Totally Disingenuous: William Lane Craig Woefully Mischaracterises Me in His Podcast

Totally Disingenuous: William Lane Craig Woefully Mischaracterises Me in His Podcast November 29, 2020

I have just been made aware of a podcast in which William Lane Craig takes a couple of my short articles to task. The ones in question are:

He absolutely hammers me. Well, he thinks he does. Because what really happens is they (him and his co-presenter who reads my quotes with a voice of derision) look at my two posts in isolation and utterly absent of the foundations upon which they sit and essentially say “He is not basing this on any further evidence or arguments”.

This is patent nonsense because my points were sitting on a foundation of about 3,000 blog posts and a whole bunch of books.

In fact, I am downright angry and I have got progressively angrier the more times I have listened to it.

Craig states, concerning the idea that he has good grounds for his theism that underwrites his Christianity (and by inference about  my grounds for atheism), “…and here Jonathan has nothing to say about the arguments of natural theology that support belief in a creator and designer of a universe.”

As if over 3,000 blog posts/articles/essays – 3,200 at present count – and ten books and several commissioned chapters on the philosophy of religion are “nothing to say”; and if “here” is the operative word, then it is as if I have to set out every single argument I have ever made at the beginning of every blog post in order to show the soundness of the post…! I have a tonne of things to say on natural theology, including several books:

And chapters and segments in others. Bear in mind that the second book up there is a book about natural theology written to directly refute the claims of William Lane Craig himself.

And annoyingly, he appeared to read only select few paragraphs of them, too.

This is Grade A decontextualising.

William Lane Craig: you are reading a couple of blog posts out of context and ignoring the context and foundation within which they are set and assuming I have said nothing else on the matter, and ignoring most of the posts anyway. You are then communicating this to your audience in a rhetorical manner that essentially mischaracterises my claims and attempts to poison the well of sorts.

Or, more simply put, you are being overtly disingenuous.

There are lots of subjects here that I don’t have time to explain – if you do not understand reformed theology/epistemology, properly basic beliefs, motivated reasoning and so on, please read up on them!

Circularity

For starters, my claims concerning the intersection of history and Jesus (that when the claims of Jesus are verifiable they utterly fail) are based on my book The Nativity: A Critical Examination [UK], and my forthcoming book on the Resurrection (and failing this, my whole range of previous writing on the topic, not least my The Resurrection Debunked series), as well as huge series such as The Exodus Debunked series.

This is to say that confirming evidence and verifiability of the New Testament claims is in very short supply indeed. And, hilariously, Craig pulls out the “75% of New Testament scholars believe in the empty tomb” claim, one that is so profoundly problematic that I have included a whole chapter on it in my upcoming book. The points include:

  • 100% or thereabouts of Islamic scholars believe in the truth of the Qu’ran; this has no bearing on the truth of the Qu’ran.
  • The figures, from Habermas, suffer from selection bias.
  • When challenged, Craig has often shifted to claims of scholar Joseph Kremer.
  • These are themselves mischaracterisations of Kremer’s views.

And so on. All of which appear in my aforementioned chapter. So when Craig condescends to patronise me on “he needs to read/research X” when reading a simple single blog article, I can tell you that Craig needs get his own house in order when making very problematic claims in debates/public discourse/books of his. I don’t assume this of him because I do my research and know about the person I am dealing with and the scope of their writing.

As far as his claims of natural theology go (more on this in a while), I have written an awful lot on natural theology (here natural theology is effectively philosophy – the ontological, cosmological and teleological arguments, for example). As mentioned, I have written books on these subjects, dedicating an entire one to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, so don’t again patronise me in a pretty cheap attempt to evade actually dealing with my claims.

Motivated Reasoning

Moreover, when he talks about motivated reasoning, he makes the most outrageous assertion based on nothing, seemingly, but an anecdote. He claims that atheists are the ones who suffer more than theists from motivated reasoning (bearing in mind that atheists do not have the single biggest bribery reward of heaven, or the single biggest conceptual bribery punishment of hell in human conception both of which provide a source for motivated reasoning that atheists could only dream of having).

He said:

“I have never met people who are more prone to confirmation bias or motivated reasoning than atheists. I remember talking with a Campus Crusade staff member at the University of British Columbia who was so frustrated by this he said it’s almost like students have kind of inner skeptical dial, which they turn way up when they come to Christianity but which they turn waaaay down when it comes to their own views.”

Or, unsubstantiated assertion.

But that’s okay for him, right?

Maybe he needs to read more on the subject of the psychology of religion (you get the picture – two can play at that game).

Right towards the end, he states that my claim on the Gospels not being eyewitness testimony would be rejected by the vast majority of New Testament scholars. Well, we know that Luke admits to not being an eyewitness, John was later still and highly unlikely to have been one indeed, none of them claim to be such, even Papias saw Mark as a companion of Peter, and so on. Actually, most scholars don‘t appear to think the authors were actual eyewitnesses, that at best perhaps the authors had access to eyewitnesses so they are hearsay – secondary evidence. But that is itself a huge assumption that is unverifiable.

Perhaps Craig needs to read more on… (you get the picture – two can play at this game). Thing is, I know he has read and written lots more on the subject and I know his mere assertion is based on a whole lot of stuff (however problematic itself) because I’ve been bothered to read him and wouldn’t make such baseless accusations.

Obvious Straw Man/lie about my claim

I am in two minds whether this should be called an outright lie. He starts with my claim that there is “no eyewitness testimony“, has a go at it and then shifts the wordage to “no credible testimony” such that “even a scholar so skeptical as Bart Ehrman would not accept the idea that we have no credible testimony to the life and teachings and Jesus”. Which is not what I said. He does then goes on to claim that we should not think that only credible testimonies are eyewitness ones. This is trying to have it both ways. Eyewitnesses are great, but failing that, non-eyewitnesses are great! Why, thank you…

But it gets worse for him. He states of Arrian and Plutarch writing of Alexander the Great that they are “largely reliable” (itself allowing for a massive errancy) but neglects to mention that we straight up do not believe, no one does, the supernatural claims therein of the two. Kind of important, don’t you think? His example is actually pretty funny, since as C Bradford Welles once said:

…there have been many Alexanders…. No account of his is altogether wrong…. The problem of Alexander is more than a purely historical problem. It is, essentially, a psychological one…. The problem of Alexander is comparable, actually, only to the problem of Jesus…. One’s difficulty is to know what to believe.

So, Craig, not so quick. Not so quick at all there. You can mention Arrian and Plutarch in the understanding that most of your listeners will not challenge, will not question, and you sound so knowledgeable because you mention ancient names, but this very example shows how mired in problem your position really is. I’d love to go on, but too much to say. I mention such historical analysis and historians to some degree in my book on the Nativity.

So, thank you very much for using an example that pretty much supports my point.

Finally, stop saying “most scholars believe” because what you mean is “most Christian scholars, who are in an ex post facto position when coming to study a subject they already believe in and the reference set suffers from selection bias, believe…”.

Simply put, stop saying it: it is meaningless twaddle unless carefully discussed and set out with all the necessary caveats.

Religious (Reformed) Epistemology

I made this claim:

Perhaps the Christian can draw on personal revelatory experiences. However, an Amazonian tribesman will never have a revelatory vision or appearance or some kind of experience that will point to Christianity if he has never heard of or come across Christianity. Religious experiences of Christians concerning Christianity come about precisely because they already have knowledge of the Bible, of the New Testament. In other words, Christian religious experiences supervene on (depend upon) knowledge of the Bible. These experiences do not really break the problematic issue of circularity, but actually feed into that circle.

Craig appeals to me not having done reading on Plantinga and properly basic beliefs, for example. Of course, he knows nothing about what I have researched or what I know on these topics.

The simple fact of the matter, talking of properly basic beliefs (PBBs), for example (you might want to go and read about them if you are unaware of them as I will not be setting the whole subject out here), as argued for by Alvin Plantinga, is that I find the claims wholly underwhelming. Putting great store in sensus divinitatus is not my idea of sound reasoning. Some quick issues about PBBs are:

  • I simply think the criteria of PBBs being self-evident, incorrigible, and evident to the senses is not, well, self-evident.
  • They are arbitrary.
  • They can be applied to concepts that are definitely incoherent, such as libertarian free will or a flat earth.
  • They can be applied to other concepts of a god(s), and arguably to other religions.
  • They can be applied to atheism (that I have a sensus a-divinitatus).
  • In the context of God, this is merely an assertion informed by centuries or millennia of cultural context (qua ignorance).
  • As such, it also looks like cultural relativism.
  • In the context of this relativism, it fails to meet Zagzebski’s “Rational Recognition Principle”.
  • And so on.

Plantinga himself admits that such beliefs are not uncontroversial; which is to say they are not universal or particularly self-evident. Of course, he does have attempts at answers for all of these points, but this shows that there is a long way to go to prove that reformed epistemology like this has the merit that Craig merely asserts it does.

Which is to say that Craig fails to do exactly what he accuses me of doing since I could sit here and say: “Well, Craig shows his naivete in philosophy of religious epistemology by not showing any knowledge of the criticisms of reformed epistemology here. If he is going to make this short podcast (blog post), he needs to establish the foundations upon which he is making his claims. He not only needs to set out every claim to show that the historical claims of the New Testament are correct in his podcast (I am not prepared to look anywhere else, for example – not at his books, articles or previous podcasts), he needs to show how reformed epistemology works incontrovertibly, as well as set out the data for motivated reasoning.

Because he said:

“He can’t just ignore the current trends in critical biblical scholarship and philosophy of religion; he needs to take some time out and do some reading in these areas…”

In other words, he is a massive hypocrite.

I have done this for over ten years and it is all out there for him to see if he wants to spend a few months reading my back catalogue. Even if he never reads them, I would like him to buy all of my books. Twice. At least.

The Single Area of Worthy Debate

I think the single area of interesting debate that can be derived from Craig’s podcast, inasmuch as I have already talked about all of these other topics in previous writings (blogs, essays and books) and videos/podcasts as well as public debates and talks (they are interesting but not new for me), is the idea that you can derive theology and belief in the Risen Jesus without recourse at all to the Bible and tangible evidence. This is around the 22:30 mark of his podcast and is an interesting claim. I don’t think it adds up at all, though.

But, my, he espouses problematic and ill-thought-out views concerning illiterate peasants who have no access to the Bible and libraries but who can know rationally that Jesus has risen from the dead. The point, similar to the Amazonian tribesman point, is that if this person didn’t have access to other people who have themselves had access to those sources and evidence, then he must receive the entirety of the intellectual content of those sources that leads to rational belief (i.e., the Bible, religious books etc.) from personal revelation alone.

In order to understand and believe in any meaningful way in the Risen Jesus, the peasant would have to know who Jesus was, understand to some degree the theology of the Holy Trinity, understand “facts” about Jesus’ life in order for the idea of him being risen to have any purchase at all, and so on. All of this kind of knowledge is based, in the real world, on the Bible and its claims. For someone to have that knowledge and belief in Jesus without recourse to evidentialism is to have all of the claims and knowledge from the Bible to be delivered in personal revelation.

Has this ever happened in the history of the world?

No.

Could it conceptually happen?

Yes.

Is a talking, dancing unicorn conceptually possible?

Yes.

Do I believe in them and is their existence plausible?

No.

He said:

“The Resurrection of Jesus in history is not dependent upon the evidence we have for it…belief in the Resurrection of Jesus can be entirely rational and warranted even for those who don’t have the luxury of historical evidence”

This is a problematic claim. In any meaningful and practical sense, this is just not remotely plausible. Because, you know, things like unicorns. Or the fact that it also supports any other personal revelatory claims in any other religion on earth. Or the previously mentioned problems.

Bayes’s Theorem and a return to circularity

The idea of using Bayes’s Theorem is contingent upon what you put into the function machine. Craig mentions these arguments: “the argument from the beginning of the universe, the existence of contingent beings, the existence of objective moral values and duties in the world, the fine-tuning of the universe…” and so on, again as if I haven’t considered these when I have written one book directly against him on one of these subjects, and many articles directly against Craig on other such subjects (moral argument, moral duties and whether God is a moral agent, and so on). It’s as if, to Craig, I’ve plucked these opinions right out of my posterior without any thought at all. That’s just, I don’t know, rude; it’s certainly disingenuous.

The simple fact of the matter is this: if there was an indisputable argument from natural theology and even syllogistic logic that God exists, we wouldn’t be having this discussion: we’d all be believers. In the absence of these (though we argue the toss over them), the Christian (with the help of motivated reasoning) will assign greater value to the theistic arguments, the atheist contrarily. We then look at prior probabilities of all other claims from other religions being wrong, where the Christian and the atheist agree. The prior probability means that the probability of this particular god (God) being true/existent is incredibly low, meaning we would need a massive amount of extraordinary evidence to support the extraordinary claims of Christianity. Which we do not have (see analyses of the quality of source material, see my book on the Nativity [UK], my writing on the Resurrection, etc.). The evidence quality level is incredibly low. Go check out all my writing on the subjects.

The problem here is that the Christian throws into their background knowledge the conclusion that God already exists (using natural theology arguments that they find more compelling than atheists arguably because they already have the solid belief in Jesus and Christianity), rather than leaving this open or unknown or evaluating them absent of belief in Jesus. This presents a sort of circularity where the final conclusion that the (Christian) God exists is smuggled into the background knowledge at the front end of the equation.

As such, the Bayesian analysis is skewed, and the Christian feels like they don’t have to provide extraordinary evidence to overcome extraordinary claims.

But, to return to Craig’s approach, I would never read a William Lane Craig online article in isolation, on any given subject, and then trash him for not reading about all of these other connected subjects (mentioned above) without looking at whether he has actually done that writing, reading and thought on his website, in his books or in public speaking. As if Craig prefaces every article he writes with an encyclopedic introduction to every other conclusion he has ever garnered.

Conclusion

I am going to try not to swear here because I am angry.

“I think the main problem here that Jonathan has is his lack of understanding of Christian apologetics… he has got to inform himself much more thoroughly of the views of the persons he criticises.”

Don’t swear. Don’t swear.

Has he seen my bookshelf, has he seen my reading list, has he read my 3,200 blog posts, articles and essays, has he read my ten books on the philosophy of religion/atheism/biblical exegesis/theology/refutations of natural theology?

No?

Well, he has no right to say pretty much a damned word he said there. He thinks I just pulled these two posts out of the air. I very seriously didn’t.

The complete nonsense here is that Craig expects me to, in a short blog post about some niche aspect of philosophy of religion, establish that all other claims remotely connected to it are established within that blog post before that given claim. I, apparently, need to write an encyclopedia of atheism before every single blog post.

All the while, he gets to claim that atheists suffer way more than theists from motivated reasoning because…he just said so, and it must be true because some bloke told him so in Canada.

This is outright hypocrisy and shoddy thinking and podcasting that looks nothing more than cheap rhetorical tricks to evade doing some proper thinking, using his platform to excuse such tawdry approaches.

Shame on you, Craig, shame on you. And shame on your enablers.

[EDIT – I forgot to talk about the definition of faith. Check out some things I have previously written on it some years back: Faith vs rational evidence (and David Marshall) as well as “Faith” as a redundant term.]

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