This past week saw the Craig/Carrier debate take place at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri. A poor quality audio file of the debate is available here --I'm hoping that Dr. Craig adds a cleaner audible version to his growing online archive of resurrection/God debates. This makes about a dozen times that I've heard Craig deliver his "four-fact" opening spiel. I'm afraid that with every telling it loses another chunk of what little potency it once promised.
As usual, Craig places undue emphasis on some near-universal consensus in New Testament studies regarding the details about the death and resurrection of Jesus. These imagined insular "consensus" [consensi?], however, even if they were the case (they're not), have no bearing on whether these events described in the stories in fact happened or not, nor could they could even ever be verifiable.
Bracket that for the moment, however, and allow for the sake of argument that the majority of New Testament scholars views things the way that Craig says they do. Of course the majority of NT scholars stresses the historicity of Jesus' resurrection; almost all of them are believing Christians! If you're starting from a place where the affirmation of some historical event having taken place is part of the price of admission from the git go (see creed), then, what chance is there (really) that you might defend its historicity?
Fairly high, I'd say. No? (Be honest.)
Consider the Muslim analogue, for example. Just as "most" Quranic scholars would affirm the historicity of the events surrounding the proliferation of the Quran and of early Islam, so do "most" NT scholars affirm the historicity of their religion's teachings. "Most" Mormon[ic] scholars likewise profess the historicity of the events described by THAT tradition's origin story. They are Mormons, after all! But, as I already said, their certitude has no bearing on whether these events in fact happened or not. The historian-or the geneticist or the archeologist-- who is looking into the truth behind these stories does not take a vote among the elders to get the real scoop on what happened. Apologists always try to make it seem like pronouncements of scholars in a field such as religiou studies generally or New Testament studies specifically are as weighty and compelling as those in other less-subjective academic disciplines. One scholar I know likes to repeat the analogy that "you take your car to the auto mechanic to find out about its workings . . . you ask the physicist about the natural sciences . . . so should you concede to New Testament scholars' higher learning . . " This analogy not only fails, but it also reveals the inflated sense of certitude and self-importance that many professors seems to suffer from. It seems that some NT scholars behave as if they were engaging in some empirical enterprise.
"Expertise" in NT studies essentially consists of having read and digested a great deal of the positions outlined in detail in the vast literature written by those "experts" which came before. These positions are catalogued and weighed against each other by scholars, who then may write their elaborations or critiques of some previous scholar or another, and so on. Being thus so well-read, a New Testament scholar can rightly point to the differences and similarities between, say, the Matthean Moses parallels and the Lukan Elijah ones. He can perhaps raise Karl Barth's objections to Rudolf Bultmann's mythologizing if he's so inclined (or he may defend Bultmann's genius :). A scholar can pit N.T.Wright against James Dunn if she wishes. An NT scholar may even speak about more empirically demonstrable things, such as the precise chronological order of the texts, or even, with some limited authority, about more problematic things such as the nature, function and practice of the Pharisees in the period preceeding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, if he's bold enough and well-read enough in the pertinent materials.
But a New Testament scholar cannot (not using the texts we have, anyway) claim any kind of real certainty regarding MOST of what little we know (or think we know) about a historical figure of Jesus. This is simply elitist self-importance.
As is his usual modus operandus, Craig punctuates the finality of some opinion by citing eminent conservative writers in the field. Just one minute and a half into his opening argument at this debate Craig cites Hugo Proteus, Samuel Clark, William Paley, Richard Swinburne, and Steven Davis (a minute and a half!). So often does he appeal to authorities this during his debates that it seems that he doesn't realize that it is considered a rhetorical fallacy to do this in a debate. Either he doesn't know it's a fallacy or he just plain doesn't care. I pray it's the former.
Anyway, at the very least, one of Craig's friends (debate opponents notwithstanding) should take him aside and tell him that his "four facts" are not really facts at all. He's been giving this same lecture for so long that I think he might actually believe they are established facts. His defenses for these "established facts" at times entail flimsy dogged (nay, desperate) attempts to insert the miraculous (supernatural) into the domain of historiographic discourse. He works under the presupposition (he'll remind you) that God (specifically the one represented in Christian orthodoxy) exists and can interact at will in His creation. It's always seemed whimsically ironic to me that someone can discredit naturalistic examinations and explanations of mythemes as farfetched or ad-hoc or "krank" or "extreme" (the last two are Craig's words of choice during this particular debate), yet they have absolutely no difficulty accepting that a supernatural force was the cause of some described event (an event, which can be demonstrated to be a fictional literary construct, to boot, something Carrier wanted desperately to do (I could sense the frustration) but was too overwhelmed by Craig's rehearsed cadenza to have much of a chance. Craig is stylistically like Ken Hovind in that he delivers his points in rapidfire succession, inserting as many contentions into his allotted twenty minutes, so as to make any rebuttal necessarily impossible. Then, when his opponent fails to respond to everything he said, he declares himself the winner. Does anyone else see this? Am I the only one that feels the sport of debate is an exercise in prolix talk-past-each-other masturbation?
I would challenge apologists like Craig to forgo the formal debate format and instead engage his opponents in prolonged detailed discussion. He'd be surprised to find out that, once the twenty minute limit is lifted, every single one of his contentions could be countered rather easily. But then, over the course of years, most of his contentions have been addressed to some degree. I remember that during the Avalos debate, he tried to show Craig the difference between "fact" and "story." For a moment there, I though he had broken through. No dice, though. Here we are nearly a decade later and Craig is still giving the same lecture, virtually unchanged. I have come to the conclusion that Craig is not interested in facts at all. I honestly think this is just a comfortable gig for him. Nothing wrong with that I guess, I'd love to know what his fees are at these events, though.
Anyway, I'll likely stop paying much attention to him after this debate. Still, I'm thankful for Dr. Craig in some small way for engaging so many dissident thinkers in the field. With every debate of this kind, I'd like to add, Craig inadvertently reveals one less scholar in his "vast majority of New Testament scholars" who sees things his way (another bit of subtle irony for me). I loved hearing Dom Crossan's and Hector Avalos' and Bob Price's and Gerd Luddeman's varied responses to many of his rhetorical pirouettes. Found much humor there.
On a final note. Debate being the sport that it is, I think that Dr Richard Carrier did well enough in, at the very least, exposing a roomful of God-drunk students to some interesting refutations of a sampling of Craig's follies, introducing them, so to speak, to the concept of a 'breathalyzer'.
One of the things that gives me hope is the growing number of non-orthodox scholars who have been doing work in the field of New Testament studies in recent years. Jew, atheists, scientists. I'd like to see a similar "outsider's" approach to all of the world's major religious texts. It would be a marvelous move toward a lasting understanding and harmony between and among cultures, I think.