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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  • davidct

    Craig is a showman. Debates are performances for the already convinced and those who believe in the conclusions and like to be reassured. While less than convincing to those who want to hear strong arguments, he is infuriating to listen to. He presents an aura of smug certainty that it all the more annoying for its constant flow of unsupported assertions and shifting the burden of proof. It makes you want to smack him. That is likely his intent since if you get angry, you loose.

    His effect on a hell bound heathen like myself, is to convince me of just how hollow his claims are. Once a person can get to the point of seeing the technique, Craig is actually an argument for doubt.

  • piero

    Spot on.

    The problem is that Craig knows that if his opponent calls him out on his “factual” claims, the debate would turn into something else altogether. It takes time to rebut every unsupported “fact” in Craig’s opening statement (and he always insists on going first, apparently).

    I I were to debate him, I would point out that external factual staments have no place in a debate of ideas, because the public has no way to confirm them or disprove them. If Craig says that 87.8% of Biblical scholars believe the resurrection to be a historical fact, there is no point in trying to refute that fact, because Craig’s supporters will obviously believe he was telling the truth. I would instead reply that he cannot expect the audience to know whether he is telling the truth or not, and hence that he is using a dishonest trick. Why, I could start my argument by stating that quantum mechanics has conclusively proved that God cannot exist: what will the audience make of this? I can make up citations from non-existent journals, or distort genuine ones to my liking. Of course, after the debate I will be exposed as a liar, but who cares about the post-debate comments? People are usually interested in the debate itself, not in the follow-ups (which won’t make the evening news, obviously, so you would have to actually look for them).

  • Lyra

    I haven’t listened to this debate (my sound card is not functioning, giving me new insights as to what it means to be deaf on the internet), but I really liked the William Lane Craig v Shelly Kagan debate.

  • stevengarmon

    You seem to have a weird obsession with WLC…

  • Joe M

    Two things to consider. Because Christians know that some degree of faith is a requirement to even know God, certain points that many will not consider fact will indeed be “fact” to a Christian.

    Also, Bill does a good job at creating a reasonable doubt. He makes people think instead of following what a “scientist” says just because he has a degree in something. You can’t go to Harvard to become a god. But our youth are so lost, that they are yearning to have an idol in their lives. They worship honorable men. Even if those men are liars. Bill obviously seeks to prevent that for the sake of the Truth.

    • anteprepro

      Apparently, despite the adage, Christians are entitled to their own opinion AND their own facts. Marvelous!

      He makes people think instead of following what a “scientist” says just because he has a degree in something.

      lolwut? He tries to pretend that science supports Christianity, often by using “what a ‘scientist’ says” to make his case. Bill Craig also liberally cites philosophers he deems to be authoritative, along with the scientists. If his true, secret goal is to get people to stop “worshiping” human authorities, he is doing a piss-poor job of it.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I think I did a pretty good job of documenting in this post that making people think is that last thing Craig wants to do.

  • day2knight

    I think these quotes tell us all we need to know about WLC.

    “Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.” William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p. 36.
    “The Bible says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit.” William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p. 37. (More poisoning the well.)