Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Jesus seminar renders Lewis' trilemma obsolete! And other tall tales

Esther O'Reilly:

Reminded today of just how awful this William Lane Craig quote from Reasonable Faith is [near the end of chapter 7]:

Often one hears people say, 'I don’t understand all those philosophical arguments for God’s existence and so forth. I prefer historical apologetics.' I suspect that those who say this think that historical apologetics is easy and will enable them to avoid the hard thinking involved in the philosophical arguments. But this section ought to teach us clearly that this is not so. It is naïve and outdated simply to trot out the dilemma 'Liar, Lunatic, or Lord' and adduce several proof texts where Jesus claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah, and so forth. The publicity generated by the Jesus Seminar and The DaVinci Code has rendered that approach forever obsolete. Rather, if an apologetic based on the claims of Christ is to work, we must do the requisite spadework of sorting out those claims of Jesus that can be established as authentic, and then drawing out their implications. This will involve not only mastering Greek but also the methods of modern criticism and the criteria of authenticity. Far from being easy, historical apologetics, if done right, is every bit as difficult as philosophical apologetics. The only reason most people think historical apologetics to be easier is because they do it superficially.

How awful is this passage? Let me count the ways:

  1. The Jesus Seminar renders Lewis obsolete? I'll let the self-defeating irony of this particular bit speak for itself.
  2. Are we doing sociology or epistemology here? Genuinely can't tell.
  3. Is there reasonable doubt that Jesus *did* make such explicit claims to deity as those we find in, say, John? If not, why not use them? Yet, significantly, Craig never does.
  4. Why the need for all this "spadework" if we can establish whole-gospel reliability?
  5. Yet further irony: In the intro to RF, Craig downplays "saddling" oneself with establishing whole-gospel reliability, then here proceeds to "saddle" his readers with all this "spadework" improvement?
  6. "This requires mastering Greek." So much for the "one-dollar apologist," eh?

I'm sorry to say it, but this really is the sort of rhetoric that gives big apologetics a bad name. Massively unhelpful, confusing, and does not reflect the actual state of the argument.

Yes, we really need to get out of this rigid rut where first you need to establish X, Y and Z arguments for general theism, and only then can you "move on" to the historical arguments. Says who? Written where?


  1. The "trilemma argument" gets dissed frequently, and it seems fashionable to do so. I personally wouldn't hang my hat on it, but I don't see an obvious flaw in it either.

    If somebody claims to be God (in the classical Western sense, which entails omnipotence, omniscience among other things), then one can be correct or one can be incorrect.

    If one is correct, then that one is God. 'Nuff said here.

    If one is not correct, the possibilities are that one is deliberately mistaken or not deliberately mistaken.

    If deliberately mistaken, then one is saying something that one knows is false. This is a species of lying or disinformation.

    If the mistake is not deliberate, that is, one truly believes he is God but in fact is not, then how can this simply be an honest mistake? The very nature of God as given in the Bible and classical theism does not allow this sort of mistake. "I'm God" is such a strong claim that I do not see how one is not seriously unbalanced in believing this false claim about one's self.

    So what I'm saying is that the four possibilities are, colloquially, lord, liar, lunatic, or just mistaken. However, the "just mistaken" part seems precluded by the strength of the claim to deity. It is not precluded by a more pedestrian claim like "I'm a good tennis player". For that, I might simply be mistaken or overly confident in my own ability, and not necessarily a liar or a lunatic.

    All this leads me to say that the gospels really force you to evaluate whether Jesus is God Incarnate or not; there is no simply saying he is a great man or he is a pivotal figure in western civilization and that's that.

    Maybe even more colloquially, I could say something like "God perfectly knows that He is God". And it is hard for me to see how one could sit around and muse "Maybe I'm God, perhaps?". God doesn't employ the subjunctive mood when knowing/pondering Himself, I daresay.

    Where is my thinking off?

    1. I think you need to become a Triablogger again and start posting this stuff. :)

    2. Am I allowed to play with Eric, Hawk?
      So sad that Steve passed away... He was brighter than most triunes I played with.

  2. Unfortunately, William Lane Craig has failed to understand the plain meaning of 1 Peter 3:15. Apparently, he thinks it only applies to people like himself - scholars and professional intellectuals. There is no such limitation in the passage or in the broader context of the passage.
    Craig should recognize that 1 Peter 3:15 was directed to believers generally, not to a small group of intellectuals and scholars. It’s obvious. No construction of the words of that passage is necessary to come to that conclusion. Clearly, the commonality of believers that the text is directed to are not professional philosophers, Greek scholars or historians; nor do most people have the time, intellect, or education to do all the things Craig says need be done to always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [them] for a reason for the hope that is in [them]. Of course, the elite, highly educated and sophisticated Christian apologists will be able to present more advanced arguments in defense of the faith, but that doesn’t nullify the effectiveness of the lord, liar or lunatic dilemma, or the witness of less sophisticated believers. I would not be surprised if far more people have been influenced toward faith by the dilemma Lewis posed than by the convoluted arguments Craig offers. For the most part, what Craig offers is the distinction between the logical problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. Who is convinced by that?

  3. If a proof text proves, then why not proof with a proof-text?