The blind leading the bland: Nicholas Kristof interviews William Lane Craig

When I saw the headline below in the New York Times, I wondered why the deuce Nicholas Kristof wanted to talk to William Lane Craig. But who could NOT read that article after the headline, wanting to see how Craig answered? (Click on screenshot and be prepared to facepalm.)

It turns out that this is part of a series Kristof is doing on Christianity—but again, WHY? At any rate, here are the predecessors:

This is the latest installment in my occasional series of conversations about Christianity. Previously, I’ve spoken with the Rev. Timothy KellerJimmy Carter and Cardinal Joseph Tobin. Here’s my interview of William Lane Craig, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University.

The interview is a gold mine of apologetics and laughs as Craig weasels and wobbles and waffles about Jesus, Scripture, and miracles. Have a look; I’ll put some of the Q&A below.

It’s hard not to reproduce the entire text! But here we go:

KristofMerry Christmas, Dr. Craig! I must confess that for all my admiration for Jesus, I’m skeptical about some of the narrative we’ve inherited. Are you actually confident that Jesus was born to a virgin?

Craig: Merry Christmas to you, too, Nick! I’m reasonably confident. When I was a non-Christian, I used to struggle with this, too. But then it occurred to me that for a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal! Given the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe (for which we have good evidence), an occasional miracle is child’s play. Historically speaking, the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism. So what’s the problem?

Note the “(for which we have good evidence)” after he mentions God. That, presumably is Craig’s dumb Kalam Cosmological Argument (read the link), which somehow gets from the assumption that “all things have causes” to “God is the Christian god and Jesus is His son”. He adduces additional “evidence”, like “fine-tuning” later on.

The “problem”, of course, is that even if you accept the existence of a creator, that doesn’t get you to miracles and Jesus.  And “independently” attested by Matthew and Luke? Really? Were they both there when God manufactured a haploid genome and inserted it into one of Mary’s eggs? And how independent were these Gospels? Although “Biblical scholars” (i.e., believers) consider them evidence of the writers being independently motivated by God to write the Truth, I think it more likely that they’re recounting a common myth, or even copying each other.

But wait! There’s more! Craig does some bobbing and weaving after Kristof asks him why he takes the New Testament as gospel truth but not the Old Testament. You’ll enjoy Craig’s response. Then Kristof asks him about why he thinks the New Testament is inerrant. (To be fair, he’s pressing Craig pretty hard, but pressing Craig is like trying to wrestle a greased eel.)

[Kristof] How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he “burst open.” They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?

[Craig] I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity. Harmonizing perceived contradictions in the Bible is a matter of in-house discussion amongst Christians. What really matters are questions like: Does God exist? Are there objective moral values? Was Jesus truly God and truly man? How did his death on a Roman cross serve to overcome our moral wrongdoing and estrangement from God? These are, as one philosopher puts it, the “questions that matter,” not how Judas died.

But don’t the core doctrines of Christianity include all of us being imbued with Original Sin, that Jesus was crucified and then resurrected, and that there’s an afterlife in which you either go up or you fry. It’s interesting that he says “leave the contradictions to us Christians” and then says the important questions are those that aren’t contradicted but also have no answers. But Craig does think there are “objective moral values”—since he believes in Divine Command Theory, he thinks that whatever God says is correct and moral by virtue of God having said it. Ergo, we can kill anybody who picks up sticks on the Sabbath and curses their parents. I wish Kristof had pressed him on that!

I like this exchange best.

[Kristof] Why can’t we accept that Jesus was an extraordinary moral teacher, without buying into miracles?

[Craig] You can, but you do so at the expense of going against the evidence. That Jesus carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms is so widely attested in every stratum of the sources that the consensus among historical Jesus scholars is that Jesus was, indeed, a faith-healer and exorcist. That doesn’t prove these events were genuine miracles, but it does show that Jesus thought of himself as more than a mere moral teacher.

That reminds me of the famous passage from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, where Lewis pretends to exhaust all the possibilities:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

I prefer the Poached Egg Hypothesis, but that’s not acceptable to most people.

Several times in the interview Craig appeals to “the consensus of historical Jesus scholars”, a consensus that of course is based on construing truth from what’s in the Bible. And I’m deeply suspicious of that consensus, especially in the absence of extra-Biblical evidence for even a historical person on which Jesus was grounded.

I remain agnostic about whether there was a real person on which Jesus was based, and even about whether that person could have claimed magical powers (a bit more of a stretch), but, as Craig says, “that doesn’t prove these events were genuine miracles.” Indeed—and there lies the rub that Craig avoids. Even if you accept the premise that some first-century charismatic preacher said he could do magic, that doesn’t mean that he could, or that such a person, now dead, continues to perform miracles.

And there’s this.

[Kristof] Over time, people have had faith in Zeus, in Shiva and Krishna, in the Chinese kitchen god, in countless other deities. We’re skeptical of all those faith traditions, so should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality when we encounter miracles in our own tradition?

[Craig] I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions? I champion a “reasonable faith” that seeks to provide a comprehensive worldview that takes into account the best evidence of the sciences, history, philosophy, logic and mathematics. Some of the arguments for God’s existence that I’ve defended, such as the arguments from the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe, appeal to the best evidence of contemporary science. I get the impression, Nick, that you think science is somehow incompatible with belief in miracles. If so, you need to give an argument for that conclusion. David Hume’s famous argument against miracles is today recognized, in the words of philosopher of science John Earman, as “an abject failure.” No one has been able to do any better.

Although Kristof doesn’t ask him the logical question—”How do you know you’ve found the right god and the right faith?”—it’s implicit in the query. And Craig gives an implicit answer: that Christianity is not as “weakly evidenced” or as “false” as are other faiths. How does Craig know this? Not because the Bible is more credible than the Qur’an, but that Craig has personally experienced “the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit.” Yep—”self authenticating” (see the link for a takedown).  And really—”the best evidence for God from contemporary science” is the Cosmological Argument and the fine-tuning argument? I don’t think many physicists would say, “Yes, that evidence pretty much convinces me of a God.”

As far as Hume’s argument against miracles, which is basically that you should accept a miracle only if a genuine God-produced miracle seems more likely than false testimony or dubious claims, that doesn’t seem to me an “abject failure,” but rather an exercise in judicious skepticism. But perhaps you feel otherwise.

I have to say that publishing this interview seems rather dumb, unless it exposes Craig’s philosophical weaknesses to a public that, by and large, considers him serious and learned. But I think people would nod their heads in assent at Craig’s answers.

And perhaps that would be true of all of Craig’s interviews with Christians. But somehow I don’t think, despite Kristof’s hardball questions, that he’s trying to do a number on Christianity.

h/t: Barry

80 Comments

  1. chris
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I came to the conclusion many years ago that if there was a supernatural being who created the universe, being non corporeal and omnipotent etc., it would be so totally beyond human experience that it must also be beyond human comprehension. So it might as well not exist.

    • revelator60
      Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      That was Thomas Hobbes’s argument as well, except that he stated God was corporeal(!). His weird statements led many to believe he was actually an atheist.

      • Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        I think he was, but proclaiming his atheism would be unsafe. Moreover, he thought that religion was needed for social cohesion.

  2. Posted December 22, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    “Historically speaking, the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism.”

    Actually, virginal or otherwise miraculous births are par for the course in ancient mythology: E.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miraculous_births

    And most likely Luke (whoever he was) copied from Matthew (whoever he was).

    • Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Luke didn’t copy the Nativity story from Matthew. If you look at both nativities, you find that it is impossible to reconcile the two. You don’t even need to know the historical context which puts them ten years apart: you can tell just from internal evidence that the two stories are not related.

      Mark Goodacre, who thinks – as you do – that Luke knew Matthew’s gospel and often copied his stuff (it’s uncontroversial that both copied Mark) thinks that Luke didn’t like Matthew’s Nativity with its kings and astrologers and ripped it up and wrote a new one with more common people like innkeepers and shepherds.

      • Posted December 23, 2018 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        None of these gospels were written contemporaneously with the life of Jesus, if he existed, but many years later. None of the gospel authors knew Jesus personally nor could they have been disciples. Paul was the only contemporary and he was not a disciple of Jesus. However, purportedly, he knew Jesus’ brother,James, and Jesus’ disciple, Peter.

        • Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          Yet you will notice that Paul is insistent that the only way to “know Jesus” is the way he did — through dreams and visions and esoteric readings of Scripture, and certainly not by talking to eyewitnesses. He never even used the word “disciple”. And he didn’t say James was Jesus brother — James was “a brother of the Lord”, i.e. a baptized Christian.

          We have to remember that the in earliest Christian writings, that is, the ones closest to the historical facts, Jesus is consistently depicted as a remote, celestial being, who was never on Earth and never met anyone face to face. The gospels, which depict him as a human being, were written generations later.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted December 23, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Paul was not really a contemporary, his scriptures were a few decades later.
          What is striking about Paul is that he actually did not see Christ “in the flesh”, he’s talking about a ‘spirit in the sky’. He only got his visions after Christ ‘resurrected’, and never pretended this resurrection took place on Earth
          ‘Brothers of God’ just meant Christian. James was a Christian, not really a brother in the technical sense.
          The Gospels were written much later, and tried to ‘flesh out’ Christ. So about everything we think to know about Jesus is basically junk. Unless we get some ‘independent’ evidence, Jesus as described in the gospels is bogus.
          WL Craig makes a lot of ‘the empty grave’. I completely fail to see why that is such a good argument. Most probably Jesus did not exist, and the story is a myth. But even if there were an empty grave, resurrection, (after about 36 hours), is about the most improbable scenario.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            “‘the empty grave’. I completely fail to see why that is such a good argument.”

            It’s not an argument at all. It’s a evocation. An image that’s supposed to soften the heart and the brain. WLC is a romantic.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I’d call what Craig did in the first response a magic spell within a magic spell. It’s clear he knows the religious are always potentially losing their faith, so to keep the spell going, he describes his own doubt,but then wham – god created the whole universe so what’s one small miracle?

    The man is a genius – in a bad way.

  4. grasshopper
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    But then it occurred to me that for a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal!

    Begging the question, much?

    I love the smell of facepalm in the morning.

    • Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      I suppose impregnating a virgin (with some applicator) would not be a problem even with 1st century technology. But what would be the point? Why had God to hook his miraculous embryo to a standard placenta? It would be a far more spectacular miracle to make baby Jesus develop between the petals of a flower or in a jar (which is also not unheard of in the realm of fiction).

      • grasshopper
        Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        All women who become pregnant were once virgin, so it’s a no-brainer that a virgin can conceive. (There goes that miracle.) Mary was just a receptor for a God-given gamete. I wonder, though if God chose Mary, not because she was “pure”, but because it was that all her eggs were pure. Or was she carrying only one “pure” egg. My mind boggles at the genetic implications.
        As for Jesus developing in the petals of a flower, that’s more believable – I was found under a cabbage.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          Whereas in ‘reality’, Joseph was well past it, Mary found a bit of alternative amusement, got up the duff, invented the angel story and Joseph for whatever reason (saving face? ) bought it.

          That’s my cynical take on the story.

          ( ‘reality’ in quotes because I think all characters were fictional and bear no relation to any actual person etc etc…)

          cr

  5. revelator60
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Hume is rolling over in his grave…with laughter.

  6. Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    When Christians fire the old “liar, lunatic or Lord” argument at me, I normally respond with “liar”. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that anybody would be prepared to use pejorative terms like “liar” and “lunatic” about Jesus.

    I know there are other arguments like the Lewis Trilemma doesn’t exhaust all the possibilities. For example, Jesus might have been lied about by other people e.g. the gospel writers, but I no longer use them because the Trilemma is a trick based on the assumption that my cultural conditioning will stop me from saying that Jesus was either a fraud or a wacko. The Christian is daring me to insult Jesus, so I do.

    • David Evans
      Posted December 22, 2018 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      If he was a liar it didn’t do him much good!
      I would prefer to add “legend” to the list of possibilities, for the alliteration. I suppose it’s equivalent to his being lied about by other people, but that seems harsh. Legends can accrete quickly about a charismatic figure without much actual lying.

      • Posted December 23, 2018 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        If he was a liar it didn’t do him much good!

        That doesn’t mean he didn’t do it, only that he underestimated the risks.

        I would prefer to add “legend” to the list of possibilities

        That’s better than “lied about”, I’ll try to remember it. However, the point isn’t really to engage with the argument but to shock the Christian out of their assumption that we all revere Jesus and would not dare to insult his name just because.

        If you want a rational argument, I’d say that there are elements of all three – liar, lunatic and legend – at play, unless Jesus didn’t exist at all, in which case, it’s all legend.

        • Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:04 am | Permalink

          Without going back to reread the New Testament yet again, I don’t recall Jesus’ claiming to be a miracle worker. He always asked people not to go spread the word of his cures around, yet they always did, ostensibly against his wishes. I have a feeling that most such “doctoring” in that time may have been considered miraculous.

          We have no writings from Jesus stating anything about his so-called miracles, beliefs or ministries. We have no writings from his disciples at the time Jesus purportedly lived. The only contemporary we hear from was Josephus. The writers of the gospels wrote many years after Jesus died and could not have firsthand knowledge of anything he did or said. If they had information, it was oral history from others
          who may or may not have known Jesus. And, a
          great many elements in the four gospels contradict each other. This makes it hard to take the gospels as “gospel”.

          There were other writings that were not made part of the canon that tell other stories about Jesus and his followers. Most of these were subsequently considered heretical, but not at the time of their occurrence nor for the people for which they were written. There were many different versions of Christianity, not just what ended up being canonized in the New Testament.

          • Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            Indeed, I wonder why there is no contemporary writing about this alleged greatest happening in all of history. The so-called wise men must have been at least semi-literate, but they apparently left no written record or even told anyone about their wonderful adventure.

          • Posted December 26, 2018 at 4:09 am | Permalink

            Without going back to reread the New Testament yet again, I don’t recall Jesus’ claiming to be a miracle worker. He always asked people not to go spread the word of his cures around, yet they always did, ostensibly against his wishes.

            It depends which gospel you read. In Mark, Jesus was always telling people not to go blabbing about his special powers or the fact that he was the Messiah. There’s even a name for it: The Messianic Secret.

            Contrast with John where he proclaims himself to be the son of God at every possible opportunity.

            • rickflick
              Posted December 26, 2018 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

              So John was the D. J. tRump of the Gospels. 😎

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      “The Christian is daring me to insult Jesus, so I do.”

      I have a t-shirt with JC in a straitjacket. I don’t consider it insulting, I consider it a deep and thoughtful response to the open invitation of an author of Christian fan fiction.

  7. Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    “That Jesus carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms is so widely attested in every stratum of the sources that the consensus among historical Jesus scholars is that Jesus was, indeed,” …

    That sentence started out with such promise. Let me finish it for Bill: “.. that Jesus was, indeed, a literary creation.”

    The fact is, the stories about Jesus are so widely attested that we have no good reason to give them any weight whatsoever .

  8. Posted December 22, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s clear that the “prophecy” that Mary would be a virgin was based on a mistranslation from the original Hebrew to Greek: “young woman” translated to “virgin”. I would have thought this would be a great embarrassment to literalist Christians, but I guess not.

    • Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      It also shows that whoever wrote the gospels were consulting the Greek version of the Old Testament, and couldn’t read Hebrew. Which makes perfect sense if you assume they lived far from Palestine and were creating works of historical fiction, set in land long ago and far, far away.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 22, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        Is there much evidence(besides what you site) that the gospels were written by Greeks?

        • Pw
          Posted December 22, 2018 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

          The original documents are all Greek, no one disagrees with this not even apologists like WLC.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 22, 2018 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t realize that indirection. It kind of gives the bible some illegitimacy many Christians may not recognize.

        • grasshopper
          Posted December 22, 2018 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

          Out of mind, out of cite? Don’t you wish that wish that WEIT had a preview button. 🙂
          That the gospels may have been written by Greeks is a non sequitur. Having a Hellenistic education is all you need to write gospels in Greek. The question that comes to mind here is how did so many of the peasantry who followed Jesus become so well educated?

          • rickflick
            Posted December 22, 2018 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

            Of course cite from citation. Thanks.
            The average Christian churchgoer probably thinks the gospels were written more or less on the spot in Jerusalem. They would have been written originally in Aramaic. The fact that they were crafted long after the fact in a far away country would not have occurred to them.

            • Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

              Neither the Old Testament or New Testament were written in Aramaic.

              The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Greek, before being written in Greek as the Septuagint in Alexandria. From Wikipedia: “Hebrew texts commenced to be translated into Greek in Alexandria in about 280 and continued until about 130 BC. These early Greek translations – supposedly commissioned by Ptolemy Philadelphus – were called the Septuagint (Latin: “Seventy”) from the supposed number of translators involved (hence its abbreviation “LXX”).”

              The New Testament was written in Greek.
              From Wikipedia: “The New Testament is a collection of Christian works written in the common (Koine) Greek language of the first century, at different times by various writers, and the modern consensus is that it provides important evidence regarding Judaism in the first century AD.”

              As mentioned previously, many other works were written about Christianity that were considered sacred by various Christian sects until they were not included in the canon approved by the Roman Catholic Church hundreds of years after Jesus may have lived.

              • rickflick
                Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                Fascinating. So, the Greeks were involved from the beginning. Greece, the home of: Plato, Socrates, Aristarchus, Euclid, Archimedes, Hippocrates, and Pythagoras. May I be allowed to cry.

        • Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:35 am | Permalink

          It isn’t that the gospels were written by Greeks. It’s that Greek was the common language of the region at the time, due to Alexander the Great’s fantastic conquering exploits. Most well educated Romans, for example, would have spoken Greek.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

            I see. So, Greek was the lingua franca. Got it.

  9. Serendipitydawg
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    a consensus that of course is based on construing truth from what’s in the Bible.

    Since what was included in this book was effectively decided by committee, I don’t really see much truth.

    Worse: they left out the dragons, that would have at least been fun.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 22, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Probably the dragons didn’t make it into the canon because it would have been a distraction for pre-teens. Pre-teens might lose their focus on the superhero.

      • Serendipitydawg
        Posted December 22, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        I suppose. But, dragons – if only they had known, they would have kept them (either that or they would have added some dinosaurs :D).

    • dallos
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      It was fixed later.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George_and_the_Dragon

  10. Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Craig’s answers are so off the wall that sound to me like sarcasm. But I suppose my impression is wrong.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 22, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      If you watch him in a debate(YouTube) you’ll see that’s really how he thinks.

      • Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Ceiling Cat save me from this!

        • rickflick
          Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          It can be quite fun. Pour a stiff drink and see how many logical fallacies you can detect. 😎

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        There’s a reason Dawkins said a debate with Craig would look better on Craig’s resume than his.

  11. steve oberski
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal!

    Christianity in a nutshell.

  12. Geoff Toscano
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    It’s impossible to read stuff like this and remember that it’s being uttered by supposedly sentient beings. Okay, let’s grant that Jesus existed as a first century itinerant preacher, even though the extra-biblical evidence is based only on very brief references by the Jewish historian Josephus, and Roman Tacitus. Not exactly Julius Caesar type evidence, nor even Plato. But then it gets worse. Nobody bothers to write down the amazing tales of water turning to wine, dead people springing back to life, or a crucified guy rising from the dead after three days, for many decades after the purported events, when a few anonymous authors, over a period of another fifty years produce four completely different and largely inconsistent descriptions of these unattested events. The only person who may have had something useful to say, Paul, never met Jesus and was a raving lunatic.

    Truly compelling evidence.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 22, 2018 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      You gotta have faith.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 22, 2018 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      It is only Josephus, Tacitus only talks about what Christians contend, not about Christ himself.
      And most scholars think that that short passage in Josephus is a later insertion, a falsification.
      So, even more compelling evidence than you appear to think.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        And even Josephus was not really contemporary, since it is thought he was born in 37 CE.

      • Geoff Toscano
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:18 am | Permalink

        Josephus has two references in his history ‘Antiquities of the Jews’. The earlier is clearly forged, at least in part and probably entirely, as it contains references Josephus could not have known. The second entry, however, is regarded as probably genuine, and refers to Jesus as the brother of James. Tacitus was a very well regarded historian of his time and refers to the crucifixion of ‘Christus’ by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. He would have required a some evidence in saying this.

        It’s clear from both references that Jesus was hardly regarded as anything out of the ordinary, but their casualness suggests that they are genuine (especially as the forged Josephus element stands out clearly).

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted December 24, 2018 at 12:55 am | Permalink

          The passage in Tacitus sounds as if he’s reporting what the Christians themselves say.
          If he had consulted the Roman archives, he would probably have referred to Pilatus a ‘prefect’ (his official title) rather than ‘procurator’, what the function was called in Tacitus’ time.
          There is no way to tell either way decisively.
          The second passage in Josephus the one that is thought by most not to be a forgery, only talks about James being a ‘brother of Jesus’. ‘Adelphos’ was used in a wider sense than the strict biological one and several scholars point out that it was used for what we would now call a ‘Christian’.
          Hence Josephus says that James was a Christian, and does not necessarily refer to Jesus as a person.

  13. Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    If we could figure out the technique one uses to ‘create a universe’ we be part of the way towards gathering evidence for a super being. Is it like assembling a cosmic mechano/lego set or do you grow it in a vat or a green house? Maybe it’s assembled from bits of dead prior universes, Frankenstein monster like?
    Do you have to hold your mouth a certain way while doing this or have your little fingers crooked? I know, we’ll ask the scientists what they think.

    rz

  14. Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    The immaculate conception thing was not about being born of a virgin, but was actually about being born cleansed of Original Sin. Most people describe it as the former, but is technically meant to be the latter.
    Surprised WLC did not know that. But he is probably just playing the tune expected of him.

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      I don’t see WLC referring to the immaculate conception in this interview. The immaculate conception is a reference to the doctrine that Mary was born without original sin, not that Jesus was born of a virgin.

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    That was a disappointing interview. I was surprised that it wasn’t much longer than excerpted. At least as printed, Kristof doesn’t challenge a single one of Craig’s responses. I have to say that the Chinese kitchen-god is a new one on me. I wasn’t sure if that was a god of Chinese kitchens, or a Chinese kitchen that was a god. I’ve eaten at a few of the latter.

  16. Steve Gerrard
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I thought Kristof did fine, embedding his (and our) skepticism in each of his questions, then letting Craig respond freely. Noticing the weaknesses in each of Craig’s responses was left as an exercise for the reader, which avoids the tedious ping-pong effect of typical online arguments.

  17. eric
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity.

    But different sects have different core beliefs. Protestants believe in sola fides (by faith alone), while RCCs believe acts matter for salvation. This is a strong difference in core beliefs. And I have no idea how Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, or Coptic Christians may differ from western Catholicism or Protestantism, but I’m sure they do.
    Moreover, the only reason Christianity has a ‘core doctrine’ is because in AD 200-600 they killed anyone who disagreed with it. The Ebionites, Gnostics, Docetists, Arianites, and Marcionites were all Christians with ‘different core beliefs’. Other Christians executed them for those core beliefs.

    So there is no ‘mere Christianity’. There are key theological differences between existent sects, and there was greater differences in Christian sectarian doctrine before some of the variations were murdered by the other sects.

    • bobkillian
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Is 200 a good starting date? Or 325-ish, after the Nicean gang decided on which books to include? There seems to have been factionalism from the get-go, as is true of every Judean-People’s-Front-type ideology) but were there active assassinations, etc.? I don’t know much of the history post-John, pre-Constantine.

      • eric
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Just an approximation.

  18. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    To understand how religion works on its victims, I think it’s important to read this from the point of view of any faithful person. I frankly couldn’t get past WLC’s first answer, but I can almost sense or feel how a heart-thumping hopeful light beam is shining into the victim’s face from WLC’s insidious nested magic spells within magic spells.

    Readers here clearly have broken the spell, but for victims of religion to do it, they need help with breaking the spell, and … well,… we’re back at the beginning- where it’s futile…. a riddle of a magic spell… that science cannot break on its own…. but that’s just me…

    • Pw
      Posted December 22, 2018 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      I was a fundamentalist Christian in my youth, and later a non-literalist Christian in my late teens early twenties. It was actually reading Christian apologetics (the book “the case for christ”) that eventually convinced me that Christianity and religion in general are false. I couldn’t stand the feeling of cognitive dissonance involved with listening to actual criticism of Christianity, but the utterly pathetic attempts to take on some of these critiques by WLC and others convinced me that my beliefs were unsupportable and pernicious.

  19. Posted December 22, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    It is astounding that this lame interview and Craig’s pathetic and absurd answers warranted ant space at all in a newspaper whose motto is “all the news that’s fit to print.”

    • Posted December 22, 2018 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      —any space—the space of an ant would be too much.

  20. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted December 22, 2018 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Talk about shooting one’s foot: “Given the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe (for which we have good evidence*), an occasional miracle is child’s play.” translates to “Anything goes!”
    *(no we have not).
    The existence of Jesus is not well established, the only, single ‘contemporary’ source is a short passage in Josephus, that most scholars consider a later insertion, a falsification. All sources mentioning Christ are, well, Christian sources and not contemporary. Paul, who never met Jesus, is several decades after his death, and the Gospels even later. I think Richard Carrier has debunked the existence of Jesus quite extensively.
    The fine-tuning argument has been debunked by several physicists, Sean Carroll, Roni Harnik, but by none as vociferously as by (now persona non grata for different reasons) Lawrence Krauss.
    However, the best argument against the fine tuning trope was not given by a physicist, but by Douglas Adams, he takes into account that life adapted to it’s environment, and not the other way round:
    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’”

  21. Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    For anyone thinking WLC is any more respectable than a creationist, watch his debate with Sean Carroll. He essentially denies relativity, though he says he does not. His “interpretation” of relativity is neither parsimonious nor more explanatory, and only exists to reconcile libertarian free will with omniscience, by denying the relativity of simultaneity.

    Given his denial of facts, I do not see why he should deserve more respect than any other creationist or crackpot.

  22. Daniel
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    “How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he “burst open.” They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?”

    I asked this very question of a deeply religious guy on twitter. He said that Judas hanged himself from a tree. The branch broke, causing Judas to fall and bust open.

  23. Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    This story shows in a nutshell how the Christian faith works for original believers.

    First little trick is enlisting a sense of wonder. A pregnancy and birth are biological marvels, and probably mystified people of the past even more. Of course, it’s not truly miraculous, as women give birth all the time.

    The second little trick is moving the miraculous part away from inspection. The fantastical element is actually the unseen way of conception, but the “meme” emphasises the visible outcome, the birth.

    The third little trick is stretching the marvel in a way that it so happens to combine it with a bronze age obsession with virgins (of course, as men, unlike women, never knew if they were involved in making the child). It conveniently also bypasses all the headaches of worldly allegiances to kings and chieftains.

    But under scrutiny, it’s all more like believing that the morning coffee spontaneously materialized without any involvement of anyone, or any coffee machine. It sure sounds impressive, but at the end of the day, there’s always a cup of coffee every morning. A wholly mundane outcome with an allegedly fantastic origin. However, you’d be amazed if you desperately believe the coffee origin story.

    The miracle design of this Christian fictional universe appears to be generally “low magic” like transforming a staff to a snake or walking on water. They’re often showy sorcery, mere magic tricks that would divide users on social media. The more you go back in time, the fewer witnesses exist, the more impressive it gets, not only dividing social media, but oceans. That’s very much what you’d expect from a wholly man-made mythology. What’s more, it’s also what we’d expect to find given what we know of how creativity works. Older works are more “low magic”, e.g. minor, local, tweaks to physics, because new ideas are blends from previous ideas that first have to become sufficiently internalized in culture. Before creatives could visit distant planets, they and the public had to get used to the Moon, and get obsessed with the Mars.

    From an extra-diegetic point of view, looking at Christianity from outside its narratives, it totally looks man-made, with evolving stories that show the craftsmanship that went into making them, and how they changed over time to appeal to a lot of people. Jesus became the personal god of older religion, a concrete person to imagine. The father aspect moved away to become the wondrous awe-inspiring creator force that appeals to other people, and the holy spirit was to capture the animistic lifeforce, or greek pneuma.

    It’s astonishing that learned people exist who believe this stuff.

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Re “It’s astonishing that learned people exist who believe this stuff.” I think it relates to the famous saying about politics, in this case it is hard to declare you don’t believe when you are being paid really well to believe.

  24. Diane G
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    sub

  25. Posted December 23, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Uh … “the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism” You commented on the bogus nature of the word “independently” but did not mention the outright lie that “utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology.” WTF? Gods were getting human women pregnant right and left according to the surviving fables. Was not Hercules a demi-god because of his “mixed” parentage? There are literally dozens of such examples available in surviving texts.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      WLC is an example of an intelligent human being with a bizarre (pathological?) makeup. He certainly knows the Christian myths borrow extensively from earlier fables. But, he’s perfectly willing, despite his insistence on “objective moral values”(thou shalt not tell bald faced lies), to lie for Jesus, at the drop of a bloody crown of thorns(see also D. J. tRump). During a debate – I think it was with Lawrence Krauss – the moderator asked each what argument or evidence would make them accept the other’s position. Craig answered, “nothing”. At least he was honest in that.

  26. Roo
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    As an aside on the Poached Egg hypothesis – I do find stories of modern miracles intriguing and don’t know what to make of them. Saint Porphyrios lived until the early 90s and supposedly many people attested to his psychic abilities. Was he a good cold reader, or did he actually have some kind of psychic ability? Were the stories embellished over time, or did they actually happen as stated? I’m not trying to pre-fit some answer into that space, btw, I am genuinely open either way and curious about such reports.

    But where it gets into more “Poached Egg” territory, to my mind, is in stories of people like Dipa Ma. Psychic abilities always have a certain vagueness to them and can, if nothing else, often be explained away by wishful thinking, selection bias, and good intuition (One of my friends who I love very dearly was blown away when a well-regarded mystic type in her area told her she loved dolphins when she went in for a reading. Even my esoterica-loving self was kind of thinking… “Really? Um, sure, what are the odds that a youngish female who is visiting a psychic and decked out in yoga gear likes dolphins. The odds of her knowing that must have been a billion to one!” [sarcasm, of course]). With people like Dipa Ma, however, both she and the monks and nuns around her (including notables such as Munindra) claim she walked on air and built rooms in the sky, walked through walls, was two places at once, and so on.

    I actually do find stories like that very distressing, because one is asked to either accept a very unlikely event OR realize that these supposedly incredibly holy people who moved and inspired so many were, at least on some level, shysters. Again, I’m not saying it’s logical, but I get that this is a truly distressing choice to be faced with for some, and so there’s a strong temptation to say “Well, who knows, maybe Dipa Ma did walk on air!”, because neither choice there seems correct (i.e., that people routinely perform miracles in monasteries that are conveniently never ever observed by anyone else on the one hand, or, that these inspiring people who apparently had the ability to make others feel wonderful subjective states were acting like con artists. Both just feel untrue, so I find reports of modern miracles puzzling.)

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      If someone claims the ability to “walk on air”, I’ll believe it when they step off the George Washington bridge with a glide path different than a brick.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      An Indian friend of mine who held a soft spot for religious gurus once took a train to see one such fellow living at the top of a mountain in India. On the train, a fellow sat with him and began a conversation during which time he established that my friend had a sick mother. When they reached the destination, the guru knew quite a bit about my friend including that his mother was ill. He lost faith in that guru, but still has a sense of respect for some others. I shrug.

  27. Ken
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    If God and Jesus are one, as the Gospel of John states, then that would mean that the Creator of the Cosmos became an infant and therefore spent several years shitting his diaper and obsessing about his penis.

    How in Zeuss’ name is this lunacy taken seriously in 2018?

  28. Posted December 26, 2018 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    My understanding (please correct me if I’m wrong) is that Mark is chronologically the first gospel. Mathew and Luke were largely copied from Mark, with additions and edits. John is later, and rather drastically altered.

  29. Posted December 26, 2018 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m enamored by a suggestion that the Gospel of Mark originated as a creative writing exercise, by a schoolboy learning Greek, emulating the legend of odysseus, as was the custom.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 26, 2018 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      Curious to think that. Once you get back in time so far, almost anything is possible. Though, not anything supernatural.


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