bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 3

As a Christian apologist who defends the claim that ‘Jesus rose from the dead’, William Craig takes upon himself a heavy burden of proof. To meet the burden of proof Craig must put forward powerful historical evidence to prove that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross’. But in most of his books, articles, and debates on the resurrection, Craig simply ignores this issue.
One exception to this pattern of neglect is found in his book The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. (hereafter: TSR). In TSR Craig devotes five paragraphs, consisting of a grand total of 35 sentences, to making his case for the historicity of the death of Jesus on the cross.
In previous posts, I have examined the first 16 sentences of Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, which constitutes about the first half of Craig’s case. The results so far: Craig has made 35 historical claims, but has provided ZERO historical evidence in support of those claims. So, at the half-way mark, Craig’s case is a complete failure.
It is time to take a look at paragraph number three in Craig’s five-paragraph case for the historicity of the death of Jesus on the cross. By my count Craig makes about 24 historical claims in this paragraph. Some of these claims (about eight), however, are repetitions of, or inferences from, other historical claims. So, paragraph three contains about 16 basic historical claims.
Let’s examine the first eight sentences of paragraph three:
Death by crucifixion is slow [1]
and gruesome. [2 – inference]
As the victim hangs on the cross, his lung cavity collapses, [3]
so that he can no longer breathe. [4]
In order to breathe, he must pull himself up [5]
on those nail pierced hands [6 – inference]
and push with his feet until he can catch a breath. [7]
But he cannot remain in this position very long. [8]
So he has to let himself drop back down. [9 – inference]
Then he cannot breathe anymore, [10]
so he must start the painful ascent all over again, in order to get air.
[11 – inference]

And so it goes, hour after hour, [12]
until the victim is too weak to pull himself up, [13]
and so literally chokes to death. [14 – inference]
Sometimes the Romans sped up the process by breaking the legs of the victim with a mallet [15]
(called in Latin crurifragum), [16]
so that he could no longer push himself up to breathe, [17]
and the victim, dangling helplessly by his arms, died of asphyxiation.
[18 – inference]

(TSR, p.38)
Most of these historical claims have a medical aspect to them. Since Craig is not a medical doctor and he is not an expert on human physiology, he cannot assert such claims on the basis of his own authority. Medical claims concerning crucifixion require both medical evidence AND historical evidence to be properly supported.
In the first eight sentences of paragraph three, Craig makes 18 historical claims. Six of those claims are inferences from other historical claims. How much historical evidence has Craig put forward in these eight sentences? None. How much scientific medical evidence has Craig put forward in these sentences? None. Since the six claims that are inferences, are inferences from unsupported historical claims, those six claims are also not based on actual historical evidence. So, the first eight sentences of paragraph three make 18 unsupported historical claims.
We have now examined the first 24 sentences of Craig’s 35 sentence case for the historicity of the death of Jesus. That means we have examined two-thirds of his presentation of “historical evidence” for Jesus’ death on the cross. What has Craig given us so far? 30 unsupported historical claims in paragraph one, 5 unsupported historical claims in paragraph two, and 18 unsupported historical claims in the first eight sentences of paragraph three. So, in 24 sentences, Craig has asserted a total of 53 historical claims and has provided exactly ZERO pieces of historical evidence.
At two-thirds of the way through Craig’s presentation of “historical evidence” for the death of Jesus on the cross, we plainly see his case is a complete failure, because he has presented us with no historical evidence for any of his dozens of historical claims.
This is the sort of childish and pathetic “argument” that we should expect from any attempt to prove that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross’ in just two pages.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 2

Although Christian apologists bear the burden of proof to show that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross’, William Craig usually ignores this issue in his books, articles, and debates defending the resurrection of Jesus. In my previous post, I pointed out that there is at least one book in which Craig does make a case for the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ Craig makes a very brief attempt at this in The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (hereafter: TSR).
His case is made in just five paragraphs, in a little more than two pages of text. The first paragraph is the longest. We saw previously that Craig makes about 30 different historical claims in the first paragraph, but provides zero historical evidence in support of those claims.
The second paragraph is much shorter than the first, just two sentences:
The Shroud of Turin, whether it is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus or not, illustrates graphically the extent of Jesus’ physical suffering. The image of the man on the cloth is covered front and back with wounds from head to foot, where the flagrum, a multi-thonged Roman whip with metal or bone, had torn apart his flesh, furnishing us a grisly picture of what Jesus must have looked like when He was laid on the cross. (TSR, p.37-38)
Craig knows better than to put the Shroud of Turin forward as historical evidence for the death of Jesus, so he does not do so. Instead, he states that it “illustrates graphically” the wounds that Jesus had “when He was laid on the cross.” So, once again, Craig puts forward some historical claims, with no historical evidence to support those claims. By my count he makes five historical claims (about Jesus) in this paragraph:
The Shroud of Turin, whether it is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus or not, illustrates graphically the extent of Jesus’ physical suffering. The image of the man on the cloth is covered front[1]
and back with wounds from head to foot[2],
where the flagrum, a multi-thonged Roman whip with metal or bone[3], had torn apart his flesh [4],
furnishing us a grisly picture of what Jesus must have looked like when He was laid on the cross.[5] (TSR, p.37-38)

Most immediately Craig is making claims about “the man on the cloth”, but clearly he believes that the violent abuse and wounds of “the man on the cloth” are very similar to the experiences and wounds of Jesus just prior to his crucifixion. So, each claim about “the man on the cloth” implies an historical claim about Jesus:
1. The front of Jesus’ body was covered with wounds from head to foot, just before he was crucified.
2. The back of Jesus’ body was covered with wounds from head to foot, just before he was crucified.
3. A flagrum is a multi-thonged Roman whip with metal or bone.
4. Some of the wounds on Jesus’ body that resulted from being whipped were deep and serious wounds (“had torn apart his flesh”).
5. The wounds on the front and back of Jesus’ body just prior to his crucifixion, were caused by being whipped with a flagrum.
On top of the 30 unsupported historical claims in paragraph one, Craig quickly adds five more unsupported historical claims. So, in the first two paragraphs, we get 35 historical claims and zero pieces of historical evidence. Not an auspicious start to a five-paragraph presentation of “historical evidence” for the death of Jesus.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus

Anyone who asserts that ‘Jesus rose from the dead’ takes on a burden of proof, and because this is an extraordinary claim, the proof required is extraordinary proof. Make a miracle claim and you take on a heavy burden of proof. So, when William Craig asserts that ‘Jesus rose from the dead’, he takes upon himself a heavy burden of proof, and part of that burden of proof is to provide powerful historical evidence for the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’
It should go without saying that Jesus could NOT have risen from the dead until AFTER he had in fact died. So, proving the death of Jesus is essential to proving the resurrection of Jesus. But, as I pointed out in a recent post, in most of his books, articles, and debates on this subject, Craig simply ignores this question, and thus it appears that his case for the resurrection of Jesus is a complete failure. However, there is one book in which Craig devotes slightly more than two pages to defending the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ So, before I can show that Craig’s case is in fact a complete failure, I need to consider his two-page case for this historical claim.
It is obvious to me that it is absurd to try to argue for this historical claim in just two pages, but apparently this point is not obvious to everyone (e.g. Craig doesn’t get this), so I will walk through Craig’s attempt at defending the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ Hopefully, this will help others to see the absurdity of attempting to make a two-page case for this historical claim.
The book where Craig makes this case is The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. (hereafter: TSR). Based on the title, one would reasonably expect that a significant portion of TSR would involve Craig presenting historical evidence in support of the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ But what we actually find is that out of about 150 pages, only two pages are devoted to making a case for this key claim (about 1.5% of the book is devoted to this issue).
Furthermore, as we shall soon see, there is a glaring absence of historical evidence presented by Craig on this key question, which is no surprise given that he tries to build his case in just two scrawny pages. Craig’s case starts near the top of page 37 and concludes about 1/3 of the way down from the top of page 39. There is a little more than two pages of text in his case, which is organized into five paragraphs, containing a grand total of 35 sentences.
What is “historical evidence”? We usually think of historical evidence as being documents. There are personal documents, such as diaries, journals, and personal letters. There are also public documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, published speeches, books, articles, essays, poetry, biographies, plays, newspapers, novels, magazines, etc.
But other artifacts besides documents may also constitute historical evidence. For example: houses, buildings, furniture, carpets, tapestries, clothing, pots, dishes, cups, bowls, tools, machines, weapons, armor, boats, paintings, drawings, sculpture, mosaics, etc. Some of the best historical evidence we have is from photographs, sound recordings, and movies. (Obviously, there are no photographs, sound recordings, or movies of the actual crucifixion or burial of Jesus).
Finally, non-artifacts may also constitute historical evidence. For example: human skulls, skeletons, human hair, and even human skin (when a body is well preserved). Crimes are often solved by use of such historical evidence: footprints, fingerprints, hairs, blood, saliva, semen, and urine.
The first paragraph in Craig’s case is the longest; it contains 14 sentences, and it asserts many historical claims:
1. The theory [the Apparent Death Theory] failed to take seriously the extent of Jesus’ physical injury. In order to demonstrate this, let us review the events leading up to Jesus’ death and burial. Jesus was arrested on Thursday night and tried illegally by a night session of the Jewish court. During the trial, they spit on Him; they blindfolded Him and hit Him in the face with their fists. They turned Him over to the guards, who beat Him further. Up all night without sleep, Jesus was taken Friday morning to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who in turn sent Him off to the Jewish king, Herod, who after interrogation sent Him back to Pilate. Condemned before a crowd screaming for His blood, Jesus was given to the Roman guards, who whipped Him. They made a crown of thorns and shoved it down onto His head and beat Him with a stick. Jesus was then compelled to carry the heavy cross, on which he was to be crucified, through the streets of the city to the place of crucifixion. Unable to bear the load, He collapsed from exhaustion. Another man was forced to carry the cross the remainder of the way. Jesus was then laid on the cross, and nails were driven through his wrists and a spike through his feet. Judging from skeletal remains of crucifixion victims, this could have been done by first nailing the wrists of the victim to the cross, then twisting the body sideways and driving the spike through both ankles. In this contorted position, the victim was then raised up on the cross, and the cross was dropped into a hole in the ground. (TSR, p.37)
Many of these sentences make more than just one historical claim, so there are more historical claims than sentences. By my count, Craig makes about 30 historical claims in this opening paragraph:
1. The theory [the Apparent Death Theory] failed to take seriously the extent of Jesus’ physical injury. In order to demonstrate this, let us review the events leading up to Jesus’ death and burial. [claim 1]
Jesus was arrested on Thursday night [claim 2]
and tried illegally [claim 3]
by a night session of the Jewish court. [claim 4]
During the trial, they spit on Him; [claim 5]
they blindfolded Him [claim 6]
and hit Him in the face with their fists. [claim 7]
They turned Him over to the guards, [claim 8]
who beat Him further. [claim 9]
Up all night without sleep, [claim 10]
Jesus was taken Friday morning to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, [claim 11]
who in turn sent Him off to the Jewish king, Herod, [claim 12]
who after interrogation [claim 13]
sent Him back to Pilate. [claim 14]
Condemned before a crowd screaming for His blood, [claim 15]
Jesus was given to the Roman guards, [claim 16]
who whipped Him. [claim 17]
They made a crown of thorns [claim 18]
and shoved it down onto His head [claim 19]
and beat Him with a stick. [claim 20]
Jesus was then compelled to carry the heavy cross, on which he was to be crucified, through the streets of the city to the place of crucifixion. [claim 21]
Unable to bear the load, He collapsed from exhaustion. [claim 22]
Another man was forced to carry the cross the remainder of the way. [claim 23]
Jesus was then laid on the cross, [claim 24]
and nails were driven through his wrists [claim 25]
and a spike through his feet. [claim 26]
Judging from skeletal remains of crucifixion victims, this could have been done by first nailing the wrists of the victim to the cross,[claim 27]
then twisting the body sideways and driving the spike through both ankles.[claim 28]
In this contorted position, the victim was then raised up on the cross, [claim 29]
and the cross was dropped into a hole in the ground. [claim 30]
(TSR, p.37)

Craig makes many historical claims here. How much historical evidence does Craig provide in support of the many historical claims he makes here? Does Craig provide quotations from any relevant personal documents (e.g. diaries, journals, letters)? No. Does Craig quote any public documents? (e.g. legal documents, published books, speeches, biographies, essays)? No. How about other non-document artifacts (e.g. buildings, tools, coins, machines, weapons, clothing, utensils)? Nope.
There is only one brief hint at historical evidence in this paragraph. It is given in the second-to-last sentence of the paragraph: “Judging from skeletal remains of crucifixion victims…” What skeletal remains? What bones is Craig talking about? How many skeletons of crucifixion victims is he talking about? Two skeletons? Five skeletons? Ten? Two-hundred? Where are these skeletal remains now located? Who discovered and studied the remains? Where were the bones found? How old were the bones? How were the bones dated? How well preserved were the bones?
What are the credentials of those who did the “Judging” that Craig mentions? Did Craig himself examine these bones? If so, he is not an archaeologist, and he not an expert in human physiology, so his judgment would not be of much worth on this question. Craig provides no details, and no reference to any scientific or scholarly articles on the “skeletal remains”, so there is no actual specific historical evidence put forward here, only a hint at some possible but unspecified number of skeletons, discovered at an unspecified location by some unspecified archeologist, having some unspecified date established by some unspecified method…
My youngest daughter is in the fourth grade. This year she and her classmates have had more than one assignment to write a short factual essay. The teacher taught these fourth graders that when writing factual essays, they should specify the books, articles, and web pages that they used as sources of their information. If William Craig wants to do so, I could arrange for him to visit my daughter’s classroom and he could learn the importance of citing the sources of information that one uses when writing a factual essay.
There is not a single quotation or citation or end note for the thirty historical claims Craig makes in the first paragraph of his presentation of “historical evidence” for the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ But this childish and pathetic paragraph is precisely what we ought to expect from a two-page case for the death of Jesus.
==========================
Craig, William. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Chicago: Moody Press, 1981. Print.

bookmark_borderThe Failure of William Craig’s Case for the Resurrection

According to the Christian apologist Norman Geisler:

Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.
(When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, p.120)
After making this common-sense point, Geisler then proceeds to lay out eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”(the title of this sub-section of the Chapter “Questions about Jesus”).
Geisler’s case for this claim is made on pages 120, 121, 122, and the top of page 123. There is a large illustration on page 121, so there is less than half a page of text on that page. There is another illustration on page 122, so there is only about a half page of text on that page. In total, the eight points represent a little less than two full pages of text. This is a childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus, but at least Geisler made an effort to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, and at least Geisler admits that he bears the burden of proof on this question.
One further point to mitigate the absurdity of trying to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross in a little under two pages is the fact that the book When Skeptics Ask covers a wide variety of topics in Christian apologetics: the purpose of apologetics, the existence of God, alternatives to theism, the problem of evil, miracles, Jesus, the inspiration of the Bible, science and evolution, life after death, the nature of truth, and morality. This is NOT a book devoted exclusively to the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. It is about 300 pages and covers many different topics and issues. However, as far as I am aware, the case for the death of Jesus in this book is the best and most in-depth case for this claim that Geisler has ever made.
William Craig, on the other hand, has specialized in making the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Craig has debated others on this issue on a number of occasions, and he has written books and articles specifically to present a case for the resurrection. So, if Craig understands and accepts Geisler’s common-sense point that in order to “show that Jesus rose from the dead” Christian apologists “need to show that He really did die”, then we should expect that Craig would do a much better and more thorough job of dealing with this historical question.
But Craig does NOT do better than Geisler in showing that Jesus really did die on the cross. In fact, more often than not, Craig simply ignores this issue. Therefore, I conclude that Craig does NOT understand and agree with this common-sense point made so clearly by Geisler. Craig does not understand that when he asserts that “Jesus rose from the dead”, he takes on the burden of proof to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.
The clearest evidence for my view of Craig’s failure to understand and accept Geisler’s common-sense point is in Craig’s book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. If Craig understood and agreed with Geisler’s point, then at least one-fourth of this book should be devoted to the question “Did Jesus actually die on the cross?”.
To answer this question, Craig would need to carefully examine the passion narratives of the four Gospels, and to discuss the historical reliability of the details in those narratives. Craig would need to discuss the Roman practices regarding crucifixion, and he would need to talk about the medical aspects of crucifixion, and Craig would need to discuss the various alleged wounds of Jesus (beating, scourging, nailing to the cross, spear wound), and the medical implications of these alleged wounds.
Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus is 420 pages long, and (obviously) it is dedicated to nothing but the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. So, clearly Craig, if he accepted Geisler’s point, would devote much more than the pathetic two pages that we get from Geisler on this key question.
It is reasonable to expect that at least 100 pages, and perhaps as much as 200 pages, of this 420-page tome would focus on the whether Jesus really did die on the cross. But, alas, Craig does not write 200 pages arguing for the death of Jesus, nor does he write 100 pages on the death of Jesus. Does he write 50 pages on this question? No. 25 pages? No. Out of 420 pages, Craig writes exactly ZERO pages on the question “Did Jesus actually die on the cross?”
Amazingly, in a 420-page tome that is dedicated to nothing but the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, Craig somehow manages to do a worse job than the childish and pathetic efforts of Norman Geisler, even though Geisler was making his case in a 300-page book that covers more than a dozen different topics in Christian apologetics.
In the first 347 pages ofAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Craig discusses in detail the N.T. evidence that he thinks is relevant to the question ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead?’. In the final 70 pages (p.351-420), Craig assesses the evidence. The assessment is divided into three chapters:
Chapter 9: The Evidence for the Empty Tomb
Chapter 10: The Evidence for the Resurrection Appearances
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Christian Way (i.e. belief in the resurrection of Jesus)
There is no chapter devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is no subsection devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is not even one page devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
Also, EACH of the three items above provides evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
If we assume that Jesus was in fact buried in a tomb on Good Friday, and that the tomb was in fact found empty on Easter Sunday morning, then this is evidence that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday. But if Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then that is powerful evidence that Jesus either was NOT crucified on Friday, or that he survived crucifixion. The resurrection appearances are also evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, but if Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then that is powerful evidence that Jesus did NOT die on Good Friday.
Finally, if we assume that Jesus’ disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, presumably this is evidence that they believed they had seen Jesus alive after he had allegedly died. But again, if we take this as evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then it is evidence that Jesus did NOT die on Good Friday.
Craig has not only failed to make a case FOR the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday, but ALL of the evidence that he does put forward appears to make a strong case AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday.
Craig has participated in a number of debates on the resurrection. In his debate with Gerd Ludemann, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with John Crossan, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No.
Here is how Craig summarizes his case in the debate with Ludemann:
In summary, there are four facts agreed on by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects that any adequate historical hypothesis must account for: Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. (Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, p.34)
Of these four “facts” the last three are actually evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross, because evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday is evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross on Good Friday.
The only “fact” here that might be used to support the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross is the burial of Jesus. But Jesus could have been buried in a tomb either as the result of a conspiracy (in which one or more persons knew that Jesus was alive when he was buried) or the result of an honest mistake (Jesus could been alive but appeared to be dead). Furthermore, the burial of Jesus shows, at best, that some people believed Jesus had died, but it does not show they believed Jesus had died on a cross. So, the burial of Jesus is hardly solid proof that he died on the cross. Furthermore, Craig makes no inference from the burial to the death of Jesus. He never argues (in the debate) that the burial is evidence for the death of Jesus.
The same is true of Craig’s debate with John Crossan. Here is Craig summarizing his case for the resurrection:
Now Dr. Crossan realizes that once you agree to these four facts–namely, Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection–then it’s very difficult to deny that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation.(Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?, p.29)
Craig makes the same points in his debate with Bart Ehrman:
In conclusion, then, I think that there is good historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Specifically, I’ve staked out two basic contentions for discussion tonight:
I. There are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis: Jesus’ burial, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, and
II. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.
Transcript of Debate with Ehrman
viewed 5/23/14
Craig makes the same case for the resurrection in Jesus Under Fire:
What, then, is the relevant body of evidence pertinent to the alleged resurrection of Jesus? It can be conveniently grouped under three main headings: (1) Jesus’ empty tomb, (2) the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and (3) the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. (“Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in Jesus Under Fire, p.146)
Again, each of these items provides evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
In a journal article titled “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” Craig offers the same three points:
These three great facts–the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith–all point unavoidably to one conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred.(Truth 1 (1985): 89-95)
Online Copy of Article
viewed 5/23/14
In his general book on apologetics, Craig emphasizes the same evidence:
The case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus seems to me to rest upon the evidence for three great, independently established facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith. (Reasonable Faith, p.272)
Geisler came up with eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” in his 300-page handbook on Christian apologetics (When Skeptics Ask), but Craig does not even attempt to prove the death of Jesus on the cross. The closest he comes to this in Reasonable Faith, is on page 279, where Craig lists three objections to the Apparent Death Theory. Only the first objection concerns evidence for Jesus’ death:

1.It is physically implausible. First, what the theory suggests is virtually physically impossible. The extent of Jesus’ tortures was such that he could never have survived the crucifixion and entombment.

There you have it. That is Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, as given in his handbook on apologetics. Geisler gives us eight points in four pages, and Craig gives us just two scrawny sentences: one sentence stating his conclusion, and one sentence stating his reason. Unbelievably, Craig makes a case for the actual death of Jesus on the cross which is weaker and even more pathetic than the childish and pathetic case presented by Geisler.
In fairness to Craig, there is one book in which he does present a couple of pages of evidence and reasons in support of the actual death of Jesus. I will examine those two pages in a future post. At best, Craig comes up to Geisler’s lowly level of argumentation in that book, and does so in only that one instance, as far as I know. In most other books, articles, and debates, Craig has virtually nothing to say in defense of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross.”
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Copan, Paul, ed. Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998. Print.
Copan, Paul, and Ronald Tacelli, eds. Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print.
Craig, William. Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989. Print.
Craig, William. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994. Print.
Craig, William. “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” Jesus Under Fire. Ed. Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995. Print.
Reasonable Faith website. “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?: William Lane Craig vs. Bart D. Ehrman.” Reasonable Faith.org. (College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States – March 28, 2006). Web. Accessed 5/24/14.
Geisler, Norman, and Ron Brooks. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook of Christian Evidences. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1990. Print.

bookmark_borderSome Skeptical Thoughts on the Resurrection

I met a fellow skeptic at a Starbucks a month or two ago. We recently bumped into each other, had a brief chat, and I found out that he was also interested in questions about the historical Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the historicity of Jesus. He was especially interested in my thoughts about the resurrection, so I did a quick brain dump of some of my skeptical thoughts about the resurrection.
Here is what I jotted down as a quick summary of some of my thinking on this issue:
1. Geisler vs. Craig
Norman Geisler makes an excellent point in his book When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (co-authored with Ron Brooks):
Before that we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.(WSA, p.120)
If you accept this fairly simple and obvious point by Geisler, then you can immediately toss William Craig’s case for the resurrection into the garbage. Craig never makes any attempt to prove that Jesus really did die on the cross. Craig may make some good points in support of the resurrection of Jesus, but there is a huge gaping hole in his case, that makes it a clear failure as it stands.
2. My Version of Hume’s Objection
The implications of the ECREE principle (Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence) have not be fully understood by Christian Apologists, and perhaps not even by most skeptics. One must prove both of the following claims with solid evidence and arguments to have any hope of showing that the resurrection of Jesus really happened:
(D) Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
(A) Jesus was alive and walking around (without any assistance) about 48 hours after being crucified.
But it is extremely difficult to prove BOTH of these claims based on a single body of evidence, because if (D) is proven to be true, then (D) provides very powerful evidence for the view that (A) is false, and similarly if (A) is proven to be true, then (A) provides very powerful evidence for the view that (D) is false.
The evidence for (A) is weak and dubious, which means that the ECREE principle cannot be satisfied.
But if a skeptic very generously sets aside this huge problem, and grants for the sake of argument that (A) is true, then the skeptic is entitled to use (A) as a key piece of evidence for the falsehood of (D). While the evidence for (D) is better than the evidence for (A), it is nowhere near being strong enough to overcome the contrary evidence of (A). If Jesus was truly alive and walking around without assistance about 48 hours after being crucified, then this is powerful evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross, but survived crucifixion. Furthermore, a close examination of the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross reveals that it is just as dubious and as questionable as are most other historical claims about Jesus.
3. We Only Know about God’s Motivation
A basic problem with all miracles claims is that because of the divine attributes that define the concept of God, about the only relevant evidence that we have is God’s motivation or purposes, which makes it very difficult if not impossible to identify God as the cause of a particular event.
When a detective investigates a murder, the detective looks at possible motives of various suspects, but this is not the only evidence required to connect a suspect to a murder. More evidence is required than just establishing that Smith had a motivation to kill Jones. Other kinds of evidence may be available:
(1) eyewitness testimony or a video recording about the event of the murder (possibly a description of, or even an identification of, the person who did the killing),
(2) DNA or hair from the suspect found at the scene of the murder or on the body of the victim,
(3) evidence of possession or ownership of the weapon used to perform the killing,
(4) fingerprints of a person on the weapon used to perform the murder,
(5) footprints of people at or near the scene of the murder,
(6) eyewitness or video camera evidence concerning the location of the suspect at or around the time of the murder,
(7) evidence about the character and personality of the various suspects,
(8) conversations of the suspects with others concerning motivation, means, opportunity, or even an admission of having committed the murder.

Suppose God is a suspect in the killing of Jones. There can be no eyewitness description of God performing the murder, because God is an invisible spirit, so God cannot be seen. God has no hair, no fingers, no blood, no saliva, so God cannot leave hairs, fingerprints, drops of blood or saliva.
God does not need to purchase a gun or a knife, because he can make one instantly ex nihilo (and God can also instantly make a gun or knife vanish into nothingness). Furthermore, God does not need to use a gun or a knife or any tool at all in order to kill a person. God can simply will it to be the case that a person dies in a certain way, and that is exactly what will happen.
God’s location at the time of the killing is irrelevant, since God is omnipresent. God is present at all locations in space, because God knows everything that is happening at every point in space (God is omniscient), and God can affect any events he chooses to at any point in space (God is omnipotent).
Since God is an invisible bodiless person (a ‘spirit’), we cannot observe God’s behavior and learn about his character by means of observation. We also cannot listen to God’s conversations. Even if God chooses to make the sound of a voice which announces his thoughts, the claim that this voice represents the words and thoughts of God will itself be a miracle claim, a claim that suffers from all of the problems of lack of evidence that have just been outlined.
It is difficult to see how a detective could ever build a strong case for the claim that “God killed Jones”, because most of the kinds of evidence that we rely on to make such cases is unavailable in relation to God.
The same reasoning appears to apply to the resurrection. How could a detective ever build a strong case for the claim that “God raised Jesus from the dead”? We can think about God’s being a perfectly morally good person and whether that divine attribute makes it likely that God would want to raise Jesus from the dead, but aside from motivation, we have none of the other ordinary kinds of evidence available to connect God to this particular event.
4. Skepticism about God’s Motivations
Because empirical information does not provide us with knowledge about God’s character and motivations, all we have to work from is the concept of God, which implies that God is a perfectly morally good person. But in order to build a case for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, we need to have more specific information about God’s purposes and motivations.
Swinburne’s case for the resurrection quite correctly focuses in on identification of more specific purposes and motivations of God, but it is difficult to see how Swinburne derives various fairly specific divine motivations and purposes from the very general and abstract idea that God is a perfectly morally good person.
In Swinburne’s case for the resurrection there appears to be a fairly serious problem concerning God’s motivations….
5. Sociocentrism and Circular Reasoning
What is surprising (and even a bit jarring) in Swinburne’s case for the resurrection is how quickly and easily he arrives at the conclusion that God is very concerned about sin and atonement. But these are clearly Christian-based ideas which reflect Christian values and a Christian worldview. It is as if Swinburne was saying: the life of Jesus fits very nicely with Christian beliefs and values, and God who is a perfectly morally good person must have Christian beliefs and values, so Jesus’ life clearly reflects God’s beliefs and values.
But such thinking is circular reasoning. Christian beliefs and values are supposed to be grounded in the authority of Jesus, which is grounded in the belief that Jesus is God Incarnate, which is in turn (it would appear) grounded in Christian beliefs and values.
Sociocentrism is the tendency to view your in-group as being good, right, and normal. Outsiders are bad, wrong, and abnormal. Another aspect of sociocentrism is the failure to notice that one even HAS a point of view: “We don’t have a point of view; we simply see the world as it really is.” Because one’s point of view has generally been adopted in childhood, it seems ‘natural’ to see the world from that point of view, and to assume that one is simply seeing the world as it really is. But worldviews are NOT natural; they are artificial; worldviews are systems of beliefs and values that have been constructed by human beings.
Swinburne’s hasty leap in attributing concerns about sin and atonement to God appears to be a clear case of sociocentric bias in which he fails to notice the operation of his own Christian worldview in shaping his reasoning and assumptions.
If one tries to set aside the Christian worldview for a few minutes, and to think like, for example, a Buddhist thinks, then one would arrive at very different conclusions about the motivations of God. God’s primary concern would NOT be with sin and atonement, but rather with suffering and unhappiness and anxiety that humans experience as a result of ego attachment to things and people and circumstances.
All is change, everything changes, and thus (in a sense) everything dies. In order to get beyond the typical human condition of suffering, unhappiness, and anxiety, one must become enlightened and fully grasp the reality that everything changes, and reconcile oneself to this unalterable reality.
In short, a Buddhist would attribute a different set of motivations to God than what a Christian would attribute to God. And, very likely, if anyone is to be recognized as an incarnation of God it would be Buddha, if one assumes that God has the sorts of concerns and motivations that a Buddhist would likely attribute to God. But clearly, that would beg the question; it would be circular reasoning to start from a Buddhist worldview and attribute Buddhist beliefs and values to God, and then conclude that Buddha is the most likely candidate for being God Incarnate.
The same objection applies to Swinburne.
6. Jesus was a False Prophet
This objection is somewhat in conflict with the previously argued skepticism about our knowledge of God’s specific motivations. However, I am drawing upon common Christian beliefs about God’s motivations, so this could be viewed as an argument concerning an internal inconsistency within Christianity.
CORE ARGUMENT
1. Jesus was a false prophet.
2. If Jesus was a false prophet, then God would not either perpetrate nor permit Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Therefore,
3. God would not either perpetrate nor permit Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (1)
4. Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
5. Jesus encouraged others to worship and obey a false god.
6. Anyone who claims to be a prophet but encourages others to worship and obey a false god is a false prophet.
Therefore,
1. Jesus was a false prophet.
ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (5)
7. Jesus encouraged others to worship and obey Jehovah.
8. Something is God only if it is a perfectly morally good person.
9. Jehovah is NOT a perfectly morally good person.
10. If Jehovah is NOT God, then Jehovah is a false god.
Therefore,
5. Jesus encouraged others to worship and obey a false god.

bookmark_borderCraig Responds to My Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument

In my debate on the existence of God with Phil Fernandes, Fernandes defended the kalam cosmological argument. In my rebuttal, I provided objections. William Lane Craig, who so far has not debated me despite saying over a decade ago that he would so, responded to me on YouTube.

William Lane Craig’s response is not new; it was released on October 12, 2009. I just became aware of it today (March 27, 2014), however, thanks to Diego Vera.

bookmark_borderWorst Atheist Debate Performances (revised 22-May-15)

In the past, I posted a list of the “Worst Atheist Debaters.” I now think that title was a mistake, since it’s possible that a single debate performance may not be representative of a person’s overall skill in debate. So I am republishing that list now as a list of the “Worst Atheist Debate Performances.”
Like my list of “Best Atheist Debaters,” I don’t know of any way to be fully objective about this sort of thing. Also, like the other list, I fully recognize that others may disagree. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, here is my list of worst atheist debate performances, organized by topic.

Topic: God’s Existence

Topic: Morality Without God
  • Craig-Kurtz Debate (for an example, see here)
  • Craig-Taylor Debate

Topic: Resurrection of Jesus

  • Habermas-Flew Debate
  • Wood-Loftus Debate (2015)
Note: as with the other list, nothing should be read into the fact that someone’s name does not appear on this list. I haven’t listened to all atheist debate performances; additionally, I am undecided about some of the ones I have listened to.