Tuesday, February 19, 2008

William Lane Craig and Kettle Logic

Willaim Lane Craig debated Bart Ehrman in 2006. I read the transcript soon after this debate ocurred, and just recently listened to it since the audio has become available.

Ehrman brilliantly exposed in Craig what I've heard Robert Price refer to as "Kettle Logic." That is, it doesn't matter if the arguments are consistent with one another. All that matters is that they are pointed at the same target. It would go like this. Suppose I'd borrowed your kettle and I had broken it. When you ask me about it I say "It was broken when I borrowed it, plus it was too weak to hold anything and broke on its own when I filled it, and besides I never borrowed your kettle in the first place." Clearly I'm responsible and will grab any argument to extract myself even if one argument is not consistent with another.

Ehrman exposed this well when he said the following:
But in his own writings he indicates that Mark has a sparse narrative of Jesus being buried and since it's an unembellished narrative, as he calls it, it's more likely then to be historical. I want to know if he still thinks that; that an unembellished tradition is more likely to be historical. Because if that is true, then I want him to tell us whether he thinks that Matthew's more embellished tradition is unhistorical. This is comparable to his comment a few minutes ago that the earliest traditions all agree on something, so we don't have to worry about the later ones. Well, then, tell us, do you think that the later ones are unhistorical?

The Markan passion narrative is more reliable because it is unembellished. That's because unembellished accounts are more reliable and embellished accounts are less reliable. That's a great argument for Craig when it is useful for proving the reliability of Mark. Unfortunately it's not so great for Craig when the same argument is applied to Matthew. But it doesn't matter that this argument is inconsistent with Craig's other opinions. What matters is that it serves Craig's purpose at the moment.

Here is how Craig answered this question in his following rebuttal.

Dr. Ehrman also says, "Is it true that unembellished narratives are more likely to be historical?" I would say yes. This is what his own wish list included, that the earlier the narrative the better. Similarly, the less embellished has a better claim to historical credibility.

This response is pure smokescreen. He's entirely altered the question so that he can defend what is not in dispute. In my mind this was a big score for Ehrman and helped push him to a near draw in the overall debate, or perhaps a close victory.

But Craig scored a rhetorical victory during the debate by once again embracing kettle logic. This time he temporarily embraced a mathematicians tool, only to abandon it when it didn't suit him. That will be the subject of my next post.


Steven Carr said...

Kettle logic is useful sometimes.

Suppose Craig was arrested for the assassination of JFK because it was claimed that a gun had been found with Craig's fingerprints on it.

What defense could there be?

1) No gun has been produced. It is only claimed there is a gun.

2) The claim doesn't even say the fingerprints correspond to somebody holding the gun in a position to fire.

3) Even if the claim is true, there is nothing to show that the gun has been fired.

4) Even if further evidence came to light showing that Craig did have a gun and it had been fired, nothing links this to Dallas 1963


Kettle logic is useful, depending upon the size of the leap made from premise to conclusion.

The leap that there is a claim of a gun being found with Craig's fingerprints to the conclusion 'Craig killed Kennedy' is so big that kettle logic is useful.

The same applies to apologetic claims that Matthew claims Jews told stories of guards claiming the disciples had stolen the body while they slept, so the empty tomb tales are true.

There are so many things wrong with Matthew's claim that kettle logic is just as appropriate as in the case of my claim that people are covering up the killing of JFK by Craig by denying that there is a gun with Craig's fingerprints on it.

Jon said...

Well, it is useful. I grant that. Useful in tricking people into thinking things that make no sense. Craig has this story about how a rational person could come to believe in the resurrection. But he doesn't care that methods he uses to establish one part of the story fundamentally undermine other essential aspects of the story. That's because this story has nothing to do really with why he believes the resurrection. And I think he's admitted as much. Really this is about his personal experience, and these evidences are just tools to try and persuade others to accept the story, which he truly accepts on quite different grounds.

You're right that mutually exclusive claims can form a rational part of an argument. For instance during this debate Ehrman posited a couple of different plausible explanations of the data that he thought better explained the facts and were more likely than a resurrection. They were mutually exclusive. What I'm talking about is basic special pleading. One standard when I like the conclusion in one area, a different standard when I don't like the conclusion in another area.

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