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Posted by on Jan 5, 2013 in Apologetics, Biblical Exegesis | 33 comments

Exclusive! William Lane Craig Accidentally Admits Nativity Accounts of Matthew and Luke “may be legend”!

That’s true. You heard it right here. An exclusive.

William Lane Craig is something of a knight in shining armour to the Christian fraternity. He is ubiquitous – whenever there is an event, he has something to say about it (the Sandy Hook massacre, for example), and whenever there is a philosophical argument, Christians reference him and his apologetics. It seems that he says “jump” and Christians say “how high?”

And for good reason. He is an incredibly knowledgeable philosopher, though a less accomplished theologian (deferring to Copan too much in issues of the Old Testament). Craig has supreme rhetorical skills and an amazingly quick mind which means that he is an indomitable debater who, more often than not, bests his opponents.

The trouble with being so successful is that he has to tow the party line. He gets funding like any other tenured professional, and like any other religious figure of such prominence. As such, he has to be very careful what he says. Here is what one article states in relation to another instance of potential heresy from Craig where some Christians see him as stepping too far away from orthodoxy:

I admire Dr. Craig in many ways and I was interested in this departure from standard Christian belief. Dr. William Lane Craig is, by many accounts, the premiere defender of the evangelical faith. He is one of the true scholars in the apologetics game – a real philosopher, and a genuinely nice guy. I say nothing below to impugn his character or call into question his faith – in fact, his stellar character and reputation makes him an excellent test case in the issue of orthodoxy vs. heresy.

Craig also got into problems with regards to original sin, saying comments like, “…that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith.” The problem is that the Christian faith contains so many denominations with such diverse beliefs that he can’t please all the people all of the time. Indeed, the inerrantists are a very powerful bunch, and he seems to shy away from difficult questions on inerrancy, it appears, in light of needing to appease this massive and powerful mainly American movement.

Which is why it is BIG NEWS that he thinks the Biblical account of the nativity in Matthew and Luke as not historically reliable. I wrote a book recently on this and debated Randal Rauser, a Christian theologian, on the very topic. I gave a number of public talks in the UK over December presenting the argument that the accounts are unreliable. Interestingly, I met someone at one of these debates and was talking to him afterwards. He had a fascinating story, the importance of which I only realised a few weeks later. And hence this post. This skeptic went to one of William Lane Craig’s talks (and also the Stephen Law debate) in Southampton (on the reliability of the Resurrection accounts) on Craig’s last tour of the UK. This is what this person had to say of the event:

I went to a William Lane Craig talk on the ‘historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus’, it was interesting but it was the same points he always uses. I queued up at the mic to ask a question, I was going to ask:

‘You say that the early gospels are very reliable because there was not time for legend to grow, however you have used Matthew as evidence tonight. Matthew 27 says that the dead holy men came out of their tombs and were seen by many. Do you believe this happened or is it legend? If Matthew contains legend then why use Matthew as evidence?’.

This was in response to WLC comparing the simplicity of Mark’s Gospel to the ex-canonical Gospels (angels with heads up to the sky, a talking cross etc.) but later on during questioning he seemed also to want to separate the Markan resurrection from the other Gospels (you can see this at 1:03:30 in the video).

A bloke in front of me asked the same question. I had to sit down because I couldn’t think of another question quick enough (there were about three thousand people and video cameras and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself).

After the talk he was in the bar area with a few people around him asking questions. I approached him and we had a chat, at this stage it was just us two with nobody else listening. It was a friendly conversation and he didn’t seem guarded, he clearly thought he was having a chat with a fellow Christian. I was just interested in talking to the guy, this was his meeting with his supporters and I was polite and wasn’t looking to give him a hard time. This is my memory of part of the conversation.

I asked, “You said that Mark was likely to be more reliable because it was the earliest Gospel and there was less time for legend to get into the story.”

WLC agreed.

I continued, “Well, on that basis since there is no virgin birth in Mark but there is in Luke and Mathew doesn’t that suggest that the virgin birth is likely to be legend coming in to the story?”

WLC said, “Well, from  an historical point of view as an historian then, yes, it may be legend; but from a theological view and as a Christian then I have to accept the virgin birth as true.” (As he said this he smiled and put his hand over his heart. It was very clear that the historian and the Christian could come to different conclusions and the faith trumped the history).

He then moved on to talking about other virgin birth stories from antiquity and how they were very different and that I shouldn’t be concerned by them. As this is not an area I knew much about I just listened to what he had to say and nodded. We smiled, shook hands and I asked if I could get a photo taken with him. He agreed and I got some guy to take my camera. I said jokingly to WLC, “As long as you don’t mind having a photo taken with a heathen?” He looked confused and said “You’re an atheist? From your questions it didn’t seem like you were an atheist”. I got the impression that he was genuinely surprised that he had been talking to an atheist for the last couple of minutes. I wasn’t trying to hide anything, it just didn’t seem relevant to our conversation. He then talked to others and I left.

Wow. I think this is huge. What a slip, to a heathen whom he thought to be a fellow Christian! It is not the only time that WLC has deferred to faith in trumping evidence. In fact, his book Reasonable Faith communicates this with alarming clarity. But I do think this is amazingly important. This essentially states that secular historians, and people who maybe have not had personal experience of God, are epistemologically justified in holding to the conclusion that the infancy narratives are not historically reliable. And this would then lead on to more justification in questioning the rest of the Gospels. In sum, from a historical point of view, they simply did not happen. But because of all the other Christian baggage, a Christian MUST believe that they did.

Craig seems to have shirked away from admitting that the Bible is not inerrant; but he did still admit a little too much to someone whom he thought was one of his own. Spread the news to your fellow Christians! Craig admits the Gospels might well be historically unreliable!

  • pboyfloyd

    I think we all know that it’s just a game they play, don’t we?I mean, when you’re down to something like, “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.”, trumpetting an ahistorical Nazareth as ‘The city of Christ’,  diverting questions concerning the accounts by giving answers concerning sources, and so on and so forth, then we all know you’re just finegelling, right?

    And isn’t metaphysics all to do with finegelling too?

  • PaulSJenkins

    I can’t say I’m surprised by this revelation. In last week’s Unbelievable? Craig admitted that Christ as “the second Adam” must be merely symbolic if you don’t hold to a historical Adam.

    And remember the fuss over those faster-than-light neutrinos? Craig had a lengthy essay on his website explaining how FTL neutrinos were entirely compatible with Christianity. He’s a great one for hedging his bets.

  • JohnM

    Of course it may be legend, from a historical point of view. But that doesn’t mean that it is legend. Or that WLC think it’s legend. Sigh…

    But I do think this is amazingly important. This essentially states that secular historians, and people who maybe have not had personal experience of God, are epistemologically justified in holding to the conclusion that the infancy narratives are not historically reliable.

    You can’t just dismiss it as legend. You have to do the historical work, and try to figure out, if something is an embellishment or not.. As Bart Ehrman would most likely have said.

    In sum, from a historical point of view, they simply did not happen.

    You jump from “I’m justified in questioning them” to.. “And that proves that it never happened”.

    Seriously, Jonathan.. What is the matter with you?! Are you not a philosopher? Don’t you know flawed logic when you see it? Shame on you.

    Craig seems to have shirked away from admitting that the Bible is not inerrant

    It’s perfectly possible to point out a theoretical possibility of errors in the bible. It doesn’t mean that you think there are errors in the bible. It just means, that you know, that you could be wrong about there being no errors in the bible.

    Craig admits the Gospels might well be historically unreliable!

    There’s nothing controversial in that. Everything written in the past, might be historical unreliable. That is why historians does the historical work, and doesn’t just take things at face value.

    This blog post is a storm in a glass of water.

    • Andy_Schueler

      You can’t just dismiss it as legend. You have to do the historical work

      Has been done. And a nice summary of the research that has been done is in Jonathan´s book on this topic. Because of the research that has been done, the nativity accounts can be easily dismissed as myths. And because of a commitment to biblical inerrancy, some christians can´t accept that.  

      You jump from “I’m justified in questioning them” to.. “And that proves that it never happened”.

      You must have missed the part where he said that he wrote a book about this topic.

    • Daydreamer1

      It seems fairly obvious that without faith these stories do not achieve a higher quality than other examples now widely considered mythological, or those currently caught up in the narratives of other religions.

      The point is that it is entirely reasonable to consider these stories as mythology – not that they have been absolutely disproved. After all, it is the claim that a historical claim be absolutely disproved before it can be considered mythological that is unreasonable. It only needs to be questionable to a reasonable standard.

      • http://www.www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        Well said. And of course, if we call into question the quality of justified beliefs from personal experience, it all falls to pieces.

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    Meh. Craig has always been careful to separate the facts from the faith. That’s why he says that even if all evidence is against him, he’ll still be a Christian based on the witness of the Holy Spirit.

    Bart Erhman nailed Craig in a debate by simply pointing out that he’s not a historian, but an evangelist. He’s not a physicist or a biologist either, but that doesn’t stop him from feigning expertise on the subjects.  Statements like the above just show that for all his academic posturing, he’s really a simple Christian-by-faith at heart. 

    • Daydreamer1

      I just finished watching a debate between Hitchens and Craig. It highlights what for me can be the most annoying thing about philosophy (this from someone who chose to study it at college and enjoyed it more than any other course). When you have a subject where the answer cannot be determined (where there is no answer) people argue as if they have determined a fixed answer. Craig does this over and over – and declares other peoples positions invalid based on his own assumptions. But it is all just bravado. What he achieves he achieves only in language.

      His arguments regarding theistic morality are a perfect example. You would think he had measured something and determined its exact properties the way he declares God the core of all morality and denies any more certainty to anyone not basing assumptions on his version of supernaturalism. All he has is a few words that if you start with certain assumptions this is the output you get, and it is all so predictable. The worst, and most boring, philosophy (to me) sets its starting conditions and then announces itself correct when it follows them and arrives where it wanted to. Craig is this worst, just magnified by his absolutism when he declares everyone elses starting points to be incorrect because he landed where he wanted to after his own trail of thought.

      • http://www.www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        I haven’t yet watched that one. That said, it is typical of Craig (because he always uses the same arguments). He never starts from the foundations of philosophy, starting from premises which already contain many levels of assumption.This IS a huge problem for the quality of the conclusions he comes to. A prime example, as well as his moral argument, is his KCA travesty.

        • Daydreamer1

          One thing I find it quite easy to be honest about is that as far as knowledge is concerned we start in a dark box and work our way towards the edges. It does not reflect badly on us if we do not touch the sides, and it certainly doesn’t render all our accomplishments void if we know nothing absolutely. This honesty is twisted in all theological presentations, and when you see them cornered and at the point where an honest person would admit it they fall back not on knowledge, but on belief. That even if you do not know something it is ethical to believe it instead – and that by belief alone the knowledge claim can be supported in the absence of the knowledge itself. A version of your ‘Heads you win, Tails I lose’.

          KCA is yet another example of this. I am just as fine with the idea of a first cause as I am without one. It is just another thing we do not know to me. But when theologians sau it must have happened and that it must have been God they are playing games with words.

          The reality is that they ‘do not know what they do not know’. By this I mean that they play word games with themselves in their offices and occasionally pop out to mislead the public all the while talking about questions that often have deep and meaningful scientific answers – which they never care to address. When science directly bares on something that was taken literally we see the stress, but almost always science has much to offer their base assumptions as well as their metaphors, and in these instances it is ignored. For example they pat themselves on their backs for find ways to agree that the world is very very old indeed, but they have not tackled that information other than to say literalism is wrong. Much of science can reflect on their stories though, not just on the literalisms but they pretend it doesn’t to their flock.

  • Reasonably Faithless

    Here’s my prediction.  Craig will eventually retire and publish a book entitled “What I really believe”.  Not only will it reveal that he always thought the Christmas stories were legendary, it will also tell of how he became an atheist in 1982, but kept arguing for the theistic side, making his arguments more and more ridiculous as he went along, just to prove that plenty of theists would believe anything.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Mwah! If only!!!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NZMJ7JRYKH7WR6YTXJGG3PU65E John Grove
    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.jordan.5832 Andy Jordan

      Excellent, thanks for that!

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.jordan.5832 Andy Jordan

      Excellent, thanks for that!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

    I don’t find this remotely surprising. Craig has said he’ll go on believing no matter what the evidence is. And as I’ve documented here:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2012/07/craigs-case-for-the-resurrection-of-jesu/

    It’s quite clear he knows he could never win a debate on the Bible’s historical reliability -hence refusing to debate the issue, and acting as if Richard Carrier was doing something improper by bringing the issue up in their debate.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      I always thought Carrier did OK in that debate – there was so much that Craig did not answer which I think was really important.

      Thanks for the link.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Chris – can I repost that post, linking to you and all of that? 

  • David

    I’m afraid you’re making a mountain out of a molehill – there is nothing new here.  Anybody that is very familiar with Craig has heard something like this many times over, but he’s not saying what you are taking him to mean.

    Craig routinely makes very careful distinctions about what can reasonably be derived from the historical method and what cannot.  In this case, all he is saying is that there is not a way to justify these infancy narratives using the standard historical method.  And that’s all.  But that’s not saying much – just because a given event cannot be reliably confirmed by the historical method does not mean the event did not take place.  The day I’ve had today, for instance, was filled with events that would we would have no way of proving historically just a year or so from now, but they certainly did happen.  Craig would point out that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit would provide confirmation of these narratives outside of the historical method, and/or that since so many other sections of the Bible have often been in question, only to be proven correct later, (the existence of Pilate, for instance), that its track record is very sound and we are justified in holding things like this in tension, trusting that so much has been shown to be right that this likely is, too, unless we have compelling reason to believe otherwise.  But as it stands now, we do compelling evidence to believe otherwise.  So just because we do not have enough data to prove these infancy narrative events through the historical method doesn’t mean that they didn’t occur.  Craig is just very careful about making this distinction – he has done this in many of his talks, no doubt as a way to protect the “main event” which he considers IS accessible through the historical method, the Resurrection of Christ.

    This really is not a big deal, and it is certainly not Craig saying that the narratives ARE fantasy.  He is merely saying that at this time they can’t be confirmed through the historical method in the same way he thinks something like the Resurrection could be.  I wasn’t there, but given this story, it seems like Craig merely said exactly the same thing I’ve heard him say in other talks online, and (as is often the case), the atheist simply misunderstood what he was saying.

    Also, Craig has made it very clear that Biblical inerrancy is not a required belief of a Christian, and he is here correct.  All one needs to know is God exists and Jesus was Resurrected – the latter, according to Craig, can be known through the historical method without treating the documents as inspired at all.  Inerrancy is great, but it is not required, and there are plenty of Christians who don’t hold to the doctrine.  Most who are like this find the documents generally very historically reliable (which they clearly are), and aren’t bothered if a few little details here and there are off (not saying they are, but just giving that point of view).

    As for the Youtube post above, that is not a “refutation” of the Kalaam.  First of all, the Kalaam is not based on scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe, it is based on philosophical arguments against the possibility of an infinite past.  The scientific elements are presented as confirmation of the argument from modern evidence, not as its basis.  And that being the case, the Borde-Guthe-Villenkin theorem also demonstrates that even in the case of a multi-verse the universe had to have a beginning.  So this doesn’t really work against the argument on any level.

    • Daydreamer1

      New Scientist had a similar piece recently regarding a paper stating that no matter what the beginning was there had to have been one.

      My personal take on the claims by the abundant diversity of the worlds religions is that people do love a good story. I don’t really see the bible as being different here. I see no reason other than liking a good story to jump on the Christian stories as being true, and indeed everywhere around me all I see is people saying the same. Some people like the story and say that without a time machine we cannot absolutely disprove the supernatural bits and that it pretty much their whole argument.

      Personally I find Christianity a little too small. I suspect the real answer, theological or not, will be much grander than redemption through human sacrifice for a curse put on us by an angry God.

      • David

        Hi Daydreamer1,

        I would point out that the other main world religions are full of logical incoherencies which only the monotheistic faiths avoid (look at Mortimer’s Adler’s “Truth in Religion”).  Interestingly, the monotheistic faiths also happen to dovetail with philosophical ideas about the existence of God as a metaphysically necessary being, as well as with many of the proofs for God’s existence through natural theology.  Now that doesn’t in and of itself mean that the specific monotheistic faiths are true, but they do comport with the project of philosophically-based natural theology quite well.  I take that further and mention that Christianity has doctrines which make more sense to me than either Judaism or Islam – for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity, while mysterious in its own right, also provides the only real way that an infinite God could also “be all loving” or even be love” itself.  Without the three distinct persons within the Godhead, how can there be any expression of love on God’s part apart from Creation?  And the atonement, when properly understood, is not only an amazingly beautiful idea, but it also is a way to reconcile a God of perfect Justice with a God of perfect mercy.  A non-Trinitarian God is simply not big enough to do this:

        Imagine being in a Saudi Arabian mall and seeing a shoplifter running toward you, item in hand, being pursued by police.  Now the man is obviously poor and helpless, and he has probably stolen so he could eat or feed his family, but he has stolen, and if he is caught by the police, he’ll have his hands cut off.  You instinctively tackle the shoplifter and hold him down as the police quickly close the distance, only to have him look up at you and sincerely say: “please sir, you don’t understand.”  I would probably let such a man go.  Another given person would hold the man down and let him get caught.  Either way, one of us is fulfilling mercy and the other justice.  We cannot do both.  But a Trinitarian God can.  God must fulfill perfect justice, but in order to be merciful he offers Himself to fulfill the demands of justice for all who accept that he has done so on their behalf.  When you study this in detail (which cannot be done in a lifetime, believe me), you start to see how exquisitely beautiful are the ins and outs of the Atonement.

        Christianity also stands above almost all other world religions by being historically-based.  Jesus of Nazareth was a real person with real followers who claimed they encountered him Resurrected and were willing to go to their deaths in the spreading of that message.  The Bible also is based in history to the point where it is constantly being confirmed by archaeological finds and it has often been used in order to make finds by following its descriptions.  Are there difficulties still to be found archaeologically?  Sure.  But that doesn’t mean they are intractable or may not be resolved at some point, as many others have been so far.

        Finally, in respect to your characterization of the “curse by an angry God”, I really hope you’ll probe the story on a deeper level than that.  Remember, this story has had to be communicated to all times and places, at many levels of sophistication, but the truths within it are layered like an onion, and what may be strong to one culture (your characterization), may not be to another.  But look at it in the other ways and there is real beauty there – particularly when you look at the Biblical narrative as a whole.  God, a perfect, metaphysically necessary being, decides to share existence with other free creatures, and creates a universe for those creatures to inhabit.  He endows the creatures with true free will – ability to choose right and wrong, and the creatures pick evil.  Now they are necessarily separated from this perfect being.  But the universe is also Jacob’s Ladder – a machine built for the express purpose of making Saints – those who exercise their free will to climb that ladder back to God, and get there cleansed and fully made, perfectly free and in perfect fellowship with their Creator and with each other.  That cleansing, that testing, is necessary.  This perfect being exercises perfect Justice but finds a way, in his master plan, to exercise perfect love and mercy at the same time, by condescending to become part of His Creation, to become one of His creatures, and experience life, temptation and immense suffering as those Creatures do, and then pay the penalty for them to cleanse all who choose to accept that gift, cleaning them and making them whole, ready to enter that Kingdom.  But this is still a free choice – God gives enough light for those who want Him to find him but not so much that he takes away the free will of those who do not wish to find him.  He will not force creatures into his presence that don’t want to be there.

        Of course, this is a paltry sketch of something that can take lifetimes to unravel, but I hope you recognize in here that there is much more to this story than your characterization.

        Cheers to you, mate.

        • http://www.www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Apologies for coming into this late. Thanks for commenting, David. However, let me pick you up on a few things, though Andy has been pretty much spot on here.

          In this case, all he is saying is that there is not a way to justify these infancy narratives using the standard historical method.  And that’s all.  But that’s not saying much – just because a given event cannot be reliably confirmed by the historical method does not mean the event did not take place.  The day I’ve had today, for instance, was filled with events that would we would have no way of proving historically just a year or so from now, but they certainly did happen.  

          There are issues here. Any good historian uses, whether they are aware of it or not, a form of Bayesian analysis. What you seem to overlook, rather charitably, is that the claims of the infancy narratives are about as fantastical and rare as one could get. This is the account of God being incarnated miraculously on earth. And angels, and stars, and conceptions. All miraculous. So the standard of evidence DOES have to be incredible.

          So, is it?

          No. It is terrible. Two small claims in non-contemporary, non-eyewitness, unverified date, unverified location, agenda-laden, unknown sources, interpolated, often pseudepigraphical, sometimes forged, unverifiable, contradictory Scriptures.

          And the claims are internally incoherent, as well as being absent from not only the other two Gospels, but from the rest of the New Testament, including M and L themselves, later on.

          And then you say they don’t contradict. Some contradictions are subtle, some blatant. The more blatant ones are the at least 10 year gap (census vs Herod), the location of Jesus’ family before the birth, the genealogies and what the family did after the birth (using the clear temporal connectives of Luke. You claims about timing are, no offence, laughable, and would not be so charitably given in any other circumstance. If you want me to expand on that, let me know.

          The more subtle ones are the lack of mentioning of reasons for going to Nazareth (as derived from above, too) such that the census doesn’t even feature, and yet this is a causal reason for Luke having them in Bethlehem; the claim of the census contradicting known census protocols and flat common sense and so on.

          What you need to do is show  that the evidence better supports the claim that the narratives are true than they are not true.

          On the STANDARD of evidence and the PRIOR PROBABILITIES of similar claims (being false), then it seems your job is pretty tough. 

          You might be interested to hear my debate with Randal Rauser on this topic:

          http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2012/12/24/my-debate-with-on-the-nativity-with-apologist-randal-rauser-now-available/

           

        • Daydreamer1

          Hi David,

            It is certainly a large and colourful story, there is no doubt about that. I personally cannot reconcile it with life, the universe, and everything – though that is me personally.

            I have read the reviews of Truth in Religion looking for comments about his epistemology – how does he claim to know what he says. The reviews do not cover this too much though other than to say that his logic is faulty. These are not reviews by atheists either but from the look of it people of different faiths. One review gives it 5/5 but does not comment on his work other than to say he agrees with his conclusions that pluralism is a bad idea in religion. Personally I am not sure what my own conclusion would be. On one side I would like to think that we all desire to aim for whatever reality is, but I think the purity of religion shows this to be false and that nurture conquers in this regard. As such I can perhaps only hope that mankinds worse instincts for sectarianism and control are kept in cheque by the law and equality and freedom legislation. Again though it is possible to look at the world and see the spread of more right wing politics merged with right wing theologies and see problems in that regard, though fortunately for myself I do not live in one of those countries – I must still feel for my common human being though.

            Are you sure Christianity stands alone in being historically based? Don’t many other religions claim the same? Don’t many spiritualities claim the world is the way they purport too?

            The Bible certainly has stood a few tests, but I think you are cherry picking a little. It does not take too much reading around Biblical Studies to find both liberal as well as conservative scholarship details many of the books failures. Personally though I am far more interested in its supernatural claims that whether the authors added the name of a city here, or location of a city wall there. After all it is a well used storytelling technique to add details like that. The books were/are designed to convince people after all so we should not expect to find complete gibberish. The authors would have to be complete idiots to get things wrong that were testable in their own times. At the very least what we would expect would be what we would expect today if a group of people were writing texts surrounding who they believed to be their prophet. There are many examples of peoples methodology in doing this both from other religions (Islam is a good example) and the more modern religions and common cults that abound for study.

            Lastly, I appreciate your preference for the grandiose – all the examples of there being more work than a life-time and it being a beauty greater than can be understood etc. However, you can do a degree in a few years and I would expect to be able to understand  enough detail to gain an understanding in something much quicker than that. It is true that people have been writing from thousands of years, and hence there is far too much to read in a lifetime. It is also true that all of them had their own take on it and so the diversity of thought is absolutely vast, and hence also could not be learn’t in a lifetime. This does not stop it being presented in an understandable fashion and tested alongside the most complicated of other theories though. I appreciate that ideas need expressing in their most complex form, but I wouldn’t ignore the opposite either. Presenting ideas in their simplest form is also a skill, but much can be gained from doing so too.

    • Andy_Schueler

       And that’s all.  But that’s not saying much – just because a given event cannot be reliably confirmed by the historical method does not mean the event did not take place. 

      The problem with the infancy narratives is not only that there is no supporting evidence whatsoever – it´s much worse than that. They also contradict each other and they contradict established historical facts. So, even if you would allow for the possibilities of miracles (which historians do not do – and not only when it comes to the Bible), you would still have to conclude that the infancy narratives are mythological based on the available evidence. 

      and/or that since so many other sections of the Bible have often been in question, only to be proven correct later, (the existence of Pilate, for instance), that its track record is very sound and we are justified in holding things like this in tension

      That sounds like cherry picking. The Bible has a very poor track record when it comes to testing the historicity of it´s claims – every single biblical claim involving miracles that can be tested scientifically (things like Noah´s flood, Adam & Eve, the tower of Babel etc.) has been shown to be completely and utterly wrong. And claims that can be tested by archaeologists and historians don´t fare much better. 

      Also, Craig has made it very clear that Biblical inerrancy is not a required belief of a Christian, and he is here correct.  All one needs to know is God exists and Jesus was Resurrected – the latter, according to Craig, can be known through the historical method without treating the documents as inspired at all. 

      Craig argues that the resurrection of Jesus can be demonstrated using the historical method, but this is complete nonsense. You can´t accept the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and reject the claims that Elvis Presley was resurrected from the dead, that Bigfoot exists, that alien abductions happened many times etc. without massive special pleading. 

      And that being the case, the Borde-Guthe-Villenkin theorem also demonstrates that even in the case of a multi-verse the universe had to have a beginning. 

      But not a beginning from “absolute nothingness” (also, what exactly “beginning” means in this context is debatable, this is actually much more complicated than it sounds) as Craig would like to have it – look up what Vilenkin has to say about this, don´t rely only on quotes provided by WLC, he has a habit of quote-mining cosmologists.

      • David

        Thanks for your reply, Andy.  Of course, I have a couple of quibbles, but that’s what makes discussions like this so fun!  Into the fray now…

        The infancy narratives do not contradict each other.  After reading this, I went back and compared them, and found nothing that supports that notion.  There would only be a contradiction if one presupposed that the narratives surrounding the birth all took place on one night, as depicted in a nativity scene.  But of course, nowhere does the Bible say this – nativity scenes are a compression of the entire narrative, not an accurate depiction of them.  The chronology is pretty simple: Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, give birth to Jesus, and stay there awhile, fulfilling the law by going to nearby Jerusalem and dedicating their child, etc.  Meanwhile, the Magi see the star in the sky (corresponding to the birth of the child), and start travelling.  They arrive months after the birth, encounter Herod, and then go visit the child who is now staying in a house in Bethlehem and could be anywhere from a few months to over a year old by this time.  Then they leave.  There is no contradiction – even in the narrative themselves, Herod orders all male children under two years old killed – this fits very nicely with the idea that the child is not a newborn at the time, but had been born some time before.  Even if Herod gave himself a pad of a year just to be sure, Jesus could still have been a year old by the time of that decree.  And remember, nowhere do these things say it all happened in one night.  So there is no contradiction between the two narratives at all.

        The best you can do is say something like “why didn’t Luke mention such and such or Matthew mention such and such?” but that is not saying anything at all.  Maybe one of them didn’t know certain aspects of the story and the other did.  Maybe one chose to leave out something that appeared elsewhere or that he wasn’t sure of.  Who knows?  It could be anything, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  I could point to many examples historically of things left out of accounts that one would assume would be put in – Grant’s well-respected two volume account of the Civil War never mentions the Emancipation Proclamation, for instance.  Pliny the Younger saw Mount Vesuvius erupt and records it in detail, but he never mentions the large Roman cities that were buried under it, and on and on.  This kind of thing happens all the time in history, and the Gospels are no different.  We don’t know why some people chose to record some things and others leave them out or vice versa, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

        Now in terms of what we know about history, the date of the census IS a legitimate problem.  But there are several proposed solutions, and again, the history of Biblical criticism is littered with the wreckage of such “problems” which later were seen to have been correct after all, so considering some of the better explanations of what is going on there one can certainly imagine this issue could have an answer itself.  So it remains a problem now, but it’s not a defeater by any means, because there could very easily be a rational explanation for what looks like a discrepancy here.

        “That sounds like cherry picking. The Bible has a very poor track record when it comes to testing the historicity of it´s claims – every single biblical claim involving miracles that can be tested scientifically (things like Noah´s flood, Adam & Eve, the tower of Babel etc.) has been shown to be completely and utterly wrong. And claims that can be tested by archaeologists and historians don´t fare much better. ”

        It seems like you’re doing the cherry picking in this case.  The examples you give above come from the first twelve chapters of Genesis, which a great many Christians believe are not literal, but getting across a universal truth with a story that can be understood across all times and places.  Jesus is himself the Word of God, and he does this all the time by speaking in parables, so why not the Word of God in the form of the Bible?  It seems clear to many that is what is going on here.  “Adam” is just Hebrew for “Man”, for instance.  There ARE other historical problems associated with the Bible at this point, such as the Exodus and Jericho, but there are many, many more that have been former problems (such as the pool of Siloam, or the existence of Nazareth) that archaeology has resolved in the Bible’s favor.  It’s track record is rather good, and in the New Testament Luke is classed as a first rate historian.  Just about everything we’ve checked on about the ancient world as described in his Gospel, down to very minute details of geography and culture, are accurate.  The Gospel has even allowed us to make discoveries about certain places, discoveries which only confirmed Luke’s account.  This guy clearly was describing all these things with the accuracy of one who had been there and paid close attention.  That’s what makes the census question so perplexing, because he’s so careful in all other aspects – it inclines one to give him the benefit of the doubt and wait for an explanation or confirmation to confirm him, because that has happened so often before.

        “Craig argues that the resurrection of Jesus can be demonstrated using the historical method, but this is complete nonsense. You can´t accept the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and reject the claims that Elvis Presley was resurrected from the dead, that Bigfoot exists, that alien abductions happened many times etc. without massive special pleading.”

        Not at all.  Show me dozens of people who claim Elvis is still alive and are willing to go to torturous deaths, never recanting, to confirm what they saw, and I’ll then say that those things are on the same level.  They are clearly not.  The only thing that doesn’t make the Resurrection as historically certain as many other events we take as such with far less documentation and other evidence is the presumption of naturalism.  Without that presupposition, the Resurrection would be an historical fact that has far more support than many other accepted facts of ancient history.

  • Bryan McNair

    Naturalism is faith that there is nothing more than what science tells us exists. You need a lot of faith to believe that science is not limited in what it can tell us about reality. It requires faith to hold that the methods of science are the correct ones, there’s nothing to say that at some point in the future they could all be proven inadequate and that everything we think they are telling us about reality is false. We’re all guilty of holding to some faith over reason, otherwise we would all be pure skeptics.

    • Andy_Schueler

      Naturalism is faith that there is nothing more than what science tells us exists.

      Not at all, it only claims that either nothing exists beyond the natural universe or that, if something does exist beyond the natural world, it does not affect the natural world in any way. It does not claim that science is able to find out everything there is to know about the natural world.   

      It requires faith to hold that the methods of science are the correct ones

      Nope, the claims of science are testable – you don´t need to have “faith” in the theory of relativity to trust your GPS, you don´t need to have “faith” in quantum mechanics and the theories of electricity to trust that the CPU in your computer will provide reliable calculations,  you don´t need to have “faith” in aerodynamics to trust that an airplane will indeed be able to fly, you don´t need to have “faith” in the germ theory of disease to trust that a hepatitis-A vaccination will indeed protect you from hepatitis-A. 
      Science demonstrably works.

      there’s nothing to say that at some point in the future they could all be proven inadequate and that everything we think they are telling us about reality is false. 

      “Inadequate” and “false” are two completely different things. Even our very best scientific theories – quantum mechanics, general relativity, evolution etc. – are “inadequate”, we know that for sure. But we also know for sure that they align with reality very well (meaning that they are incomplete, but very good descriptions of physical reality). Our technological arsenal – from computers over vaccines to synthetic fibers and airplanes – could not possibly work if the underlying scientific theories had nothing to do with reality.

      • Bryan McNair

        You set that straw man up real nice, but the way you knock it down…Now that’s gusto! Please take that comment as a lighthearted jab. I never said anything about faith in the technology that we use every day. I think it does take some trust (or maybe having faith, if you feel comfortable putting it that way)  that the engineers who designed them knew what they were doing. I never disputed that we don’t understand the basic laws of nature to enough of a degree to use them to create, use, and advance technology. Even before the scientific method this was possible. People have been using the properties of materials and the laws of nature in this way since as far back in history as we know of. My point was that to put the effort into exploring nature with science and trusting or hoping that it will ultimately give us the complete answers we want is equivalent to faith. Not blind faith. I’m a Christian and I don’t believe what i do on blind faith. I take the evidence where it leads me. And yes, I also go off of personal experience. There are some things that cannot be tested with natural methods. Everyone is familiar with this, whether they will admit it or not. However, Richard Dawkins himself shows a great degree of faith in science when formulating his argument in The God Delusion. If I remember correctly, in premises 4, 5, and 6 he expressed a hope (or faith) that a better explanation for physics will arise someday. And don’t most scientists have the hope that a TOE will be possible to explain the fundamental interactions that involve all the particles of nature?

        • Andy_Schueler

          I never said anything about faith in the technology that we use every day. 

          Oh you most certainly did. Your words:
          It requires faith to hold that the methods of science are the correct ones, there’s nothing to say that at some point in the future they could all be proven inadequate and that everything we think they are telling us about reality is false.
          do absolutely imply that trusting our technology, which is based on science, to work can only be done by faith

          I never disputed that we don’t understand the basic laws of nature to enough of a degree to use them to create, use, and advance technology. 

          Alright, then your words in the previous comments were poorly chosen however. 

          My point was that to put the effort into exploring nature with science and trusting or hoping that it will ultimately give us the complete answers we want is equivalent to faith.

          Who actually believes that ? I´m not aware of anyone who does. Science demonstrably works, but whether science can be used to find out everything there is to know about the natural world is a completely different question (it is almost certain that this is not possible). 
          The point that most atheists raise in this context is not that scientists will ultimately figure out everything there is to know about the universe (try to find even one who argues that) but rather that science has provided countless insights into the way our world works, insights on which pretty much all of our technology is based on, while religion has provided no useful (i.e. testable and technologically applicable) information about our world whatsoever. 

          I’m a Christian and I don’t believe what i do on blind faith. I take the evidence where it leads me. 

          If you have evidence, you need no faith. You only need faith to believe in something that goes beyond what can be supported by the available evidence, which all religions, including christianity, rely on – see Hebrews 11:1-6 and John 20:29.

          There are some things that cannot be tested with natural methods. 

          Maybe there are. But I don´t see why anyone would care as long as it´s impossible to test that in any way.

          Dawkins himself shows a great degree of faith in science when formulating his argument in The God Delusion. If I remember correctly, in premises 4, 5, and 6 he expressed a hope (or faith) that a better explanation for physics will arise someday. 

          Who doesn´t hope for better explanations ? Better explanations = better technology. This has nothing to do with any of Dawkins´ arguments presented in the God Delusion however.

          And don’t most scientists have the hope that a TOE will be possible to explain the fundamental interactions that involve all the particles of nature?

          Yes, and lot´s of other stuff – quantum gravity, dark energy, electroweak symmetry breaking (we might be close to explain this thanks to the large hadron collider), matter/antimatter asymmetry and countless other things. But what has any of this to do with having “faith in science” ? If we do figure this stuff out sooner or later – good for us, if not, then we did our best and failed.

          • Bryan McNair

            So, you do agree with me. But, you seem so wary of the word “faith” that you go to great pains to avoid it. Faith (trust/hope) is not needed when you have absolutely infallible evidence to support something. Please give me an example of such a situation. And please give me any evidence you have for the universally negative position of atheism.

          • Andy_Schueler

            So, you do agree with me. But, you seem so wary of the word “faith” that you go to great pains to avoid it.

            And where exactly did I do that ? “Faith” would certainly be required to believe that science will ultimately provide everything there is to know about the world we live in. But this is certainly not a popular position and I´m not aware of anyone who actually does believe that.  

            Faith (trust/hope) is not needed when you have absolutely infallible evidence to support something. Please give me an example of such a situation.

            1. You are equivocating “trust”, “hope” and “faith”. This makes no sense – those words are not synonymous. “Trust” can be based on rational or irrational reasons. Trusting a person that has so far always betrayed you or trusting a method that has never worked so far would certainly be irrational – while trusting a person that has never betrayed you or trusting a method that has always worked so far would certainly be rational (note that “trust” is not binary, you can have varying degrees of “trust” – if you put your trust in a method that has so far worked 90% of the time, it would be rational to “trust” that it will more likely work than not, but it would be irrational to trust that it will always work, for example). “Hope” is a very different concept because “hope” does not refer to what you believe will happen but rather about what you desire to happen. And “faith” is yet another concept – referring to something that you believe to be true although it goes beyond what can be established by the available evidence. Equivocating these three very different concepts makes no sense.  
            2. Why did you make up the “absolutely infallible evidence” part ? You certainly did not get that from anything I have written. If you have enough evidence to demonstrate that a claim is significantly more likely true than not, you need no faith to believe it. If you have enough evidence to establish a claim beyond reasonable doubt, than it would be irrational to not believe it

  • Andy_Schueler

    The infancy narratives do not contradict each other. 

    They certainly do – just check the alleged geneaologies for example (we are aware of the attempts at reconciling them by claiming that one is maternal and one is paternal, but this does not work out for a long list of reasons…).
    And they also contradict established facts about ancient history, a nice summary of the problems surrounding the historicity of the infancy narratives is in Jonathan´s book (you should see an amazon link in the sidebar of the blog).

    Not at all.  Show me dozens of people who claim Elvis is still alive and are willing to go to torturous deaths, never recanting, to confirm what they saw, and I’ll then say that those things are on the same level.  They are clearly not.  

    1. That someone is willing to die for his beliefs is in no way, shape or form evidence for the beliefs actually being true – it is only evidence that this person was indeed convinced that his / her beliefs are true. Example: the “Heaven´s Gate” cult convinced dozens of people that the earth is doomed and the only way to “survive” (spiritually) the end of our planet would be to commit suicide very soon. 39 people believed this and actually killed themselves for this belief (and this is by far not the only example of people being willing to die for patently ridiculous (for outsiders) beliefs). 
    2. No one is willing to die for standing by the belief that Elvis Presley was actually resurrected from the dead and I´m not aware of any person that was willing to die for standing by the belief that they were abducted by aliens – this indeed is true. 
    However, there are dozens of actual living eyewitnesses that can be interrogated and evaluated for their mental health which are willing to swear that they were abducted by aliens (many of which show no indications of any mental disorder and many of these eyewitness testimonies corrobate each other). This eyewitness evidence, at least in the alien abduction case, is far superior to the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because there is in fact no eyewitness evidence supporting the resurrection whatsoever, only alleged eyewitness evidence provided by unknown (except for the apostle Paul) authors who wrote about it years and even decades after the alleged events. For most of these alleged eyewitnesses – we have no information whatsoever regarding who they were, what exactly they claimed to have seen (did they see a bodily Jesus with his crucifixion wounds like doubting Thomas or a talking light in the sky like Paul ? Have they seen Jesus before the crucifixion and thus knew what he looked like ? etc.). I don´t think that alien abductions are plausible – but the evidence supporting their reality is far superior to the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Eyewitness evidence is one of the weakest forms of evidence (that is why material evidence like fingerprints or DNA tests always trump eyewitness evidence in court) and I don´t think that a claim as extraordinary as a resurrection from the dead or alien abductions could ever be established beyond reasonable doubt by nothing but eyewitness evidence. 

    The only thing that doesn’t make the Resurrection as historically certain as many other events we take as such with far less documentation and other evidence is the presumption of naturalism.

     
    I disagree. Naturalism per se has nothing to do with it – it can rather be summarized as “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Take as an example the Battle of Thermopylae – the historian Herodotus claimed that Xerxes invaded greece with an army of more than five million(!) people. It is certainly possible that this indeed happened, but it would have been virtually impossible for Xerxes and the persians to handle the logistics for such a gargantuan army. Since this claim is extraordinary (the army size goes far beyond what we believe would have been possible based on our background knowledge) no one accepts this based on Herodotus testimony alone (the Battle most likely happened, but greece was invaded by a much smaller army). To establish such an extraordinary claim, eyewitness evidence is not enough – material evidence provided by archaeologists for example would also be needed.
    If the claim would be even more extraordinary (e.g. Herodotus claiming that greece was invaded by an army of huge fire-breating dragons), even more evidence would be needed to establish it beyond reasonable doubt. 
    And the resurrection of a jewish preacher from the dead would be even more extraordinary than that. 

  • Andy_Schueler

     I take that further and mention that Christianity has doctrines which make more sense to me than either Judaism or Islam

    I believe that – but this also works the other way around. Growing up in a christian culture means that the claims of christianity will naturally make more sense to you than the claims of hinduism (for example) but the claims of hinduism will make much more sense to someone growing up in a Hindu culture than the claims of christianity. 

    And the atonement, when properly understood, is not only an amazingly beautiful idea, but it also is a way to reconcile a God of perfect Justice with a God of perfect mercy

    I don´t think so. First of all, what can possibly be “just” about punishing someone for someone else´s crimes ? And also, since believing something is not a choice, what can possibly be “just” about rewarding someone for being convinced by the claim that a jewish preacher in ancient palestine was resurrected from the dead and punishing those who are not convinced by it ? 
    Punishing someone for someone else´s crimes seems to me to be completely unjust and rewarding someone for being convinced by a claim about ancient history seems to me to be completely arbitrary. 

     The Bible also is based in history to the point where it is constantly being confirmed by archaeological finds and it has often been used in order to make finds by following its descriptions

    Some biblical stories do have a kernel of historical truth – but overall, biblical minimalism has been well established among archaeologists for decades now. 
    And here we are only talking about the ordinary claims of the bible, when we look at the miraculous ones like pretty much all of Genesis – the Bible fares no better than any other creation myth.