Friday, February 20, 2009

Robert Price's attack on WLC's intellectual honesty

Does Craig's appeal to religious experience make his apologetics dishonest? Robert Price seems to think so. But it seems that we could discover truths through different routes. We could reach the conclusion that the Kingdom of Israel existed in ancient times by accepting the inerrancy of Scripture. But we could also reach that same correct conclusion through a purely secular study of history.

I will turn to specific arguments below, but first, a look at two fundamental axioms of Craig's work is in order. The first is what strikes me as a kind of "Double Truth" model. The second is the old red herring attempt to evade the principle of analogy by means of the claim that critics reject miracle stories only because they espouse philosophical naturalism. The second follows from the first. Both commit the fallacy of ad hominem argumentation even while projecting it onto the opponent. Let me note, I have no intention of discounting any of Craig's arguments in advance by trying to reveal their root. Rather, I shall take what seem to me the important ones each in their own right.

William Lane Craig is an employee of Campus Crusade for Christ. Thus it is no surprise that his is what is today euphemistically called "engaged scholarship." Dropping the euphemism, one might call him a PR man for Bill Bright and his various agendas. One thing one cannot expect from party hacks and spin doctors is that they should in any whit vary from their party line. When is the last time you heard a pitchman for some product admit that it might not be the best on the market? When have you heard a spokesman for a political candidate admit that his man might be in the wrong, might have wandered from the truth on this or that point? Do you ever expect to hear a Trekkie admit that the episode about the Galileo 7 was a stinker? Heaven and earth might pass away more easily. And still, there is just the outside chance that Craig might have become convinced through his long years of graduate study that Bill Bright has stumbled upon the inerrant truth, that needle in the haystack of competing world views and theories. But I doubt it. I think he has tipped his hand toward the end of the first chapter of his book Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, "Faith and Reason: How Do I Know Christianity is True?"[2] There he draws a distinction between knowing Christianity is true and showing it is true.

What, then, should be our approach in apologetics? It should be something like this: "My friend, I know Christianity is true because God's Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it's true, I'll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that's my fault, not God's. It only shows that I'm a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I'll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself." [3]

A little further on he saith, "unbelief is at root a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem. Sometimes an unbeliever will throw up an intellectual smoke screen so that he can avoid personal, existential involvement with the gospel."[4]

Craig, then, freely admits his conviction arises from purely subjective factors, in no whit different from the teenage Mormon door-knocker who tells you he knows the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm, swelling feeling in his stomach when he asks God if it's true. Certain intellectual questions have to receive certain answers to be consistent with this revivalistic "heart-warming" experience, so Craig knows in advance that, e.g., Strauss and Bultmann must have been wrong. And, like the O.J. Simpson defense team, he will find a way to get from here to there. Craig would repudiate my analogy, but let no one who can read doubt from his words just quoted that, first, his enterprise is completely circular, since it is a subjectivity described arbitrarily in terms of Christian belief (Holy Spirit, etc.) that supposedly grounds Christian belief! And, second, Craig admits the circularity of it.

It almost seems Craig has embraced a variant of the Double Truth theory sometimes ascribed to Averroes, the Aristotelian Islamic philosopher, who showed how one thing might be true if one approached it by the canons of orthodox Islamic theology while something very different might prove true by means of independent philosophical reflection. Can it be that Craig is admitting he holds his faith on purely subjective grounds, but maintaining that he is lucky to discover that the facts, objectively considered, happen to bear out his faith? That, whereas theoretically his faith might not prove true to the facts, in actuality (whew!) it does?

I think he does mean something on this order. But what might first appear to be a double truth appears after all to be a half-truth, for it is obvious from the same quotes that he admits the arguments are ultimately beside the point. If an "unbeliever" doesn't see the cogency of Craig's brand of New Testament criticism (the same thing exactly as his apologetics), it can only be because he has some guilty secret to hide and doesn't want to repent and let Jesus run his life. If one sincerely seeks God, Craig's arguments will mysteriously start looking pretty good to him, like speaking in tongues as the infallible evidence of the infilling of the divine Spirit.

Craig's frank expression to his fellow would-be apologists/evangelists is revealing, more so no doubt than he intends: he tells you to say to the unbeliever that you find these arguments "really convincing," but how can Craig simply take this for granted unless, as I'm sure he does, he knows he is writing to people for whom the cogency of the arguments is a foregone conclusion since they are arguments in behalf of a position his readers are already committed to as an a priori party line?

His is a position that exalts existential decision above rational deliberation, quite ironic in view of his damning Bultmann's supposedly nefarious existentialism! Rational deliberation by itself is not good enough for Bill Craig and Bill Bright because it can never justify a quick decision such as Campus Crusade's booklet The Four Spiritual Laws solicits. I do not mean to make sport of Craig by saying this. No, it is important to see that, so to speak, every one of Craig's scholarly articles on the resurrection implicitly ends with that little decision card for the reader to sign to invite Jesus into his heart as his personal savior. He is not trying to do disinterested historical or exegetical research. He is trying to get folks saved.

Why is this important? His characterization of people who do not accept his apologetical version of the historical Jesus as "unbelievers" who merely cast up smoke screens of insincere cavils functions as a mirror image of his own enterprise. His apparently self-effacing pose, "If my arguments fail to convince, then I must have done a poor job of explaining them" is just a polite way of saying, "You must not have understood me, stupid, or else you'd agree with me." His incredible claim that the same apologetics would sound better coming from somebody else (so why don't you go ahead and believe anyway?) just reveals the whole exercise to be a sham. Craig's apologetic has embraced insincerity as a structural principal. The arguments are offered cynically: "whatever it takes." If they don't work, take your pick between brimstone ("God holds you accountable") and treacle ("God still loves you").


Yirmeyahu said...

For well-documented, rational, historical perspective see:

Perezoso said...

Craig, then, freely admits his conviction arises from purely subjective factors, in no whit different from the teenage Mormon door-knocker who tells you he knows the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm, swelling feeling in his stomach when he asks God if it's true.

That's how the faithful zombie operates. When confronted with a reasonable person, they will offer a few Thomistic chestnuts, or quote CS Lewis (where do we get a sense of Justice, or Reason itself?!It's got to be God, goldang it). Then, challenged, they fall back on faith, on the usefulness of religion, on "proof by potency" (Nietzsche's term): the book of Moroni and Bible are true to the believer, because they make him feel warm and fuzzy, they keep his family in line, plus there's choir practice as well, and the preacher's wifey is so sweeet, etc.

Keep some pepper spray handy for the Mormonics and Witnesses: Halla-loo-jah, brutthren! (baptists are not afraid to sell some bibles now and then either).

Blip said...

Robert Price isn't really competent to talk about this. Why would Craig's position commit him to "Double Truth"? The same truth can be known in different ways, like Victor says.

If you, say, read the Bible and get the impression God is speaking to you, then that impression carries a force that influences what it is rational for you to believe. That's all Craig's point amounts to I think.

Perezoso said...

Yes, that's how David Koresh or the mansonites operate as well: it's done been revealed!

Exactly what the American founding fathers opposed (and a reason for separation clause of First Amendment).

Actually the "aesthetic argument" for religion does carry some weight. Sitting in Notre Dame, or listening to Bach, many humans might have a spiritual experience. That's not exactly the case in a baptist or mormon warehouse, with some nut shouting from the Book of Revelation.

Matthew said...

Did you know that even Richard Dawkins likes to use arguments fron religious experience?

He does so in his interview with Ben Stein after 1:27:

And thanks to Perezoso for demonstrating how the faithless zombie operates.

Perezoso said...

Even sunday school-zombies now quote Dawkins. Reason cures religious zombieness, except in extreme cases, like Mormons, baptists, or Matthew, apparently. For that matter, the beauty of Bach's music or a cathedral, or a passage of Screepture, however impressive does not an argument make.

Andrew T. said...

I don't think Victor's introductory paragraph correctly summarizes Price's argument.

Price is a historian and has considerable respect for even conservative Biblical scholars. He draws the line, however, at those apologists who hold themselves out to be scholars but are committed in advance to Biblical inerrancy, like Craig and N.T. Wright. That's all the quoted material is meant to say.

Let's try it this way: Victor, would you defend Craig's appearances in Lee Strobel's execrable pop apologetics videos?

Gordon Knight said...

"metaphysics is coming up with bad reasons for what you believe by instinct"--F.H. Bradley

Its true when I think "disinterested pursuit of truth" I don't automatically think of WLC.

Victor Reppert said...

I think there are difficulties with Craig's apologetical operation. I have some fundamental differences in methodology, etc.

However, I fail to see how pre-commitment to biblical inerrancy is any worse than pre-commitment to methodological naturalism. If a naturalistically inclined biblical scholar finds it difficult to account for the founding events of Christianity, well, by golly, my hallucination/legend/whatever-else theory may not fit all the facts as we know them, but at least it's better than admitting a miracle. We can't let a divine foot in the door, now can we?

The "special pleading" charge, as in the case of Russell's analysis of Aquinas, carries with it an implicit classical foundationalism that has been rejected in numerous areas of inquiry. We don't come to the data as a blank slate to be written on, nor should we. We are humans, not Vulcans. And pretending to be a Vulcan when you aren't one is just one more way of being irrational.

Now, a methodological naturalist could treat MN as a defeasible working hypothesis, but an inerrantist could do the same.

Ima said...

As much as I respect the guy, I must admit that Craig can be very specious, sneering, and dismissive sometimes.

His debates are (more often than not) homilies of sophistry; he has a degree in communications (his BA), so he knows how to speak and sway an audience with pathos, debaters tactics (a slew of them!), and other rhetorical tools to "beat" his opponent, or reticule their position.

Through his debates and podcasts, you can hear his modus operandi has changed, at least since the early 90's, into a lot of flippant arrogance and crudeness. His arguments haven't changed since the 1970's, yet the way he communicates certainly has.

I could quote many instances of strawmen, contextomy, and rhetoric that he masterfully employs. For instance, he always makes sure to throw a number of "burden's of proof" on his opponent during debates; Note that he'll say something like this:

"In order to convince us of p, Dr. x must first establish q and r. Unless Dr. x does so, we cannot say that s/he has convinced us or established p whatsoever!"

Masterful rhetoric; extremely effective to crowds of Inter-varsity college kids.

You see, 'p' is usually some incredibly strong position that is, by Craig's construal, absolutely essential to the truth of his opponents position. 'q' and 'r' are propositions that are secondary, or better yet, tertiary to the topic of the debate at hand. This forces his opponent to devote time to bullshit that Craig has thrown on his/her shoulders to talk about, when they could have been addressing matters relating to the topic at hand. Furthermore, it allows Craig to go on the offensive and derogate, while his opponent tries to avoid the oil slicks and nails that the has thrown in their way on the racetrack.

Watch and listen to his debates; you'll catch on that his reason for "winning" nearly all of his debates has little to do with his arguments.

His language indicates this well:

"Dr. x has completely ignored the issue relating to p!"

"Dr. x has utterly failed to address q, on which rests the establishment of p!"

"Dr. x hasn't at all attempted to rebut q; and since Dr. x has utterly failed to do so, we absolutely must consider it true that p!"

Very effective lies, exaggeration, and hyperbole, of course.

Matthew said...

Even sunday school-zombies now quote Dawkins. Reason cures religious zombieness, except in extreme cases, like Mormons, baptists, or Matthew, apparently.

Let's see. You call me stupid for pointing out that even Richard Dawkins likes to use the argument from religious experience after I declare my view that you are nothing but a godless pile of rants.

I think this is as amusing as preditable. Even Steven carr used to show more wit.

Anonymous said...

All the popular folk (regardless of who they are) eventually get pissed on. This isn't really about Craig. You guys are just capitalizing on Craig's questionable stuff. If Craig was as weak as numbers assert that he is, I find it odd that he does so well in debate. You haters are straight geeks!

Eric said...

"Watch and listen to his debates; you'll catch on that his reason for "winning" nearly all of his debates has little to do with his arguments."

I disagree entirely. Craig usually wins his debates, in my opinion, not with the initial presentation of his arguments (which is essentially the same in every debate on the same topic), but with his effective defenses of those arguments and with his remarkably effective demolitions of his opponent's arguments (especially the latter). He is smooth, no doubt, but his strength in fact lies in his ability to remain focused on the essential issues, to make important distinctions, to point out the logical fallacies his opponents commit, and to defend his own arguments from a variety of attacks.

I think that what will make this clear is his upcoming debate with Hitchens. Now Hitch is someone who
'wins' debates for reasons unrelated to his arguments. Craig, however, will focus like a laser beam upon Hitchens' arguments, and will tear them up. Anyone who thinks that Craig is all show and no substance will think differently after this debate takes place, not because Hitch is so formidable, but because Hitch actually exemplifies the qualities Craig's detractors attribute to Craig. In short, the contrast between the two will make the point clear.

SE said...

Do you ever expect to hear a Trekkie admit that the episode about the Galileo 7 was a stinker?

The Galileo Seven is actually not a bad episode. Spock's Brain, on the other hand is a true stinker as even most "Trekkies" will admit.

Anonymous said...

Craig is disliked first and foremost because he so often commits what is an unforgivable debating sin to atheists: He puts them on the defensive.

A central joy of religious skepticism is being able to always be the one on the defensive, always be the one questioning someone else's beliefs. When they're forced to defend a position, when they're treated (rightly) as if they were making certain positive claims about the world, they take it personally.

Not that I agree with Craig about everything, mind you. On the other hand, what's this bull about how the only people who should be debating such issues are unbiased folks disinterested in the results of debate? That'd wipe out just about every apologist, atheist or theist.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to the issue of God's existence, Craig always loses where it counts, viz., in the journals.

Ima said...


I've watched, read, and listened to nearly all of Craig's debates. However unskillful his opponents have been in speaking, there have been clear instances where they have pointed out a contradiction or even leveled one of Craig's arguments. In most cases, neither the (majority of) audience nor Craig recognized it nor addressed it.

Can anyone point out an instance where Craig ignored a cutting defeater for one of his claims? I can; I bet few, if anyone, can here.

I never said Craig has bad arguments, nor did I say that he doesn't defend them well absent of his superior rhetorical skills. However, his arguments, however strong, have been conclusively addressed in public fora and, despite them being publicly devastated by his (inarticulate) opponents, he has gained the favor of the audience nearly every time. This has much to do with rhetoric and a strongly sympathetic audience at his standing-room only debates.

As for Craig's fideism that Price and others refer to, look no further than his own words:

Yes, he actually says that: Reason < "Holy Spirit" and Doubt = Satan.

Shocking, viciously circular, yet unsurprising.

“Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out: ‘it is a matter of faith and above reason.’" - John Locke, "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (IV:17)

Eric said...

IMA, of course Craig's opponents made effective points and raised serious challenges; that's not the issue. Note, this can be both true and consistent with the claim that Craig wins his debates because of his arguments -- one would only need to maintain that, compared with his opponents, Craig more effectively defends his own arguments and more effectively critiques his opponent's arguments. I think that this claim can be defended.

That aside, I would have to question the seriousness of your claim that Craig's arguments have been 'conclusively addressed': philosophic arguments are rarely dispatched so easily. To paraphrase Ed Feser, it's only when it comes to arguments for god's existence that we find people so ready to claim that any old objection constitutes a refutation; if it's any other issue -- infanticide, realism about possible worlds, etc. -- we have to remain 'open minded' and try to brush aside our prejudices so we can take the arguments seriously.

Perezoso said...

Not about wit, Matty. It's about your inability to reason, or even spell: preditable. There's a "c" in there, like the C's you earned at....Billy Bob's Bible college!

Anyway, WL Craig will not stand a chance against Master Hitchens if he relies on some vague emotional appeals (God makes me feel warm and fuzzy!). He'll probably lose with the CS Lewis chestnuts too (the "we all appeal to Justice; ergo we appeal to God" meme)--Hitchens will cut that up with a few slashes of Humean invective.

Craig's only hope is to bamboozle, in traditional theological fashion (e.g., triablogue. MavP. or Edvard Feiser). Do the Ad hylomorphicism, Herr Craig! Or maybe some holy modality, batman.

Anonymous said...

I'd back up Eric on this one. Craig is pretty damn devastating to his opponents across the board, and that's due to the arguments he brings and the critiques he offers more than anything else. It's worth pointing out that even in the video Ima links to, one of Craig's suggestions for a Christian experiencing some doubts is to research the subject 'into the ground', and that that happens to be one of the most beneficial things someone can do for their faith. Good advice, I'd say.

And the paraphrase of Feser hits home too. The standards change quickly when it comes to such subjects.

Perezoso said...

Arguments? That's what the theologian doesn't have. He has jargon, and tradition, and bogus authori-tay.

Scroll back a few days on this site and note the thread on Hume and miracles. Hume knew the score on the problems of inerrancy and supposed infallibility. The Bible does not conform with the uniformity of experience. Miracles are sufficient to undermine its authority as a philosophical, political, or scientific document. (let's not forget Jefferson and most founders considered The Book of Revelation the "ravings of a maniac"). This point has been reiterated each week by skeptics and atheists, and yet the rational theists still make use of religious revelation as a source for "argument."

It's much easier to believe the reports are inaccurate, greatly exaggerated, or fraudulent than to accept the supernatural, the cecille b demille acts of moses, virgin birth, men coming back to life, the Tales from the Crypt show of the Book of Rev.

So, the authority of dogma does not count, and the arguments follow from scholastics, and their updating of the ancients, like Aristotle (hardly a xtian, either, and closer in both metaphysics and politics to Caesar). The thomistic chestnuts are hardly rocket science, however. The professional theologian may chant "necessary" all he wants, but the first cause/design/onto. arguments are at best metaphors; plausible, perhaps, and really inductive (and let's not forget Darwin and Lyell's modification of Old Testament history), regardless of the scholastic hype.

Which is to say, once Craig starts to lose the debate-- on point--expect the old subtle theo-pragmatism to creep in: God must exist, or Biola's SOL!

Eric said...

Perezoso, how can someone who repeatedly refers to Thomistic arguments and the like as 'chestnuts' go around citing Hume's arguments against miracles with any seriousness? Are you unaware of the fact that the sundry criticisms of Hume's arguments are much more devastating than the criticisms of the theistic arguments you so frequently refer -- er, make that allude -- to?

Perezoso said...

Ad hom., as per usual from Ad Matti. This isn't a matter of style, or some bible -college game.

Let's hear your argument contra-Hume on miracles, or for that matter, contra-Jefferson on Book of Rev. (and really, if one book falls, then arguably so does the entire text. ).

Anyways, Aquinas wrote in what 1200or so, pre-Copernicus, pre-Galilleo. That's chestnut-ness.

philip m said...

I think a lot of what people think about Craig based on his debates come from a lack of understanding of the world of debate.

Craig debated 'policy' for eight years from high school through college. You have probably never seen one of these debates, and if you have, it was probably a good one (since it was open to the public). Usually it is just a few judges in the back of a classroom while the debaters (either individuals versing one another, or a team of two on each side) take turns giving speeches/rebuttals at the front of hte classroom.

These debates are the most ruthless, unethical things you have ever seen. People go up there and say whatever - it is routine to offer the judge reasons to vote down the other side for unethical reasons, such as they offered arguments as a 'time-suck' (so that the other team would have to waste time responding to them), for misusing evidence (which happens every round), or for offering 'abusive' arguments (those which skew the debate, which is a bit difficult to explain quickly).

Oh, and did I mention that if you ever saw one of these debates, you would probably not even be able to understand what the people were saying because of how fast they speak?

If a college debater saw one of Craig's debates, what would stand out to him? First of all, how slowly Craig speaks. Secondly, the sustained focus on the reasoning through the arguments as opposed to rhetorical devices (a term I don't think people understand) trying to dismiss opponent's arguments for other reasons. Basically, compared to the usual forms of debates practiced around the country, Craig's debates are civil, focused, focused on arguments, and ethical. People who claim otherwise simply have to do so without examples.

And I think it is a telling slip for an atheist to say Craig is unethical because he claims the ahteist has a burden of proof to bear in the debate. If that's all you mean when you call Craig 'unethical', it's not a very interesting or true thing to say at all.

Victor Reppert said...

Perezoso: Have you read my Bayesian critique of Hume on miracles?

dvd said...

Either way, Robert Price lost that debate, especially when the audience started laughing at his comparisons of supposed "christ like" figures in history.

Anonymous said...

ah, yes --I forgot about that legitimate form of proof:

P? Ahahhahahah..
Therefore, not-P

Perezoso said...

No, I haven't read it: I will time allowing. It should be noted, however, that it's questionable whether Bayes theorem applies to miracles: for one, Hume's point is that regardless of the amount of evidence, and reports, it's more reasonable to believe reports/data were wrong/mistaken, etc. So problem of verification, before the data can even be inputted. You are probably aware of that, but many believers aren't. And the reports of miracles from other religions another problem: why bible instead of hindus, etc.

The defender of miracles and biblical infallibility faces another issue, related to problem of evil: why a few bleeding statues, or even appearances of Maria, the sun colors of Fatima, etc, INSTEAD of say Holy Maria or JC hisself appearing during the trench warfare of WWI (or other nightmarish war scenes)?? If G*d can perform miracles, yet chooses only to make a very few, somewhat negligible appearances, it would seem He's all the more sinister (or at least not interested in human justice). So the lack of any obvious, powerful, significant miracles provides evidence for doubt, at least in regards to a traditional, monotheistic ju-xtian G*D.

exapologist said...

It should be noted, however, that it's questionable whether Bayes theorem applies to miracles: for one, Hume's point is that regardless of the amount of evidence, and reports, it's more reasonable to believe reports/data were wrong/mistaken, etc. So problem of verification, before the data can even be inputted. You are probably aware of that, but many believers aren't.

Earman et al. have pointed out that although Hume may well be right about this in cases involving a single testifier of a miracle, it can be overcome by a large enough group of testifiers of a miracle -- even if the reliability of each is mediocre. Of course, the worry is then that no miracle has met this latter standard, so it might not matter.

Perezoso said...

I would agree there's a difference, but still Hume's fork applies, until one perceives the ding-an-sich (whether an angel, or chupacabra, other more reasonable explanations will usually work.

Also, extraordinary does not imply theological. The Fatima sun show may have been extraordinary: perhaps there are quantum glitches now and then (un f-n likely)--tho' mass hallucination also a possibility, or odd weather phenomena (many of these Maria sightings seem to involve rain, mist, sunlight etc). A hoax always a possibility too---perhaps Fatima was due to specially-prepared fireworks, set off from a mile or so away by some altar boys, in on the children's prediction, sound was muffled, etc. It was reportedly colorful, but not like Maria herself appeared above the clouds)). That doesn't imply a theological "miracle," anyway, and Maria's sure stingy: when she drops some pesos on Tijuana or Nogales, then ........

Marmalade said...

"Does Craig's appeal to religious experience make his apologetics dishonest?"

It isn't dishonest per se. But, as Craig uses apologetics, it feels like mostly a smokescreen.

I'm personally a proponent for religious experience, but religious rhetoric isn't religious experience. In debate, Price cut at the root of Craig's argument, but Craig just redirects the debate to avoid the real issue.

The real issue is that religious experience is irrelevant in a debate. It doesn't prove anything. Many of the arguments that Craig uses could be used to defend any religion or any non-rarional position. Ultimately, it is simply a defense of non-rationality in all of its forms.

If Craig is using religious experience as justification for his manipulative rhetoric, then he is giving religious experience a bad name.