Wednesday, May 29, 2013

William Lane Craig versus Rosenberg (part 7)

My series on the February 2013 debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg:
  1. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
  2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
  3. The Applicability of Mathematics to the Physical World
  4. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life
  5. Intentional States of Consciousness in the World
  6. The Historical Facts about Jesus of Nazareth
  7. Arguments Against Naturalism
  8. The Argument from Evil
  9. Wrap-Up


In February 2013 atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig over whether faith in God is reasonable (debate begins at around 17:14). I’ve mentioned before the reason why William Lane Craig wins debates, and since this debate is a good example of how not to debate William Lane Craig, I have been going through some of what Rosenberg did wrong and how he could have done a lot better. One happy benefit from this is that in so doing I’ll also be refuting William Lane Craig’s arguments. In this entry I’ll address Craig’s argument from the resurrection of Jesus..

The Historical Facts about Jesus of Nazareth

Craig’s argument, which begins at 32:13:

  1. There are three established facts about Jesus:
    • the empty tomb,
    • the post-mortem appearances, and
    • the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
  2. The hypothesis, “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
  3. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that God exists.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

Craig believes the above argument is a good inductive argument for God’s existence.

What Rosenberg did

Rosenberg begins his rebuttal at around 53:10. He talks about Mormonism, Islam, and Scientology, noting how we don’t believe those religions. Unfortunately he doesn’t quite attack any premise of Craig’s inductive argument. Charitably, we could interpret Rosenberg as saying something like, “Just as we disbelieve those religious claims, so we should believe the claims of the New Testament.” But since (so Craig claims) most historians accept the three facts of Jesus of Nazareth whereas they presumably do not accept the claims of Mormonism, Islam, and Scientology that we reject, there is a kind of asymmetry here that Rosenberg needs to pry apart.

Rosenberg also notes how eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. While it can be, this is the sort of claim that can prove too much; pretty much all of ancient history taught in universities is based on nothing less than eyewitness testimony. Yet it seems a bit harsh that we should get rid of all beliefs of ancient history that depend upon that sort of thing, else we’d scarcely have any ancient history to teach at all. As Craig points out in the debate, Rosenberg needs to give specific reasons not to trust the eyewitness testimony in the case of the Resurrection, not simply give a general claim about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony (actually, as I’ll show later, Rosenberg could also have pointed out a couple holes in Craig’s opening statement regarding the resurrection argument).

Rosenberg, claims (at around 1:39:05 onward) that all scholars tell us the New Testament was written by illiterate people. Writing ancient Greek documents would indeed be impressive if the authors couldn’t read, but it seems unlikely (and it seems similarly unlikely that New Testament scholars would believe such a thing!). Rosenberg may have bungled his words here and meant to have communicated that some Christians were illiterate even if the authors of the documents were not, but this point seems irrelevant to the truth of those documents and he should have used a relevant argument instead.

At around 1:39:26, he says that the original manuscripts were written in Aramaic, thereby showing his ignorance of New Testament scholarship (they were actually originally written in Greek). Rosenberg also claims the opportunity for mistranslation, mis-transcription, and other mistakes is huge and has been documented by scholarship in the last 200 years (in actuality, scholars believe that our reconstruction of the New Testament from extant manuscripts matches extremely close to the originals—one is much better off attacking the veracity of the originals themselves), and thus displays an further lack of preparation for the debate.

What Rosenberg should have done

When one watches Craig’s opening statement, the way to attack Craig’s claims seems kind of obvious once one realizes certain facts. Craig never offers any source for his claim that most New Testament historians accept his three claims. Even ignoring that, there would be the somewhat obvious concern that about whether most of these New Testament historians who accept the three claims are already Christians. And apart from Craig’s questionable appeal to authority (and he also appeals to the opinion of the religiously motivated Christian scholar N.T. Wright), he doesn’t offer any reason to believe that these three claims are true! It’s as if these holes in Craig’s resurrection argument entirely escaped Rosenberg’s notice (considering his bizarre attack on eyewitness testimony in general) and Rosenberg could have followed Craig’s opening statement with something like this:

Craig bases his resurrection argument upon three claims that he says most New Testament historians accept. But what’s Craig’s source that most New Testament historians accept these three claims? A scientific survey or anecdotal evidence? We are not told. Moreover, it’s not even clear whether most New Testament historians accepting these three claims should be grounds for the non-Christian to accept them, because what if the reason the New Testament scholars accept those claims is because they’re already Christians? Craig might believe there are good reasons for a secular historian to accept his three claims, but what are they? Craig hasn’t told us that either. And of course, saying we should accept these three claims because the Bible says these claims are true would be question begging; such reasoning wouldn’t be accepted by someone who wasn’t already a Christian. So all things considered, Craig has not given adequate evidence to believe the resurrection occurred, because he hasn’t given us adequate grounds to accept his three claims and he hasn’t even given us any grounds for thinking the majority of New Testament historians accept his three claims.

The above rebuttal contains these two important objections: (1) Craig hasn’t justified his claim that most New Testament historians accept his three claims; (2) Craig hasn’t given any reasons a secular historian would accept these three claims. Notice how serious these problems are for Craig’s resurrection argument. Yet, incredibly, instead of pointing out these gaping holes in Craig’s opening statement, Rosenberg attacks eyewitness testimony in general! It’s almost as if Rosenberg didn’t notice how Craig actually presented his resurrection argument. (To his credit, Rosenberg at least asks at around 1:39:48, possibly referring to Craig’s use of Christian scholar N.T. Wright, “why should we accept the credibility of Christian scholars writing about Christian documents?”)

When debating theists who are analytic philosophers like William Lane Craig, it behooves atheist debaters to themselves think analytically. There were important and specific claims Craig didn’t justify. Rosenberg should have clearly identified those specific claims and pointed out that Craig didn’t justify those specific claims (as I did in my “Craig bases his resurrection argument upon three claims...” paragraph above). This direct approach against Craig’s resurrection argument would worked much better than, for example, attacking the reliability of eyewitness testimony in general or talking about how we don’t accept the claims of scientology, because otherwise the real holes in Craig’s argument don’t get exposed.

So much for Craig’s opening statement. What about later? In his first rebuttal to Rosenberg, Craig claimed (at around 1:11:17 onward) that we’re dealing with “early eyewitness testimony” but doesn’t specify how we know this apart from the insinuation that we know it from the Gospels (which is good if you’re already a Christian, but otherwise...). Later at around 1:44:20, he says that the sources we have for the resurrection of Jesus go back within five years of the event, and he gives no argument or evidence for this claim. Rosenberg should have called Craig on out all this.

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