Dr. Hector Avalos Comments on his Debate with Dr. William Lane Craig

Atheism Sucks has a post deriding Avalos in his debate with Craig. Here is his response...
I greatly hate to disappoint you, but your post contains mainly unsubstantiated claims, and some egregious errors in basic research.

A basic tenet of good research is that you at least check the primary sources. What you have done is to regurgitate comments by Dr. Craig about my previous debate with Dr. Rubel Shelly in 1998, and then assumed that they are correct.

If I am wrong, then could you tell me whether you actually checked the Rubel Shelly debate before you wrote your post?

It is true that I asked Dr. Shelly, in that 1998 debate, to identify some manuscripts of the NT. I did so because HE HAD USED THEM AS PART OF HIS EVIDENCE for the reliability of the NT text. More specifically, he had made the claim that we now had “complete” manuscripts of the NT, and he gave p66 and p75 as examples. He stated:
“Within the last few years, the Bodmer Library of Geneva published an entire copy of the Gospel of John (p66) that dates from about A.D. 200...The entire text of the Gospels of Luke and John, dating from between A.D. 175 and 225, have been published by the Bodmer Library (p75)." (Source: Rubel Shelly, Prepare To Answer [1990], p. 139)

Thus, I expected that he, as a good scholar, would have at least checked to see if his claim was accurate. So I displayed a picture of these manuscripts on the screen before the audience, and asked him if he knew what they were. He did not.

I asked him if they looked complete, even if he did not know what they were. He said that they did not appear complete. Indeed, P75 is not complete, and is quite fragmentary at some points.

Thus, I had most effectively refuted his claim for the audience. Now, could you explain why this would constitute “misconduct” rather than good old-fashioned debating skills?

Indeed, Shelly fared so badly in that debate and his credentials as a biblical scholar were so thoroughly damaged that Craig was brought to Iowa State in 2004 to “bring me down,” as they say. But, as you can see, I am still here and thriving.

Second, Dr. Craig completely misrepresented the availability of the manuscripts. Copies and photos of these manuscripts are a standard part of almost any handbook on NT textual criticism and in some Bible encyclopedias. That also means you are truly a very badly misinformed amateur if you don’t know this.

Some of the copies I displayed came from Jack Finegan’s, Encountering New Testament Manuscripts: A Working Introduction to Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1974), p. 105.

So, it is not true that you have to go to some vault to see them. Photos are good enough to see whether the manuscripts are complete or not.

I must say that I also found your evaluation of the debate to be meaningless because you are in no position to evaluate some of arguments that were made in that debate. For example, you refer readers to “Part 2-Dr. Craig whips Hector.” That can only be said by someone that does not know biblical studies or Aramaic very well.

Dr. Craig began quite strongly, but ended quite weakly. His closing statement was used to concede, at least twice, that he had made repeated mistakes in his Aramaic as represented in his book, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus...).

Dr. Craig tried to minimize these as “quibbles,” but that minimization is of no use for those who have read how much at least one of his arguments depends on Aramaic.

If you read his Reasonable Faith (p. 275), you will see that he tries to date Mark to the time of the disciples by using the supposed Galilean Aramaic phrase in Mark 16:2 (“on the first day of the week”). He then uses Mark’s supposed direct tie to the disciples’ time to support his FACT 1 (Jesus was buried) and FACT 2 (empty tomb).

What he does not tell readers, and what he was trying to get away with at the debate, is that he was passing off non-Galilean and late, or even Medieval, Aramaic texts as first century Galilean Aramaic.

I would hope you see that this is neither good scholarship nor very honest scholarship---not to mention the fact that it makes one of his supporting evidences for his FACT 1 and FACT 2 completely bogus.

He had another misrepresentation in regard to Josephus. Note what he said:
“We learn from Josephus that James was eventually martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ during a lapse in the civil government in the mid 60s." Source: Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, eds. Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press 2000) p. 190.

Compare this with what Josephus actually says, according to a standard edition of Josephus.
“Ananus thought he had a favorable opportunity...And so he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned.” Source: Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XX.200-201. Edition and Translation of L. H. Feldman (Loeb Classical Library: Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), pp. 106-109.

So where is the part about James being “martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ?” Of course, it is not there. Josephus says that James was the brother of Jesus, not that James died for his brother Jesus.

Craig injects his idea of what Josephus should have said. And then he uses this invented tradition to buttress his FACT 4 (the origin of the disciples’ belief). Similar misrepresentations or outright errors permeate his support of every single one of his 4 FACTS.

Indeed, this sort of shoddy scholarship is really one reason why Dr. Craig is not regarded as much of a scholar outside of his narrow circle of apologists. His function is more to comfort believers than to convert those non-believers who actually know the primary sources well.

I also do not think that Dr. Craig capitalized on his supposed expertise in philosophy. His supposed refutation of “naturalism” seemed to be quite inconsistent once I pointed out that he is quite a naturalist when it comes to the religious claims of other religions, and even to the claim of resurrections in Matthew 27:52-53.

Maybe you can explain to me why he won’t call the resurrections in Matthew 27:52-53 “a fact,” but calls the resurrection claim in Mark 16:6 a “fact.” He certainly did not or could not explain the differences.

So I suppose you will have to be more specific as to where in the audio tape “Dr. Craig whipped Hector” or what specific argument you regard as a refutation of my epistemology or a refutation of the claim that theological propositions cannot be verified.

In fact, if Dr. Craig is the best that the Christian apologetic side could muster, then February 5, 2004 was not good day for apologetics. It showed yet another apologist who was not only quite ineffective against an atheist biblical scholar, but also one who had to virtually admit that his knowledge of primary sources and languages is not really up to standard.

As I said, I am still here and thriving even more after that debate.

Please note also that Dr. Craig might have told an outright falsehood when he said (closing remarks) that his Aramaic mistakes were due to “printer’s errors” (Yes, please listen to that audio carefully).

But, his book (Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus...) was prepared as camera-ready copy, which is not subject to printer’s errors if that means mistakes generated when a publisher retyped or reset Dr. Craig’s manuscript.

Camera-ready means that a publisher simply photocopies what Dr. Craig provides. Nonetheless, I checked with his publisher who sent the following e-mail response on Feb. 10, 2004:
"Manuscripts presented to The Edwin Mellen Press are required to be 'camera-ready'. Absolutely NO changes are made in the manuscript from the original presented to our office by the author/editor. We print directly from the original hard copy. There is NO possibility of 'printer's errors' within the text. Any errors are the responsibility of the author/editor."

Mistakes are one thing. Everybody, including myself makes them. Telling lies or untruths about your mistakes is another thing, especially if it means that the Christian apologist is supposed to be more ethical and committed to truth than the atheist scholar.

So it looks as if Dr. Craig will have to explain what he meant by “printer’s errors” or admit that he was not truthful.

That in itself will speak volumes about his credibility, especially with amateurs like yourself who do not have the scholarly equipment to verify much of anything he is saying anyway.

So, yes, check out Part 2 of that Craig-Avalos debate, and get back to me on the issues I posed above. Specifically, please answer the following questions if you would be so kind:

1. Did you listen to the Shelly debate, or were you just parroting what Dr. Craig said about the Shelly debate at the time you wrote your post?

2. What specifically constitutes misconduct in my refutation of Dr. Shelly’s knowledge of manuscripts HE CITED AS EVIDENCE?

3. Have you read Dr. Shelly’s book, Prepare to Answer...?

4. How would you describe the honesty and integrity of a person, who repeats things others say without checking the primary sources?

5. Do you think it is proper for a scholar to represent late or even Medieval Aramaic as first century Galilean Aramaic?

6. Do you know Aramaic?

7. Could you determine why Dr. Craig says that he had printer’s errors in his book when his publisher indicates printer’s errors are not possible when simply photocopying what Dr. Craig gives them?

8. Could you tell me why Dr. Craig does not believe in the historicity of the resurrections reported in Matthew 27:52-53?

9. Do you believe in the historicity of the resurrections reported in Matthew 27:52-53? Why or why not?