Chris Hallquist vs. William Lane Craig on Dishonesty: Part 2

Now that Chris Hallquist has accepted my summary of his allegations about William Lane Craig’s honesty, I want to review each allegation in detail to determine if it is justified.

In order to maximize the readability of this post, I’m going to repeat a lot of what I wrote in the last post but add my assessment where appropriate. For each alleged example, my old comments will appear in a section or paragraph marked as “Background.” This will then be followed by a section or paragraph marked, “Discussion,” followed by a brief one-line summary titled, “Verdict.” But before I do that, I want to review my guiding principles.


Guiding Principles for Allegations of Dishonesty

1.  Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I take the charge of dishonesty extremely seriously. Anyone who levels the accusation of dishonesty has the burden of proof, and they had better make sure they attempt to get the other person’s side of the story before publicly accusing that other person of dishonesty.

2. A “lie” is a false statement made by a person with deliberate intent to deceive. In order to prove that someone “lied” about X, one must do more than show that X is false. One must show that the other person knew that X was false; that the other person’s intent was to deceive his audience.

Assessment of Hallquist’s Allegations Against Craig

1. Allegation: Craig is in the habit of telling lies about people who disagree with him.

1.1. Example: Daniel Dennett

Background: Hallquist claims that Craig misrepresents Daniel Dennett regarding the kalam cosmological argument. Craig claims that Dennett misstated and caricatured the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument. According to Hallquist, however, this is not so. “Dennett never says he was talking about Kalam–I suspect the argument was, rather, a version Dennett frequently encounters from his undergraduates.”

Discussion: I have read the relevant section of Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. I agree with Hallquist that Dennett never says he was talking about the kalam argument. Furthermore, I would add that the context of Dennett’s argument provides no reason to believe he was talking about the kalam argument.

In fact, the following sentence suggests that Dennett was not talking about the kalam argument: “The Cosmological Argument, which in its simplest form states that since everything must have a cause the universe must have a cause–namely, God–doesn’t stay simple for long” (p. 242, italics mine). The phrase “in its simplest form” indicates that Dennett is at least aware of multiple versions of the cosmological argument. And if “in its simplest form” means “in the form that is philosophically least sophisticated,” then it seems highly plausible that Dennett did not have the kalam argument in mind when he was writing about the cosmological argument.

The above comments should make it clear why I agree with Hallquist that Dennett wasn’t writing about the kalam argument. Thus, Craig’s claim that Dennett misstated and caricatured the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument is false. But was Craig lying when he made that claim? Hallquist has provided us with no reason to believe that Craig intentionally tried to deceive his audience. For all we know, perhaps Craig sincerely (but mistakenly) believed that Dennett was referring to the kalam argument. 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.

Please note I’m not saying I believe this to be the case, i.e., I am not accusing Craig of being arrogant and self-deceived. Rather, my point is that this is the sort of alternative explanation Hallquist needs to discount before he can justify his allegation that Craig lied. Hallquist has not–yet–provided any reason to believe that intentional deception is the best explanation.

Verdict: Not Guilty

1.2. Example: Sam Harris

Background: Let us next turn to another ‘new atheist,’ Sam Harris. Hallquist quotes the following exchange between Craig and Harris during the Q&A; period:

Harris: This is the kind of morality that you get out of divine command theory that, again, offers no retort to the Jihadist other than, “Sorry buster, you happen to have the wrong god.”
Craig: But that’s exactly your retort, Sam, that God has not issued such a command, and therefore, you’re not morally obligated to do it.

According to Hallquist, Craig told a “falsehood” about Harris’ retort. Hallquist explains.

I can’t see anything Harris said to suggest that, and Harris’ actual response (“if God is issuing that command, he’s an evil bastard”) is fairly predictable given Harris’ other views. So it’s not clear Craig was lying, but I think at minimum he was guilty of making stuff up about Harris.

Let’s return to the Harris-Craig exchange during the Q&A; period.

Harris: No, if God did, he would be evil. So I can get behind that God, if God is issuing that command, he’s an evil bastard.
Craig: The problem is that you see, on atheism, you don’t have any basis for making that kind of moral judgment.
Harris: I’ve tried to give you a basis, sorry.

Commenting on this, Hallquist explains:

Craig’s second response (“The problem is that…”) may have been Craig’s honest opinion, though I think stating your opinion as if it constituted some kind of rebuttal and as if your opponent had not previously tried to argue against that claim should be frowned upon. But it isn’t as bad as flat-out making stuff up about your opponent.

Discussion: I have not listened to or watched Craig’s debate with Harris, so I’m going to rely entirely upon Hallquist’s discussion and assume it is an accurate, fair, and complete summary.

Hallquist admits that “it’s not clear Craig was lying.” So that means this example does not support Hallquist’s allegation that “Craig is in the habit of telling lies about people who disagree with him.” But, he says, “at minimum he [Craig] was guilty of making stuff up about Harris.” Huh? If Craig was “making stuff up about Harris,” why wouldn’t Craig be guilty of lying? And how does Hallquist know that Craig was “making stuff up about Harris” as opposed to Craig being merely mistaken? Hallquist never says. Therefore, I don’t think Hallquist has shown that Craig was, in fact, “making stuff up about Harris.”

Verdict: Not Guilty

2. Allegation: Craig cannot be trusted to accurately describe the views of the experts on various subjects.

2.1. Example: Dale Allison

Background: Hallquist discusses the case of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to Paul. As Hallquist points out, “we know that hallucinations, false memories, and so on seem to be an important source of religious and paranormal beliefs.” According to Hallquist, Dale Allison makes a similar point in his book, Resurrecting Jesus. In his discussion of Allison’s book, Craig wrote, “Allison’s discussion reminded me of literature I’ve read on UFO sightings, in which the serious is mixed with the ridiculous, leaving one in great uncertainty about what to make of such experiences.” Hallquist interprets Craig to be (falsely) “insinuating that Allison is just like UFOologists,” when in fact Allison was merely noting parallels between UFO sightings and other reports. On the basis of this insinuation, Hallquist concludes that Craig has “lied” about Allison’s views.

Discussion: I am not sure what, precisely, Hallquist means when he says that Craig insinuates “that Allison is just like UFOologists.” I don’t think Craig believes Allison has the same level of credibility as UFOologists, as shown by the opening line of his piece: “I’ve never seen a better presentation of the case for scepticism about Jesus’ resurrection than in Allison’s Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2005).” I interpret Craig to be saying this.

There’s a bunch of “stuff” written about UFOs. Some seems ridiculous and some seems serious. UFOologists tend to lump them all together as equally credible. When I read Dale Allison’s discussion of the parallels between post-mortem appearances, UFO sightings, and other reports, he seems to lump them all together as equally credible. What I want is for Allison to actually consider each story or claim on its individual merits.

At any rate, this seems to me to be the most charitable interpretation of Craig’s statement. Notice also that this is fully consistent with Hallquist’s point that Allison was merely noting parallels between UFO sightings and other reports. This doesn’t support Hallquist’s accusation that Craig has “lied” about Allison’s views.

Verdict: Not guilty

3. Allegation: Craig cannot be trusted to accurately describe what is a fact

3.1. Example: Craig’s “Four Facts” and the Resurrection

Background: Craig says there are four established historical facts: Jesus’ burial, empty tomb, post-resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith. According to Hallquist, however, “the word ‘fact’ means something that can be proven” and none of these four things can be proven. In his words, “I’m confident that there’s no proof of any of Craig’s four facts.” But, according to fellow Evangelical scholar Gary Habermas, only 75% of New Testament scholars accept the first two of those facts. The same percentage of professional philosophers are atheists, but Craig would hardly agree that atheism is a fact. So why should we believe that Craig’s first two alleged facts are real facts? According to Hallquist, Craig’s claim these four facts are facts is a “big lie.”

Discussion: I’m not sure I agree with Hallquist’s claim that “the word ‘fact’ means something that can be proven.” I’ve always understood the word “fact”to refer to truth or reality; cf. Dictionary.com’s definition of “fact.” But let’s put that to the side.

This allegation seems entirely unjustified. Even if Hallquist were correct that Craig were mistaken about these four facts, he has not shown that Craig lied about these four “facts.” In order to justify the claim that Craig lied about these four facts, however, Hallquist has to do more than simply show that Craig said is mistaken. Hallquist must show that Craig knew that what he said was false; that Craig’s intent was to deceive his audience. Hallquist has shown nothing of the sort.

Verdict: Not Guilty

4. Allegation: Craig cannot be trusted to accurately describe the views of his opponents.

4.1. Example: Opponents of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Background: Regarding the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument, Craig inaccurately claims that atheists agree with its second premise, that “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” According to Hallquist, this is false. “I’ve never heard an atheist say what Craig claims, nor does he give a single example of an atheist who has said that.”

Discussion: First, on page 108 of Reasonable Faith, Craig writes, “Hence, most atheists are implicitly committed to (2)” (italics mine). The word “most” is key here, since Craig implicitly acknowledges there are exceptions. (Quentin Smith comes to mind as one, at least when he was flirting with the idea of self-causation.) Second, Hallquist’s objection that he has never heard an atheist say that, is irrelevant. For Craig claims that what atheists “typically” say logically implies premise (2) of Leibniz’s argument (“implicitly committed”). And I’m inclined to agree with Craig. While there are exceptions (such as, perhaps, Smith), they are the exceptions. In my experience, Craig is correct: most atheists typically do say the existence of the universe is a brute fact, i.e., it has no explanation of its existence.

Verdict: Not Guilty

4.2. Example: Richard Carrier

Background: In his debate with Richard Carrier on the resurrection of Jesus, Carrier brought up the historical reliability of the New Testament. In response, Craig said he was “really sorry that [Carrier has] chosen to pursue that tack.” Hallquist takes this to mean that Craig denied that the historical reliability of the NT is relevant to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Therefore, Hallquist concludes that Craig was “dishonest” for denying the relevance of NT reliability to the resurrection.

Discussion: I need to begin by acknowledging that I have not listened to Carrier’s debate with Craig. So, in order to research this allegation in as efficient manner as possible, I decided to skip forward to Craig’s First Rebuttal, where I expected to find Craig’s remarks (the ones quoted by Hallquist). I was right.  At the very beginning of Craig’s first rebuttal, Craig said this:

I know that Richard really wanted to debate tonight the general reliability of the gospels, and I’m really sorry that he’s chosen to pursue that tack, despite our agreement that that wouldn’t be our topic tonight.

Craig explicitly claims that he and Carrier had an agreement that the general reliability of the gospels were not the topic for their debate.  He then went on to make a couple of general points regarding the general reliability of the gospels anyway. I then stopped listening.

Even if the reliability of the gospels were not the debate topic (i.e., the primary focus of the debate), it doesn’t follow that the reliability of the gospels are irrelevant to the debate topic or that, because of the agreement, this secondary topic cannot be discussed at all. So I don’t understand why Craig began his response the way he did. Perhaps if I listened to the entire debate, I might have more to say about that.

But I find it troubling that Hallquist didn’t even mention Craig’s claim about the agreement he had with Carrier regarding the debate topic. In my opinion, this fact alone creates reasonable doubt about Hallquist’s allegation.

Verdict: Not Guilty

4.3. Example: Bart Ehrman

Craig claims that Bart Ehrman is an example of a skeptical scholar who accepts all four of Craig’s facts. Craig bases this on something Ehrman said in 2003. Ehrman changed his mind on the empty tomb, however, in 2006, which Ehrman told Craig about in their 2006 debate. According to Hallquist, this is an example of Craig lying “about what another scholar believes to support his [Craig's] claims.”

Discussion: I found this point to be a bit muddled. Hallquist links to an undated piece by Craig, so it’s not obvious how Hallquist knows the date of Craig’s piece. But let’s assume that Craig’s piece was written after 2006. Let’s also assume that Hallquist is correct that Ehrman told Craig in their 2006 debate that he no longer accepted Jesus’ tomb tomb or, perhaps, even Jesus’ burial. It still wouldn’t follow that Craig is lying. If Craig is lying, so be it, but how do we know, based solely on what Hallquist has written, that Craig forgot something Ehrman said in the heat of an oral debate? Craig has debated a lot of people. As a debater myself, I could certainly imagine forgetting what someone told me in a debate that took place six years ago.

Of course, if Ehrman did change his views and told Craig, someone reminded Craig of that, and Craig refused to issue a correction, then he could be justifiably accused of lying. But Hallquist mentions no attempt by him to contact Craig about this. So, based solely on what Hallquist has written, I don’t think he’s shown that lying, i.e., intent to deceive, is the best explanation.

Verdict: Not guilty

4.4. Example: Stephen Law

Background: In his debate with William Lane Craig, Stephen Law presented the evidential argument from goodness, arguing that it’s arbitrary to believe an all-good God exists rather than a perfectly evil supernatural being (“evil God”). In the debate, Craig announced that Law had “conceded” the kalam cosmological argument. When Law denied that he had conceded the argument, Craig argued that since Law had failed to refute the argument, he had conceded it. Hallquist claims that Craig is using the word “concede” in a misleading way and says that Craig is being “dishonest” in so doing.

Discussion:  Yawn. As a debater myself, I think this accusation makes it highly probable that Hallquist has no experience in high school or college debate. I have heard many debaters talk this way. Hallquist is probably correct that this is a non-standard use of the word “concede,” but I don’t think there is any intent to deceive on Craig’s part by using the word “concede.” At most, Craig is guilty of using debate jargon.

Verdict: Not guilty

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Raquel

    Does it not bother you that everyone Craig debates has a book to promote? His opponents are present in this pseudo debate environment to espouse the views in their books not debate Craig. I watched two debates and read their transcripts–the same garbage.

    The “costumes” worn by both sides have been the same. Craig: dark suit (black or charcoal gray) with shoulder pads, white shirt, red tie. Opponent (Harris, Hitchens): blue shirt open, blue suit, no shoulder pads. It is theater not a debate.

    How about the fact that Craig always goes first and sets up his win with arguments that the opponent do not feel are worth debating? Craig says his opponent concedes these arguments. What a joke!

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Does it not bother you that everyone Craig debates has a book to promote? His opponents are present in this pseudo debate environment to espouse the views in their books not debate Craig. I watched two debates and read their transcripts–the same garbage.

      What you’ve stated is literally false, so I’m wondering if you meant to write something else: not everyone who Craig debates has a book to promote. Craig once debated Ron Barrier, who not only doesn’t have a book, he doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree.

      For what it’s worth, if I were to stereotype or generalize about motivations, I would say this.

      For Craig, debates are a form of evangelism / preaching. Craig’s goal is to “win” the debate because his fundamental goal is to win souls for Christ.

      For many (but not all) of his nontheistic opponents, they apparently conceive of debates as some sort of friendly colloquium where speakers can exchange “interesting ideas.” Their goal is not to “win” debates because they don’t even have a competitive mindset about debates. The evidence for this generalization is the apparent lack of preparation for debates with Craig, which is turn supported by the absolutely awful performance of so many of his opponents.

      How about the fact that Craig always goes first and sets up his win with arguments that the opponent do not feel are worth debating?

      Any of his opponents who say that are irrational for saying that. Craig’s arguments are very well-known. If someone thinks his arguments aren’t worth debating, then why would they agree to debate him? That makes no sense at all.

  • Raquel

    Again, his opponents are not at the event to debate with Craig. They are there to promote their books.

    How can anyone who has watched any of these debates believe they have heard anything of an intellectual argument from Craig? It is the same arguments–if you want to hear something of interest fast forward through Craig’s arguments to the opponents and at least one will get a glimpse of what is in their book.

    Really, who wants to debate the resurrection of Christ? That is a fool’s game. Nothing gained. If someone believes that story, then they are believers and nothing will change their minds.

  • Raquel

    It is Anselm’s general principle.


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