Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dishonest Christian: Dr. William Lane Craig Swindles Audiences

R. Brad White challenged me the other day when I called William Lane Craig (the famous Christian apologist) "devious and dishonest," and I promised to respond.

Dr. Craig's most offensive tactic is that he relies on the ignorance of his audience. He knows they're not trained in philosophy or deductive logic. He knows they're not trained in mathematics. He knows most don't know the Bible's history all that well (they know its contents, but not who wrote it and why) ... and so forth. And Dr. Craig uses his audience's ignorance, knowingly and deliberately. He knows he can confuse his audience with arguments they can't understand.

Dr. Craig counts on the fact that when his opponents prove him wrong, the argument will be too complex for the audience to comprehend.

As Russell "Kazim" Glasser wrote on Atheist Experience:
"He throws up a bunch of obfuscated equations on the board, counts on his audience not knowing enough to understand what the argument is, slips in gigantic assumptions about the natural world, and declares victory."
Glasser goes on to quote one of Craig's flawed arguments. Dr. Craig, arguing with Professor Bart Ehrman about whether Jesus rose from the dead, says:
"In order to show that that hypothesis is improbable, you’d have to show that God’s existence is improbable. But Dr. Ehrman says that the historian cannot say anything about God. Therefore, he cannot say that God’s existence is improbable. But if he can’t say that, neither can he say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable. So Dr. Ehrman’s position is literally self-refuting.

"But that’s not all. Dr. Ehrman just assumes that the probability of the resurrection on our background knowledge [Pr(R/B)] is very low. But here, I think, he’s confused. What, after all, is the resurrection hypothesis? It’s the hypothesis that Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead. It is not the hypothesis that Jesus rose naturally from the dead. That Jesus rose naturally from the dead is fantastically improbable. But I see no reason whatsoever to think that it is improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead."
This is incredibly dishonest:
  • It's inappropriate to apply Bayesian statistics to history, especially when all reports of the historical event ultimately derive from a very few (but unknown number) of original sources. Bayesian calculations require independent data, but the Bible's stories of Jesus are all derived from a very few original sources. Dr. Craig's audience doesn't know Bayesian statistics nor do they know the Bible's own history. Craig knows this and relies on it.
  • After confusing his audience with pages of mathematical mumbo-jumbo, Craig then makes a rapid-fire series of five sentences that appear to be a series of logical deductions (but in fact are not) that "prove" that Dr. Ehrman's position is "self refuting." Craig knows his audience can't spot the subtle philosophical flaws in the few seconds they have to think about it.
  • Dr. Craig then pulls a magic rabbit out of his hat: he switches from a natural explanation to a magical explanation. His audience is amazed by his cleverness! A magical god who can do anything, any time! Ehrman is a fool for trying to use math on God!
So why does Dr. Craig spend five minutes on Bayesian statistics and logical deductions and then claim it was all bogus because God is magical? Because he's a dishonest debater. He's a magician whose audience doesn't see the sleight of hand. It's simple: lure your opponent onto your territory, talk over the heads of your audience and make it appear that your opponent is a fool, then pull an irrelevant but amazing rabbit out of your hat. Going back to Russell Glasser:
"This is endemic to creationist arguments. Kirk Durston does that too. Michael Behe does it a lot. What these debates have in common is that they use tons of math as a way of befuddling the audience, lulling them into thinking 'I have no idea what that guy is saying so he must be smart.' Then they have a hook to bring the argument back to the audience's reality. They make a spurious connection between the hook and the math, and then 'therefore God exists.'"
This is just one example of Dr. Craig's tricks. If you surf the web you can find dozens of people who are far more qualified than me who have refuted many or most of Craig's arguments. Here are a few:

My Rebuttal to William Lane Craig’s Opening Statement: This is an excellent place to start. The very first paragraph destroys William Lane Craig's Cosmological argument completely. Dr. Craig has read these rebuttals but pretends they don't exist. He never addresses them, because he can't. He just goes on to the next debate, confident that his audience is ignorant.

Rebutting William Lane Craig and the case for God’s existence: A sample chapter of Gareth Wilson's book, The Plain Truths of Religion. Wilson takes apart Craig's arguments one by one, showing the logical flaws and baseless assertions that are Craig's stock-in-trade. Wilson's very first salvo hits the mark: Craig makes the classic mistake of challenging atheists to prove God exists, and Wilson rakes him over the coals.

The list goes on and on. Just google for "William Lane Craig rebuttal" and you can spend a whole day reading.

It's not that Dr. Craig is wrong. I would welcome a good debate on theology. My problem is that he is deceptive and relies on an uneducated audience. His fans think he's winning when he isn't. As Dr. Bart Ehrman said,
"I think in any university setting in the country, if we were in front of a group of academics we would be howled off the stage."
Exactly. If Dr. William Lane Craig is the best Christianity has to offer, then it's in sad shape.


  1. Talk about dishonest. Regarding “This is incredibly dishonest:”

    First, your refutation relies on the assumption that because the Bible is a religious text it is somehow inferior to secular sources. The NT is treasured because it bears myriad signs to have been written by eyewitnesses to the events. Later generations of Christians, known as the Church fathers, largely support its authenticity and the authenticity with which its authors believed what had transpired. It is the finest historical record of Jesus of Nazareth; therefore, it is the only fitting independent source to be included in a statistical analysis of the events. (Other independent data for this instance might be the logical and philosophical arguments for God’s existence.)

    Secondly, Craig’s claim about Ehrman’s self-refutation is not outlandish. Ehrman’s whole premise relies on the fact that a historian, for some unsubstantiated reason, is not in a position to make any call on God topics. Yet his whole argument against God is as a historian—the very position from which he asserts is impossible to draw any conclusions! Ehrman’s position is an unwarranted assertion. Who is he to tell God that He cannot act in history and leave historical records of His miraculous work?

    Next, Craig’s drawing on the supernatural (not magical) causes is just him refocusing Ehrman’s misrepresentation of Craig’s argument. Craig’s argument was always regarding supernatural events. To paraphrase, “the best explanation is that God raised Jesus from the dead.” It is dishonest to say this is Craig pulling a fast one. It is accurate to say that Ehrman misrepresented his argument (whether unintentionally or intentionally).

    It’s also dishonest to attack Craig’s use of (proper) statistical analysis. He does so to refute Ehrman’s unscientific claims of the improbability of Jesus being supernaturally raised from the dead. Craig’s formulas are not complex. He simply states that to speak accurately about the probability of an event, it needs to be viewed in light of the “background information.” If I recall correctly his statistical analysis parallels that of John Earman’s “Hume’s Abject Failure,” which is a case against Hume’s statistical objection to the existence of miracles. Regarding background information in this case, one has to disprove the existence of God to wholly prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead supernaturally. If there is no supernatural God, then God can’t do and hasn’t done anything. But if there is a God, then for Him to raise Jesus from the dead is no hard task.

    You have failed to make a case against Craig. You accuse him of making baseless assertions and pandering to an uninformed audience. You have only proven that you do the exact same things of which you accuse him. Your attacks are personal and hit below the belt. You label him and his audience, which are the signs of cowards, not intellectuals.

  2. igystrvigy – I allow anonymous posts, but serious responses should warrant real names. I notice that you blog anonymously - even your own blog doesn't seem to have a link to you real name.

    Second, you didn't address any of the real arguments. It's totally clear that this is an opinion piece intended to whet serious readers' appetites and encourage them to follow the links to the more scholarly refutation of Dr. Craig's techniques. Yet you don't bother to provide any arguments against these more scholarly authors' arguments.

    Instead of wasting time on an opinion piece that never makes a claim to rigor, why don't you try your hand refuting some of the more serious articles that my blog mentions?

    You wrote: "First, your refutation relies on the assumption that because the Bible is a religious text it is somehow inferior to secular sources."

    Wrong. But it has no more authority, either. Bart Ehrman has done a masterly job of showing where the New Testament came from, and Frederick March has done the same for the Old Testament. Anyone who uses formal math, as Dr. Craig does, to analyze the veracity of the Bible either doesn't understand math or knows his audience doesn't. Since Dr. Craig clearly understands math, he can only be relying on the ignorance of his audience.

    You wrote: "The NT is treasured because it bears myriad signs to have been written by eyewitnesses to the events."

    Treasured by whom? Certainly not me, and not by most independent (i.e. non-biased) historians and scientists who have tried to verify its authenticity. That "treasured" stuff is a myth perpetrated by Christianity. It's an example of "proof by repeated assertion": say something often enough and loud enough, and people start to believe it.

    You wrote: "Secondly, Craig’s claim about Ehrman’s self-refutation is not outlandish." If you don't see the logical flaws in Craig's sequence of statements about Ehrman, it's hard to know what to say to you. These are glaring errors, but apparently you don't see them.

    William Lane Craig is a manipulative deceiver, and the evidence (should you care to follow the links I provided) is overwhelming.

    If I said, "William Lane Craig is ugly," that would be a personal attack. But when I show that he deliberately deceives his audience and relies on their ignorance, and I take the time to provide links to scholarly articles that demonstrate his deception, it's a legitimate criticism.

  3. Does Craig *really* know math? When I look at his attempts at using cosmology to prove the existence of God, I see no evidence of that. He wildly misrepresents BBT, and shows no knowledge of the motivation for stringy vacuum hypotheses (and no awareness at all of LQC--correct me if I am wrong). That is, either he lies or he is ignorant of the subjects he claims to be an authority on. Hence, he would appear to be lying in either case.

  4. The "My Rebuttal..." link shown above is particularly good. The Response dialogue (blogalogue?) between Jesus4never and FredS at the end of the blog (pt III)is well worth reading - two very clear thinkers debating Dr Craig's argument in a friendly manner.

  5. Dishonesty requrires intent, and so I don't know if he really believes he is lying or not. I don't know enough about the man to know if he's being intentionally dishonest, or if just can't see his own faulty arguments.

    Either way, the first big rebuttal was great. It really nails down why the argument doesn't hold water, and at the end of the day I just wonder why people are so sure of Christianity but not elves or pixies or other things that can't be proven beyond dusty old stories told for hundreds and hundreds of years.

  6. I'm sorry, I've only just noticed this great post. Thank you for the kind things you've said about my post, and for linking to my blog. I'm sorry I've been inactive - I actually took down the post you linked to without realising anyone was actually reading it - I'll have to pay more attention to the blog stats in future.

    I took it down because I wanted to refine my objection to Craig's argument a bit and then post a new one. The new one went up last night, but I'll restore the original posts so that your readers can still access them if they wish, and read the interesting comments left by others (and hopefully add to them!)

    Thanks again,

  7. Zac - if you'd rather just send me the new link, I'll edit the original blog with an addendum pointing to your new work.

  8. Thanks - here is the link.

    I don't mind which links you include - this one concentrates more on the formal validity of the argument, but feel free to use it if you like it.

  9. I think you've made the ASSUMPTION that his audience is uneducated on the debated topics. The REALITY (in which I would presume you'll try and avoid) is that his audience IS in fact educated in the debated topics. Further more, there is plenty of time fro reflection and analysis of the good doctors debates. Your rant is based solely on the fact that his audience is ignorant to the content.... Ridiculous assumptions that are baseless and make you appear unintelligent.

  10. Anon – you're simply wrong. 99% of Americans, including well-educated Americans, are not that familiar with formal logic, debating techniques, and high-level physics. It's no insult to them to say that Dr. Craig "relies on their ignorance." The real scandal, which you completely overlooked, is that Dr. Craig's deception has been exposed, he knows it, and yet he continues to make the same discredited claims. That's dishonest.

  11. Hi, very good post! This is one I've written recently. Hope you like it!

  12. It seems an easy way out for Craig to leave it at a hypothesis based on faith - that Jesus rose supernaturally, through God's powers. It must be assumed this is a flawlessy logical option to say that this is what actually took place, and so as Christian it can be easily stated with no room for any contradiction..

  13. I listened to many of Craig's debates on YouTube and was ultimately put off by his dependence on form over content. Then I found this "doctrinal statement" on the Biola University webpage. Because Craig is a prominently-promoted faculty member there, he no doubt agrees with it. This is why I consider it silly to ever again listen to Craig's arguments:
    "The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind."
    I always wonder why his debate opponents do not bring this up when they debate him.

  14. Atheism is a psychological condition--not a rational conclusion. Dr. Craig's brilliant arguments overwhelm the atheists he debates; that's why they always resort to attacking religion, not the logical proof of God's existence.

    1. Right ... yeah, that's it! And that's why W.L. Craig feels it's OK to lie about science, too! It's just those damned atheists with their psychological condition ... that makes it perfectly moral to fool all those Christians. Brilliant!

  15. I don't think any posters here have given Dr. Craig a fair shake. He simply uses classical logical reasoning to make his points and his opponents can't seem to refute it. What is wrong with this? He seems to win the debates fair and square. The Kalam cosmological argument is well researched and hasn't really been refuted. His critics seem to indulge in flim flammery.

    1. Bull. Even a cursory Google search turns up dozens of web pages that thoroughly refute the Kalam argument, and several address Dr. Craig's claims directly and make mincemeat of him. See, for example, Cosmological Kalamity by Dan Barker, or just google for "Kalam argument refuted". What's more, Dr. Craig knows this, yet continues to use the Kalam argument, because he knows his audience will be ignorant of the serious philosophers who have made mincemeat of his case.

      The most interesting result you'll find is from Dr. Craig himself, who pulls out all of his usual tricks of obfuscation, misdirection and false analogies ... once again proving the very points that this blog was about in the first place: Dr. Craig is a dishonest debater. Serious scholars shouldn't lower themselves by debating with him.

  16. Hi Craig what's your view or beliefs on Christian's Jesus God and Revelations? Sam

    1. My views on Jesus are quite well covered in these blogs; just google for " jesus" and you'll find all sorts of stuff. Or buy my collection of these blogs, "Is Christianity Dying" on Kindle for just $0.99. Here's one blog to get you started:
      Why Atheists Laugh at the Bible and Shouldn't


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