Botched Response to The Empty Tomb

(Redated post on 24 October 2011)

(This article was written in 2005 or 2006, but sat in my Drafts folder while I was inactive.)

Robert M. Price and I are the co-authors of a skeptical anthology on the alleged historicity of the resurrection of Jesus entitled The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave. Steve Hays recently wrote a book-length rebuttal to our book entitled, This Joyful Eastertide. When I first heard about this rebuttal, I have to confess I skipped directly to Hays’ rebuttal to my chapter to read what Hays had to write. After a botched discussion of the logical structure of my inductive argument, including my appeals to prior and final probabilities, Hays then presents the most curious objection that my argument is somehow dependent upon G.A. Wells. Hays states his objection as follows.

(vii) Finally yet another weakness with Lowder’s underlying thesis is the degree to which he’s indebted to G.A. Wells–a frailty he shares in common with Parsons.[499] But Wells’ work has come under fire from various quarters.

Hays then spends the next 4 pages quoting a critique of G.A. Wells by Gary Habermas.

Before pointing out the flaws in Hays’ objection, allow me to mention the one item on which both Hays and I agree: “Wells’ work has come under fire from various quarters.” I am one of those quarters. I have previously criticized Wells in several places (see, for example, here). And what is Hays’ evidence, contained in footnote 499, that my thesis is dependent upon G.A. Wells? Here is the text of footnote 499, quoted in full.

[499] 298-299, n.3; 450, nn.16, 19.

We may set aside the references to notes 16 and 19, since they are references to endnotes in the chapter by Keith Parsons, not me. What about my reference to Wells on pages 298-299 in note 3? Apparently, Hays didn’t read my chapter very carefully, since the text of my chapter doesn’t support his claim. Note 3 was written in support of a passage on pp. 298-299. Here is an excerpt of what I actually wrote on pp. 298-299:

Although countless Christians have defended the historicity of the empty tomb, William Lane Craig is widely regarded as its foremost contemporary defender.[2] Yet, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever directly responded to all of Craig’s specific arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb story.[3]

Before quoting note 3, I want to emphasize that the claim in question is the following: “no one has ever directly responded to all of Craig’s specific arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb story.” Even if that statement were false, how, precisely, would that undermine my “underlying thesis,” as Hays alleges? Hays never explains this. He doesn’t explain this because he can’t. Suppose someone had responded to all of Craig’s specific arguments for the empty tomb. Such a response would not undermine the thesis of my chapter, which is that none of Craig’s arguments for the empty tomb are inductively correct in their current form. But the statement is correct: prior to the publication of my chapter (and the essay upon which it is based), to the best of my knowledge, no one had ever directly responded to all of Craig’s specific arguments for the empty tomb.

In support of this, I wrote the following in note 3:

“[3] See Evan Fales, “Successful Defense? A Review of In Defense of Miracles ” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, 3(2001), pp. 7-35; Keith M. Parsons, “The Universe Is Probable; the Resurrection Is Not,” in Does God Exist? The Craig-Flew Debate (ed. Stan W. Wallace, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2003), pp. 115-130; Robert J. Miller, The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics (Santa Rosa, California: Polebridge Press, 1999); and Richard C. Carrier, “Craig’s Empty Tomb and Habermas on the Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus,” The Secular Web, 1999,; and Robert M. Price’s chapter, “By This Time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus.” Cf. G.A. Wells, The Jesus Myth (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1999); idem, A Resurrection Debate: The New Testament Evidence in Evangelical and in Critical Perspective (London: Rationalist Press Association, 1988), also available online at; Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (London: SCM, 1994); and Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991).”

In other words, in an endnote, I listed several sources that directly respond to some (but not all of) Craig’s arguments for the empty tomb, as well as several other sources that could be considered an indirect response to some of Craig’s arguments. Note the modesty of the claim of note 3. Note 3 is not an endorsement of the skeptical responses; rather, it is a catalog of them. And, in fact, the arguments in my chapter are quite independent of the work of Wells, as should be evident from the fact that I accepted the historicity of the empty tomb, in contrast to Wells’ non-acceptance of the empty tomb (as well as his previous thesis that Jesus never existed).

Thus, we are now in a position to appreciate the full degree to which Hays’ objection is erroneous. Not only is my chapter not dependent on Wells’ work in any way, but in fact my acceptance of the empty tomb stands in direct contradiction to what Wells has argued. Since this point should be obvious to anyone who has actually read both Wells and I, it is unclear how Hays could have committed such a blunder in his rebuttal.