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Ehrman vs Craig: Evidence for Resurrection

Over ten years ago now (March 28, 2006) I had a debate with William Lane Craig  at the College of the Holy Cross, on the question: “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?”  Craig is a conservative evangelical Christian philosopher (yes, a real philosopher — that is, he teaches courses in philosophy and writes about it; but from a very conservative Christian perspective).

I had never met Craig before the debate, and in places the debate gets a little … lively.  Even testy. Craig and I have had zero contact with each other ever since.

Craig provided a full transcript of the debate on his site Reasonable Faith here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman  I would assume that since he posted the transcript he thinks he pretty much mopped me up.  Maybe he did!

Please note: The video quality from the source is not great, since old-style equipment was used to record the event. We have added color and audio correction, but overall it is not up to our normal standards.

Please adjust gear icon for pseudo 720p High-Definition:


Drew Marshall Show – Jesus Before The Gospels
Can Biblical Scholars Be Historians?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  January 25, 2017

    I’m always baffled by the mindset of people who want to say there’s evidence of miracles.

    If you need evidence, where’s your faith? Anything that can be proven can also be disproven. Faith is faith precisely because you can’t prove it. If you have proof, you don’t need faith. That’s the whole point of the story of Doubting Thomas. But here he is, poking his fingers into the wounds–why?

    He doesn’t really believe. That’s why it personally irks him that anyone else doesn’t believe. Those with genuine faith respect the beliefs of others. Those without it substitute dogma for faith, and pretend it’s the same thing.

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    • Avatar
      ColinG  January 30, 2017

      That antithetical way of contrasting faith and evidence is something of a modern construct, convenient for some polemics that seek to define faith in an extreme way, but it does not really advance understanding of the biblical ‘pistis’, which Greek word does not signal some kind of non-evidence-based attitude.

    • Avatar
      Ardy  February 1, 2017

      You make good points

      I have always felt that faith is incongruent with things claimed to be provably true.
      It is, for example, absurd to brag about ones faith in gravity; gravity requires no faith
      Likewise if the resurrection is demonstrably true, it becomes redundant to claim faith in this truth
      Therefore faith and demonstrable fact seem mutually incompatible

      1
  2. talmoore
    talmoore  January 25, 2017

    Craig’s “evidence” for the resurrection is basically: why would the Gospel writers say that Jesus rose from the dead if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? That’s not evidence. That’s willful ignorance and wishful thinking masquerading as evidence.

    6
    • epicurus
      epicurus  January 27, 2017

      @talmoore:
      It’s also telling how quickly many apologists with dismiss Mormon witnesses and evidence. Signed testimonies that they saw the golden plates. Independent witnesses. Yet quickly and distainfully brushed aside by many Christian apologists. They can see the obvious problems, but they can’t apply that same kind of discernment to their own “evidence” of Jesus and the resurrection.

      1
    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  January 28, 2017

      It’s the argument from incredulity, I think: “Why on earth would they have said so if it wasn’t true?!” As if there must be something wrong with you if you don’t see how ridiculous it is to think otherwise.

  3. epicurus
    epicurus  January 25, 2017

    As Dr. Ehrman’s recent post on “How Do We Know What Most Scholars Think” was still fresh in my mind, I noticed all the times in this debate where Dr. Craig would say most scholars/historians agreed with his position, and I copied and pasted them all into a file which I hope Dr.Ehrman won’t mind me posting here.

    William Lane Craig – Opening Statement:
    -which is regarded by most philosophers today as demonstrably fallacious.

    -Fact #1: After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. Historians have established this fact on the basis of evidence such as the following:
    -Fact #2: On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.Among the reasons which have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following: 1. The empty tomb is also multiply attested by independent, early sources.
    -I could go on, but I think enough has been said to indicate why, in the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist on the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb”

    -Fact #3: On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
    -This is a fact which is virtually universally acknowledged by scholars, for the following reasons:
    -In summary, there are four facts agreed upon by the majority of scholars: Jesus’ burial, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
    -So most historians haven’t been deterred by these sorts of objections.
    William Lane Craig – Second Rebuttal

    -Now here Dr. Ehrman says that I have dubious use of modern authorities. I agree that the citation of modern authorities doesn’t prove anything in and of itself. That’s why I gave the arguments under each of the points. He has to deal with the arguments. He says that I represent a minority opinion. Not about those four facts! I said that it is controversial whether the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of those facts, but I can give him the names, the evidence, of people who hold to those four facts. That does represent the broad mainstream of New Testament scholarship. Insofar as Dr. Ehrman now chooses to deny the honorable burial, the empty tomb, the appearances, he is in the decided minority of New Testament scholarship with regard those facts.

    William Lane Craig – Conclusion
    The majority of scholars do agree with the arguments that I gave for Jesus’ honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea, for the fact that the tomb was found empty, for the early appearances of Jesus to various individuals and groups, and for the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

    Question and Answer

    Answer from Dr. Craig:
    But by contrast, most New Testament scholars, as Bart Ehrman knows, do believe that Jesus of Nazareth carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms

    Answer from Dr. Craig:
    -I am not constructing the case that I’ve given tonight on the basis of passages that would be like that or that would be disputable. I am constructing it upon these four fundamental facts which are, I think, credibly attested by multiple, independent attestation and the criterion of embarrassment and which most New Testament scholars would agree with.

  4. Avatar
    LeRoy  January 25, 2017

    Will you still be speaking at the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing tomorrow (1/26/17)? If anyone is interested it is a free lecture at 7:00 P.M., in the RCAH Auditorium.

  5. Avatar
    Jim  January 25, 2017

    On a WL Craig related topic, I don’t know the date of this post ( http://www.reasonablefaith.org/faith-and-doubt ), but in the section with header: “Faith and Doubt – The necessity of cultivating Christian virtues”, WLC responds to a question posed by a young Christian regarding doubt with this:

    “I firmly believe, and I think the Bizarro-testimonies of those who have lost their faith and apostatized bears out, that moral and spiritual lapses are the principal cause for failure to persevere rather than intellectual doubts. But intellectual doubts become a convenient and self-flattering excuse for spiritual failure because we thereby portray ourselves as such intelligent persons rather than as moral and spiritual failures.”

    Now I’ve recently been reviewing my future plans by going through brochures on hell, and advertised perks include, along with elevated temperatures all year long, a guaranteed apologetics-free environment. Now that’s something that sounds eternally enticing to me.

  6. Avatar
    mjt  January 25, 2017

    I realize the answer to this question varies from time to time and place to place–but do you think, in general, that the earliest Christians (most notably the disciples) faced grave danger by preaching the resurrection? Let’s say from about 30 until about 70 CE.

  7. Avatar
    john76  January 25, 2017

    The desperate prayers by Jesus in the Garden Of Gethsemane really speak against a “Trinity” interpretation of Jesus. If Jesus is one with The Father, why would he have to repeat the same desperate petitioning prayer three times in Gethsemane. Why would Jesus need to pray at all?

    2
    • Avatar
      john76  January 26, 2017

      Jesus’ last actions in Mark also speak against the idea that Jesus was welcoming of his death so he could calmly complete his mission: “With a LOUD CRY, Jesus breathed his last (Mark 15:37).”

  8. Avatar
    Petter Häggholm  January 25, 2017

    Whatever respect I might ever have had for Craig evaporated when I read or heard him expound on his view (à la Luther) on the ministerial rather than magisterial role of reason: that is to say, he feels that “the self-authenticating testimony of the Holy Spirit” trumps all else, so that even if for some historically contingent reason all the evidence should point against Christianity, he would still be justified in his belief.

    I suppose he deserves some tepid credit for coming out and admitting it, but it makes it clear that everything he does is an effort to rationalise and persuade: he has announced up front that he will accept no contrary argument, however valiid and sound. Calling him a philosopher seems like giving him too much credit. An erudite philodoxer, perhaps.

    2
  9. Avatar
    TBeard  January 26, 2017

    I think you won that debate by a landslide. I’m sure many more think so as well. I found Craig’s conservative views tiresome and boring. So much so that in the middle of the debate I found myself fast forwarding to your segments and listened to the audience’s questions at the end. If you ever debated him on the contradictory stories in the gospels, I think he would be stymied.

    4
  10. Avatar
    wostraub  January 26, 2017

    Bart, I watched the video on YouTube some years ago and concluded that neither side “won” the debate. Not that you didn’t have your moments, but because I believe that debating a die-hard believer is akin to having a debate with a piece of furniture — it’s simply a waste of time.

    Craig confuses best evidence with best explanation, assuming they have equal historical value, and also takes ancient writings to be, well, gospel. For example, Papias described Judas Iscariot as a grotesque, pus-ridden behemoth of a man so physically deformed by impiety that his body wouldn’t fit the width of a city street. We have the word of the great church fathers Irenaeus and Eusebius that Papias was writing the truth, so according to Craig it must have happened. The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on and becomes fact, and you can’t logically argue it down.

    My Christian family members see the Bible as physical evidence of actual history, with the writings of Paul and the Gospel writers as multiply-attested proof comparable to eyewitness testimony in a court of law. No amount of contrary logic, data, or empirical evidence will ever sway them, so what’s the point?

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2017

      Yeah, I wonder sometimes….

      5
      • Avatar
        Tempo1936  January 27, 2017

        Fundamentalist have the fear of death that trumps rational reasoning on their side.
        Pastors at Funeral services promise the grieving their loved ones are with Jesus in heaven and they will be reunited with loved one and live forever without pain or suffering. Easy to sell that message when you are hurting.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  January 29, 2017

        I would say the point is to help those who have not yet been taken in see that “really smart” apologists like Craig are skilled verbal gymnasts with near zero intellectual integrity.

      • Avatar
        Rthompsonmdog  January 29, 2017

        I’m sure you know this, but debates are for the fence sitters and those willing to listen and consider the points. Great performance, Dr. Ehrman.
        Looking forward to your talk at Clemson.

  11. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 26, 2017

    Those “statistical probabilities” were a hoot! Ditto that poor m.c. having to stand there, on camera, doing nothing, while you and Craig were answering questions off camera.

    I realize the format was set – each of you had to give your prepared statements first, right? And only after that, the replies? But he’d presented his four “agreed-upon points” so forcefully that it would have had more impact if you’d been able to reply to them right away.

  12. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 26, 2017

    I think a good argument would be that if one assumes (as Craig clearly did) that Joseph of Arimathea had the body placed in his family tomb, he could have intended all along that the interment there be temporary – just a way to keep the remains in a safe place till after the Sabbath.

    Suppose he did that. Let’s say his own rabbi had agreed to provide the permanent burial somewhere, on condition that his name be kept out of it. None of Jesus’s other followers knew about this; the women only knew about the tomb because they’d been following whoever put the body there. So when they later went back and found it empty, they jumped to the conclusion there’d been a miracle.

    When Joseph was asked about it, he may have refused to comment – mortified that his involvement had become “public” even to that degree. Or he may have flat-out denied that the body had ever been in his family tomb! That part of the story wouldn’t have been passed on.

    I think that would be a very plausible explanation of what happened – “more probable,” even if one was willing to accept a miracle as one of the possibilities to be considered.

    And I keep thinking of another approach to this question…

    If Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead, in (as it’s claimed) a newly indestructible body, why didn’t he DO ANYTHING?? Why didn’t he confront Pontius Pilate, reveal what he was, and dare anyone to try to kill him again? Why didn’t he miraculously transport himself to Rome, confront the Emperor, and convince everyone that the God he proclaimed was the one true God? It seems ridiculous that a supposedly omnipotent God would have chosen to have a “miraculous resurrection,” that could have changed the world, go unnoticed by anyone in power.

    1
  13. Avatar
    mreichert  January 26, 2017

    Lots of points to consider in this debate, I’d like to remark on one point. If a miracle is defined as something explainable only by supernatural intervention, then, if you exclude the possibility of supernatural intervention, then the possibility of a miracle is not even improbable, it is 0. This would blow up Craig’s probability equations. I actually agree that these equations make sense, the problem is finding the appropriate factors to put into the equations.

    If you include the possibility of supernatural intervention then miracles are possible to happen all the time. Probability would be quite high. Anything could have a supernatural explanation. Why are we having a drought? Because the gods are angry at us. How did hijackers get past security to fly planes into buildings on 9/11? Allah willed it so it happened. Relying on supernatural explanations gets a nowhere in trying to understand either historic or scientific endeavors.

    Something like the supposed resurrection of Jesus is worth looking into just to counter Craig and other biblical fundamentalists. Some of us have devoted quite a few words on this subject in the Historical Jesus section of your blog, though (speaking for myself) I don’t think we have the historic scholarship to fully address the context for answering the question of what is most likely to have really happened.

    1
  14. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  January 26, 2017

    This was very difficult to watch. At the start I found Dr. Craig to be a bit pompous, condescending and smug. He also comes across more as an apologist than an historian. I thought you did very well!!

    1
  15. Avatar
    puzzles  January 26, 2017

    In answering the last question in the transcript, you mentioned that Josephus did not mention and empty tomb or claims of a resurrection. It seems that Josephus would have probably mentioned these resurrection claims if he had been aware of them. Does it seem strange that Josephus was aware that many claimed Jesus was the messiah and that he was crucified, but Josephus wasn’t aware of the resurrection claims? This makes me think that only a tiny fraction of the followers of Jesus actually believed in the resurrection. Most of the followers of Jesus must have decided that they were mistaken about Jesus after the crucifixion, and Josephus learned of Jesus through them instead of through Christians? If the empty tomb had happened three days later, then wouldn’t it be unlikely that Josephus would learn of the crucifixion without the empty tomb?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2017

      Yes, it is kinda strange. Not sure how to explain it all!

      1
    • Avatar
      ColinG  January 30, 2017

      Josephus may have heard of the Jesus resurrection, but may not have wanted to convey an impression of being impressed or interested. Josephus is really only providing footnotes by way of his references to Jesus, nothing more than that. Josephus can also tend to render into very truncated form episodes that others would prefer in expanded form. You see that in how he and Philo handle similar episodes.

  16. Avatar
    epistememe  January 26, 2017

    Craig is the poster boy for motivated reasoning. He is just so intellectually dishonest it is painful to listen to him. Your efforts at unmasking this charlatan are appreciated.

    3
  17. Avatar
    Steve Monge  January 26, 2017

    Craig has a Doctorate in Philosophy of Religions… he is not a real philosopher per se. And Craig is well known for misquoting and being very dishonest…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgxUTJmcWsM

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    • Avatar
      SidDhartha1953  January 29, 2017

      I think you go too far. What makes one a real philosopher per se? If I have a PhD. (I don’t) in epistemology, another specialized philosophical discipline, am I also not a real philosopher per se?

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  January 29, 2017

        My primary philosophy teacher used to say that philosophy is not something you have; it’s something you do. For him, it was the ongoing cross-examinations of our presuppositions about who we are. We all have starting points and a Christian, if we allow him his presuppositions could well do philosophy from that point on–that is, given his immovable beliefs. But he’s not cross-examining his most fundamental beliefs about man and divinity.

        1
    • Avatar
      dragonfly  January 29, 2017

      Thanks for posting this link. It seems Dr Craig believes the end justifies the means, and his means are, well, questionable.

  18. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  January 26, 2017

    ” …in places the debate gets a little … lively. Even testy.” That’s what makes it fun to watch!

    From Craig’s transcript: “And now we’re ready to see precisely where Dr. Ehrman’s error lies. So in the grand tradition of Hume’s Abject Failure, I give you: Ehrman’s Egregious Error.

    Ehrman’s Egregious Error

    Pr(R/B) × Pr(E/B&R)

    Pr(R/B&E)=__________
    [Pr(R/B) × Pr(E/B&R)] + [Pr(not-R/B) × Pr(E/B&not-R)]”

    Do you see where your mistake is here Bart? I looked at this earlier but didn’t quite get it. Later, I drank two glasses of wine then looked at it again. Clear as a bell now.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  January 27, 2017

      Even though the math equation was nonsense, I think the evidence is in favor of both a burial and a resurrection. We can choose not to believe it, but there’s only so much proof that can be gleaned from antiquity. For a man that was a nobody, supposedly, and impoverished, possibly illiterate, and left behind only a handful of followers, we have a remarkable amount of information about him.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  January 28, 2017

      So that’s my problem? Not enough wine!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  February 1, 2017

      Abuse of probability and statistics is one of my petpeeves. Mythicists such as Richard Carrier, who is the direct antithesis of William Lane Craig, is also guilty of abusing statistics. The main problem with Craig’s equation — an outrageous attempt at Bayes’ Theorem — is that it essentially begs the question. He asks the question, What is the probability that Jesus rose from the dead? So he starts off by assuming that the probability that the disciples lied about the empty tombs must be zero. Then he assumes the probability that the disciples lied about seeing the risen Jesus is zero. And, voila, the probability that Jesus rose from the dead is conveniently 100%! As anyone with half a brain can see, that’s a completely circular argument. The probability that Jesus rose from the dead is 100% because there’s a 100% chance that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s a completely absurd, nonsensical answer.

      If we REALLY want to talk probabilities, however, we can start off by asking the most obvious question: How many solidly documented, readily verifiable instances of resurrection are there? That would be 0 out of roughly 10,000,000,000 instances of human death, or 0%. So based on observations, what is the probability of a man rising from the dead? 0/1 or 0.0. Now plug that probability into Craig’s fancy equation, and the resulting probability becomes 0.0%.

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  February 4, 2017

        Well if a miracle has a probability greater than zero, is it really a miracle?

  19. Avatar
    llamensdor  January 27, 2017

    I couldn’t hear the voices well on the video so read the transcript. My comments are as follows:
    I’ve made this point before, but Mr. Craig and others like him must think God is a shmuck. Hundreds of thousands are gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover, and Pilate has brought additional troops into the city. According to Paul, the risen Christ was seen by a few and eventually 500. What an incredible moment this would be: Jesus—in human form but clearly indestructible—strolls into the great court of the Temple. Everyone sees that the crucified, murdered Jesus is in fact alive! Resurrected! Hundreds of thousands see him and can affirm that he has been raised. Everyone, awed, including Pilate and his soldiers, fall on their knees and acclaim the Son of God.
    But no, God doesn’t do this. He allows the risen Christ to be seen by a handful and then by 500. What an opportunity God has missed. Think of it—what struggles, what wars might have been avoided if only God had had the good sense to show his power. But no, a handful think they have seen him, perhaps dined with him; a mere 500 in total can attest to his resurrection.
    Mr. Craig thinks this is proof. What a feeble faith he has.

  20. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 27, 2017

    I have watched this several times and it is a great debate. The issues mainly revolve around whether Jesus was really buried in a tomb and, if so, did the tomb become empty, and, if so, is a Resurrection the most or least likely explanation for this empty tomb? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    P.S. You did not lose the debate.

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