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how to debate William Lane Craig, or not – part 8, the divinity and resurrection of Jesus

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Ah am the greatest - Ah whopped those guys in the temple, and they's tried to whop me, but ah ain't-a whopped, coz you see ah's as white as a white-man, an ah am so purty, lookit me, ah am the greatest

Ah am the greatest – Ah whopped those guys in the temple, and they’s tried-a whop me, but ah ain’t-a whopped, coz you see ah’s as white as a white-man, an ah am so purty, lookit me, ah am the greatest…

I’ve decided to run the last two of Dr Craig’s arguments together, as they’re by far the weakest – which is saying something. In fact, his eighth or last ‘argument’ isn’t really an argument at all, as he more or less admits, as it constitutes anecdotal claims for a personal relationship with a supernatural being. I note, by the way, that Dr Craig eschews the use of the term ‘supernatural’, instead preferring ‘non-material’, or ‘transcendent’, but they’re essentially synonymous terms for beings for which there is no material evidence. As for these personal relationships, I have nothing to say about them, except that I find them unpersuasive, and easily explicable in psychological terms. I don’t doubt the sincerity of people who believe they have a relationship with a god, but we should all know by now about the enormous human capacity for self-deception.

Dr Craig’s seventh argument, which he apparently sets much store by, is really the one that I find the most completely beyond redemption, to use a religious term. This is the claim, of course, that there is overwhelming evidence that Jesus came to life after he died. And he supports his claim solely with fallacious ‘arguments from authority’, in his case numerous authorities. Every historian worthy of the name, according to him, is in substantial agreement that Jesus had a a godly authority, and that he rose from the dead. The highly respected scholar N T Wright wrote an 800 page book in which he concluded that Jesus’s resurrection was as empirically established as the existence of Caesar Augustus, etc etc.

This is absolute nonsense. Nonsense. Now, I’ve been told that you have to hone your debating skills when confronting Dr Craig on this subject because he really knows his New Testament. Well, with respect, I think that also is nonsense. The question whether a human being can rise from the dead or not is not a New Testament question, it’s a question about human physiology. Now there are cases where people have been revived after being pronounced clinically dead, but such cases simply cause us to revise our concept of ‘clinical death’, which is not an exact concept. In any case, these are ‘operating table’ examples, not cases in which people have been dead for days with rigor mortis having set in, decomposition, etc. In such cases, return to life is not a possibility.

Of course, Dr Craig has an easy solution to that problem – Jesus wasn’t a man, he was a god, or the son of a god, or a god in human form, or an aspect of a triune god, or whatever. He was immortal. In which case, with the flick of a switch, it’s all possible. But note what this is arguing. What Dr Craig is really saying, is that all these historians are agreed that Jesus was a god. Every reputable scholar agrees that Jesus is a god. Our highly respected author, of the 800 page book, has established that it’s as certain Jesus was a god, as that Augustus Caesar was an emperor, or that Plato was a philosopher. What nonsense, if I may use a euphemism.

Let me look at Dr Craig’s carefully-worded presentation on this. He says, and I quote, ‘historians have reached something of a consensus’, end quote, about Jesus’s godliness. He later goes on to talk about the facts of the resurrection, and I quote, ‘recognised by the majority of historians’. And further on he claims that naturalistic claims against the resurrection ‘have’ and I quote, ‘been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship’.  Well, end of story. Well, hardly. As an avid consumer of history myself, particularly western social and political history, it has become pretty screamingly obvious to me that historians are overwhelmingly a secular lot. I haven’t taken a poll, but I’d guess, say 80% of them would not identify as Christians. And of course the vast majority of them have no interest whatsoever in the resurrection. New Testament historians and scholars, however – and they represent a tiny, tiny subset of all historians – are much more likely to be Christians. I mean, whadyareckon? I haven’t taken a poll, either, of the number of NT scholars who are Christian, but I can say this, I wouldn’t be a New Testament scholar no matter what you paid me. To me, as a non-believer, it would be like being forced to pick up sticks and move to Jerusalem to live for the rest of my life. Surrounded by religious crazies of every stripe, screaming out their self-righteousness at every opportunity. To me it would be hell on earth.

So I take my hat off to the secular New Testament scholars who persist in the face of such adverse conditions. They have more courage and tenacity than I could muster. And Dr Craig mentions the eminent British scholar, N T Wright, he of the 800 page book that proves beyond doubt that Jesus came back to life and was therefore truly a god. However, Dr Craig doesn’t mention that Wright is also an Anglican bishop. Oversight? Of course not. Let me point out again that every word in Dr Craig’s presentation is carefully considered, and that includes the words he has left out as well as those he has put in. There are no inadvertent errors in this presentation. Is he being disingenuous in his presentation? Most certainly. Is he being dishonest? You can be the judge. I will say again though, that Dr Craig is fanatically obsessed with his cause, and any means, to him, would be justified by the end of winning the argument, and promoting his message.

Dr Craig’s argument, then, relies on authorities who are already convinced that Jesus is a deity, a claim I find too implausible to be even worth investigating, but presumably it might be made more plausible if we had other evidence of Jesus’s superhuman perfection, evidence that might make him seem worthy of the miracle of resurrection. And the only evidence we have of Jesus comes from the so-called gospels. Now, as I say, I’m no New Testament scholar, but I have read the gospels several times, and I even went so far as to make an informal assessment of Jesus’s character based on close study of his statements and remarks in those four books. I have to say, I’ve never found Jesus to be a particularly remarkable, or even entirely coherent, person on the basis of those texts. If you take away the paranormal events – miracles, raising from the dead, a virgin birth and a resurrection, you get a fairly normal guy, who loses his temper, acts selfishly, behaves arrogantly, gets cold feet, and makes various often contradictory pronouncements on moral issues. But one thing that really struck me about the guy was his so-called family values. It strikes me as really weird that the conservative Christian movement in the USA, which is so huge, is obsessed with family values, meaning of course the nuclear, heterosexual family. Because Jesus turned his back on his family, and made no attempt to create a new one in adulthood.  He died, assuming he was crucified, in his mid-thirties, perhaps even as old as forty – we don’t know his date of birth, and the birth stories are clearly unreliable. It would’ve been quite unusual to remain unmarried at that age. Okay, so he was a deity, how could he get married and have children like mere mortals. And yet, his remarks about family are quite troubling. I won’t go into all of them, as they’ve been dealt with by many analysts, but for those interested and unaware, the troubling verses include Matthew 10:35-37, 23:9, Mark 13:12, Luke 12:49-54, 14:26, 21:16-17, and John 2:3-4. These include general statements against the family and specific statements he directs against his own family members, particularly his mother. But I’ll dwell here on one of the more chilling of Jesus’s pronouncements, in Matthew 8:21-22.

Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’

Now, in our society, the death of a parent is a serious matter, and we allow people space and time to deal with that. It’s pretty well sacrosanct in our society and in other societies. It’s not unreasonable to assume that in patriarchal ancient Palestine, the death of a father was about as big a deal as you could get. So, to tell someone who’s father has just died that they should forget the funeral and ‘follow the leader’, that they should ‘let the dead bury their dead’ which basically means, ‘let the dead rot’, is about as grossly insulting and insensitive a remark as you can make. It’s jaw-dropping, in fact, in its callousness, though it’s not inconsistent with many of the remarks Jesus makes about family.  I think if we were ever to get an exclusive interview with Jesus’s mum about the great man’s reputation, she’d be very likely to say, ‘well, he’s not the messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy’.

So, I don’t hold much store in this flawed and thoroughly human individual being a god in disguise, and worthy of the resurrection Dr Craig so desperately wants to believe in.

So ends my response to all of Dr Craig’s arguments. Next I want to present some important concluding remarks.


Written by stewart henderson

March 24, 2013 at 11:17 pm

2 Responses

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  1. There is a great deal of bluster in your post but ultimately you haven’t properly addressed Craig’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus. He argues that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the following four facts:

    1. Jesus’ burial
    2. The discovery of his empty tomb
    3. His post-mortem appearances
    4. The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection

    You assert that Craig says “every reputable scholar agrees that Jesus is a god.” He says no such thing. What Craig actually says is that every reputable scholar agrees with the four facts above. Unfortunately, you have not addressed or refuted any of these in this post.


    March 26, 2013 at 1:48 am

    • Thank you for your comment. I have no intention of addressing arguments about empty tombs, claimed sightings and the psychological states of people writing almost 2000 years ago. My argument against resurrection is the simple Humean one that people just don’t rise from the dead, certainly not after being dead for some days. They never have, and they won’t be doing it in the foreseeable future. It is much more reasonable and sensible to believe that those who claim such things are deluded, mistaken and/or have a strong interest in believing x and not y.

      So instead of going into the details of any particular claim about person x being resurrected, which would be tedious (especially when dealing with only 2000-year-old hearsay evidence!), I chose to focus on the, to me, obvious point that the Jesus described in the gospels is, despite the obvious propaganda elements of those tales, a relatively unremarkable individual, with plenty of flaws, and certainly not a patch on Socrates or Aristotle.

      The point here is clear, and you miss it completely. Everybody who is convinced about the ‘facts’ of Jesus’s resurrection is a Christian, and was so before they considered the matter. To state the bleeding obvious, there is nobody, but nobody, who believes in the resurrection who is not a Christian. There is nobody out there saying ‘oh yes I’ve checked out the claims and they’re all true, but I don’t believe for a moment that Jesus is a god (or a variation thereof).’

      You misrepresent me in making it seem that I quoted Craig as saying that every reputable scholar agrees that Jesus is a god. I’m quite careful about what I write, and I would appreciate it if others were as careful in reading. What I wrote was that the meaning behind his words, what he is ‘really’ saying, is that Jesus is a god, and this is also what all these ‘reputable scholars’ – Christians all – are saying. Of course, for obsessed believers like Craig, reputable scholars can only be Christian scholars.

      You’ve claimed that it is ‘unfortunate’ that I haven’t refuted these ‘facts’ in the gospel stories (which contain no confirmed facts pertaining to Jesus of any kind). This is a disingenuous claim, as if you were truly disappointed. Ho ho. I’m no more interested in refuting these claims than I would be in refuting the claims people make of being abducted by aliens. I don’t consider them worth addressing.


      March 26, 2013 at 8:15 pm

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