This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Firstly, thank you for all that you do for the Kingdom. Your work has been a great encouragement to me since I came to faith in Christ a few years ago.
Recently, in the March issue of the popular philosophy journal 'Think', Raphael Lataster attacks your argument from Jesus' resurrection as circular. The article is titled: "A PHILOSOPHICAL AND HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF WILLIAM LANE CRAIG'S RESURRECTION OF JESUS ARGUMENT." I know this argument appears on many online forums, and is a common one. He presents your argument as follows:
1. There are three established facts about Jesus: the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples' belief in his resurrection.
2. The hypothesis 'God raised Jesus from the dead' is the best explanation of these facts.
3. The hypothesis 'God raised Jesus from the dead' entails that God exists.
4. Therefore, God exists.
He, among other things, argues that the argument is circular and begs the question as you presuppose God's existence in (2), which is the conclusion (4). (2) supports (4), but you only accept the plausibility of the resurrection hypothesis because of (4). If God didn't exist, then one wouldn't consider the resurrection hypothesis to be the best explanation. If, he argues, you refer only to a generic concept of God in (2) and the Christian God in (4), then you are guilty of the fallacy of ambiguity. Either way, he invites you to concede one of the two fallacies.
He presents some other weak arguments - citing the most sceptical of scholars (Carrier, Price and Avalos, for example) - and arguing (with Hume) that miracles are, by definition, implausible. But the central idea is that the resurrection argument is fallacious.
Would you be able to clarify what you mean by 'God' in each of the premises? And respond to the accusation of circularity? Lataster claims to be developing this criticism into a more scholarly form for his upcoming work, so it would be fantastic to know your response!
Blessings in Christ,
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Without having read the article in question, Matt, let me respond to this objection as you state it, since it is one that is sometimes repeated.
I think that I am partially responsible for giving the appearance of begging the question by my employing the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as an argument for theism (an argument, in effect, from miracles) in public debates over God’s existence. That is the argument referenced by Lataster. While the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection can be so presented, traditionally it is not part of natural theology but of Christian evidences. That is to say, it is not employed as a theistic argument, but as an argument for a Christian version of theism. Having proved the existence of God via the arguments of natural theology, such as the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments, one turns to specific evidence, such as Jesus’ resurrection, for this God’s having decisively revealed Himself in Jesus. This is the approach I use in my more considered work, such as Reasonable Faith, chapter 8. But in public debates I’ll often include the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as part of a cumulative case for theism for evangelistic purposes: I want to defend, not mere theism, but Christian theism. So I’ll include the resurrection as part of my case for theism, even though it is not, in my view, best included there.
In my preferred presentation, there can be no question of my begging of the question, since one is not trying to establish theism, but presupposing it, having already established God’s existence via the arguments of natural theology. This two-step procedure will make it much easier to commend the Resurrection Hypothesis (RH) “God raised Jesus from the dead” as the best explanation, for one already knows that God exists. Please see the development of this approach in Reasonable Faith.
In the debate presentation, there is still no begging of the question, though it will be harder to commend RH as the best explanation, since one will have to argue for the superiority of a supernatural explanation without the benefit of a prior proof of theism—not impossible to do, but harder. (I’m sure you can think of cases where a supernatural explanation would be the only reasonable explanation of a body of evidence.)
It is inept to allege that “you presuppose God's existence in (2), which is the conclusion (4).” The only sense in which God’s existence is presupposed in (2) is that it features in the proposed explanation, just as, for example, the Higgs boson featured in its being the best explanation of the relevant evidence of particle physics or a black hole featured in its being the best explanation of astrophysical evidence. One postulates a new entity as part of the best explanation of the data to be explained. This is an unremarkable procedure.
Now in assessing RH and its naturalistic competitors, I consider the standard criteria: explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, accord with accepted beliefs, ad hoc-ness, and outstripping rival hypotheses in meeting the criteria. These can be assessed independently of whether theism is true. You report that I “only accept the plausibility of the resurrection hypothesis because of (4).” That is obviously false, as a reading of my work will reveal. I defend the plausibility of RH on the basis of the religio-historical context in which it occurs. The one criterion where theism does become relevant is ad hoc-ness. This has to do with the number of independent hypotheses required by the explanation being assessed. If one has not already established theism, then RH becomes more ad hoc, since it requires the additional hypothesis that God exists. But this degree of ad hoc-ness is not unusual or unacceptable and may in any case be offset by the more important explanatory virtues of great explanatory scope and power.
In short, there is no circularity in arguing that a miraculous explanation of certain data is the best—though your task will be much easier if you first establish theism to be true and appeal to miracle only to show God’s intervention in history at some point in attestation of a particular religious claim.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org