William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman debate “Is there historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?”

manicstreetpreacher presents the best example of when William Lane Craig received a beat down on the rising Son of Man.

I intend to post a reassessment of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig at Biola University that took place on 4 April 2009 and which I commented on after seeing the DVD.

Hitchens did not come off very well from that encounter.  However, Craig’s first debate on the existence of God against physicist Victor Stenger at the University of Hawaii in 2003 is my first port of call when I need an example of when Craig received a spanking on that topic.

Craig’s debate against agnostic New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, author of Lost Christianities, Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem, which took place at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts on 28 March 2006 on whether there is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the occasion I recall when I need an example of when Craig received equivalent treatment on this topic.

Transcript

Audio (Irritatingly cuts off a few questions before the end so that Craig wins the final point.)

Full video tape:

As with practically all debates, opinion on the blogosphere is divided.  But my money is that Ehrman won convincingly.  His off-the-top-of-his-head knowledge of who has said what when in the dense world of New Testament scholarship is a joy to hear.  He skilfully exposes Craig’s highly selective and dishonest citation of scholarly authorities who are actually in deep conflict.  Ehrman also has a superior knowledge of similar mythologies of dying and rising Gods and wallops Craig for his second-hand ignorance of Apollonius of Tyana.

The debate is most notable for Craig’s ridiculous attempt in his first rebuttal to overthrow David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles” and demonstrate the probability of miracles using calculus (!) as well as disgracefully and demagogically labelling his PowerPoint slides “Ehrman’s Egregious Error” and “Bart’s Blunder”.  This example of mathematical posturing is put in its proper place by atheist number-cruncher John Allen Paulos in Irreligion who recounts an amusing fable that perfectly sums up Craig’s approach:

Catherine the Great had asked the famous French philosopher Denis Diderot to her court, but was distressed to discover that Diderot was a vocal atheist.  To counter him, she asked the mathematician Leonhard Euler to confront Diderot.  On being told that there was a new argument for God’s existence, the innumerate Frenchman expressed a desire to hear it.  Euler then strode forward and stated, “Sir, (a + bn) / n = x.  Hence God exists.  Reply.”  Having no understanding of math, Diderot is reported to have been so dumbfounded he left for Paris.

I seriously doubt the story, but it is perhaps suggestive of how easily nonsense proffered in an earnest and profound manner can browbeat someone into acquiescence.

Unlike Diderot in the story, Ehrman wisely brushes aside Craig’s underhand tactic and doesn’t let it distract him.  He keeps his arguments simple and concise and has no need to appeal to authorities.  Ehrman himself is the authority!

Craig is so clearly an evangelist masquerading as a serious academic and Ehrman proves it by hammering him on his commitment to biblical inerrancy as a professor at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology.  Craig wilfully evades Ehrman’s questions of whether he thinks that there are errors and contradictions in the New Testament.  Unbelievably, he also continues to flog the dead horse of his four “facts” surrounding the resurrection, despite Ehrman providing perfectly rational explanations that they are most likely later additions to the text.

Predictably, Craig finishes his final rebuttal with a plug for the warm fuzzy feeling he had a teenager when he gave his life to Christ.  Ehrman calls him out on it in his reply: Craig has reached his conclusions before he has even begun his research and wants everyone else to share in his religious beliefs.  As Craig himself writes in his ironically titled Reasonable Faith, a person knows the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is true because of God’s assurance to the reader that it is true: reason and evidence can be used to support the inner witness, but they cannot be used to overthrow it.  Robert Price summed it up perfectly in their debate on the same topic:

Dr Craig then freely admits that his conviction arises from purely subjective factors.  To me it sounds no different in principle from the teenage Mormon door-knocker: he tells you that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm swelling feeling inside when he asks God if it’s true.

In conclusion, William Lane Craig is a clever debater, but that does not mean his arguments are sound or even sincere.  He is very beatable.  Stenger proved it on the existence of God, while Ehrman proved it on the supposed resurrection of his son.

Now for a second look at the Hitchens debate…

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4 Responses to “William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman debate “Is there historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?””

  1. PaulJ Says:

    Watching this debate I was again struck by Craig’s barefaced pronouncement of God’s resurrection of Jesus as not at all improbable, while at the same time dismissing Erhman’s (admittedly implausible, but less improbable) alternative explanation — that members of Jesus’s family stole his body but were apprehended and summarily executed and buried by the Romans — as “fanciful”.

    And that “probability calculus” was laughable. It was a blatant debating tactic — if Craig had been genuine about its value as supporting evidence for his case he would have gone through it more thoroughly, step-by-step, to ensure his listeners could understand it. Ehrman was right to dismiss it.

    Nevertheless, there’s much to be learned from Craig’s debating style. Anyone about to find themselves opposite him in a debate would be well advised to study his performances.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Thank you for referring me to Jeffrey Shallit’s blog, Paul. It’s fantastic!

      Craig accused Shallit of displaying “ignorance on parade” in relation to actual infinites. Shallit posted this response correcting Craig, but Craig never replied or even linked to Shallit’s post.

      Now read Shallit’s comments on this thread over at Common Sense Atheism. Shallit states that Craig has a poor understanding of mathematics and his gratuitous ad hominem and failure to acknowledge or link to his reply is not appropriate behaviour from an academic.

      Moral of the story: Craig probably didn’t understand his own use of calculus in the Ehrman debate, let alone it being anywhere near correct!

      MSP

  2. David Says:

    As a Christian myself, I’d agree that Ehrman won this debate. He kept his points simple, and remained both calm and on topic throughout – something most debaters are unable to do.
    Much as I think that there are good reasons to disagree with him, he clearly was the victor here.

  3. Sam Harris beats William Lane Craig in their debate on morality | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] maintain that Victor Stenger and Bart Ehrman retain their joint-crown of Atheist Opponent Who Has Made Craig Look Like A Complete Fool At The […]

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