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

Tired of me reposting all these posts on Craig from my old blog? Tough–other readers like them a lot. So without further ado:

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.

Overexplaining William Lane Craig
Why I’ve decided to start deleting jerky comments more often
Slavery abolition and animal rights: the biggest problem
Avoiding divorce doesn’t make you a traditionalist
  • machintelligence

    In WLC’s debate with John Shelby Spong, bishop Spong calls him out on this very tactic. (Try about 49 minutes in on part one on Youtube).

  • F

    And never mind what is considered to be “facts” or “evidence”.

  • ichiban

    I’ve noticed that Craig resorts to dirtier tactics when debating biblical historians/scholars. From snarky powerpoint slides (“Bart’s Blunder”) in his debate with Ehrman to outright poisoning the well 30 seconds into his debate with Hector Avalos. I think he fears they will call him out on his BS and gets very defensive.

  • andyman409

    Craig is an interesting one. Despite his accusation that no naturalistic explaination explains the five facts sufficiently, he only ever uses one argument against the hallucination hypothesis. Interestingly, it is the one that Habermas never uses- which is that the disciples couldn’t of concieved of a premature resurrection. He accepts that group delusions are possible, and that the disciples were in the correct frame of mind, but cannot accept that one argument, which isn’t even that good.

  • vinnyjh

    Craig’s claim that Ehrman changed his mind is bullshit, too.

    In the first place, it wasn’t something Ehrman wrote.
    The quotation of Ehrman comes from a lecture he did for the Teaching Company in the series From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity in which Ehrman gave a brief overview of issues related to the historical Jesus.

    In the section from which Craig quotes, Ehrman was making a comparison between factual matters that a historian can deal with like the burial of Jesus and theological questions like the resurrection that are beyond historical methodology. Ehrman didn’t make any attempt to establish the historicity of any particular story or event in the gospels.

    Ehrman also did a full series of lectures devoted to The Historical Jesus in 2000 in which he made it clear that he did not think historians could be certain about the empty tomb or the burial by Joseph of Arimathea. He also makes it perfectly clear in his 1999 book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium where he discusses the issues in more detail.

    Ehrman may not have qualified his statements as clearly as he might have in the 2003 lectures, but there is no indication that he is changing the position that he had articulated every time he dealt with the issue in detail prior to that point and which he held consistently thereafter.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Ehrman also did a full series of lectures devoted to The Historical Jesus in 2000 in which he made it clear that he did not think historians could be certain about the empty tomb or the burial by Joseph of Arimathea.’

    On page 97 of Did Jesus Exist, Bart Ehrman makes the following statement.

    ‘We have already seen that at least seven Gospel accounts of Jesus, all of them entirely or partially independent of one another, survived from within a century of the traditional date of his death.

    These seven are based on numerous previously existent written sources, and on an enormous number of oral traditions about him that can be dated back to Aramaic sources of Palestine, almost certainly from the 30s of the Common Era.

    Rather surprisingly, Bart goes into debates to claim that all this astonishing documentation provides no support for any religious claim Christianity makes.

    It is rather a fine-balancing act, praising the Gospels as seven (sic) independent accounts, based on written documentation and oral traditions which go way, way back, and then claiming that nothing in them supports Christianity.

    • vinnyjh

      I don’t think that Ehrman claims that nothing in the Gospels supports Christianity, but I agree that he is trying to walk a very fine line.

  • Craig Duckett

    The problem that William Lane Craig and apologists make as well as those who argue against them is that BOTH groups are debating the plausibility and diverse explanations of the Resurrection as if its account in various anonymously-written third-person narratives is to be considered a description of an actual event by way of presupposition instead of questioning at the offset the legitimacy of the various anonymously-written third-person narratives themselves.

    Both groups are presupposing by way of argument that the stories told in the anonymously-written third-person narratives are describing in some way shape or form things that may or may-not have happened, and then rush to either end of the spectrum to explain them (i.e., going from “Jesus actually resurrected from the dead” to “his dead body was removed from the tomb”) when the simplest explanation is that these “events” are being told within the context of anonymously-written third-person narratives which means nothing claimed therein had to have happened the way it is claimed, or even had to have happened at all. Why? Because they are anonymously-written third-person narratives!

    Before wasting all this time and energy arguing round and round and round about the stories inside the anonymously-written third-person narratives, wouldn’t it be easier simply to discuss the legitimacy of anonymously-written third-person narratives IN GENERAL as proof of or argument for anything?

    If an anonymously-written third-person narrative found today is considered less than hearsay since everything contained therein might be nothing more than the product of its author’s (or authors’) imagination, why should we treat anonymously-written third-person narratives from 2,000 years ago with any less incredulity?

    Skeptics: Don’t fall into the apologists’ trap by arguing the legitimacy of Jesus, or His Miracles, or His Resurrection ad nauseum, because that is a game that can never be won. Instead, cut the apologists off at their feet. Remove the Gospels themselves from the discussion by asserting their illegitimacy as being nothing more than anonymously-written third-person narratives. Until it can be determined who actually wrote them, when they were written, and how they were initially transcribed, then anything claimed therein might be pure invention making any discussion about their contents little more than speculative fiction.