It is not often that I express pleasure at reading critiques of my work. That is because criticisms of my work by Christian apologists are seldom devoid of ad hominem and vitriolic comments.
So it was, indeed, a pleasure to read the critique from Travis James Campbell in a chapter titled “Avalos Contra Craig: A Historical, Theological, and Philosophical Assessment,” in a book titled Defending the Resurrection. I henceforth abbreviate Campbell’s chapter as ACC.
Defending the Resurrection is edited by James Patrick Holding, and published in 2010 by Xulon press, which describes itself as a “Christian self-publishing company.” See Xulon Press. See also: Google book version.
Campbell is probably the best Christian critic of my work that I have encountered in terms of the effort to address my arguments forthrightly and professionally. For this, I do commend him, and it also renders him worthy of a response on the same level.
Campbell’s published biographies describe him as obtaining a Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary, and he is currently listed as a teacher on the website of the Deerfield-Windsor School, “a co-educational, independent, day school located in Albany, Georgia.” See: Campbell's institution
In general, Campbell strives to address my arguments against William Lane Craig’s defense of the resurrection that I penned in The End of Biblical Studies (henceforth, EOBS). Therein, I critiqued Craig’s reliance on C. Behan McCullagh’s Justifying Historical Descriptions (1984) to support his defense for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.
In particular, Campbell addresses three specific arguments that I put forth in The End of Biblical Studies. As Campbell phrases them (ACC, p. 290):
“A. Craig has misused McCullagh’s criteria
B. a case can be made for the apparitions of Mary using McCullagh’s criteria (thus, we have a disproof by counterexample); and
C. Craig is a selective supernaturalist.”
I will address each of these three claims in a series of posts, but this post will focus on the charge that Craig has misused and misunderstood the work of C. Behan McCullagh, a philosopher of history that Craig uses for part of his defense of the resurrection.
As shown below, McCullagh’s recent comments on the resurrection reaffirm that it is Craig and Campbell who have not properly understood McCullagh and the numerous problems with Craig’s criteria for historicity.
Who is C. Behan McCullagh?
C. Behan McCullagh is a well-known Australian philosopher of history. His website describes him as being recently retired as a Reader and Associate Professor of Philosophy at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and he is currently an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University Philosophy Program.” See McCullagh's bio.
McCullagh describes himself as a Christian, but he offers mostly pragmatic, rather than historical or scientific, reasons for affirming a belief in the resurrection. This position has been rendered even clearer in his article: C. Behan McCullagh, "The Resurrection of Jesus: Explanation or Interpretation?" Southeastern Theological Review, 3.1 (2012) 41-53.
McCullagh's article is mainly a critique of Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Account (2010), a defense of the resurrection. McCullagh reiterates that he does not believe that the resurrection of Jesus is a superior explanation of the data, and he opts for a pragmatic reason to believe in that event (e.g., it has good consequences for modern believers).
McCullagh further clarifies that “a theological account of the disciples’ experiences of the risen Jesus is better understood as an interpretation, not an explanation, of those experiences” (McCullagh, “Resurrection,” p. 42; my underlined emphasis).
Craig’s Compression of McCullagh’s Criteria
In The End of Biblical Studies (2007), I quoted Craig as stating: “In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests used by historians to determine the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ passes all of these tests.” Craig presented McCullagh’s criteria as follows:
“1. It has great explanatory scope. It explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw postmortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
2. It has great explanatory power. It explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
3. It is plausible. Given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.
4. It is not ad hoc or contrived. It requires only one additional hypothesis— that God exists. And even that need not be an additional hypothesis if you already believe in God’s existence . . .
5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ does not in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
6. It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions 1 through 5. Down through history various rival explanations of the facts have been offered. . . Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars.”
This quotation was from a published version of the debate between Craig and Gerd Lüdemann, a skeptical New Testament scholar. This version may be found in Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, eds., Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000): 36-37.
I countered that Craig here had compressed McCullagh’s seven criteria into six. For the record, McCullagh (Justifying, p. 19) describes his seven criteria for a valid historical conclusion as follows:
“The theory is that one is rationally justified in believing a statement to be true if the following conditions obtain:
(2)The hypothesis must be of greater explanatory scope than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must imply a greater variety of observation statements.
(3) The hypothesis must be of greater explanatory power than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must make the observation statements it implies more probable than any other.
(4) The hypothesis must be more plausible than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must be implied to some degree by a greater variety of accepted truths than any other, and be implied more strongly than any other; and its probable negation must be implied by fewer beliefs, and implied less strongly any other.
(5)The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must include fewer new suppositions about the past which are not already implied to some extent by existing beliefs.
(6) It must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, when conjoined with accepted truths it must imply fewer observation statements and other statements which are believed to be false.
(7)It must exceed other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject by so much, in characteristics 2 to 6, that there is little chance of an incompatible hypothesis, after further investigation, soon exceeding it in these respects.”
So, Craig left out the first criterion, which McCullagh (Justifying, p. 19) expresses as follows:
“(1) The statement, together, with other statements already held to be true, must imply yet other statements describing present, observable data. (We will henceforth call the first statement ‘the hypothesis’ and statements describing observable data, ‘observation statements.’)”
Campbell agrees with my observation that Craig omitted this criterion in this instance, but he says that Craig was working in the context of a debate, where time is limited. More importantly, Campbell notes that Craig does cite all seven criteria in other works.
Campbell has a fair observation here. Craig does cite all seven of McCullagh’s criteria in Reasonable Faith (1994, 183), a book I cited elsewhere in EOBS.
However, Campbell also overlooks that my comment was in the context of Craig’s own statement that “C. B. McCullagh lists six tests...” If Craig was going to be more accurate, then he also could have said: “C. B. McCullagh’s lists seven tests...but I am going to list six in this debate.” By the same token, I also should have specified that Craig did cite all seven in other works, even if he did not cite them in this work.
Given Craig’s other statements in that debate with Lüdemann, Campbell and Craig still seem oblivious to how the first of McCullagh’s criteria makes a significant difference in evaluating the resurrection. I will provide more examples below from McCullagh’s own recent evaluation of the resurrection stories.
Natural and Supernatural?
Campbell took issue with this statement of mine in EOBS (p. 188): “As used by McCullagh, the criteria are mostly meant to differentiate between natural explanations, not between natural and supernatural explanations.” In my view, Craig was misusing McCullagh’s criteria because Craig was using them to differentiate between natural and supernatural explanations.
Campbell questions what I mean by “mostly meant.” Campbell further claims (ACC, p. 291):
“But, does McCullagh himself limit the criteria in this way? No, McCullagh’s criteria, as he presents them, are used to differentiate between explanations. Whether or not these explanations have a supernatural origin is not McCullagh’s primary concern—in fact, as we will soon see, McCullagh seems quite open to supernatural explanations of historical phenomena.”
But it is Campbell who is still not understanding McCullagh’s sometimes inconsistent position. First, I said “mostly meant to differentiate between natural explanations because” because McCullagh himself suggests this. McCullagh’s comments (Justifying, p. 28) about the incommensurability of natural and supernatural explanations (which Campbell notes) contain the justification for my characterization.
McCullagh argues that those who accept or deny the possibility of the miracles of Jesus may obtain different results when using these same criteria. McCullagh specifically remarks: “So, what constituted the prime domain of evidence for one historian could be almost entirely denied by the other” (Justifying, p. 28).
Second, McCullagh goes on to say: “So hypotheses about NON-RELIGIOUS topics are almost all commesurable...” (Justifying, p. 28; my capitals). So, McCullagh does seemingly differentiate between RELIGIOUS (= supernatural) and NON-RELIGIOUS (= non-supernatural) hypotheses.
At the same time, McCullagh says: “Most historical hypotheses are expressed in terms of the one, everyday view of the world, which is very widely shared throughout the world. They are, therefore, readily comparable, and by no means incommensurable” (Justifying, p. 29).
What McCullagh continues discussing here is “hypotheses about NON-RELIGIOUS topics,” and I am assuming that he uses the word MOST to indicate the primary of the historian using these criteria are natural historical events.
Given McCullagh’s own comments, I think it is fair to say that his “criteria are mostly meant to differentiate between natural explanations, not between natural and supernatural explanations.”
Aside from a brief comment on Jesus’ resurrection (which he denies passes all his own tests) and the death of William II (a discussion that Campbell misunderstands), McCullagh does focus on how these criteria differentiate between natural explanations.
This does not mean, however, that McCullagh denies that some (like Craig) attempt to use these criteria in cases where supernatural causes are posited.
However, McCullagh sees as ad hoc any explanations that appeal to God’s activities for historical events even if he is open to them as possibilities. That is why he differentiates between “explanations” and “interpretations” of events, as he explain in his article on the resurrection.
If I am wrong, then where else does McCullagh apply these criteria to differentiate between explanations in cases where natural and supernatural alternatives are presented? Where else does he ever conclude that a supernatural cause was behind an everyday historical event?
Ad hoc and “existing knowledge”
Campbell admits that McCullagh does not believe that the resurrection definitively passes all of his tests. This is because McCullagh states:
“One example which illustrates the conditions most vividly is discussion of the Christian hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. This hypothesis is of greater explanatory scope and power than other hypotheses which try to account for the relevant evidence, but is less plausible and more ad hoc than they are. That is why it is difficult to decide on the evidence whether it should be accepted or rejected” (Justifying, p. 21).
So, of the seven criteria, McCullagh states that his following ones are not satisfied by the resurrection of Jesus (using McCullagh’s numbering):
4. It is plausible.
5. It is not ad hoc or contrived.
Given that McCullagh explicitly states that the resurrection story does not meet these criteria, Campbell shifts the discussion to critiquing McCullagh’s use of his own criteria in order to show that Craig is still using them appropriately.
Campbell first focuses on McCullagh’s charge that the resurrection story is ad hoc, and he states that McCullagh defines ad hoc “in terms of the number of new suppositions made by a hypothesis that are not already implied by existing knowledge” (ACC, p. 292).
Campbell then repeats Craig’s assertion that the resurrection story is not ad hoc because it “requires ONLY ONE new supposition: that God exists” (ACC, p. 292; my capitalization).
Simultaneously, Campbell dismisses alternative theories because they are not implied by “existing knowledge” or because they go beyond “existing knowledge.” Campbell cites these alternative theories as examples that can be dismissed on those grounds. The main examples given (my paraphrase of Campbell) are as follows:
-The conspiracy theory requires us to suppose that the moral character of the disciples was defective, and we have no knowledge that the disciples had such a defective moral character.
-The swoon theory requires the supposition that the soldier’s lance thrust into Jesus’ side was just a superficial poke, which goes beyond existing knowledge.
-The hallucination theory requires us to suppose some sort of emotional preparation of the disciples that predisposed them to project vision of Jesus alive, and that is not implied by any existing knowledge.
Of course none of these alternative theories require such things, and none of these are alternatives that I proposed, in any case.
Rather, my main contention is that NONE of the statements about Jesus’ death, burial or resurrection found in the New Testament can be corroborated independently, and so deserve no more credence than what we bestow on other resurrection or miracle stories that also cannot be independently corroborated in any other religious tradition.
Such a position does not obligate me to make any suppositions at all about the disciples or their mental states. All I am saying is that there is no independent evidence to substantiate the claims of NT AUTHORS about what the disciples experienced.
Indeed, Campbell already supposes as a fact something that is not. It is the veracity or accuracy of the AUTHORS, NOT THE DISCIPLES, that is in question. We know nothing about the disciples. We only know that there are stories about them being told by authors. So, we have no “existing knowledge” of the moral character of the disciples or their emotional states.
Of course, we have no “existing knowledge” that there was an empty tomb, or that Jesus resurrected. These are simply claims made by ancient authors. We have no existing knowledge that people resurrect, but that does not stop Craig from positing something that is not “existing knowledge.”
On the other hand, people lying, having hallucinations, and not dying after severe injuries are part of our existing knowledge, and so can be used as explanations where the evidence fits.
More importantly, Campbell’s conclusions are not quite true even if we accept the word of NT authors at face value. Peter did lie according to NT stories (e.g., Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75), and he was characterized a hypocrite according to writings attributed to Paul (e.g., Galatians 2:11-14). Judas betrayed Jesus, something that itself might mean that Judas was not very impressed by anything Jesus said or did.
Furthermore, the biblical god’s existence does not constitute “existing knowledge” any more so than Krishna’s existence.
What does Ad Hoc mean for McCullagh?
The ad hoc criterion is actually phrased more completely as follows in McCullagh’s Justifying Historical Descriptions (p. 19):
“The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must include fewer new suppositions about the past which is not already implied to some extent by existing beliefs.”
McCullagh has used at least two different qualifiers before ad hoc (my capitals):
A. NOT ad hoc (McCullagh, “Resurrection,” p. 46)
B. LESS ad hoc (McCullagh, Justifying, p. 19; cf. Craig, Reasonable Faith, p. 183)
These qualifiers can make a difference. Having ZERO adhocness is not necessarily the same as having LESS adhocness, and that points to some inconsistency in the procedures of McCullagh (and Craig).
In any case, Craig apparently thinks that ONLY ONE ad hoc supposition is required to explain the resurrection—namely, that God exists.
However, this is not the case. For example, to say that God raised Jesus from the dead might also require the following “new” or ad hoc suppositions:
A. God intervenes in our world. We can suppose the existence of God, and yet not suppose that He intervenes in our world (ala deism).
B. Craig’s God is the same as the biblical god. There is no reason to assume that God is the same as the biblical god even if we suppose God exists.
C. God wanted to raise Jesus from the dead. We can suppose that God exists, but it does not mean that he wanted to raise Jesus from the dead.
D. God did raise Jesus from the dead. God could exist and yet not raise Jesus from the dead.
E. God raised Jesus from the dead, but not other people for which claims of resurrection by God have also been made.
So, the mere existence of God is NOT the ONLY NEW supposition needed. This fact is also voiced by McCullagh in his critique of Licona (McCullagh, “Resurrection,” p. 46):
“Licona, William Lane Craig and others defend the hypothesis that God wanted both to raise Jesus from the dead and to enable him to appear to various individuals, and that God could by definition do so. I agree with them that that hypothesis, if it were true, would make probable the resurrection of Jesus in some form, and also make probable the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Jesus recorded in the Bible. The problem that remains is whether this hypothesis is rationally credible. It would be if, in addition to making the data probable, the hypothesis was plausible and not ad hoc. A hypothesis is plausible if it is implied by some accepted truths and contradicted by very few. And it is ad hoc if there are no reasons for thinking it true besides the fact that it would explain the available data. The hypothesis that God exists and cared about Jesus is of questionable plausibility; the hypothesis that he wanted to raise Jesus from the dead and reveal him to the disciples and others is almost entirely ad hoc.”
Note how McCullagh also disputes that one can suppose that God cares about raising Jesus even if we suppose that God exists.
Note also how McCullagh defines ad hoc here: “[I]t is ad hoc if there are no reasons for thinking it true besides the fact that it would explain the available data.” An ad hoc cause is posited solely to explain some datum, but there is no other reason to think that this cause exists. It is a case of special pleading.
In other words, Craig (and Licona) would be invoking the existence of God solely to explain the resurrection because there are no other known means by which the resurrection can happen naturally. For McCullagh, that alone constitutes a use of ad hoc causes. And so Craig’s ad hoc supposition is like saying:
A. I cannot explain how X was resurrected by Krishna naturally in a Hindu story.
B. But if we assume that Krishna exists, then
C. resurrections by Krishna become more probable, and reports of Krishna resurrecting people become more probable.
Science and the Unseen
Campbell and Craig see the problem of saying “God did it” when they have no other natural explanation. So, they use a form of the tu quoque argument with science.
Indeed, Campbell follows Craig in claiming that since science can invoke new and often unobservable entities, then Christian apologists are justified to invoke God. Campbell asks: “Why should the supposition of God’s existence be any different?” (ACC, p. 292)
It is different because the so-called unobservable entities cited as examples by Campbell (e.g., quarks, gravitons) are at least mathematically deducible, and can offer us predictions that are supposed to be testable or falsifiable. If they don’t, then we don’t hold them as having relevance for understanding the world.
“God” is not something we can mathematically deduce or induce, and there are no tests that would falsify or verify any particular action of that entity. McCullagh (“Resurrection,” p. 47) makes a similar observation:
“As William Lane Craig argued in his discussion of the resurrection, scientists posit invisible entities to explain observable events. Think of the force of gravity to explain why things fall to the ground, or magnetic force to explain the movement of a compass needle. What distinguishes these from God, however, is that they are said to have regular functions: things almost always fall to the ground, and compass needles nearly always point north. The acts of God, on the other hand, are by no means predictable. That is why an appeal to God as the cause of the resurrection of Jesus is implausible. It is not simply that he is invisible and so difficult to investigate, it is that we know too little about him to predict what he will do.”
McCullagh and Santa Claus
Although Santa Claus is a common analogy for God raised by atheists, it is McCullagh (“Resurrection,” p. 46) who uses Santa Claus to explain what he means by ad hoc in a discussion preceding the above:
“To appreciate the importance of these conditions, consider the evidence that Santa Claus provides children’s presents at Christmas time. Children awake on Christmas morning to find presents for them arranged beside the fireplace in their sitting room. Their parents say that the presents have been made by Santa and his elves at the North Pole during the year, to give as a
reward to children who have been good. Since the children have been quite good, Santa put them in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, alighted on their roof, climbed down the chimney and left the presents for the children. If this story were true, it would provide an excellent explanation of the arrival of the presents. It certainly implies their probable existence. But no-one has ever seen Santa, his elves, his sleigh or his flying reindeer. The Santa explanation is implausible because there are no other facts that imply its truth, and it is entirely ad hoc for the same reason. When kids grow up they suspect their parents left their presents.”
So, it is clear that McCullagh does not agree with Craig on the value of his ad hoc supposition, and it is also clear that Craig is not completely understanding what McCullagh means by ad hoc when justifying historical descriptions. The very fact that Craig can ONLY appeal to the existence of God to explain stories of how Jesus could have risen supernaturally means that it is an invalid ad hoc explanation.
The Object of Explanation
Much of the confusion evinced by both Craig and Campbell results from misidentifying the proper object of explanation in the resurrection stories. For Craig and Campbell, the objects of explanation are the empty tomb and the resurrection. For scientific historians, the objects of explanation are the STORIES of the empty tomb and the resurrection.
This brings us back to Craig’s omission of McCullagh’s first criterion in one of his debates, and to the lack of its appreciation where he does include it. Let’s review:
“(1) The statement, together, with other statements already held to be true, must imply yet other statements describing present, observable data. (We will henceforth call the first statement ‘the hypothesis’ and statements describing observable data, ‘observation statements.’)”
The present observable data do not include a resurrection. No historian today observes or can observe Jesus’ resurrection or the empty tomb. So, a resurrection is not the starting point for our historical explanation.
What is observable today are STORIES of a Jesus’ resurrection. So, the questions are NOT:
1. What explains Jesus’ resurrection?
2. What explains the empty tomb?
Rather, we should begin with observable facts, and the facts that we can observe are that there are STORIES of a resurrection. So, the proper question is: What explains STORIES OF A RESURRECTION?
And are there known causes that can explain stories of resurrections? Yes, the following ones that can be all tested to see if they can result in stories of resurrections or empty tombs:
A. Outright lying by authors for
1. Political motives
2. Economic motives
B. Theological narratives not meant to describe historical events
C. Intentional fiction (not necessarily lying)
D. Acceptance of traditions that are false even if the author does not know that.
All of these can cause stories of supernatural events, including resurrections, to be produced.
On the other hand, I have NEVER observed an actual resurrection causing a story of a resurrection. And I have NEVER observed an act of God producing any story, and so why should I appeal to a non-observable cause, when I have plenty of known causes that I can observe and test to see if they produce the same or similar result today?
Even if we never saw a specific event in the past, scientific historians still only appeal to causes that are known to produce similar results today.
This is no different from explaining a death that we did not witness. A scientific detective would appeal to phenomena known to cause deaths (e.g., bullets, poison, strangulation, heart attack), and not to ghosts or other phenomena that we have never observed causing such deaths.
Even if we do not know which of these specific causes led to a death, it would be reasonable to state that the cause should be within that pool of natural causes. Appealing to a supernatural cause would not be reasonable because we have never seen such a cause operating.
Likewise, in the case of stories of Jesus’ resurrection, we should appeal only to the pool of explanations KNOWN to produce such stories.
Since we have never observed God’s actions as the cause of such stories being produced, then we can omit God’s actions from our pool just as we omit ghosts and demons from any other story of a murder in the past or a resurrection in another religious tradition. This is a fair and consistent procedure that does not appeal to the special pleading that Campbell and Craig are requesting from historians.
Otherwise, Craig’s explanation is no better than those who invoke a magical Santa Claus to justify stories of Santa Claus’ magical powers. It is ad hoc and circular reasoning through and through
William II’s Death Part of my critique of Craig involved a critique of McCullagh’s criteria themselves. I tried to show how often they don’t help us decide between alternative explanations.
As an example, I cited the application of these criteria to evaluate three explanations for the death of William II (Rufus), king of England from 1087 to 1100.
According to most Medieval sources, William died mysteriously during a hunting expedition on August 2, 1100, an event recorded by William of Malmesbury and other medieval chroniclers.
McCullagh undertakes an evaluation of three explanations for William’s death that were discussed by another historian, Christopher Brooke in his The Saxon and Norman Kings (= SNK; New York: Macmillan 1965), pp. 178–96. Brooke raised the possibility that William II was killed as part of a conspiracy that resulted in the crowning of his brother, Henry I, three days later.
Altogether, the three explanations discussed by McCullagh for the death of William II may be summarized as follows:
1. The king was killed accidentally.
2. The king was killed through witchcraft.
3. The king was killed as part of a conspiracy.
The second option (witchcraft) was championed by Margaret A. Murray in her book, The God of the Witches (1931).
Most historians will opt for the first and third. But why do most historians, including McCullagh, not usually accept that the king was killed through witchcraft? McCullagh refers to his criterion of “plausibility” and tells us:
“As for the second hypothesis, a decision about whether the evidence which it explains also renders it probable to any extent, depends upon one’s view of the occult. Do dreams and portents of events which subsequently occur make it likely that evil powers are at work, or not? If the answer is that they do, then the reports of those dreams and portents do confer plausibility upon the second hypothesis; but if the answer is negative, then the reports do not contribute to its plausibility, though this is not the argument that Brooke uses.”
So, in actuality, the “plausibility” criterion is quite subjective. McCullagh provides no criteria for preferring one view of the occult over another, or over no view of the occult at all.
Apparently, if one’s view is that the occult exists, then it is allowed “plausibility.” If someone else believes that the occult does not exist, then witchcraft is not “plausible” at all.
If we apply this criterion evenhandedly, then we could render the claims of any religion plausible or implausible. For example, if our view is that Krishna does work in the world, then explanations appealing to Krishna’s actions in the world are potentially plausible. No further evidence is needed to justify having that view.
Campbell, however, alleges that I misunderstood McCullagh:
“But this is simply not true; for as McCullagh goes on to point out, Christopher Brooke, a medieval historian who specializes in the life of William II, does not reject the witchcraft hypothesis (advocated by Margaret Murray) because it appeals to the supernatural but because it ‘involves a number of assumptions for which there is no evidence, and which are wildly improbable.’”
However, even a plain reading of the passage from McCullagh I quoted shows that Campbell is confusing the position of McCullagh with that of Brooke. After all, McCullagh did say: “a decision about whether the evidence which it explains also renders it probable to any extent, DEPENDS upon one’s view of the occult” (my capitalization).
Note again, McCullagh’s statement concerning the dependence of “plausibility” on the supposition of the occult’s existence: “...but if the answer is negative, then the reports do not contribute to its plausibility, though this is not the argument that Brooke uses.”
So, McCullagh IS saying that plausibility does depend on whether one supposes that the occult exists, but it is Brooke who does not use that as an argument.
McCullagh may also agree with Brooke about the lack of evidence for witchcraft, but that agreement does not nullify McCullagh’s claim that one’s view of the occult affects what is regarded as “plausible” for William II’s death.
Witchcraft ≠ supernatural for Murray
Campbell misunderstands Murray’s explanation and definition of “witchcraft.” Campbell seemingly makes this equation: witchcraft/occult = supernatural.
But, by “witchcraft,” Murray is referring to a pre-Christian cult that worshipped pagan gods, and especially “the Horned god.” She believed that this cult had survived at least into the Middle Ages and that many prominent historical figures were members of it. That Horned God has been interpreted as “the devil” by Christians, and it had to hide (hence, “occult”) from its Christian persecutors.
So, when I said that one’s view of the occult will affect the plausibility one ascribes to explanations using the occult, I was also referring to the occult in the sense that Murray is using it. I referred to Krishna to show how we also could use this “plausibility” criterion to justify anything supernatural in other religions because all that it requires is that we think that such supernatural beings or forces exist.
But Murray’s explanation does not necessitate believing that the supernatural actually operated in those cults, but only that the beliefs in the supernatural had an effect on historical events. If anything, Murray was known for her speculative rationalizations of some of the supernatural features of witchcraft stories.
In any case, Murray argues that William II was killed in a ritual where a Divine King is sacrificed, much like the Son of God, is sacrificed in Christianity.
Murray’s reference to portents regarding the king’s imminent death are not meant to imply that those portents are real supernatural bits of information, but rather part of ritualized prophecies that come in advance of this sacrifice for believers. Murray believes that William II was part of this pagan cult, and was a willing participant in the sacrifice.
McCullagh himself may be misunderstanding both Murray’s theory, and also Brooke’s rejection of it. Brooke, in fact, rejects Murray’s hypothesis for some of the reasons that have been voiced against the resurrection. Note the following rationale given by Brooke (SNK, p. 185):
To Dr. Murray he [= William II] was a devil-worshipper, as
we have seen; but her positive evidence is of the most scrappy
and circumstantial kind. It is very likely that there were devil-
worshippers in the eleventh century: we have evidence of various
kinds of witchcraft, and the Luciferians, whose rites were described
in detail in the late twelfth century, may have existed a century
earlier. But the Luciferians lived in Germany, and we have
no detailed evidence of black magic or devil worship in the
countries in which William Rufus spent his days. To fill this
gap, Dr. Murray draws on sixteenth and seventeenth- century
evidence. It is from much later sources that she produces the
evidence of doctrine and ritual on which the reconstruction
is based [my underlines].
Note that Brooke demands positive verifiable evidence for the existence of Luciferianism (e.g., the cult that worshipped the pre-Christian Horned God). By that analogy, Christianity would not be able to provide any positive verifiable evidence for the existence supernatural acts at the time of Jesus or even for the worship of Jesus around his lifetime.
In fact, we don’t have any evidence for the existence of Christianity (cf. Luciferianism) in the first century that actually comes from the first century. Yes, many New Testament books are dated to the first century, but the fact remains that there are no manuscripts of those books until the second-fourth centuries.
So, just like Brooke denies the existence of Luciferianism in England at the time of William II, we could also deny the existence of Christianity in the first century on the same basis that no contemporary documents of those phenomena exist. More succincntly:
1. No contemporary records of Luciferianism (= worship of the Horned God) exist in England at the time of William II.
2. No contemporary records of Christianity (= worship of Christ) exist in Palestine during the time of Jesus.
Moreover, Brooke does not simply accept the existence of stories of the supernatural as evidence of the existence of the supernatural for any events related to William II. Therefore, why should Campbell think that Brooke would accept the existence stories of supernatural events related to Jesus as evidence of supernatural occurrences?
So, we could just as easily make these analogous observations about the evidence for the events surrounding William II and Jesus:
1. We have no detailed evidence of black magic or devil worship in the countries in which William Rufus spent his days.
2. We have no detailed evidence of supernatural resurrections or Jesus worship in the countries in which Jesus spent his days.
If, with Brooke, we reject Murray’s hypothesis because there are no contemporary sources to show that William II died as part of a divine sacrifice, why should we believe that Jesus died in the manner described in manuscripts that date some 100-300 years after his death?
Was William II a Christian?
In order to counter Murray's claims, Brooke tries to show that William was not a pagan worshipper, but he also equivocates sometimes. For example, Brooke remarks that William “treated God as he treated his elder brother, with disrespect as often as he dared...the man who accepted the basic tenets of the Church but with distaste...enjoyed blasphemy in open court” (SNK, p. 185). So, how is William a Christian? When explaining why so many church leaders hated William II, Brooke opines:
“She [= Murray] is right, too, in attributing this enmity to his anti-clericalism, his oppression of the church, and his blasphemies. But her explanations of the roots of his attitudes to the Church and of his death seem to me to dwell on fantasy.”
In fact, Brooke agrees that we lack a good explanation of why William so repeatedly blasphemed and carried out actions against the Church even if he does not accept Murray’s explanation. He says (SKK, p. 185): “Her theory can be dismissed as fantasy; but we are still left with the problem of Rufus’ beliefs.”
William’s paganism can certainly explain his anti-clericalism and oppression of the Church, and so Murray’s explanation could satisfy at least two of McCullagh’s criteria (scope and explanatory power).
Brooke also lends credence to Medieval chroniclers who noted that one of William’s characteristic oaths was “By the face of Lucca,” and Murray interprets Lucca to be another name for his pagan deity (e.g. a Latin form of Loki, a Norse god). This would be consistent with someone that followed a non-Christian cult.
The location, timing of William’s death (on August 2, which Murray sees as part of the pagan calendar), and quick confirmation of William’s successor is used by Murray to argue for a pre-arranged divine sacrifice. On the other hand, Brooke uses those same data to argue for a pre-arranged political conspiracy.
More importantly, supernatural causation is not part of the pool of causes that Brooke considers, and that mirrors the situation in the secular academic study of Jesus’ resurrection stories. That is why it is misleading of Campbell to state that Brooke “does not reject the witchcraft hypothesis (advocated by Margaret Murray) because it appeals to the supernatural.”
The supernatural is not even in the pool of causes considered by Brooke in the case of William II, and so Brooke’s NON-USE of the supernatural causes is certainly consistent with the claim that supernatural causes are not normally part of any academic historian’s repertory.
Craig on Consensus
Another criticism of Craig in EOBS centered on his inconsistent use of “consensus” to evaluate the historicity of a theory. My starting point was that Craig’s representation of the sixth criterion (“It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions 1 through 5”) apparently now refers to how much consensus a theory has gained.
Craig elaborates this criterion with this statement: “Down through history various rival explanations have been offered. . . . Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars” (Copan and Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection, p. 37).
I countered that such a consensus criterion depends on which group of “scholars” one regards as authoritative. For example, if one asked a group of Muslim scholars if Muhammad received revelations from God, the consensus would be positive.
More importantly, elsewhere Craig rejects the use of “consensus” as a criterion, something reflected in his approval of historian Morton White’s attack on “historical relativism”:
“White charges that the most dangerous thing about historical relativism is the way in which it can be used to justify historical distortions. The ultimate result of this totalitarian fiddling with the past is envisioned by George Orwell in 1984 . . . 'Whatever the Party holds to be true is truth.'”
Craig, in fact, picks and choose when consensus counts as evidence. For example, in a debate with John Dominic Crossan, the celebrated historical Jesus scholar, Craig argues:
“In summary, there are good historical grounds for affirming that Jesus rose from the dead in confirmation of his radical personal claims. And Dr. Crossan’s denial of this fact is based on idiosyncratic presuppositions which no other serious New Testament critic accepts.”
In the very same paragraph Craig is arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is a credible event because Jesus made “radical” and unique claims that were outside of the consensus of Judaism at the time. On the other hand, Crossan is not credible because he makes claims no other New Testament critic accepts. Uniqueness, therefore, is applied on a pick-and-choose basis.
What is a Party Line?
Campbell responded that my attack on Craig’s inconsistency on consensus was muddled. Campbell states:
“The entire line of reasoning is muddled! Craig’s attack on historical relativism is (partly) based on what may happen if the wrong people become the ‘gate-keepers’ of knowledge. If historical relativism is true, then if, say, a totalitarian regime were to take over the United States and erase George Washington from the collective memory of its people then it would become true to say that ‘there was no such person as George Washington’ simply because the regime told us so. This is one reason why Craig wants to reject historical relativism-judgments in history are to be based on objective facts, evidence, inferences, and so forth, not on the mere assertion of a totalitarian regime (or academy). The consensus of a regime that imposes its views on an unwitting public, then, is a far different matter than the consensus of NT critics who politically and academically free to say whatever they want. Does Avalos really think that respecting the opinions/arguments of the latter logically commits us to respecting the imposition of the former?” [my underlined emphasis]
There are so many things wrong with Campbell’s arguments, that it is difficult to know where to begin. The End of Biblical Studies generally argues that much of biblical scholarship is part of an ecclesial-academic complex, and that many academic biblical scholars are still affiliated with Christian institutions. I also argue that Craig is himself practicing a type of historical relativism in that he applies criteria and “naturalism” inconsistently to his favored claims. Otherwise, here are the main problems with Campbell’s response on this issue:
First, since Crossan and other biblical scholars who deny the historicity of the resurrection are not part of any totalitarian regime, even by Campbell’s criteria, then it is difficult to see why an appeal by Craig to a Party Line, in the sense of something imposed by a totalitarian regime, was even relevant to the discussion.
Second, Craig’s comments on Party Lines were given in the context of his claim that historians distinguish history from propaganda. However, this does not answer the question of whether the resurrection story of Jesus is history or propaganda. After all, the very word “Propaganda” was part of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith), an office of Catholic Church that was charged in 1622 with disseminating its teachings.
Third, the cases Campbell presents are those in which there would still evidence left that does not come from the Party in power. For example, the life of Washington would still be recorded in England or in countries that had dealings with George Washington even if our country decided to erase all traces of Washington here.
On the other hand, ALL of the information usually used to support the historicity of the resurrection comes from one general source: Followers of the Jesus cult. There are no contemporary non-Christians speaking of the resurrection of Jesus, or even attesting to the belief of Christians in a resurrection.
Fourth, Campbell apparently forgets that erasing history is precisely a mainstay of Christian history. For much of the last two thousand years, Catholic and Protestant churches functioned as totalitarian machines that sought to stamp out rival views of God and Jesus by branding opponents as heretics.
Book burning, whose main function is to erase history or opposing teachings, was widely practiced in Christian history. Already in Acts 19:19 were are told: “And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.” Even if Christians are not forcing people to erase their books through burning here, they are seemingly endorsing the practice.
Rival gospels were to be summarily rejected and cursed, not debated, as in Galatians 1:8: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.”
The Orthodox Churches controlled the canon, burned rival scriptures, and persecuted those who disagreed. For example, the following is reported concerning Pope Leo I (440-461):
“And the apocryphal scriptures, which under the names of the Apostles, form a nursery-ground for many falsehoods, are not only to be proscribed, but also taken away altogether and burnt to ashes in the fire” (Philip Schaff, and Henry Wace, eds. [The Nicene and Post-Nice Fathers. Reprint 1997; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans] 12:25)
Martin Luther’s seven-point plan against the Jews included this one: “I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”
When Christians in power were not burning or destroying rival accounts of Jesus, they often changed the text of orthodox scriptures to conform to the scribes’ views. This has been amply documented in Bart Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1993).
Fifth, the existence of anything even akin to a Party Line is still evinced in the number of professors who have been fired or forced to resign when they voiced any dissent from their Christian institution’s party line. A few examples include:
1. Christopher Rollston was forced out of Emmanuel College after writing a Huffington Post article that painted the history of Christianity as sometimes not very friendly to women. See: Rollston controversy.
2. Peter Enns left Westminster Theological Seminary after the ideas expressed in his book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (2005) were judged by some at that institution as incompatible with the articles of faith to which Westminster subscribes. See: Enns and Westminster.
3. Bruce Waltke resigned from Reformed Theological Seminary after making comments interpreted to support evolution. See: Waltke and Evolution.
4. Tremper Longman was disinvited from Reformed Theological Seminary after expressing doubts about the historicity of Adam and Eve. See: See: Longman disinvited.
On the other hand, I don’t know of ANY scholars who have been fired from a public secular university for expressing belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
So, how “academically free” are scholars in institutions subscribing to articles of faith in the resurrection? The reality is that it is Christian institutions that have controlled biblical studies until very recently, and Christian institutions routinely disemployed, persecuted, or killed scholars who disagreed with what was thought to be orthodox, whether this was Arius in the fourth century, Galileo in the seventeenth, or Peter Enns in the twenty-first.
Even if today’s scholars have more freedom, they are mostly using sources that were preserved by a totalitarian system of information, which from the earliest attested documents segregated “true” accounts from “untrue” accounts of Jesus, not necessarily on the basis of history but on the basis of theology.
Despite its many positive aspects, Travis James Campbell’s response to The End of Biblical Studies is ultimately unsuccessful. Craig’s use of C. Behans McCullagh's criteria does not support the historicity of the resurrection. Here are the main points:
-My claim still stands that McCullagh DOES NOT believe that the resurrection passes all of his tests. He explicitly said so in Justifying Historical Descriptions, and he expands on this assertion in his critique of Licona’s book.
-Craig believes that the resurrection of Jesus does pass all of McCullagh’s criteria.
-Therefore, either Craig misunderstands McCullagh’s criteria, or McCullagh misapplies or misunderstands his own criteria.
- In McCullagh’s most recent article on the resurrection, he particularly rejects Craig’s analogy between the unobservable entities posited by science and the supernatural entities posited by Craig.
-In fact, McCullagh’s recent article has clarified “that a theological account of the disciples’ experiences of the risen Jesus is better understood as an interpretation, not an explanation, of those experiences” (McCullagh, "The Resurrection of Jesus," p. 42).
- Craig is wrong to state that the resurrection of Jesus requires “ONLY ONE new supposition: that God exists” [my capitals]. In fact, such a conclusion requires many more, including that God wanted to raise Jesus from the dead or anyone else.
-Campbell uses terms like “existing knowledge” without clear definition, and overlooks that many of the features of the resurrection story cannot be classified as “existing knowledge.”
- Campbell, in particular, has misunderstood Murray’s theory of the occult, and he wrongly believes that Brooke is vetting a supernatural theory to explain William II’s death. Brooke did not consider Murray’s theory to be a supernatural explanation, and Brooke follows standard historical methods that do not even consider the supernatural as part of our pool of known causes that can be used to explain the past. This misunderstanding raises the question of whether Campbell actually read all of the sources (e.g., Murray’s book) he was discussing or using as evidence.
-Both Craig and Campbell further confuse the issue by misidentifying the proper objects of explanation, which are the STORIES of a resurrection and empty tomb, and NOT the supposed resurrection and the empty tomb themselves.
-The fact remains that I (and Craig and Campbell, to my knowledge) have NEVER observed a supernatural phenomenon causing the origin of a supernatural claim IN ANY STORY. Supernatural causes or phenomena are NOT EXISTING KNOWLEDGE when explaining resurrection stories.
Finally, and given that we have existing knowledge of natural causes that can produce stories of resurrections even when they do not happen, both Craig and Campbell still fail to offer us a reason to use supernatural causes to explain the stories of Jesus’ resurrection.