The logical fallacies of William Lane Craig
Christian apologist and debater, William Lane Craig, says that a sound argument must a) be logically valid, and b) its premises must be true. This is indeed, a good definition of a deductive philosophical argument.
WLC violates a) by making numerous logical fallacies. He also violates b) by making many assumptions, some of which are outright false, and some of which are unproven. As my refutation articles discuss some of his assumptions, we shall now shift our focus to the sorts of logical fallacies WLC employs.
Argument from ignorance
This logical fallacy asserts that a proposition is true because it hasn’t been proven false (or vice versa). Used by WLC and most religious believers, and is commonly used in the idea of a “god of the gaps”. For example, “We don’t know how earthquakes appear, so god did it. We know this is true, because you can’t disprove it.”
WLC often commits this fallacy when he says that as his opponent hasn’t proven atheism true (see the next logical fallacy), he sees no reason to reject Christianity. This example also demonstrates the false dichotomy, another logical fallacy. This type of argument sets up a false situation with only two options (i.e. Christianity vs. Craig's caricatured version of atheism. What about other religions and non-religions?), and is often used to shift the burden of proof.
Shifting the burden of proof
The burden of proof lies with the one making the positive assertion. It is not up to the non-believer to disprove every claim people make. In the case of god, apologists will often claim that the non-believer must prove that their god doesn’t exist. This is virtually impossible to do, and is highly unreasonable. It is also hypocritical. A Christian for example, like WLC, asks the freethinker to disprove his god, yet hasn’t made any attempt to disprove all other possible gods (including Thor, Zeus, Allah, or the millions of Hindu gods).
Is it reasonable to expect someone to disprove dragons, fairies, and the flying spaghetti monster too? Didn’t think so.
This is where an unnecessary middle man is employed, which potentially causes infinite regress. WLC and other believers commit this logical fallacy when they claim that the universe MUST have been created, and that god MUST have created it. If the universe had to have been created and the creator was god, then why can’t god have been created? See the hypocrisy? And if god had a creator, who created this creator? And so forth.
Attacking a straw man is where one misrepresents the opponent's position and creates the illusion of refuting the position. A favorite of WLC. I suspect that he knows how rational atheism is, so in order to create the illusion of defeating atheism in his debates, he gives his own definition. He states that atheism is a BELIEF that there is definitely no god out there. He then attacks this position and shifts the burden of proof. This is not what atheism is (it is simply the lack of belief in the theistic god/s) and he got caught out with this in his debate with Christopher Hitchens.
Craig also showed shades of the pot calling the kettle black when he accused Hitchens of trying to re-define atheism (when it is actually Craig who is attempting to re-define atheism), as some sort of a-theism. Hitchens calmly responded, "that's what it means"... Oh Bill Craig, you do day the darndest things!
A favorite of WLC and other fundamentalists. I should know, I was one and loved it. Although we know that the Bible is incredibly allegorical and ambiguous, and has undergone many revisions, we somehow feel confident in choosing which bits we can take as literal, and which are… well, not literal… Convenient!
For example, verses to do with Jesus’ resurrection just HAVE to be literal, while verses about zombies roaming the streets in Jerusalem soon after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53) just HAVE to be non-literal. Differing interpretations of various Bible passages has played a massive role in the schism of the Christian faith. Maybe they should stop cherry-picking.
Cherry picking also comes in the guise of constantly throwing the “god is love” type verses at potential converts, while totally ignoring the verses that show how god delights in burning animal fat, and in spilling the blood of pagans. And they tend to ignore how David (a supposed ancestor of Jesus) chopped off 200 foreskins to present to King Saul in order to buy Saul’s daughter.
No true Scotsman
The classic example is where a Scotsman reads an article about an Englishman who committed a horrendous crime. He says with confidence that no Scotsman would ever do such a thing. The next day, he reads an almost identical article, but this time the perpetrator is a Scotsman. His response?
“No TRUE Scotsman would so such a thing!”
Religious believers (WLC included) tend to use this whenever non-believers cite any example of religious atrocities such as the Inquisition and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When all that is required for salvation is simply for someone to call out to Jesus, WLC has no right to claim that the Conquistadors were “not REAL Christians”.
Keep in mind; many religious crimes actually are justified by the Bible, which clearly condones slavery, sexism, racism and homophobia.
This is where an analogy is made that really has no relevance to the issue at hand. The classic religious/WLC example is the watchmaker analogy. i.e. The universe is like a watch. The watch had a designer. Therefore, the universe had a designer.
Why is this a false analogy? The universe is nothing like a watch! And we KNOW that the watch had a human designer. We may as well conclude that as a watch can be worn on WLC’s wrist, so too can the universe be worn on WLC’s wrist… Though his ego might be, I assure you, William Lane Craig is not that big.
Appeal to authority
One of my favorites. So and so said such and such, so such and such MUST be true! For best results, combine with cherry-picking! WLC loves to use cosmologists’ quotes, and cares not if they are taken out of context or were later discarded by the author. WLC loves to use scholarly opinion to backup one of his beliefs, yet is happy to ignore the same Bible scholar when he/she says that the Bible is virtually full of myth.
It is also debatable if Bible scholarship really adds anything to academia. A Bible scholar for example is not a scientist. Any fool (I know, I was one) can read the Bible and claim to be a Bible scholar. Any fundamentalist can add a few letters after their name and call himself/herself a 'scholar'. As Dr Avalos pointed out, this is a field in crisis.
At the end of the day, the opinion of someone with authority means nothing. What matters is the evidence. But of course, if WLC had evidence, he wouldn’t need to make such appeals… And as a side note, if the case for Jesus was so iron-clad, mainstream biblical scholars wouldn't need to 'create' the sources they don't have (a topic for another day).
Appeal to emotion
This is especially disgraceful, and is used by WLC and many believers. “Jesus died for you, at least pay him the respect he deserves by believing in him, and by obeying us!” is a nice guilt-ridden trip down memory lane for this former Catholic. Ahhhh, memories…
WLC appeals to our emotions in his argument on objective morality. He tries to demonize atheists who believe in relative morality by saying that rape, genocide and child abuse really is objectively wrong. He states that atheists have no real reason for saying rape is wrong. Despite making such highly offensive and irrelevant accusations (as well as unjustifiable assumptions), he seems to forget that his own Bible has a lot of horrendous things to say regarding rape, genocide and child abuse.
Ad hominem attacks
Attacking the person rather than the argument. One case might be that so and so once did/said such and such, so we can’t trust what he says about anything (a bit of poisoning the well going on too). i.e. President Bush once smoked marijuana, so he will make a terrible president. Okay, bad example, but you get the point. An example by WLC is when he stated that if Dr. Hector Avalos believed ABC, it would contradict Dr. Avalos’ previous book, XYZ.
WLC is a big fan of these, and the related tu quoque fallacy ("you do it too!"). In his debate with Dr Hector Avalos, he spent a large portion of his opening statement outlining how Avalos supposedly mistreated a third party in a previous debate. Avalos did defend himself, but this was unnecessary and was thoroughly atrocious behavior.
Appeal to the people/majority
This is an argument that says that since so many people believe something, it MUST be true. Absolutely ridiculous. Truth is truth even if nobody believed it, and a lie is a lie even if everyone believed it. Though I love democracy, truth is like a dictatorship. We all don't want to believe in human-caused climate change, but c'mon people! Dayum!
WLC loves appealing to the people, in various ways. He uses the 'fact' that there was an explosion in Christian belief in the early days of the church (itself highly debatable) as evidence that Christianity MUST be true. Consider this: there will one day be more Muslims that Christians, does that make Islam the true faith? Consider also: there are far more non-Christians in the world than Christians, does that make 'non-Christianity' the true faith/position?
This one kind of explains itself. Circular reasoning, which is related to another favorite of Craig's, begging the question (unproven or even unstated premises are relied upon), is an attempt to provide evidence for the validity of an assertion, which assumes the validity of the assertion. Sound crazy? It is, that's why it's a logical fallacy...
For me, the classic WLC example is how he uses the alleged resurrection of Jesus as evidence that his god exists. He says that it is virtually certain that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, because god did it. Presumably, in order for god to do this, he must exist. WLC is therefore telling us that god's existence is proven by Jesus' resurrection. And WLC knows with certainty that Jesus was resurrected, because god did it... Jesus!
What hypocrisy. For a person who stresses the need for logic, WLC sure delights in using logical fallacies. This is how he 'wins' debates? By hitting below the belt (I hope that wasn’t a false analogy)? Why must he use such dirty tactics? Could it be because he really doesn’t have any decent evidence? One would think that with god’s guidance, and a multitude of evidence, logical fallacies would be unnecessary in trying to convince non-believers that god exists. God could just 'show up' and put the matter to rest, after all. Why make the job of Craig and his other followers so unnecessarily difficult?
As a Christian (I am happy to call myself a Christian atheist or a cultural Christian – a topic for another day), I also feel compelled to say that his behavior in debates is extremely un-Christian.
We humble atheists don’t want to destroy people’s hopes and dreams. Many of us (myself included) have experienced the pain involved in de-converting. We just want to prevent more cases of religious people flying planes into buildings, committing suicide bombings, changing our laws, holding back science, teaching rubbish in our schools, keeping back civil liberties and progress, discriminating against non-believers and believers of other faiths, etc.
We demand that if people like William Lane Craig wants to do such things, that he justifies his position with evidence. Using logical fallacies when evidence is lacking, doesn’t help prove his case.
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