Unplugging the Robo-Craig 5000

One rainy afternoon, Johnny ventured to explore the attic and came across a dusty old bin buried under a mound of discarded boxes. Flashlight in hand, he managed to open the box, discovering a garbled collection of old toys, his father’s childhood companions.

“Daddy, daddy,” Johnny cried, awkwardly making his way down the attic ladder, one toy in hand, “What is this?”

“Why that’s my old Robo-Craig 5000, Johnny. Let’s plug him in and see what happens.”

His father took the toy figure from Johnny’s hand, attempted to dust it off, and plugged in the worn extension cord protruding from his back.

“Jesus under fire! Jesus under fire!” exclaimed Robo-Craig. “Position more radical than Borg!” “Lüdemann, Crossan, Lüdemann . Borg. Borg. Borr rr…” Robo-Craig sputtered to a halt.

“What’s he saying, father?”

“Those were some of his old play-friends, Johnny.”

Johnny shrugged. Disinterested, the boy sped off to program a science brainPop mod on his Android device.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Last week, apparently, someone went and plugged in the Robo-Craig 5000, and, this time, he addressed the Debunking Christianity crew (Hector Avalos, David Madison, and me), and someone pressed [record]:

Podcast and transcript here

I must say, I found it something of a novelty to learn that this relic of the American evangelical apologetic tradition, running off his old, worn scripts, has taken aim at the D.C. bunch. By all appearances, he did not have more than 5 minutes to prepare for the podcast. So, he fell back on the tired arguments of 20-30 years ago, citing bygone figures no longer recognized as leading authorities in the discourse (e.g., Borg? Lüdemann? Crossan?). We’ll get back to that.

Over the last 30 years, William L. Craig has devised to stake out a career as an apologist of conservative Christian belief and ideology. Craig’s primary methodology has been to render the views of his opponents as academically radical or illegitimate by referencing known scholars (whom he falsely regards as “liberal”) who appear to disagree with his opponents. He regularly constructs what he deems the center of the discourse, appealing to the alleged authority of “mainstream” positions to show his opponents to be wildly out of step with the academic world. The discipline of rhetorical studies rightly judges this type of argumentation as fallacious: argumentum ad auctoritatem et argumentum ad populum. His “center” or “mainstream,” moreover, arises as a false medium within a spectrum largely comprised of faith-based participants, not solely genuine secular academicians. Craig has a gallery of pop-scholars he regularly invokes as demarking what he contrives as the limits of legitimate discourse: Crossan, Borg, Lüdemann, etc., predominantly pop-writers most relevant last century. This tactic affords him light preparation for his “debates” insofar as Craig does not need to wade into the deep waters of contemporary scholarship about which he claims expertise.

The striking irony we observe here is that Craig himself exists at the radical fringe of the biblical studies discourse, nearly never quoted or granted scholarly legitimation in the secular (i.e., mainstream) academic world. Ergo, his most handy mode of argumentation, when honestly applied back upon himself, only exposes Craig’s patent irrelevance in the field. Despite his diplomas, Craig is not recognized as a scholar by the biblical studies academic community, but as what he indeed is, a pop-writer and evangelical stuntman. Would the University of Birmingham or the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich claim him today? Most humanistic institutions of higher learning reasonably avoid association or affiliation with faith-motivated pop-speakers and writers.

Looking specifically at his wild swing at my D.C. essay “Liar, Lunatic, or Legend,” one finds Craig following his signature script. First, he mischaracterizes my work, asserting that I do not think that a man “Jesus” ever existed as a historical figure, i.e., that I am a mythicist. Had he bothered to spend 5 minutes reading any of my book, he would know that I, like most secular New Testament scholars, admit that a man named "Jesus" existed, yet see the New Testament narratives as comprised of heavy amounts of myth, legend, and romantic embellishment. The historical Jesus, in my view, was all but irrelevant to the composition of the New Testament Gospels. Instead of attempting a scholarly argument rooted in a study of the modal and generic signals of ancient historiography and biography, citing appropriate experts in ancient literature such as Hägg, Whitmarsh (on my diss committee), Temmerman, and Demoen, Craig turns to pop names that once served as liberal “scarecrow” symbols in the evangelical mind, Borg, Lüdemann, Crossan, bygone figures truly irrelevant to the topic. Were this an undergraduate essay, Craig would already have earned an F. Comparing my brief blog article to Craig’s response, one observes a gaping hole: Craig neglects to address my central argument as delivered in the lengthy quotation I provided from my own book at the end.

Synopsis of the Craig podcast:

  1. Miller is a mythicist (false)
  2. Mythicism lands outside of the boundaries of credible scholarship (also false)
  3. The Gospels and Acts were written and read as historiography (false, unsupported)

I would find it adorable if not pathetic that Craig has picked a fight with three seasoned experts in biblical studies, people whose training and academic recognition far outstrip his own. I look forward to hearing what Dr. Madison and Dr. Avalos may add to this discussion.