From the archives: 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.

Originally published June 3, 2011.

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