Did William Lane Craig plagiarize part of his master’s thesis? (probably)

I had been vaguely aware of this issue before, but after a reader contacted me about it, I did some searching and I have to say the accusations look credible. Here is the best summary I’ve found. Here is a quotation supposedly from Craig’s thesis:

The twentieth century, writes Stuart C Easton, at the conclusion of The Western Heritage, is an age of paradox. The achievements of this century, and indeed, the modern period as a whole have made it possible for the majority of Western men and women to liberate themselves from the numerous restrictions that shackled persons living in past centuries. The individualism that sprang from the Renaissance, but which could be the possession of only an elite few in that age, has now become possible for the majority. Throughout the course of his whole life, Western man makes thousands of decisions that were not available to him earlier. In contrast to previous ages, he now chooses his career and spouse freely. He may determine the quality and extent of his education. Neither his state nor his society constrains him to believe in a particular creed or to worship in a specified manner; religious pluralism is the order of the day, and he may even choose to be an atheist or an agnostic if he so desires. Available to him is a dazzling array of entertainments and escapisms to assuage his mind. No longer forced to labour for long hours, he may pursue hobbies of interest to him in his spare time; he can choose where he wishes to call home, either in the place of his birth or abroad. All that is demanded of him in return is that his behavior is such that it does not curtail the liberty of others or outrage too blatantly the standards of his society. He is expected to obey the laws of his government and to make enough money for himself and his family by his work(or to inherit it from a wealthy ancestor who has earned more than enough for his needs) to enable him to meet what he believes to be his needs.

And here is a quotation from the work Craig was referring to:

The twentieth century is an age of paradox. The achievements of this century and its predecessors in the modern period have made it possible for the majority of Western men to emancipate themselves from the numerous restrictions that afflicted men in past centuries. The individualism that we notice as early as the Renaissance, but which could be in the possession of only a few in that age, has now become possible for the majority. Throughout his life, Western man makes decisions not available to him earlier. He can choose his career and spouse freely; he can educate himself or not according to his bent; he can choose from myriad forms of entertainment; he can cultivate a hobby in his spare time; he can live wherever he feels inclined, either in the country of his birth or in a foreign land. All that is required of him in return is to behave in such a way as not to infringe too outrageously on the freedom of others, to obey such laws as his society imposes on him, and to make enough money for himself by his work(or to inherit it from an ancestor who made more than enough to meet his needs) to enable him to satisfy what he conceives to be his requirements. Truly an enviable lot, one would think, in comparison with what was demanded of a medieval serf.

If these quotations are legitimate, then Craig is guilty of plagiarism. Craig is clearly using Easton’s words, but failed to make clear that’s what he was doing past the first sentence. Though this isn’t evidence of dishonesty so much as not knowing WTF he was doing. After all, if he had been trying to pull a fast one on his professor(s), he presumably wouldn’t have directed them to the work he was plagiarizing from. It reflects poorly on Trinity Evangelical Divinity School more than anything, that they’d fail to teach one of their grad students that this kind of thing isn’t OK.

Thought actually… “has no clue about scholarly ethics” is a pretty good summary of Craig’s behavior even today.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Neither Easton nor Craig seems to have had the slightest inkling of class privilege – but TEDS probably grades downward for such allusions anyway..

    • Steven Carr

      I agree that it does not look dishonest, more unaware of the need to avoid plagiarising to that extent.

  • AgeOfReasonXXI

    “has no clue about scholarly ethics” is a pretty good summary of Craig’s behavior even today.

    to say the least

  • piero

    I do not see the issue of Craig’s supposed plagiarism as an important one in any sense. What worries me is that someone who is ready to justify genocide with absurd arguments can get a masters’ degree from any university. In addtion to the academic requirements, there should be some sort of ethical test before a degree is granted: utter nutcases should be prevented from getting an edorsement form an institution of higher learning.

    I don’t mean to disparage Craig exclusively: I’ve seen my fair share of nutty doctors, accountants, lawyers, dentists, engineers, teachers, fishmongers and even psychologists and psychiatrists.

  • barryschwartz

    It looks like an attempt at elegant variation when a direct quote is called for, regardless of whether or not a charge of plagiarism could be levied. He may actually have been following some bad writing advice he was given.

    Ethics aside, the guy’s just not very scholarly, as shown by his infamous appeal to probability theory without actually being able to read what he just wrote.

  • Eric Sweeney

    Chris, why do you focus on possible plagiarism and ignore the Lying by your pal Loftus?

    Are you a dishonest fuck too?

    • piero

      What are you referring to? I know nothing about Loftus’s supposed lies. Since this a public comment thread, not a private e-mail server, it would be appropriate for you to enlighten us.

      Also, insinuating that someone is a fuck in his own blog using the resources he has made available for you to post seems to be… how can I put it… evidence of a less-than-adequate education?

  • http://chessconfessions.blogspot.com Blue Devil Knight

    barryschwartz is right, perhaps he could have just done a blockquote or whatever, but overall this seems a nonstory. It is the kind of sloppy, pushing the border of plagiarism, scholarship I’d expect from some obscure humanities masters’ thesis. His first sentence is: ‘The twentieth century, writes Stuart C Easton, at the conclusion of The Western Heritage, is an age of paradox.’ He goes on to basically cut and paste from Easton’s work, but Craig could say he was clear enough that was what he was doing, that he wasn’t trying to hide anything, and that he probably should have been a little more careful.

  • Steven Carr

    As can be seen from http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm , religious people have had previous when it comes to cutting and pasting, and passing it off as their own work.

    After all, ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ nicked lots of stuff from ‘Mark’, and passed it off as their own work.

  • http://chessconfessions.blogspot.com Blue Devil Knight

    Plagiarism is a very serious accusation, not to be thrown around lightly. It seems to not apply in this case. Whether it applies in other cases is another issue.

    Clearly he was referring to the Easton book. He did so explicitly. He should have just been more clear that was what he was doing for the entire paragraph, not just the first sentence of the paragraph. Sloppy, a bit close to the edge? Yes. But not over the edge.

    Also note that even if this one paragraph smacked of egregious plagiarism (which it does not), without the context we would still not be able to say it was clear-cut plagiarism. What if (contrary to fact) he didn’t actually cite Easton, but the next paragraph started with “And that is taken nearly verbatim from Easton’s book, with some stylistic changes”?

    Anyway, not worth this time I’m spending on it, just concerned he isn’t getting a charitable reading, and want to push against accusations of plagiarism that aren’t clearly deserved.

  • http://eastonstealthsoftball.blogspot.com/ Manie Todd

    There is definately a great deal to know about this topic. I like all the points you have made.


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