Biblical scholars are not a bunch of baffled skeptics (also: Craig lies about Ehrman)

William Lane Craig would like you to believe that Biblical scholarship is made up of people who accept that all the major details of the Biblical story of Jesus’ resurrection are facts, who accept that there is no good non-miraculous explanation for those facts, and if they reject the resurrection do so only out of philosophical prejudice. He never quite says it, because he knows he’d get called out on such blatant nonsense. So instead, he insinuates it.

For example, in his debate with Bart Ehrman, he kicked things off in his usual way, by declaring all the major details of the Bible story to be “relatively uncontroversial” and “agreed to by most scholars.” However, he says “That the resurrection is the best explanation is a matter of controversy.” After going through his “four facts” in detail, Craig tells us:

Of course, down through history various alternative naturalistic explanations of the resurrection have been proposed, such as the Conspiracy Hypothesis, the Apparent Death Hypothesis, the Hallucination Hypothesis, and so on. In the judgment of contemporary scholarship, however, none of these naturalistic hypotheses has managed to provide a plausible explanation of the facts. Nor does Dr. Ehrman support any of these naturalistic explanations of the facts.

If you allow Craig some wiggle room on the meaning of certain words (like the “relatively” in “relatively uncontroversial”), none of these statements are obvious falsehoods. But Craig has left some important stuff out. For example, he cites Gerd Lüdemann in favor of the claim that Jesus’ post-mortem appearances are historical, but carefully omits the fact that Lüdemann doesn’t think any of the stuff about the tomb is historical.

This is important. Lüdemann thinks the appearances were hallucinations. However, Lüdemann isn’t an example of someone who advocates a naturalistic explanation of all the things which Craig calls “facts,” since Craig’s “facts” include Jesus’ tomb being empty. So he isn’t technically a counter-example to Craig’s claim about scholars rejecting naturalistic explanations for his “facts”–Craig chose his words carefully. Lüdemann doesn’t, however, think that “fact” of the empty tomb is a fact, so he doesn’t agree that it needs to be explained.

You’ll never figure all that out from listening to Craig. Craig gives the impression that pretty much everybody accepts that the evidence is inexplicable without a miracle. He doesn’t say it, because that claim is easy to disprove (see Lüdemann, Crossan, Goulder, etc.) And the trick seems to work: one negative Amazon review of my book tries to cite “Luddeman” against me, even though in the book I defend views very similar to Lüdemann’s.

Unlike Craig, I won’t pretend to have clear numbers, but I suspect scholars with roughly Lüdemann’s position are quite common. Gary Habermas reported that in his survey of scholarly writing on the resurrection, the ratio for accept:reject the empty tomb was 3:1, and the ratio for accept:reject the resurrection was about the same. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell Habermas wasn’t using a representative sample, but his numbers make it plausible that scholars who accept the empty tomb are mostly believers, not baffled skeptics, and that the skeptics would mostly wouldn’t accept all of Craig’s “facts.”

Parting shot: in the comments on last week’s post on Craig, someone pointed me to an article where Craig cites Ehrman as an example of a scholar who accepts his four facts. Craig provides a lengthy quote from Ehrman to support this. Trouble is, the quote is from 2003, Ehrman later changed his view, and Craig knows this because Ehrman told him so during their debate. The article alludes to the debate, and so was clearly written after it. More evidence that Craig isn’t above telling outright lies.

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  1. Have you read Nailed by David Fitzgerald? It is an excellent read and I will let you come to your own conclusions.

  2. (On a side note I think Crossan conceded the empty tomb and appearances during his recent discussion with NT Wright)
    Did Ehrman say he changed his views on the subject during the debate?
    From what I remember of the debate he was mostly offering a bunch of alternative scenarios for what happened to Jesus, while making it clear he didn’t affirm any of them. To be charitable Craig I would probably say the view Ehrman advocated in his published work is the view he holds while he brought up alternative hypotheses for the sake of argument.

  3. I thought Ehrman made it clear during his last debate with craig that he thought the “spiritual ressurection” hypothasis was the most plausible. He says it during his finishing statement, as well as an explicit rejection of the empty tomb. Sorry I dont have a link- you can probably youtube it.

  4. Hey, It’s unrelated, but I’d like to know more about this Edward Feser guy. He is an ex-atheist Thomist. Here is an article you wrote on him.

    So, what excactly DO modern philosiphers think of him in theistic and atheistic camps. He makes big claims, like that literally every atheist philosipher of religion doesn’t understand the “best arguments” for religion (I think he also criticises Alvin Plantinga as well). However, he is quite aclaimed within catholic circles, so I can’t just swat my hand at him and hope he goes away.

    I actually sent an email to Graham Oppy concerning this, as, well, I am not as stupid and ignorant as he accuses atheists of being. I asked him why most philosiphers seem to ignore these thomists, and if they really are as ignorant as he calls them. I wonder if his thomism is just a stupid fringe theory or not. I mean, when I think about it in retrospect- every big philosipher of religion is an evangelist- not a catholic. WLC, Plantinga, the McGrews, etc. I’m sure you know this. So, why is he “special” and they “wrong”. IDK- I try not to be ignorant- that is why I think it’s very important that we answer to his criticisms, and not let ourselves be what he thinks we are.

    Is anyone willing to help me?

  5. My one sentence take on Feser is that he spends a lot of time complaining that other people are ignorant of Thomism, but little time producing actual arguments that Thomism is correct.

    I’m a little confused by some of the things you say in your comment, but it sounds like Oppy told you Feser is ignorant. Well, he certainly has said a number of ignorant things about modern/contemporary philosophy, which makes him making a big deal of other people’s ignorance kind of hypocritical.

    I haven’t talked with other people a whole lot about Feser, but I did once ask a friend of mine who specialized in medieval at ND about Feser, and his perceptions were pretty similar to my own.

  6. I’m still waiting for oppy’s take :(

    I’m, sure there is a reason why most contemporary atheist philosiphers don’t read Aquinas (including christians like plantinga), but it’s hard to tell. His website is essentially 90% polemic. Apparently, he defends his views in his book on aquinas, which is pretty acclaimed (although its hard to tell, since most of the acclaim is from, well, thomists).

    The thing that scares non-philosiphers like me is his arrogance. He blasts ANYONE who disagrees with him since they “don’t understand thomas”, which is pretty much everyone else, and then makes these disturbing homophobic comments.

    It’s scary to be a non-philosipher sometimes :( . If being religious means that we must abandon the way we think now, and use some system of thinking which makes homophobia and bigotry socially acceptable- then I have to wonder why the hell I appear to be made to repulse homophobia. Am I deluded- that’s what he says. But enough with this rant.

    One more thing- who is your friend. I would be very interested to see what he has to say in response to Feser. After all, he and other medieval philosiphers should be quite aware of the aquinas. I mean, after all, half of medieval philosiphers reject theism and aquinas, despite this:

    God: theism or atheism?
    Accept or lean toward: atheism 64 / 107 (59.8%)
    Accept or lean toward: theism 23 / 107 (21.4%)
    Other 20 / 107 (18.6%)

    And this is an area that MOST theists should be into, other then philosophy of religion. That’s why this Feser guy seems a bit fishy.

    Anyways sorry for the long posts. I’ll tell you my finding when this ordeal is done.

  7. On another side note, Craig claims that “Ehrman writes” the quoted material, but it wasn’t something Ehrman wrote. It was part of a lecture series for the Teaching Company on From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity. The point being that a recorded lecture probably does not go through the same editing process as a written book or article.

    I would also note that this was a half-hour overview of the historical Jesus within a course devoted to a larger topic. Ehrman also did a twelve hour course devoted only to that topic in which he explains his position in more depth. He also goes into the matter in much more detail in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium. I think it is quite clear that the snippet quoted by Craig does not fairly reflect Ehrman’s position.

    I don’t really have a problem with Craig using the quote as a debating tactic to throw Ehrman off stride, but to continue to cite it after Ehrman clarified his position is just horseshit.

  8. BTW,

    As I recall, I think Ehrman said that Craig had taken him out of context rather than that he had changed his views on the issue. I think Ehrman simply didn’t articulate his position very well in that particular lecture.

  9. Oppy replied to my email. He agrees with me on him being a bit arrogant ;) . I sent the email to Ex-apologist if you really want to read it.

  10. I’ve never understood the big whoop even if Craig were correct about “most Biblical scholars” believing his “four facts”. That’s like saying that most Muslim scholars accept the fact of Muhammad’s existence. Most New Testament scholars are Christians. of course they presume the reliability of the documents.

    Ehrman spent the entire debate undermining the historical reliability of the gospels, meaning that Craig’s “four facts” are completely baseless. Craig’s only response was to repeat that his position was uncontroversial among New Testament scholars. So they’re arguing a different position: Craig is trying to bog the debate down about different explanations for the resurrection, while Ehrman was arguing that there was no good reason to believe the resurrection happened in the first place.