Documenting William Lane Craig’s lies about his opponents: a reply to Jeff Lowder

I thought I was done writing about William Lane Craig, but Jeffery Jay Lowder has done two posts challenging my claim that Craig is dishonest. Reading Jeff’s posts makes me think that in my series on Craig, I was trying to do too many things at once: take down his arguments, expose his dishonesty, do it all in a relatively concise way. So I’m going to do least a couple more posts on this, and in this first one I want to deal with the issue of Craig’s misrepresentations of his opponents.

This is a tricky issue to write about. I agree with Jeff that accusations of dishonesty are not to be made lightly, which is why I emphasize that there are few other philosophers, theologians, or apologists that I would make these accusations against. Furthermore, Jeff is right to ask how I know Craig is being intentionally deceptive, as opposed to honestly mistaken, in particular cases. This is hard to know.

For example, Jeff agrees with me in one case that Craig’s claims about Dennett were false, but suggests, “It’s possible that Craig’s high opinion of his own work has caused him to become arrogant, i.e., to mistakenly assume that all discussions of the cosmological argument are about his version of the cosmological argument.”

The case of Craig citing Bart Ehrman in support of the empty tomb is similar. Lowder suggests that maybe Craig got Ehrman’s views wrong because he had forgotten what Ehrman told him in their debate. Now Ehrman was pretty clear about this during their debate. In fact, Craig’s dubious use of authorities was one of Ehrman’s four main criticisms of Craig during their debate. Ehrman said:

I’m surprised by some of his so-called authorities that Bill cites, for the reality is that the majority of critical scholars studying the historical Jesus today disagree with his conclusion that a historian can show that the body of Jesus emerged physically from the tomb. Bill might find that surprising, but that would be because of the context he works in – a conservative, evangelical seminary. In that environment, what he’s propounding is what everyone believes. And it’s striking that even some of his own key authorities don’t agree. He quotes a number of scholars, whom I consider to be friends and acquaintances, and I can tell you, they don’t agree with his views. Does that make him wrong? No, it simply means that his impressive recounting of scholarly opinion is slanted, lopsided, and fails to tell the real story, which is that he represents a minority opinion.

(later) We don’t know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. What we have are Gospel stories written decades later by people who had heard stories in circulation, and it’s not hard at all to imagine somebody coming up with the story. We don’t know if his tomb was empty three days later. We don’t know if he was physically seen by his followers afterwards.

(Note to Jeff: The article by Craig in question appears to have been written approximately two and a half years ago. It was #143 in a weekly Q&A that’s now at #276. It also appears to have been written after the start of Craig’s Defenders Series II, which appears to have debuted in December 2009. Click “details” on the podcast’s first episode.)

As with the Dennett case, an innocent explanation is possible. But even though I think the Ehrman case is pretty damning, individual cases aren’t the reason I’m convinced the misrepresentations are intentional. The reason I’m convinced the misrepresentations are intentional is that Craig engages in them so often, and they’re often extremely damaging taken at face value while also having some plausible deniability.

I hope to hash out a couple disagreements with Jeff about specific cases in his comments section, but here, let me give some further examples,which I’ve mostly never blogged about before. First: during their debate, Sam Harris said:

We are being offered a psychopathic and psychotic moral attitude… it is psychopathic because this is a total detachment from the, from the well-being of human beings. It, this so easily rationalizes the slaughter of children. Ok, just think about the Muslims at this moment who are blowing themselves up, convinced that they are agents of God’s will. There is absolutely nothing that Dr. Craig can s—can say against their behavior, in moral terms, apart from his own faith-based claim that they’re praying to the wrong God. If they had the right God, what they were doing would be good, on Divine Command theory.

Now, I’m obviously not saying that all that Dr. Craig, or all religious people, are psychopaths and psychotics, but this to me is the true horror of religion. It allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions, what only lunatics could believe on their own.

You can debate the words “psychopathic” and “psychotic,” but otherwise what Harris says is an indisputably accurate description of Craig’s moral view. Craig has explicitly said the genocide of the Caananites described in the Bible was moral simply because God commanded it. And here is how Craig responded to Harris here:

He also says it’s “psychopathic” to believe these things. Now, that remark is just as stupid as it is insulting. It is absurd to think that Peter van Inwagen here at the University of Notre Dame is psychopathic, or that a guy like Dr. Tom Flint, who is as gracious a Christian gentlemen as I could have ever met, is psychopathic. Uh, this is simply, uh, below the belt.

This is a disgusting smear against Harris, and I am sickened and angered every time I think about it. Harris explicitly said that he was not saying what Craig insinuates he was saying. Hey Jeff, can I call Craig a liar now?

Jeff may wonder why I didn’t include this in my recent post series on Craig, or in my review of the debate (which I saw live). The answer is that the issue was tangential to Craig and Harris’ main arguments, and doesn’t register with me as in any way unusual for Craig.

The other thing I want to say more about is Craig’s many misrepresentations of Stephen Law, who he debated in 2011. Here’s the transcript of that debate, Craig’s post-debate remarks, and Law’s blog reply to Craig’s post-debate remarks. I’m going to go back and forth between those sources here. From Law’s opening speech in the debate:

Notice that this evil god hypothesis is as well supported by, say, Professor Craig’s cosmological and fine tuning arguments. (Sorry, he didn’t run the fine-tuning argument today, it was just the three)… Professor Craig’s cosmological argument, as his belief in his good God hypothesis, that argument failed to provide us with any clue at all as to our creator’s moral character.

From Craig’s post debate comments:

In the debate, Law made the remarkable claim that the cosmological and teleological arguments are not even part of a cumulative case for theism!

Law’s blog reply:

No that is simply not true. I said they make equally as cumulative a case for an evil god. As Craig actually just admitted above. So the challenge I put to Craig is to explain why, if belief in an evil god is absurd, notwithstanding the cosmological and teleological arguments, belief in a good god is not similarly absurd. That is the evil god challenge.

From Craig’s first debate rebuttal:

I think Dr. Law’s mistake is that he thinks that the theist arrives at the doctrine of God’s goodness by an inductive survey of the world’s events. And that’s simply incorrect.

From Law’s first debate rebuttal:

First of all, Professor Craig seemed to be suggesting that I think Christians think God is good because, you know, they draw that conclusion on the basis of what they see of the world around them… That’s certainly not why I think Christians believe that God is good, not at all! So that, that was just an attack on a straw man. It’s not my position, very obviously.

From Craig’s post-debate comments:

Law mistakenly seems to think that the theist arrives at the conclusion that the Creator/Designer is good by an inductive survey of the world’s events.

Law’s blog reply:

No. I don’t do that. I explained why in my first rebuttal. Craig is simply choosing to ignore what I said and continuing to attack a straw man.

In Law’s blog reply, Law also explains how Craig misrepresented Law’s response to Craig’s moral argument. But I feel a bit petty documenting all of these in detail. I think they’re tangential to the biggest problems with Craig’s arguments. The main thing documenting these kind of misrepresentations does is give people a warning not to trust Craig in the future.

And I think such warnings are important to give, but the question is, how many examples do I use when giving them? More than a couple, certainly, they only really become damning when you get enough of them to realize we should expect more of them in the future, and to make it very unlikely that they’re accidental.

Yet the other horn of the dilemma I face writing about Craig is that this post, for example, is already over 1,500 words, and it’s on a topic I’m tired of and at least some of my readers are sick of.  The reason I wrote my post series on Craig was not because I find him that interesting, but because I hoped I could get out the definitive version of what I have to say about him, and then stop talking about it. Obviously I failed at that, but I haven’t given up on trying not to bore my readers too much.

And obviously, I’ve read and listened to a lot of Craig’s stuff, but I’ve reached the point where I actually avoid reading and listening to any more of it, in large part because of the high probability that I’ll just encounter yet another misrepresentation of his opponents. Which will leave me feeling pissed off without me learning anything I didn’t already know about Craig.

When I saw Craig’s debate with Sam Harris more than a year ago, I wasn’t terribly surprised by Craig’s misrepresentations of Harris. And every time I encounter another misrepresentation, I get less and less surprised.

And again, the number and predictability of these misrepresentations makes it hard for me to believe they’re accidental. Because of those things, I’m convinced the misrepresentations are intentional–in other words, lies.

P.S. – To show that I haven’t searched through many different interactions between Craig and his opponents to find a few mistakes by Craig, look at this list of debate transcripts. I’ve here covered Craig’s interactions with three Craig’s opponents in the four most recently transcribed debates.

The fourth opponent from those debates was Lawrence Krauss. You can read Krauss’ comments on his debate with Craig here. Krauss also accuses Craig of lying, though in cases of mathematical and cosmological issues in which Craig is not an expert, the plausibility of the hypothesis that Craig is sincerely mistaken is much higher.

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