Dr. Craig vs Dr. Ehrman on the Resurrection of Jesus

Over at Victor Repert's Blog there has been quite a discussion about the release of the transcript of the debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman on the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. It's now been released and you can read it here.

It sure seems to me like Craig is still the master debater. I really liked Ehrman's opening statement, but I think Craig forced him to "play his game" rather than develop his own strategy. While I agree with Ehrman, it just seems to me that in order to debate the resurrection someone needs to spend so much time giving the audience a foundation to one's argument that he can't effectively argue against the resurrection in a 2 hour debate, especially against Craig, who does it all of the time.

I've commented on Craig's first rebuttal here.


Zachary Moore said...


Maybe you can answer this question, given your experience with Dr. Craig:

I thought that the weakest moments of the debate were when Dr. Craig presented his pre-planned attack on Ehrman involving the discussion of statistical calculus. Now, this may have played out more sympathetically live, but on paper it just looks stupid. Does Dr. Craig have a sufficient grasp of statistics to really make sense of that argument, or not? Because in all honesty, it looked like he was just pulling that stuff right out of his ass. I would have been more favorable towards it if he would have supplied some actual numbers and calculations, or at least I could have appraised it adequately. But I suspect that he was just loaned that argument by someone else (Dembski? Who else plays with statistics that weirdly?) and didn't know how to really back it up. Especially since Ehrman addressed the idea of probability of his naturalistic explanations, and Dr. Craig just ignored him.

What are your thoughts on this?

Daniel said...

Craig credits Swinburne on p. 32. I wrote about it elsewhere, and had a nice exchange with my atheist group advisor (an atheist philosophy prof), who greatly respects Swinburne. If you want to know more about it, I suggest skimming the post. As I pointed out there, assigning numbers as Swinburne did, and Craig parroted, is completely arbitrary and silly.

Also, I am fairly certain that logically-independent events have multiplicative probabilities in analysis, so in starting with a 50% chance that God exists, as Swinburne does, the most likely possibility of anything which follows is 50%. Silly.

Kaffinator said...

Craig was not trying to mathematically prove the resurrection. He only brought up the probability stuff to rebut Ehrman’s one-dimensional analysis of “what is probable”. Take note how Ehrman defines the work of the historian: “Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past.” Then he defines miracles as events that are “so highly improbable that they’re the least possible occurrence in any given instance.” And concludes, “There cannot be historical probability for an event that defies probability, even if the event did happen.”

I want to repeat that: “even if the event did happen.” He is basically saying if a highly improbable event actually occurred, and was accompanied by a truly enormous amount of attesting evidence, a historian would necessarily have to believe a more probable explanation exists, even if he couldn’t describe one and there was no historical evidence for it. If Ockham’s razor always prefers the simpler explanation, Ehrman’s razor always prefers the more probable one.

Craig pointed out two problems with this. First, Ehrman’s rules for determining what is probable are completely arbitrary. How can he say whether the resurrection of God’s own Son is probable or not, without imposing theological assumptions?

Second, Craig pointed out that Ehrman fails to look at the impact of supporting evidence on our determination of the chances of an event having occurred. He walked through the math in order to show: “[Ehrman] just ignores all of the other factors. And that’s just mathematically fallacious.”

Take for example the odds that I will draw a straight flush in five card stud. The odds of this happening are about one in 72 thousand. If I say to Dr. Ehrman, “I was playing poker with some friends last night and drew a straight flush!” he might respond with skepticism. But then if I show him the money I won, and he interviews someone who played against me and confirms the event, he ought to concede that there is a higher probability than 1 in 72k that the event happened. But Ehrman’s razor does not allow this. Even video tape footage does not convince because it is more likely than 1:72k that I simply paid someone to doctor the footage. No matter what evidence I bring, the original odds remain vanishingly small, and Ehrman’s razor always concludes that the event never happened.

For another example, it is highly unlikely that grubby undisciplined colonials would ever defeat the world’s greatest superpower. Because it is more likely that Americans lost the revolutionary war, as a historian the only safe conclusion is that we are still a colony of Great Britain. Any evidence that this improbable event occurred can be waved away because an explanation for that data might exist. It seems more likely that the colonial leaders and the British leaders secretly agreed to make it look like the Brits lost than that they actually did, so we must prefer that explanation even if we don’t have any evidence for it at all.

Absurd, isn’t it! Yet this is just the kind of thinking Ehrman employs when he says, maybe Jesus had a twin! Or, because a disciple didn’t like where Jesus was buried, and for this reason chose to risk their lives for a dead guy, stole into his guarded tomb somehow, inexplicably stripped Jesus of his burial clothes, attempted to run off with his mutilated body, and were silently caught and killed by a different set of Roman soldiers for no particularly good reason, and then were quietly disposed of leaving no trace. This is not history. It is fantasy, papered over with an “isn’t this more probable” fa├žade. Well, it might have been more probable if there was any evidence for these explanations whatsoever. But there isn’t any. If any rule governs the historian, it is that he must deal with the evidence at hand rather than fabricate outlandish alternatives out of thin air.

Steven Carr said...

' If I say to Dr. Ehrman, “I was playing poker with some friends last night and drew a straight flush!” he might respond with skepticism.'

How about 'I was playing poker with some friends last night and an angel appeared and gavem me a staright flush.'

How would producing an amount of money prove that?

And, of course, Galatians 6:12 makes clear that Christian leaders did their best to avodi persecution for the cross (NB not resurrection) of Christ.

And the leaders of Christianity avoided persucution by compromising on the issue of circumcision (NB not resurrection)

And the earliest Christians simply did not believe in the resurrection of the flesh. 'All flesh is grass' says 1 Peter. 'The last Adma became a life-giving spirit' says Paul, And the Christian converts in Thessalonica and Corinth thought the dead were lost, because they could not see how a dead corpse could rise. Presumably they had never heard of a corpse rising.

Steven Carr said...

'Deal with the evidence at hand'?

Craig ducked the question of other miracles.

The 'evidence' of other miracles seems just as strong as the evidence for the miracles of Jesus :-

Josephus's 'Wars of the Jews' was written with ten years of the events , by a direct participant , and he records eyewitness testimony - 'I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it' . He is referring to a heifer giving birth to a lamb in the middle of the Temple.

Does Craig believe a cow gave birth to a lamb, in a work written within ten years of the event?

Surely this is just as well attested as the raising of the widow of Nain's son.

In the 'Histories' by Tacitus, he records that the Emperor Vespasian cured blindness with spittle and cured lameness. Tacitus writes ' Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.'

Does Craig believe Tacitus's reports, based on eyewitness testimony, and attributed by him to the god Serapis?

Does Craig believe Tacitus is just as reliable an historian when talking about Jesus, as when he was talking about Vespasian?

In Mark 8:23-26, Jesus cures blindness, partly by spitting on someone's eyes. Does Craig believe him?

In the Histories, Tacitus also records that a priest of the god Serapis, Basilides, was seen by Vespasian in the Temple, although Vespasian knew , and checked by sending horsemen to verify, that a moment earlier Basilides had been in a town some eighty miles distant.

Does Craig believe Tacitus, reporting the eyewitness testimony of the hard-headed Emperor/Soldier Vespasian?

In Acts 8:39-40, Philip was 'caught up' (same verb as in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul is 'caught up' into the third heaven) on the road to Gaza and reappears at Azotus.

Does Craig believe Philip, like the pagan priest Basilides, transported from place to place like a character from Star Trek?

And, of course, the evidence for these pagan miracles is much stronger than the evidence for the miracles of Jesus, which can be refuted using exactly the same methods of dealing with the evidence that Chriatians use when talking about the Koran or the Book of Mormon.

See m article 'Miracles and the Book of Mormon' http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm where I use Christian techniques to analyse the New Testament miracles.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Steven,

> How about 'I was playing poker with some friends last night and an angel appeared and [gave] me a [straight] flush.' ¶ How would producing an amount of money prove that?

You have completely missed the point of my analogy.

> And, of course, Galatians 6:12 makes clear that Christian leaders did their best to avoid persecution for the cross (NB not resurrection) of Christ.

Then you’ll have to reject 2 Timothy 2:8 and Acts 4:1-2 as evidence that early Christians such as Peter, John, and Paul were persecuted for their affirmation of a Christ “risen from the dead”.

> ‘Deal with the evidence at hand'? ¶ Craig ducked the question of other miracles.

They weren’t the topic under debate.

> Does Craig believe Tacitus's reports, based on eyewitness testimony, and attributed by him to the god Serapis?

I don’t know, why don’t you propose a debate with him on that topic? This debate was about the historical evidence for the resurrection.

paul said...

I usually find myself looking at how something is said in addition to what is said. I think some here may wonder that seems the only drum I have to beat. The way I see it, there are many fine minds here who usually make great points about what is said better than I could, so bear with me please. I believe pointing out the discrepancies of behavior is a valid part of debunking Christianity, since "Christian" originally meant "little Christ."
Some debate in an effort to find and further the truth, some debate to win an argument. I instinctively find myself on guard when I observe someone using methods in debate that lead me to believe one is trying to win the argument rather than get at the truth. Here are my observations about Craig. Craig because my expectation is to see Jesus in debate with Ehrman, not Craig. Instead...well, I like the way DagoodS put it when he was going round with Kaffinator in his post: "Is God Afraid of Us." DagoodS concludes: "What I see are two humans discusing what other humans made-up, using equally human abilities. Nothing divine about it." I cannot put it better, this is glaring to me.

Craig indulges in informal fallacy quite a bit. I will mostly defer to Prof. Loftus here, because he's the expert on this and I'm sure he can identify more and better examples. But, for instance, Craig appeals to the majority fairly often. I ask myself why someone who believes they have the authority of God behind them would need to appeal to the lessor authority of people so often?

Craig attempts to denigrate Ehrman: "Ehrman's Egregious Error," "Bart's Blunder." Is there any question here that Craig was trying to score points, not simply, graciously, point out what he considered to be Ehrmans errors? Why? Isn't there substance enough in what Craig says to carry the argument?

Craig uses Madison Avenue techniques. He makes a point of repeating key phrases, much like an advertiser would do. For instance: "independent," "fact." Such methods are used to sell. Isn't there enough value in what Craig is saying to demonstrate that what he is saying is true?

Craig lies. I was going to use a euphemism like "extrapolates." However, Craig is a Bible scholar who, none will question, knows his bible well. In Craigs second rebuttal, paragraph four he states:
"He [Ehrman] also says that perhaps Paul was talking about a communal burial. Not when you look at that four line formula in I Corinthians 15! It is like an outline of the events of the death of Jesus, the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the empty tomb, and then the appearance narratives. Compared to the Acts of the Apostles on the one hand and the Gospels on the other hand, this summary in I Corinthians 15 is like an outline, which includes as the second line Joseph's burial of Jesus in the tomb."
The words "Joseph" or "tomb" are nowhere to be found in I Corinthians 15, so the statement "I Corinthians 15 is like an outline, which includes as the second line Joseph's burial of Jesus in the tomb" is simply false.
Craig was trying to win, not establish the truth. I'm not saying that nothing he says is true, but my expectation is that a Christian would be more scrupulous and attempt to be trustworthy. Instead Craig employs methods to manipulate the emotions and possible intellectual weaknesses of his audience.