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.

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