How William Lane Craig misleads his followers

Ever since going to the Harris-Craig debate, Craig has been on my mind an awful lot. There’s one thing I’ve alluded to here and here, and meant to do a post on, but kept putting off: the fact that Craig works very hard to give his followers a false impression of the facts on key issues. So here’s that post–the last I’ll do on Craig for awhile. I think.

The motivation for this post comes from a Campus Crusade presentation I went to awhile back. “Evidence for the Resurrection,” a classic. The speaker supposedly had all kinds of education, and he didn’t strike me as a bullshitter. Yet he said a number of things that suggested he had no idea what he was talking about. Claiming, for example, that very few scholars doubt the historicity of Jesus’ tomb being found empty. What was going on? Best I could tell, his problem was basing his presentation entirely on things he’d heard William Lane Craig say.

You’ll never hear Craig say that very few scholars doubt the empty tomb. That’s because that claim is easily disproven. Indeed, some of Craig’s fellow apologists are quite open about the fact that many scholars reject it (see for example pp. 461-462 of Mike Licona’s new book). So instead, Craig makes slightly vaguer claims about majority opinions and what “scholarship” says, claims which he never has much support for, but which at least can’t be immediately refuted. At the same time, he carefully avoids mentioning that there are any scholars who disagree, leaving his audience to assume there aren’t any.

Similarly, when Craig takes all the major details of the Biblical story of and calls them his “four facts,” the word “facts” there is a lie. Normally in a debate “facts” refer to things that are easily proven and can be agreed upon by all. But there’s no proof for any of those facts, no evidence for them beyond the word of the Biblical authors, who may have been misinformed or lying. But by calling them “facts” over and over again, Craig gives the impression that they’re uncontroversial. And if called on it, he can defend himself by quibbling about the meaning of the word “fact.”

And Craig even tries to hide the fact that he’s replying on the Bible as the only evidence for his claims. He’ll cite “early Jewish polemic” (i.e. what the Bible says the Jews said) or “the pre-Markan passion narrative” (i.e. something some people are guessing existed based on reading the Bible). He knows he’d loose a debate on the Bible’s reliability, so he insists its reliability is irrelevant. If he can avoid the discussion entirely, many members of his audience will continue to take the Bible’s reliability for granted, especially once they’ve been told all the important things are “facts.”

For someone like me, it’s tempting to ignore this kind of stuff, because to any informed person it’s all just rhetoric. But based on my experiences with Campus Crusade types, that’s not the whole story. For someone who hasn’t read a few books on Biblical scholarship, this stuff is almost guaranteed to give a false impression of the facts. That’s why Craig needs to be called out on it.

Craig genuinely is better informed than most apologists. That does set him apart from the pack. He just doesn’t use his knowledge to make his followers better informed. Instead, he uses his knowledge to put out a series of misleading half-truths and unsupported claims, while side-stepping any discussions that he knows would go badly for him.

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26 Comments.

  1. I also find it very disingenuous that he quotes people like Frank Tipler in regards to evolution. Why not quote an actual biologist? We know why.

    It also seems strange that Craig will say so often that basically all the experts agree with him on whatever he is discussing. Then, when it comes to something that experts disagree with him on, he either quotes a non expert or says he isn’t convinced (evolution or the independence of the mind on the brain, for example).

  2. I have listened to many Craig debates and I have always finished with a sense of frustration that his debaters never call Craig on his assertions of “fact.” I wish someone would stop him at every “fact” and have him come up with some evidence other than, “the consensus of scholars.” I met Matt Dillahunty at a conference and asked him to debate Craig, but he said that Craig won’t debate Matt because Matt does not have a Ph.D, but David Eller, Ph.D. at the conference said he would debate Craig.

  3. Shameless self-promotion: I think that someone has called Craig out on his “four facts” nonsense: Bart Ehrman. But in his response, Craig simply harped on this notion that the “majority of New Testament scholars” don’t debate his “four facts”.

    That’s not the only issue where Craig obfuscates the truth. The second premise of the Kalam, that the universe began to exist, is not known to be true. He’ll yammer on about the Big Bang and dismiss unified theories of physics as unproved, but he’ll conveniently avoid discussing all the problems the Big Bang theory fails to solve. So long as it gives the appearance of supporting his point, he’ll keep hammering it home and the flock eats it up.

  4. Oh lordy how my atheist senses tingle when I see people agree with me! Can I get an amen!

  5. Craig sounds and acts more like a tea bagger politician than a theologian. I suspect he’s trying to position himself to be the leading “intellectual” after the fundies win the culture war.

  6. Never underestimate the power of carefully worded BULLSHIT. William Lane Craig is bar none the Jedi Master of bullshit. Christians love him because he operates so well painting the gray(reality/no evidence) to black(mounds of objective evidence to believe Christianity). Of course to most reasonable people WLC is nothing more than a used car salesman. Truth/Reality, beware. Your enemy has a name. It is WLC!

  7. Also, did I mention how much I loathe him (WLC) for the very reason this article was written? This is what makes him a slime ball. I believe he knows better than to make those assertions. Other apologists seem more genuine/pure in their defense of the “faith”.

  8. Craig uses a technique perfected by Christians over hundreds of years. Keep them ignorant, do not encourage scholarship–just believe the same lies we tell you–over and over again.

    Christians are experts at the art of lying–as the early Christian Eusebius said “Lying for Jesus is ok, if it furthers the cause.” I think Craig and the rest of his ilk listened well during that lecture.

    If you have ever seen the movie “The Invention of Lying”–it is hilarious–and if it were not for the invention of lying–Christianity would not exist.

  9. Chris Hallquist

    @Mike D: Yeah, I actually think Ehrman did a great job in that debate.

  10. I disagree with your assessment of Craig. (Perhaps because I read his more detailed book before seeing his presentations and he does add more nuance in his book).
    Craig does cite support when he says the majority of scholars support the “4 facts”. In some speeches and in his book he has cited a review by Kremer and he confirmed the views with scholars like O’Collins, Gary Habermas and Raymond Brown. And in the book you cited even Licona says the empty tomb is the majority opinion while those who doubt it are a “respectable minority” .The speaker you saw did seem to be overstating his case and a bit careless but Craig is always on point.
    And you object that Craig is taking some evidence from the bible. This is an extremely stupid unless you can explain why canonizing a historical document makes it unreliable.
    And calling the pre-markan passion narrative a “guess .. [from] reading the bible” is like calling evolution a guess Darwin made from watching finches. It is a conclusion made by the majority of scholars on multiple lines of evidence.
    Mark Allen Powell, the chair of the Historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature said “The dominant view is that the passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony” (Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68 [2000]: 171).
    Also see
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7821
    where Craig gives many different sources.
    1) You seem to say that you think Craig is misleading when he cites the facts as majority opinion? Do you think the facts are not majority opinion of scholars? Do you have evidence that these facts are not majority opinion (for example conflicting surveys)?

  11. Chris Hallquist

    I’m aware of Craig citing Kramer and Habermas. But AFAIK, Kramer didn’t attempt anything like a rigorous survey of the literature. Craig has always described him as “listing” people on both sides, and lists don’t prove anything.

    Habermas sounds like he was attempting a rigorous survey, but he hasn’t published the details of his methods and results, and I’ve seen Craig deflect worries about Habermas’ survey by saying “oh, I’m not relying on Habermas, I’m relying on Kramer.”

    I’m not objecting to Craig drawing evidence from the Bible. Rather, I’m objecting to the fact that Craig tries to hide the fact that virtually all his evidence comes from the Bible, while running away from debates on the Bible’s historical reliability.

    And finally, I think what’s dishonest is citing majority opinions as facts. There’s a huge gulf between “most experts think this is probably true” and “this is a provable fact.”

    I personally think that Paul was probably sincere when he claimed to have had a revelation from the risen Jesus. But it would be ridiculous to call it a “fact” that Paul was sincere; nobody can prove either way whether or not he was lying.

  12. If it helps Craig has an explanation of what he means by “historical fact.”
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6949
    He says near the end “they have a degree of credibility comparable to other commonly accepted facts of ancient history”.
    As to the thing about the general reliability of the biblical documents , Craig always points out several skeptical scholars (such as his own thesis advisor Wolfhart Pannenburg , who thought that much of the material in the gospels was mythical) who do not believe in the general reliability , but accept the main facts.
    One does not have to establish the general reliability to argue for a specific fact. The evidence and historical criterion (eg criterion of embarrassment , criterion of dissimilarity) can stand on their own.
    And I think the statement Paul was sincere can plausibly be called a fact. Is it a fact Augustus died in 14 Ad? Perhaps he faked his death and escaped to the countryside.The evidence is firm enough to necessitate a conclusion here.

  13. The name of his website is “a reasonable faith”. I have listened to and read alot of WLC, and believe that what he is actually trying to do is show people that it is reasonable to believe in God. He often points out that we believe alot of things we cannot prove(existence of other minds, human rights, love, beauty etc), but it is not unreasonable to believe in them. As for the relevance of the reliability of scripture, that depends on the debate, and in most of his debates he mostly avoids biblical reference, and certainly does not rely on scripture when arguing for the existence of God or debating objective morality. While he does believe in biblical inerrancy, he does not believe it necessary to be a Christian. There are two arguments here, the existence of God and how we come to know, experience and worship God. The reliability of scripture is irrelevant in the former, but to the latter, of course we would then need to determine what are the consequences of unreliability, especially when believers usually believe in the real existence of God independent of scripture. Many atheists are convinced that any theist argument that sounds reasonable must be riddled with lies, and you then twist yourselves into pretzels trying to find the lies. I dont buy all his arguments( divine command theory and his critique of Plato in particular), but he’s definitely not as crazy and irrational as many of you like to believe.

  14. “There are two arguments here, the existence of God and how we come to know, experience and worship God. The reliability of scripture is irrelevant in the former, but to the latter, of course we would then need to determine what are the consequences of unreliability, especially when believers usually believe in the real existence of God independent of scripture.”

    Actually, this isn’t true. These are NOT unconnected subjects. If your defense of the reasonableness of theism requires accepting arguments that flatly contradict the religion you actually hold, then that generates internal contradictions in your belief system that render it unreasonable. I’m particularly looking at responses to the argument from evil (if skeptical theism, the free will defense, or the soul-building theodicy are true, then Christianity is a fraud), but the problem is endemic to apologetics.

    And actually yes, it is unreasonable to believe in human rights, love, and beauty, if by “believe in” you mean “believe they’re actual things out there in some platonic realm rather than descriptive terms we use to talk about our reactions to the world.” Its called the mind projection fallacy.

  15. Peter, as I said, a belief in God does not hinge on the reliability of the bible (many non-Christians believe in God). New York does exit, but the map I have to get there may be way off. The reliability of my map says much about me, but nothing about New York. BTW, I think Plantinga delt with the problem of evil rather well.

    As for the mind projection fallacy, I did not intend suggest that these where “actual things”, rather that they were actual metaphysical truths for which we have no actual evidence, and yet many of us still believe in them.

  16. oops…I addressed my response to Peter when it should have been Patrick…long day.

  17. Jason- Belief in God may not hinge on the reliability of the Bible, but it would be awfully hypocritical for a believer in Christianity to jettison his actual beliefs in order to make a theodicy work, then pick those beliefs back up after the conversation ended.

    For example, if a theodicy requires the believer to deny salvation by grace, as the soul-building theodicy does, then a believer in salvation by grace is not entitled to use it. Unless of course he’s willing to amend his beliefs about God.

    As for Plantinga, he argues only against the logical argument from evil, and only on the narrowest of logically deductive terms. This does entitle him to say that the logical argument of evil does not flatly 100% disprove the existence of his god. It does not entitle him to say anything more than that. If this satisfies you, then great, but I’m not sure why it would. There are lots of things that aren’t 100% impossible but are still silly.

    And yeah, believing that the things you feel are actually metaphysical truths is what the mind projection fallacy is all about. Believing that “love” or “human rights” are metaphysical truths is ridiculous. The fact that many people believe it is not an argument in its favor, but rather an indictment of many people.

  18. Patrick, once again, the existence of God does not hinge on what I believe God commands or how God does or does not save. There is nothing hypocritical about saying one believes in the existence of God and then sayng they believe that this path, book, ritual whatever is how I come to experience God, while admitting that these are separate beliefs supported or not by separate arguments. The inconsistencies in the bible, point out the inconsistencies in Christianity, but say nothing about the existence of God. Once we abandon biblical inerrancy, as Barth did, the consequences of these inconsistencies become less and less damning to Christianity. There is no jettison at all, they are separate arguments. One could be completely wrong about the idea of salvation by grace, then as you said they would “amend their beliefs about God” …God’s existence is not in question when debating doctrine, doctrine is.

    I hate to appeal to authority or consensous, but I will here. I think Plantinga’s views on evil are very well received and respected, which suggests they are not as silly as you might think.

    As for metaphysics, I thought you would say that, but you say it with such conviction, when surely you must know that the debate on the truth of metaphysics has gone on for as long as there has been philosophical discourse and will likely go on forever. There is nothing ridiculous about metaphysics. Positivists and empiristists would love to convince us otherwise, however, we need look no further then the theory of abstract objects to see that metaphysical discourse is not as nonsensical as they like to believe. We will have to agree to disagree on that one too. Cheers.

  19. Actually Patrick, as I re-read you response, I wonder if you are rejecting metaphysics, or just the labelling of love and human rights as metaphysics. I addressed the former, if it is the later, I don’t think one can “feel” human rights, I think human rights are a metaphysical concept which could be classified as an abstract object that does help describe reality. I believe both theists and secular philosophers have argued for this. As for love, is it just a chemical reaction, or is it more then that? Surely that is a metaphysical question, one that is not irrelevant to our existence. Again, love and beauty could be classified as abstract objects and therefore metaphysical. IMO of course. Cheers.

  20. 1. I completely agree with you that the existence of SOME god does not hinge on the Bible or on any particular doctrine. However, the validity of a particular person’s theology might. It would be deeply hypocritical of a person to use arguments that only defend “some god” to defend their specific god if their specific god is actually ruled out by their arguments.

    2. You have no idea what Plantinga wrote, do you. What I said wasn’t an attack on Plantinga. It was a summary he would agree with. Plantinga addressed a logically deductive formulation of the argument from evil. He claimed that the existence of free will would logically necessitate that god could not have complete control over whether evil existed, because the free willed beings god created might choose to create evil. Therefore, the existence of non zero amounts of evil was not incompatible with the existence of god if god prefers free will. This is NOT a defense offered against any non-deductive formulation of the argument. This is why the evidential argument from evil, which works INductively to claim that the amount of evil present in the world is strong evidence against a classically conceived deity, is so popular. Plantinga doesn’t even address that, and no one would tell you that faster than him.

  21. Patrick,
    1. Quite right the validity of their theology is in doubt, not the existence of a God. I still hold that these are separate arguments. On a personal note, the validity of my theology is contantly in doubt, my faith in a God is not.

    2. Obviously my grasp of philosophical language does not match yours, but I did read some of Plantinga’s work on the problem of evil. It is very likely I didn’t understand it all, nor its shortcomings, but what I did understand lead to believe that his free will argument was addressing the problem of evil, which is what you were talking about in your first post. And you did dismiss his argument as you believe it doesnt adequately or completely address the problem. I’m not sure how anyone reading your response would not see it as an attack on his argument, even if you gave it a modicum of merit. All this talk of inductive vs deductive is an attempt to drown me in philosophical liguo, when all I was saying is that his free will argument addresses evil, and it has alot of support, I didn’t say nor did I expect it was unassailable. Cheers.

  22. I saw Harris and Craig debate at Notre Dame, with knowing very little about Craig. A little pre-debate research, and his performance in the debate itself, confirms your statements here. I’ve only recently begun reading more about this subject, and even I muttered a few times as he was speaking “That’s not true.”

    I’m not sure where you saw these two debate, but it was pretty interesting to have it at Notre Dame (and I give the university credit for hosting the debate). I can tell you that Harris was very well-received, even at the nation’s premier Catholic university. After the debate, I overheard one young man say to his friend, “Harris kicked his butt!” I laughed and said something to him, and shook his hand. The young man said, “I’m a good Christian, though!”

    I hope he continues to think and question. If he thought Harris kicked Craig’s butt, why is that? Did he think Harris had the better argument? If so, wouldn’t that lead him to question his Christian faith? One can only hope.

  23. Jason- There are two popular formulations of the argument from evil. One is an attempt to show that it is completely impossible for any evil to exist if the standard version of God exists. This is what Plantinga argues against. The other is an attempt to show that it is very unlikely that God exists, given the general state of the world. Plantinga does not address this. This isn’t philosophical gibberish, there is a meaningful difference between saying that a piece of evidence renders a theory impossible (what Plantinga addresses) and saying that a piece of evidence renders a theory unlikely (which Plantinga does not address).

  24. Often, many researchers who doubt the history of the Bible may say things like: “In the real world, miracles have never occurred.” These statements may influence people’s minds. They may say that the issues described in the Bible are unreliable.
    However, it is good to note that such statements are nothing new: They have been presented over the course of the past two hundred years. Actually, it is interesting to note that as Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the theory of the Ice Age became well-known, criticism of the Bible simultaneously began to gain ground. Researchers began to spring up who questioned the writings about the life of Jesus and other Biblical events. They may have thought that if the Creation and the Flood are not true in light of these theories, we would then have no reason to believe information about Jesus. So it is certainly not by chance that all three issues were raised almost simultaneously.
    In any case, it is good for us to study this. The purpose is, especially, to help those people who want to know more about the reliability of Biblical information, and to show how reasonable it is to trust in the truth of described events. If you struggle with this issue, it is worth your while to read further.

    More info; http://www.jariiivanainen.net/canwetrustcriticismoftheBible.html