot avoid a doomsday scenario. Do you know of ANY of these multiple scientific scenarios that do NOT predict the absolute death of the universe and that would allow beings of any kind to live eternally?

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