Sometimes, Craig is just dumb

Most of the time, William Lane Craig strikes me as a fairly smart man. He avoids saying anything obviously false, and mostly seems aware of the arguments that can be given in favor of views that aren’t Evangelical Christianity. But then he says something like this:

In a bibliographical survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection in English, French, and German since 1975, Gary Habermas found that 75% of scholars accept the historicity of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb and that there is near universal agreement on the post-mortem appearances.

Since New Testament critics do not simply confess these facts but rather acknowledge them on the strength of the historical evidence (which I detail in my published work), I think it is fair to speak of them as established facts about Jesus that need to be explained. That doesn’t mean that they are certain or indubitable (though N. T. Wright at the end of his voluminous study on Jesus’ resurrection opines that the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances of Jesus have a historical probability so high as to be “virtually certain,” like the death of Augustus Caesar in A.D. 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70!2), but merely that they have a degree of credibility comparable to other commonly accepted facts of ancient history.

So if your friends maintain that these are not historical facts, you should ask them what source of information they have that leads them to disagree with over 75% of the trained scholars who have studied this question. How did they come by such insight? How would they refute the evidence which has led so many scholars to the contrary conclusion? I’d be interested to learn what they say.

Assume for the sake of argument Habermas is right. In the case of the empty tomb Habermas found 25% of scholars reject its historicity. If I found out that 25% of historians doubted that Jerusalem really fell in 70 A.D., that would make me a lot less certain that it really happened, and I would want to know what the controversy was about. I don’t know what to do except laugh at Craig’s rhetoric here.

I suppose Craig’s response here is “well, maybe not a certain the fall of Jerusalem, but as certain as other accepted facts.” But what facts does he have in mind? What facts worthy of the name are doubted by a full quarter of the experts? And if Craig realizes Wright is being silly, why does he bother quoting him?

The questions Craig recommends asking in the last paragraph are also pretty funny, because they have me imagining Craig going around a conference for Biblical scholars, bugging a full quarter of the attendees with his questions. And the final sentence is obviously insincere. If Craig is interested in why anyone would disagree with the majority view, he should just go read what all the scholars advocating the minority position have to say. Apparently he prefers to sneer at them.

Seriously, who thinks this is smart even as rhetoric? What am I missing here?

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24 Comments.

  1. You might have followed your closing rhetorical question with “I’d be interested to learn what they say.” But then some would then wonder about your sincerity…

  2. Lol. 75%? No kidding? Wow. That’s remarkably close to the percentage of people around the world who are theist :|

    I listened to a podcast of his right before the Harris debate so I could see where he was coming from. The podcast (post-tsunami, Japan) was him explaining why earthquakes are necessary for the sustainment of life (why God allows earthquakes) because without them the land would erode and be covered with water. My eyes rolled. Then he reinforces this necessity by noting that Venus doesn’t have techtonic plates.
    :shock:
    Nevermind that it’s 30 million miles closer to the fucking sun and has a shitty atmosphere.

  3. If I wasn’t sure that you were posing a rhetorical question, I would answer that you are missing the intended audience who are not going to think about the fact that the scholars in question are trained mostly in theology and New Testament studies rather than history. His intended audience will also assume that “near universal agreement on the post-mortem appearances” means the appearances substantially as detailed in the gospels when in fact universal agreement cannot be validly claimed for much more than the bare fact that some unspecified number of people had or claimed to have some unspecified experience which they understood to be an appearance of the risen Christ. I doubt that even many mythicists would dispute that.

  4. Chris Hallquist

    @Andrew: Cute, but I actually am curious to know if anyone at all is impressed by Craig’s rhetoric here. And unfortunately, that’s not something I can find out simply by going down to the library and grabbing some books by Ludemann, Crossan, et al.

  5. Chris Hallquist

    @Vinny: Actually, the fact that the intended audience is “not going to think about the fact that the scholars in question are trained mostly in theology and New Testament studies rather than history” doesn’t explain how they could miss the points I make above. And if I’m giving Craig’s fans too much credit here, that would actually be nice to know.

  6. I can’t think of a single scientific theory supported by 75% of experts that would not come under the heading ‘highly controversial – more research needed’

  7. So 75% of scholars read by Habermas support an empty tomb?

    Is that statistically significant at the 95% level of confidence?

    If Craig is ever put on trial and 9 of the 12 jurors thought he was guilty, would he go to jail under American law?

  8. Chris,

    I suspect you are giving Craig’s fans too much credit. I think that most of them are looking to assuage their own doubts rather than to find arguments that will convince their skeptical friends.

  9. I was just thinking about this the other day!

    I find it odd that Craig states this, when he has no problem going against what 99% of biologists think about evolution, or what what the VAST majority of neuroscientists think about the idea of an immaterial mind.

    If he isn’t impressed by a near 100% consensus on those issues, why should we be impressed with a 75% consensus on his issue?

    What source of information does he have that leads him to disagree with over 99% of the trained scholars who have studied this question? How did he come by such insight? How would he refute the evidence which has led so many scholars to the contrary conclusion?

  10. This does show a grave inconsistency. I believe I’ve said something before along the lines that no proponent of evolution would ever argue with a creationist by using a fossil that 25% of paleontologists believed was a fake. It just goes to show how weak the Christian argument is for the resurrection.

  11. Craig’s argument trades on an ambiguity. Jesus might have appeared to some of the disciples, just as dead husbands often appear to widows. Or he might have appeared in the flesh, so to speak, as no human being ever has. Craig may well be correct that it’s a historical fact that a few of the disciples did, not dishonestly albeit misleadingly, report that that they had seen their Lord risen indeed–just as spouses often see their dead wife or hustand.

  12. So out of a small group of people who have chosen to write about a particular event — presumably because they think it is in some way interesting or important — one-quarter don’t actually think it happened at all?

    That’s rather like saying that out of all the sports writers who chose to report on the Football Grand Final, a whole 75% were able to agree on the winner!

    Why am I not impressed?

  13. It is undoubtedly a historical fact that people report seeing Jesus.

    Some people can’t open a bag of nachos without Jesus’s falling out.

  14. There is another aspect of Craig’s stance on this subject that bothers me. He says that these “facts” have some credibility and therefore must be explained as if a hypothesis that explains these facts would then be plausible. Even if we were fairly confident that these facts took place, suppose a confidence equivalent to the agreement of the field, say 75%; we can’t be confident that an explanation that accounts for all four facts is correct, even if it is the only explanation possible. If we assume these events are independent, which I think is fair as to not privilege the hypothesis with an unfounded assumption, we can then calculate that the probability of all four facts (with a 75% of being true) would have only about a 32% chance of being true and the probability of only three out of the four being true is about 42%. This means that even if the hypothesis is the only one that can explain all the “facts,” it is more probable that only three of the four facts are correct rather than all four being true. We needn’t need to show that these facts are more likely to be false than true, we only need to show that the conclusion that assumes that all four of these facts as true is most likely false, which can be done by painting these facts with a bit of skepticism.

  15. Wasn’t there a survey done a few years ago that concluded that about 80% of philosophers in America and England are atheists?

    therefore…

  16. There is also evidence that 100 percent of people who work at conservative Christian universities such as the one where Craig is on the faculty, owe their continued employment to adhering to a signed statement that they will not publicly rock the boat on the doctrines of the Christian Reich. The philosphers who make up the 80 percent are employed by universities that practice academic freedom.

  17. Gatogreensleeves

    At holysmoke.org, Richard Smith has compiled a list of all of the historians that we know of who lived within Jesus’ lifetime (and area) or up to 100 years afterwards (http://www.holysmoke.org/sdhok/jesus5.htm). They are listed as (I counted 43):

    Apollonius, Appian, Arrian, Aulus Gellius, Columella, etc.

    Even including the (admittedly interpolated) infamous quotes from Josephus, as well as the reports of the *beliefs* of Christians in the second century by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger, why did absolutely none of these 43 historians (some of whom were very local and contemporary, like Philo-Judaeus) ever report about such huge biblical events as; Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents (Matt. 2:16-18); the many large scale miracles, including the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-15), a supernatural darkening of the sky for 3 hours and an earthquake at Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:33, Matt. 27:51), the resurrection and ascension with many witnesses (whether it was one hundred and twenty witnesses in Acts 1:15 or five hundred witnesses in 1 Cor. 15:6); …let alone a town full of zombies (Matt. 27:52-53)!? The ninth century Christian scholar Photius noted that the (now lost) work of the Galilean historian who was a contemporary of Jesus, Justus of Tiberius, contained, “not the least mention of the appearance of Christ” (Photius’ Bibliotheca, code 33). AND YET… 75% of scholars still accept not only Jesus’ existence, but the the miraculous parts at the end. It’s just smacks of desperation. At what point does absence of evidence become evidence of absence?

  18. “At what point does absence of evidence become evidence of absence?”

    According to probability theory, absence of evidence is always evidence of absence. It might be strong or weak evidence, but it’s evidence nonetheless.

  19. 52% of the populous disagrees with Global Warming. 60% of all doctors disagree with evolution (Humans evolved naturally with no supernatural involvement). 75% of scientists believe in the Big Bang as the origin of the universe (no explanation on what caused it)

    I guess you have a few more overtly critical opinions to write bashing those communities as idiots as well.

  20. There are two arguments that Craig could make about the empty tomb. He could say that the empty tomb is impossible to explain naturally. In that case the burden of proving that there was an empty tomb becomes much, much greater. Or he could accept that the empty can be explained naturally but then argue that whatever explained the empty tomb would not also explain the appearances.

    In fact this is wrong. There is a way of explaining the empty tomb that also explains the appearances. Suppose, for example, that the body was stolen. The disappearance of the body could lead to a rumour that Jesus had survived the crucifixion. And a rumour that Jesus was still alive would lead to sightings of Jesus.

    We know that this sort of thing can happen. At the end of the second world war when Hitler shot himself there was some doubt about what happened to the body. This led to a rumour that Hitler hadn’t actually died. And the rumour led to sightings of Hitler. In fact people started seeing Hitler all over the place.

  21. “52% of the populous disagrees with Global Warming.”

    99% of those people do not have the requisite expertice to be judging something like that. Besides, by definition, 50% of the populus are below average intelligence. I think that correlates nicely.

    “60% of all doctors disagree with evolution (Humans evolved naturally with no supernatural involvement).”

    Maybe if you wrote “60% of all biologists disagree with evolution” you might have a point. But you probably looked it up and saw that the number was closer to 99% for biologists (the only category that matters) so you tried pulling the wool over our eyes by using the ambiguous term “doctors”. Craig is a “doctor” so this ambiguous term includes him as well.

    “75% of scientists believe in the Big Bang as the origin of the universe (no explanation on what caused it)”

    Again with another ambiguous term “scientists”. Do you know about the Salem Hypothesis? The observation that any time a Creationist purports to have support of some scientist who is skeptical of evolution, it’s always an engineer of some sort? So I’d like to see you write a more specific term for what you’ve labelled here as “scientists”. As far as I know, astrophysicists are the only ones qualified to describe and critique the fruits of their sphere of knowledge. A biologists is a “scientists” but they’re no more of an expert on the big bang than my grandmother. I’m willing to bet that it’s closer to 99% of all astrophycists who think that a big bang occured.

  22. Couldn’t have said it better myself, stuartm! Craig is probably hounding Atheists over the empty tomb since, unlike Habermas and Licona, he actually believes the visions of Jesus could be explained away with mass Pareidolia/hallucinations in a manner similiar to the marian apparitions.

    Also, with the doctor quip- Firstly, I’ll assume you’re referring to medical doctors. Secondly, I am certain that they believe in “Theistic evolution”, not “Intelligent design”. There is a BIG difference. They’d say that God created the universe to allow evolution- but would deny that God intervened during the evolutionary process.

  23. Additionally, the scholars Habermas consults are New Testament scholars. What about other theolgians? What about Muslim scholars, for example–would they accept that the empty tomb and post-mortem experiences were virtually certain?

    And what about plain old historians? Show me a book of history (not theology) where any miracle is presented as historical fact. They’ll present them with “It was believed that” (or whatever) as a preface, of course, but these aren’t presented as fact.

  24. Galileo- I’m pretty sure that many (if not most) New testiment scholars agree with you that the resurrection can’t be “proven” since it’s a miracle- Although I could be wrong. Most scholars I’ve read like Ehrman (when he believed) and Allison, as well as bibliobloggers like James McGrath and Jim West agree with this view