Tag Archives: William Lane Craig

How every Christian can learn to explain the resurrection of Jesus to others

Basically, as a Christian, I think we, myself included, all ought to be able to show that there is a case for the resurrection on historical grounds. Even if Christians know that the resurrection is true by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, you cannot use that when persuading and defending it to other people. So you have to make a case using the available evidence and the normal rules of historical investigation. You can’t assume the Bible is inerrant with your co-workers and you can’t focus on Christian-ese or peripheral issues, either. So how can you do it?

Part A: Historical methods

The way I normally start is with the standard rules used by all scholars who analyze ancient biographies. Basically, there is a list of criteria that scholars across the spectrum use for deciding which parts of ancient literary sources are more likely to be true. It’s amazing when you see debates on this because both sides basically agree on the methodology.

And, if you apply the methodology carefully, then both sides actually agree on what facts in the biographies are authentic. I am talking about agreement on authentic facts by atheists and fundamentalists alike!

Here are some of the rules used for analyzing ancient biographies:

1) multiple attestation – if the fact about X is asserted by two or more
sources, then the fact is likely authentic.

2) dissimilarity – if a teaching of X is different from popular teachings
and concepts of that time and place, it is likely authentic.

3) embarassment – if a fact is embarassing to X or X’s community or the
writers of the biography of X, then it is likely authentic.

4) enemy attestation – if a fact about X is corroborated by enemies of X,
or X’s community, then that fact is likely to be authentic.

5) early attestation – if a fact about X is in an early source, then that fact
is likely to be authentic.

And there are others.

So, if you want to talk about the resurrection at work without being laughed at or fired, you can use these criteria to identify historical facts.

Part B: Minimal facts

Using the historical methods above, you won’t be able to recover MOST of what the New Testament writings say about Jesus. For example, the guard at the tomb is only in Matthew, so you cannot use that as a minimal fact. And John is a pretty late gospel, so most of that can’t be used. So what parts can be used?

Well, here is William Lane Craig’s list of facts:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances experienced by various people, including Paul
3) early belief in the resurrection emerged in Jerusalem

And, here is Gary Habermas’ list of facts:

1) death by crucifixion
2) early belief in resurrection
3) appearances experienced by disciples
4) Paul’s appearance and change of heart
5) James’s (Jesus’ brother) change of heart
6) the empty tomb

Probably the most celebrated defender of the resurrection writing today is N. T. Wright. He makes a bit of a different case where he asks what sort of historical occurrence would be adequate to explain the changes in theology and practice that occurred when 1st century Jews in Jerusalem became Christians. His argument is that the changes (“mutations”) require a historical resurrection. Here is Wright’s list:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances to various people
and 7 mutations (changes) in the way that early Christians changed
their views of the meaning and centrality of the Jewish doctrines of
the Messiah, resurrection, eschatology, etc.

You’ll be surprised to know that few of these facts are disputed by atheistic historians like Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The only one that’s sometimes disputed is the empty tomb, but some guys will give it to you. I just read N.T. Wright’s debate against John Dominic Crossan, who is on the far-left fringe. He gave up the appearances AND said he was “OK” with the empty tomb.

So, once you apply the historical criteria, and you hammer out your list of facts, what comes next?

Part C: Inference to the best explanation

Once you have the list of facts, you need to explain why the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation for the facts. This is done by showing that the hypothesis is consistent with all of the available data.

The atheist is likely to jump in at this point with an alternative explanation of the facts. Their explanations will not involve any miracles – instead, they try to account for the facts by proposing a naturalistic hypothesis. Here is a list of a few together with my defense against them.

1) Jesus wasn’t really dead
– crucifixion is lethal and you can’t fake being dead
– this doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection, since
a half-dead Jesus would not inspire a belief in the resurrection

2) Jesus’ disciples moved the body and lied about it
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
– it doesn’t explain why the early church was willing to be persecuted

3) The Jews moved the body and lied about it
– they had no interest in helping a rival sect
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

4) The Romans moved the body and lied about it
– they had no interest in helping a trouble-making sect
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

5) Somebody else moved the body
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
– there is no evidence to support the claim

6) The early church hallucinated the appearances
– group hallucinations are impossible
– it doesn’t explain the empty tomb
– it doesn’t explain the theological mutations about “resurrection”, since seeing a ghost does not imply a bodily resurrection

Etc.

Keep in mind that when judging explanations, the simplest explanation is usually the best. If a skeptic has to join together multiple hypotheses, then this weakens the appeal of their explanation, because it’s “ad-hoc”.

I wrote another post on the resurrection here, with some links to debates.  Here is a list of the virtually indisputable facts about Jesus, from respected, skeptical, non-Christian scholars like Norman Perrin and E. P. Sanders. More debates are here.

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Robert P. Murphy’s blog Free Advice. Please take a look around – the purpose of my blog is to help Christians to integrate their faith with other areas of knowledge, especially economics! For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Murphy is the author of the greatest book on economics ever written (and I’ve read The Road to Serfdom!). This is a book for everyone – and it’s the first book laymen should read on economics.

William Lane Craig’s March 2009 speaking engagements

For some reason, Bill’s March newsletter has not been posted on the RF web site yet. As one of his financial supporters, I get an early version of the newsletter e-mailed to me. So, I think I will share some of that early newsletter with you all.

During March two events stand out as especially challenging: on March 16 at Westminster College in Missouri I have a dialogue on the kalam cosmological argument with Dr. Wes Morriston, a philosopher who has published several articles critical of the kalam argument. Then two days later I have a debate at Northwestern Missouri State with the self-described “internet infidel” Dr. Richard Carrier on the resurrection of Jesus.

…I’ll also be doing some teaching for Impact 360, a high school ministry, and will be speaking several times at the Christian Book Exposition in Dallas. I round out the month with a Veritas Forum at Florida State.

I already blogged about the panel discussion he is doing with Lee Strobel and Christopher Hitchens at the Christian Book Expo here. And here is a bit more on his recent speaking engagement at Columbia University in March:

On the first evening I debated professor Shelly Kagan of Yale University on the question “Is God Necessary for Morality?” Actually, this was not a debate but a dialogue. After we each gave our opening statements, we had a very substantive discussion. Kagan has Christian colleagues at Yale, like Robert Adams and John Hare, who defend moral values and duties based in God, and I was struck by the respect with which he treated the view.

He surprised me by not arguing for his own view of ethics, which is a radical consequentialism. He holds that if torturing a little girl to death would somehow result in greater overall good as a consequence, then that is what we should do! Instead he defended a social contract view of morality, according to which our moral duties are whatever rules perfectly rational people would agree to as a way of governing society. I responded that this makes morality a human convention, rather than objective.

Kagan also affirmed in our dialogue that he is a physicalist and determinist. I charged that determinism strips our actions of any moral significance. We also disagreed over the importance of moral accountability. I claimed that the absence of moral accountability on atheism makes morality collide with self-interest and robs our choices of significance, but Kagan maintained that we don’t need a sort of cosmic significance in order for our moral choices to be significant. All in all, we had an affable and substantive exchange which fairly presented the alternatives.

One feature of our dialogue that pleased and surprised me was how clearly the Gospel emerged in the course of our conversation. Talking about moral values and accountability led naturally to the subject of our failure to fulfill our moral duties and how to deal with that. I was able to explain our need of God’s forgiveness, moral cleansing, and rehabilitation.

Kagan then asked me how Jesus fits into the picture. That gave me the chance to expound on Christ’s atoning death and the fulfillment of God’s justice in Christ’s bearing the penalty for our sin. I was gratified that the Gospel could be shared so clearly and naturally with the students present.

I hope I will be able to purchase all 3 of these debates (Morriston, Carrier and Kagan) from the Biola Web Store later, as I love to lend these out to my non-Christian friends. I would encourage you to support the ministry of the most able public defender of Christianity operating today. Bill is the St. Paul of our day.

If you have not seen any of his debates, go here right now and listen to his debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong of Dartmouth College, on the problem of evil and suffering. The book version of that debate, (and another debate), was later published by Oxford University Press and you can purchase it here. This is a great book to put on your desk at work to show people that God is not a matter of blind faith.

In case you missed the previous updates, check out the details from Bill’s Ontario speaking tour, his appearance on the Michael Coren TV show, and his Quebec speaking tour, as well.

Full report from William Lane Craig’s Quebec debating tour

I received William Lane Craig’s report from his Ontario and Quebec speaking tours in my e-mail inbox. The report is not yet posted on his web site, so I reproduce the portion related to his debate at McGill against Shabir Ally below. (I wanted to post everything, but it was too much)

Here’s what Bill says about debating Shabir at McGill University in Montreal:

The next evening was my debate at the English-speaking McGill University with the Muslim apologist Shabir Ally on “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” I began by presenting a case for Jesus’ resurrection, and Shabir then followed. Shabir is a very slick customer, a skilled debater and smooth speaker. Whereas my debating style tends to be pretty formal, ticking off one point after another, Shabir began his opening speech by telling a joke, which got the audience laughing, and even presenting to me a small souvenir gift from Montréal. I thought to myself, “Boy, I’m already ten points behind just on audience rapport!” But my experience is that these first impressions fade pretty quickly as the debate unfolds.

So I figured I should just carry out my plan to attack his view hard, while continuing to be gracious personally. Shabir defends a very strange view of what happened to Jesus. He holds that Jesus was crucified (despite the Qur’an’s denial of that fact) but that he was only apparently dead when he was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. Before he could die in the tomb, God assumed him into heaven and thereafter gave visions of Jesus to the disciples. In that way, Shabir is able to affirm the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, but all without Jesus’ being raised from the dead!

Unfortunately, to my surprise, Shabir didn’t even mention his theory in his opening speech but just presented a wishy-washy, feel-good talk about Islam and Christianity. “Now what should I do?” I thought. “If I attack his view when he hasn’t even presented it, I’m really going to come across as mean-spirited. But if I wait till the rebuttals, there won’t be enough time to present my critique.” As I said, I decided to go after his view anyway, explaining to the audience that this is his position in his published work.

As a preliminary observation, I pointed out that no true Muslim could embrace his view, since the Qur’an could not be more straightforward or unambiguous: “They did not kill him; they did not crucify him” (4:157). I even quoted the Arabic “wa maa qataluhu, wa maa salabuhu.” I charged that Shabir, in denying the Qur’an, had already deserted Islam for a mishmash of Christianity and Islam, which I dubbed “Chrislam.” I said that if you’re going to embrace Chrislam, why not go all the way and become a Christian?

I then argued that Shabir should do this because his view faces insuperable historical and theological objections. Historically, it has inadequate explanatory scope (since mere visions of Jesus would not explain the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection), weak explanatory power (since the early Church distinguished visions of Christ from resurrection appearances of Christ), and little plausibility (since it is highly improbable that Jesus was taken down alive).

The theological objections are even more problematic: (1) The theory provides too little, too late. For in virtue of his crucifixion, Jesus has already suffered shame, humiliation, and defeat in the minds of his enemies. (2) By misleading the disciples into thinking that Jesus was risen from the dead, Allah himself is to blame for foisting the religion of Christianity on the world, resulting in hundreds of millions rejecting Islam and going to hell! Shabir had little to say in response to these objections, except to reiterate that there’s no way of knowing that Jesus was really dead.

So in the end the palm of victory went clearly to the Christian side. But sad to say, there were very few Muslims in the audience. I hear through the grapevine that Muslims are increasingly disaffected with Shabir because of his compromises on orthodox Islam. In fact the Muslim Student Association at McGill, which had promised to help promote the debate, called at 4:00 p.m. the very afternoon of the debate to say that they weren’t coming and had decided to schedule a meeting of their own that night! So it appears that the Muslim community is losing confidence in Shabir.

His newsletter contains more about his speaking in Quebec at the University of Montreal and the University of Laval. The newsletter also discusses his debate with Shelly Kagan of Yale University, held at Columbia University. And he concludes with his upcoming speaking engagements. Please pray for Bill and consider supporting him by donating to Reasonable Faith.

William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel and Christopher Hitchens panel discussion

UPDATE: Audio and video from a  panel discussion with Hitchens, Craig, etc. is linked here.

UPDATE: My play-by-play transcript of the debate is here.

This just in… William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Doug Wilson, Jim Denison and Christopher Hitchens will be participating in a panel discussion at the Dallas Convention Center. The event is being organized by Christianity Today and is being held on Saturday, March 21, 2009 from 1:00 – 3:00 PM.

The event is on the web here.

The New Atheists usually make two charges against Christianity: (1) that it is untrue and (2) that it is harmful. A panel of apologetics experts respond to an atheist critic with evidence from Scripture, science, and history about why the faith is both reasonable and good for the world.

Moderator: Stan Guthrie, Christianity Today
Panelists:

  • Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, The Case for a Creator (Zondervan)
  • William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Crossway)
  • Douglas Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World? (Canon Press)
  • Christopher Hitchens, Is Christianity Good for the World? (Canon Press) and God Is Not Great (Twelve Books)
  • Jim Denison, Wrestling with God (Tyndale)

More information about the 2009 Christian Book Expo is here.

Video from Hitchens’ last debate with Dinesh D’Souza, is here.

There is one thing you really have to admire about Christopher Hitchens, in addition to his sound views on the war on terror. And that is that he has never run from a debate with anybody. It seems like it took forever to get Richard Dawkins to face-off against John Lennox, but Hitchens has no fear. He’s debated some pretty good Christian scholars, like Frank Turek (video) and Douglas Wilson (transcript).

You have to admire the man, and I hope that he does a good job of presenting his views and that our side, and the audience, is courteous and appreciative. This man has courage.

Incidentally, the Dawkins-Lennox debate is here, if you haven’t seen it. It’s a hoot, but it’s not my preferred debate format. I don’t know of any other debates with the other new atheists… if anyone has any links, post it in the comments.

UPDATE: I analyze Hitchens’ case against God here, from his debate against Frank Turek.

William Lane Craig Ontario debate videos (York, Toronto, Waterloo)

Video and audio from William Lane Craig’s January 2009 speaking/debate tour in Ontario, Canada are here.

1. DOES GOD EXIST?
VIDEO: William Lane Craig vs Ronald De Sousa at York University (DivX Video File)

I watched this one and this was a lively debate, with cross-examination. I recommend this one, De Sousa is fully engaged in the debate. They’ve debated before. He really bears his burden of proof and doesn’t give an inch. He makes a lot of emotional denunciations, like “Christians are mean” and “the Bible is mean”. He proposed the unobservable multiverse to explain the fine-tuning. Is this what atheism has come to? Belief in fairies in order to weasel out of the progress of science?

He argues that the laws of physics, (math formulas that describe physical regularities), caused the entire physical universe to come into being. He argues that morality is what most people do in particular times and places, and Craig nails that. I found it silly to argue that morality is what people decide, yet God is expected to conform to this changing standard or he’s evil. I blogged about that problem here. De Sousa’s problem of evil argument is pretty vague. This is a solid engagement!

2. DOES GOD EXIST?
AUDIO: William Lane Craig vs James Robert Brown at the University of Toronto
Part 1 (welcome) Part 2 (Intro) Part 3 (Debate 1) Part 4 (Debate 2) Part 5 (Q&A)

They’ve known each other for a while and debated before. I just listened to the first two speeches and it sounds lame. Brown is a good speaker, but he talks about arguments that Craig never raises, like Aristotle’s prime mover and Behe’s irreducible complexity. He also started out with the genetic fallacy about how beliefs originate. His speech is really disorganized, flipping between snark and argument. He also proposed the unobservable multiverse to explain the fine-tuning. Sigh.

He believes in objectively morality, but he believes that there is no purpose in life, (no reason to follow the moral rules beyond personal satisfaction). He tried to argue the problem of evil, but it was not rigorous. Too much snark about Greek gods and flat earths. Atheists seem to think that the high number of false religions somehow disproves the claim of Christianity to be correct. There are lots of wrong answers to math questions – how does this undermine the correct answer? Because it hurts the other people’s feelings? WHO CARES!

3. DOES GOD MATTER?
VIDEO: William Lane Craig vs Christopher Dicarlo at University of Waterloo (Video)
(Or, watch it in 14 Youtube clips, starting here).

This is a pretty lame debate. Dicarlo is completely out of his element and has probably never debated a Christian scholar in his life. I don’t recommend this debate. I found him to be as uninformed as he was insulting.

I also posted video of Bill Craig’s appearance on the Michael Coren TV show, here. Bill’s latest newsletter talks a bit about his upcoming Quebec tour in February 2009:

Next week I’ll be back in Canada, this time in the even colder climes of Quebec. I have a debate on Jesus’ resurrection scheduled with the Muslim apologist Shabir Ally at McGill University on February 11, sandwiched between lectures I’ll give in French at L’Université Laval and L’Université de Montréal on February 10 and 12 on “Dieu Existe-t-il?” As always we appreciate your prayers!

By the way, I mailed my annual donation for Bill’s ministry today. If you like what Bill does, be sure and stop by his Reasonable Faith web site and leave him a contribution. You want to participate in the work of this fine defender of Christianity. If you can’t spare the money, then please pray for Bill.