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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
    Wilusa  January 27, 2017

    OT, but because I don’t think you ever completed a previous thread…

    Back on Dec. 15, re the question of whether “Cephas” and “Peter” were two different people, you reprinted an article you’d written years ago, which concluded: “When Paul mentions Cephas, he apparently does not mean Simon Peter, the disciple of Jesus.”

    But you wrote: “As it turns out, I’m not sure I buy the argument anymore.  I’ll explain why in simple terms in a later post.”

    I don’t think you ever did!

  2. Avatar
    hmltonius  January 27, 2017

    You mopped the floor with him.

  3. Avatar
    John  January 28, 2017

    Interesting seeing this again after so many years. I was just wondering what parts of that you would do/say differently now that time has moved on, apart from the ‘fact’ of the empty tomb perhaps. If there are a few things, maybe you could do a post on it. Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 29, 2017

      What I came to think after doing research for my book How Jesus Became God was that Jesus’ corpse was probably left on the cross for a few days and then deposited in some kind of common tomb.

      • Avatar
        tcasto  February 4, 2017

        “Jesus’ corpse was probably left on the cross for a few days and then deposited in some kind of common tomb”. Yes, Bart, as we have discussed before. Given the use of crucifixion by the Romans, I think even three days would be presumptive. The historical record seems to indicate that bodies were left to fully decompose on the cross.

        So, has the opinion of a majority of historians changed on this?

  4. Avatar
    Boltonian  January 28, 2017

    Three points:

    1. Re-miracles, two words: David Hume.

    2. On being a Christian: what would he have been had he been born in, say, Saudi Arabia or Thailand?

    3. Is it possible for a serious philosopher to be anything other than agnostic? Discuss.

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 28, 2017

    Re what I posted before, about Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb… I know you, Bart, don’t believe Joseph of Arimathea even existed. And I think your theory – that the entire “empty tomb” story was made up years later – is very likely correct. It too is much more probable than the “miracle.” But I wanted to make a case that *even if* Craig’s belief in the “empty tomb” was correct, there would be a very plausible “natural explanation.”

  6. Avatar
    dragonfly  January 28, 2017

    Craig presented what he believed very clearly: his “four facts”, and that he believed the best explanation for those four facts was that Jesus really was raised by God. I don’t think he ever explained *why* he thought that was the best explanation. This was his whole case and he never gave the arguments for it? How can someone expect to win a debate without giving the arguments for their position? I would have been quite interested to hear why he thought that was a more probable explanation than anything else. Personally I think the debate was a bit of a let down on both sides, but it did what I believe is the sole purpose of any debate, it got me thinking about things.

  7. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  January 29, 2017

    I submitted a question to Dr. Craig on his website. I didn’t bother to read the detailed rules for questions, so I may not get an answer.

  8. Avatar
    HawksJ  January 29, 2017

    Whenever I hear this ‘4 facts’ argument in a debate, I always wonder why you and others allow them to get away with calling those ‘facts’. Just by letting them use that term (facts), you immediately give up critical ground. By doing so, he fairly effectively turns the question from ‘did the Resurrection happen?’ to ‘how do we explain the risen Jesus?’.

    Why don’t you – and others – start out by simply making the point that those aren’t ‘facts’, they are simply theological conclusions?

    The burden is clearly on him to provide evidence – beyond just the Bible – but he sheds that burden by changing the basic question posed in the debate from ‘did it happen’ to ‘how is it best explained?’.

  9. Avatar
    sashko123  January 30, 2017

    I have listened to this debate 2-3 times, and of Craig’s apologetics, the Bayesian analysis is the most frustrating, because it demonstrates a debating tactic used by Christian apologists, including young earth creationists. The tactic is to present some complex concept or math which most people in the audience will not understand and then to mischaracterize it or to improperly apply it. It’s fairly easy to win a debate when you have no scruples about introducing a complex concept into a debate which takes little debating time to present wrongly and which takes a lot of debating time to show why it is wrong. Young earth creationists, for example, continue to perpetuate the falsehood that The Theory of Evolution violates the 2d Law of Thermodynamics. As a chemical engineer I can say “Nonsense,” but to explain the ramifications of dS=dQ/T, including the Clausius and Kelvin statements and that entropy in a system can decrease at the price of an increase in entropy in the surroundings, takes a lot more time than we would have during a debate, where young earth creationists are shotgunning large amounts false information. Craig prefers Bayesian analysis as a tool for obfuscation. Bayesian analysis is a way of updating probabilities in light of new facts. Here, Craig introduces a tight ball of lots of assumptions into a valid theorem in a short time and demands that his opponent spend a lot of time identifying and untangling the components of the ball. In his debates, Craig often uses the tactic of shifting the burden of proof of the nonexistence of supernatural beings and events to his opponent. This debate is no exception. His application of a valid formula is a sophisticated way of shifting the burden of proof. His strongest argument is that the resurrection COULD be more probable, even p=1, IF God exists (one assumption). The second unspoken assumption is that Craig’s god, who could exist, is a god who would want to raise Jesus from the dead (second assumption). Thus, Craig’s application of the formula is not to update probabilities of a predicted event based on updated facts (observations), but to update probabilities of an event based on further hypotheses, beliefs, and/ or assertions. This wrong use of Bayesian analysis could forestall actual calculations by continuing to require the input of hypothetical deities who might be for or against Jesus’ resurrection. What is the probability of the resurrection if both Yahweh and Satan exist? What is the probability that Satan has equal, half-, a third, the power to prevent resurrection as Yahweh has to raise Jesus. What is the probability that Zeus or Allah exist whether instead of or in addition to Yahweh? Craig never meets his burden of proof that there exists a god who would want to raise Jesus from the dead or could if he wanted to. He shifts the burden by suggesting that his opponent is in error, because he addresses only naturalistic ways to raise Jesus from the dead, not supernaturalistic ways. He requires his opponent to prove not only that there is no evidence that Jesus was resurrected but also that there are no supernatural entities that would have wanted to do it. And nobody ever asks these questions in science or other areas of inquiry. What is the likelihood that gravity existed yesterday, given a god that may have wanted gravity to be less to prevent a flood in a particular part of the world. What is the probability that autism will spread among Christian children, given a Christian god. So, not only does he shift the burden of proof, he is shifting the debate about evidence for the resurrection to a larger debate about the existence of God. Basically, he’s shifting the burden of proof, running the clock, and obfuscating.

    Sorry that was so long… but it kind of requires a rant.

  10. Avatar
    sashko123  January 30, 2017

    Moreover, Craig is wrong about most of his argument concerning physics. String theory is so far a mathematical theory, not a fully scientific one, since THERE IS NO EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE to show that it has any predictive power as a scientific theory.

  11. Avatar
    TomSmith  January 30, 2017

    The place where I did my doctorate in early Christian thought, though not an evangelical school, had a philosophy department chockfull of evangelicals, many of them quite accomplished. They were forever at war with my department, and almost without exception the root of the problem was that they could not fathom the contingent and often dubious nature of biblical texts. For them it was all propositional truth. It made any historical/theological discussion virtually impossible. I have begun to suspect that this problem is endemic.

  12. Avatar
    dragonfly  February 1, 2017

    Something that bugged my about William Lane Craig’s presentation is he kept accusing you of “methodological atheism”. Would a Jew conclude that the most probable scenario is that God raised Jesus from the dead? What about a Muslim? Or a Hindu? Or a Sikh? Not likely. In fact the only people who would come to that conclusion would be Christians. But they already believe that. So if the only ones who would conclude something historically are those who already believe it because of their faith, well that doesn’t sound like a historical method to me. It’s not “methodological atheism”, it’s about having historical presuppositions, not theological ones.

  13. Avatar
    James Cotter  February 16, 2017

    doctor bart,

    how would you reply to this :

    The hypothesis that the disciples all fled from Jerusalem immediately after Jesus’s crucifixion is inconsistent with the claim that they announced his resurrection to people in the city soon after.

    ///

    my question is, are the gospels trustworthy when they say that IMMEDIATELY after jesus DEATH (1 month later ?), the friends of jesus announced their belief in resurrection ?

    was it really in JERUSALEM ?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2017

      Yes, if Matthew is right that Jesus’ disciples saw him only after taking the long trip on foot to Galilee, and by implication came back to Jerusalem some time later, then Luke cannot be right that they stayed in jerusalem and made their proclamation there right away.

      • Avatar
        James Cotter  February 26, 2017

        apologists say

        “I can not for the life of me figure out how a religion would have been formed over a man who was killed as a criminal UNLESS something happened”

        but isn’t it true that even when jesus was alive and preaching he thought that judgement day was going to happen very soon in his time? isn’t it true that 1st century christians thought that redemption was coming near?
        why do 1st century christians need a resurrection when day of judgement was around the corner?
        isn’t it possible that imminent day of judgement would be enough to keep the religion alive rather than the resurrection of jesus?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 26, 2017

          I think early Christians saw these two as complementary — Jesus’ resurrection *showed* that the end was imminent.

          • Avatar
            James Cotter  March 4, 2017

            dr ehrman

            when we look at mark and matthew, it seems as if these authors did not know about any sightings of jesus in JERUSALEM . does the LACK of detail prove that the DEVELOPED stories about post ressurected jesus found in luke and john, did not exist when mark and matthew started to write?

            craig and other apologists need the stories found in luke and john to be SPREAD in different communities very early and quickly

            but LACK of detail in mark , matthew and paul SEEMS to DEBUNK the claim that the story FOUND in luke and john SPREAD very EARLY and quickly, do you agree?

            even if the disciples of jesus returned to jerusaelm, what is the chance that they were spreading stories found in luke and john in the place where their pal was executed?

            we know in marks version that peter would bull s when CAUGHT and then when he was safe, he cries and feels guilty.

            what is the chance denier and liar like peter would go around in jerusalem spreading the stories found in luke and john ?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 5, 2017

            My hunch is that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were all living in different communities and all heard different stories about Jesus (and his resurrection). Matthew and Luke did both have access to Mark. Matthew expanded Mark’s resurrection narrative, and Luke provided a very different one based on what he had heard. Whether they go back to Peter or not — I rather doubt it.

          • Avatar
            James Cotter  March 4, 2017

            carr wrote :

            Paul says Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision.
            Acts has an alleged letter from a Roman. It says Paul was charged with
            nothing serious, apart from an internal Jewish dispute over Jewish
            laws.

            I guess the Jews were just too dumb to think of telling the Romans
            that Paul was a follower of a criminal, who his followers claimed had
            cheated death and was still alive.

            If it had occurred to the Jews to have Paul charged with following a recently executed criminal, claimed to be still alive by his followers, then Paul’s defense that Jesus
            really had been killed would hardly have saved him.

            You can imagine the trial scene :-

            ‘You are charged with following a rebel who claimed to be king, and
            who you claim still leads your movement. How do you plead?’

            ‘Not guilty. Jesus was crucified and is now in Heaven.’

            ‘Pathetic. If this criminal is still alive and leading your movement,
            then he obviously can’t have been killed. Do you think we Romans
            believe in people returning from the dead?’

            But not even Acts claims Paul was ever charged with anything serious.

            ////////////////////

            doesn’t all of the above debunk the claim that the VERSION found in LUKE and JOHN was spread EARLY AND quickly? jesus appears for 40 days, yet no policing force wants to ask where is he and where have you followers of this guy hidden him ??

  14. Avatar
    James Cotter  March 5, 2017

    on your blog forum there are a few replies to your view i quote

    quote :
    How could the disciples have returned to Galilee, had visions which convinced them that Jesus had been resurrected and then returned to Jerusalem a few weeks later with a coherent story?

    and

    If the disciples had visions of Jesus in Galilee, why did they not stay and tell people there? Why return at all to Jerusalem? If they had fled for their lives immediately after Jesus’s arrest, wouldn’t they still be in danger a couple of months later?

    ///////////////

    does your hypothesis require the fact that the resurrection story was not immediately spread and for quite a long time only known in galilee?

    so when luke and john say that it was known in jerusalem, they are writing as apologists not as people who received information from peter and co

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2017

      My sense is that it was first known in Galilee, but that hte disciples soon returned to Jerusalem (for some reason) and spread the message there as well.

      • Avatar
        James Cotter  March 10, 2017

        is it true that james tabor believes that jay of a took the body and placed it in its FINAL resting place and he (tabor) sees historicity in johns version where the woman says ” they have taken his body and we don’t know WHERE they have put him”
        so here , tabor assumes (if memory is correct) that mary’s reaction is to jay of a taking away the body

        he believes no family member of jesus was preaching about jesus’ alleged resurrection in jerusalem and the visions started in galilee so no one would have even known where the body was placed because of jay of a

        so when apologists say that jay of a would have KNOWN the location , they NEED to prove that the friends of jesus MADE CLAIMS about jesus IN jerusalem VERY early on.

        they have no proof for . am i correct on tabors view?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 10, 2017

          I’m afraid I can’t recall: but he is on the Blog and maybe he can respond directly.

  15. Avatar
    James Cotter  March 10, 2017

    John Dominic Crossan thinks it could have been months or years before the resurrection beliefs developed in Galilee. He says “Easter Sunday” could have been as long as ten years.
    quote :
    The Acts Seminar concluded that the Christian church did not originally arise in Jerusalem, but in Galilee. Mark implies that Jesus was first “seen” in Galilee and Matthew makes that explicit. Luke changes that to Jerusalem in his Gospel, then follows that with an ascension on Easter Sunday. In Acts, Luke adds forty days before the ascension. Luke is the only evangelist who says there was an secondary ascension after the resurrection The Acts Seminar concluded that Luke wanted to move the origin of the church to Jerusalem and that he invented the ascension to seal off any more appearances or sightings.
    John has appearances first in Jerusalem then in Galilee. The Galilee chapter seems to have been added later and not have been part of the original Gospel. John does seem to show a lot of knowledge of Luke’s Gospel and may have pulled the Jerusalem appearances from there.

    Exactly how and where the resurrection belief developed is one of the central questions of Christian Origins, but it does appear that it developed first in Galilee and that the proto-orthodox church moved the first appearances to Jerusalem, perhaps to give the Jerusalem church more authority. Your point that followers of Jesus would have been in danger in Jerusalem, especially if they were preaching openly at the Temple, is a point that is also raised by scholars and without any clear explanation for it.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 10, 2017

      Thanks. Where are you getting “months or years” from in his statement?

  16. Avatar
    john76  April 5, 2017

    Let us consider Method and the Resurrection appearances:

    Historians try to establish what “probably” happened in the past. An historian would never claim a miracle “probably happened,” because a miracle is the “most improbable” thing that could happen, by definition. Only an apologist would fallaciously try to establish the historicity of a miracle, because sound historical reasoning rules out the “miraculous explanation” a priori.

    Take this example: The pre Pauline Corinthian Creed claims something like the idea that the risen Jesus appeared to Cephas and the Twelve three days after Jesus died. This creed is very early and so the story may not be the result of legendary embellishment. So what happened? (a) Maybe the disciples were hallucinating out of grief. (b) Maybe Cephas and the twelve were inventing stories of the risen Jesus in hopes of lending divine clout to, and carrying on, Jesus’ ethical mandate of loving your neighbor and your enemy – an ethical cause they may have been willing to die for (like Socrates). Whatever the case, any reasonable secular explanation is historically preferable to a miraculous one.

    In his debate with William Lane Craig, Bart Ehrman points out that even if we don’t accept a particular mundane explanation, it is still more probable than the miraculous explanation. In fact, in the case of an apparent miracle, even if we don’t know of any Aliens having cloaked ships and transporters that are doing “apparent” miracles on our planet (like in Star Trek: The Next Generation – Devil’s Due), this naturalistic explanation is still a more reasonable explanation than a secular historian claiming a miracle happened:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7-FbZj9kPY

    If anyone is interested, I explain this a little more fully in a blog post (along with the reader comments) here:

    http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/

    • Avatar
      john76  April 6, 2017

      Imagine a historian of antiquity trying to establish the historicity of one of the miracles of Apollonius of Tyana! They would be laughed out of the Academy. Only with Christian apologists do we see the rules of historical inquiry thrown out the window in trying to establish the historicity of a miracle story about Jesus.

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  17. Malcolm Urlich
    Malcolm Urlich  July 9, 2018

    I couldn’t listen to the rest of the debate I was overwhelmed by WLCs arguments.
    For me personally WLC is a gold medalist in verbal gymnastics.
    The mathematical equation he mentions is problematic for me.
    I’m wondering if he’s been listening to any of Nassin Nicholas Taleb’s presentations on probability theory and if that’s where WLC came up with the idea of using the mathematical equation to support his claim of the likelihood of the resurrection of Jesus?

  18. Avatar
    RolloMartins  July 23, 2018

    Craig lost me at the Swinburnian thing. Arbitrarily coming up with theological probabilities for miracles is about as far from pure math as you will ever get. And not understanding (or pretending not to understand) why Mark would have inserted women into the resurrection story is obtuse and shows a complete ignorance of narrative structure. Maybe he should have taken a few more English Lit courses.

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