This is a summary and commentary on a debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman on the evidence for the resurrection.
William Lane Craig's opening statement
Craig opened with his standard resurrection apologetic, almost exactly the same argument he used in his debates with J. D. Crossan and Gerd Ludemann: We can prove that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, that the tomb was found empty, that people experience resurrection appearances, that they believed in the resurrection in spite of having all kinds of reasons not to. After supporting each of these points, he attacked what he understood to be Ehrman's reasons for doubting that the resurrection can be established on historical grounds. This part isn't worth describing in depth, because one of the first things Ehrman said in his presentation was this argument wouldn't exactly be what Craig said he would argue.
Bart Ehrman's opening statement
Ehrman began by explaining that the gospels are not ideal historical sources. They were written decades after the fact by noneyewitnesses. Ehrman describes in some detail how oral traditions were circulated, emphasizing just how many hands a story might have passed through before finally getting written down. At that point, he would have basically refuted Craig if he had simply said, as Richard Carrier has done, "Would it be even remotely reasonable to believe such a thing on so feeble a proof? Well--no." Ehrman couldn't quite do this, though, because he didn't really want to argue against the resurrection so much as that it couldn't be established on historical grounds. He's consistently said that one may believe it on faith or historical grounds. Still, his presentation would have been stronger if he had found some way to hit home the reliability of the gospels. He might have said something like, "Does it make sense to take such evidence and say tell people the have to believe it as rational persons? No." Still, with his blow-by-blow account of a hypothetical chain of oral transmission, my guess is many audience members got the point.
Then he argued that historians cannot establish miracles:
The problem with historians is they can't repeat an experiment. Today, if we want proof for something, it's very simple to get proof for many things in the natural sciences; in the experimental sciences we have proof. If I wanted to prove to you that bars of ivory soap float, but bars of iron sink, all I need to do is get 50 tubs of lukewarm water and start chucking in the bars. The ivory soap will always float, the iron will always sink, and after a while we'll have a level of what you might call predicted probability, that if I do it again, the iron is going to sink again, and the soap is going to float again. We can repeat the experiments doing experimental science. But we can't repeat the experiments in history because once history happens, it's over.Ehrman goes on to give a scenario explaining the empty tomb which he thinks not terribly probable, but more probable than a miracle. He finishes up by saying that miracles are theological questions, and trying to apply historical research to them is like trying to apply mathematics to literature.
What are miracles? Miracles are not impossible. I won't say they're impossible... I'm just going to say hat miracles are so highly improbable that they're the least possible occurrence in any given instance... No one on the face of this Earth can walk on lukewarm water. What are the chances that one of us could do it? Well, none of us can, so let's say the chances are one in ten billion.
Craig's first rebuttal
For his first rebuttal, Craig launched into a Power Point presentation citing a book called "Hume's Abject Failure," and which included slide titled "Ehrman's Egrigious Error" and "Bart's Blunder." His main point was that in assessing the probability of an event, one has to take into account background probability and specific evidence. This is almost completely irrelevant to Ehrman's presentation, because Ehrman argued that even explanations of the evidence that don't sound terribly plausible are more plausible than the resurrection. A large section of Craig's presentation was then wasted. He briefly made a claim that the resurrection is only improbable if the existence of God is improbable. This, though, fails address Ehrman's argument. Craig also attacked Ehrman's description of an ideal historical by saying "The only purpose it serves is a psychological purpose of setting the bar so unrealisticly high that the Gospels appear to fall short by comparison."
When I first read this section of the debate, I was puzzled by how weak it was. I feel I could have done a better job of arguing Craig's case than Craig himself, i.e. by seriously addressing the contention that miracles are improbable. This is not the first time I've felt I could have done a better job defending Christianity than one Christian apologist, but Craig has such a reputation as a debater I wondered how he could foul up so badly. Then I realized the key was in the Power Point slides: Craig had them prepared, and didn't want to waste them. He hinted at this in the first round when he'd said he'd wait on rebutting Ehrman's argument until Ehrman had presented it. He thought he knew exactly what Ehrman would say, and when Ehrman presented some slightly different arguments, Craig failed to adapt. On the other hand, Ehrman's presentation wasn't that different from things he's said elsewhere, so perhaps Craig's problem was he took one look at Ehrman's writings and pigeon-holed him as a defender of Hume.
At any rate, Craig fouled up on a massive scale.
Ehrman's first rebuttal
Ehrman began by reiterating that he respects Craig's personal beliefs about Jesus. This was just one of many examples of how he tried to be fairly polite throughout the debate, in spite of Craig giving him reason to do otherwise: the obnoxious alliterations, baseless accusations of ulterior motive, etc. After I had finished reading the debate, I was curious to get an audio to see if Ehrman showed signs of being annoyed at any point in the debate. When I raised this question on Internet Infidels, a moderator said "I've heard Ehrman on TV and other audio versions, and he comes across as relatively academic and unemotional." This has been my impression as well from seeing a video clip of him talking about the Gospel of Judas. Craig might have caused him to lose his usual composure, though.
Immediately after saying he respects Craig's personal beliefs, he said the claim that the resurrection can be proven is dead wrong and took Craig to task on many dubious points in his argument. His first major area is Craig's repeated use of appeals to authority. He points out that New Testament scholars tend to be believers, but also that most scholars don't think that we can prove Jesus rose from the dead. He goes on to attack other dubious claims, the worst of which is probably the claim that Paul provides evidence for the empty tomb, when Paul makes no mention of the tomb. A fairly solid rebuttal, all in all.
He reiterates points made previously, that the gospel stories were in circulation for a long time. Again, didn't quite knock it home as hard as he should have, but it was good to bring up. He also reiterates the point that historians can't make statements about God. His one mistake was failing to specifically bring up the "one in ten billion" point, and point out that, contra Craig, it would stand even if God existed.
He wrapped up by asking Craig to address three points: does he believe the Bible is inerrant? will he address competing miracle claims? and how is it that the religion he adopted as a teenager just happens to be the one that's historically well-supported?
Craig's second rebuttal
Craig, I think, made a temporary recovery from the charge of appeals to authority, by saying that he wasn't just appealing to authority, he was also giving the arguments, which must be refuted. He repeated the assertion about Paul, which just isn't a defensible claim, but by responding to specific claims of Ehrman he did somewhat better than the first rebuttal. He also repeated his irrelevant point about probability calculus. How well Craig did on the question of miracles is a bit debatable here--he didn't deal with it so well, but Ehrman had failed to restate his best point in the immediately preceding segment.
He only had enough time to address one of Ehrman's three questions, the one about other miracle workers. He argued that the evidence is late, and made some appeals to authority. With these, though, he can plausibly claim that he's not just making appeals to authority, but also giving arguments.
Ehrman's second rebuttal
Ehrman starts out with a defense of a neutral view of historical research as a neutral endevor, listing different groups of people that all have to be able to take part. He continues something he began at the end of his first rebuttal, using Craig's personal testimony against him. The resurrection makes sense to Craig because he's a Christian and only because he's a Christian.
Ehrman does get one major thing wrong in this rebuttal: he says Hume said miracles can't happen and disagrees with this point. This is a common mistake, made by some of Hume's critics. Hume was arguing against the implausibility of belief in miracles. If his argument wasn't similar to Ehrman's, it was closer than Ehrman allows. Hume even said that we may believe miracles on faith, just as Ehrman does, even if Ehrman isn't being as sarcastic as Hume.
Ehrman continued to press Craig on inerrancy. This is probably not the best press point; a better one would be Craig's declarations that evidence isn't going to change his views. Ehrman very likely hasn't seen these, though, and it was nice to see Craig pressed on one of the things that his hears generally don't see brought up.
Ehrman finishes by asking Craig to get to his questions, and stressing that miracles are a matter of faith.
Craig's statement was basically a summary, but at the end was further personal testimony that ended with "I believe [Christianity] can change your life in the same way it has changed mine."
Ehrman took that testimony and called Craig what he is: "An evangelist who wants people to come to share his belief in Jesus... trying to disguise himself as a historian as a means to that end." He got in some other good points, in particular his best guess as to what really happened, but identifying Craig for what he is was the decisive move which makes it safe to say that Ehrman won.
Question and Answer
This section provides further confirmation that Ehrman won. The first couple questioners for him thanked him, while the ones for Craig were somewhat hostile, challenging him on Ehrman's questions and the use of probability. This surprised me at first, given that the debate was held at a religious college, though it's a Jesuit one, so we're not talking too hard-line.
I'm not going to do this in detail since I've been writing this commentary all morning. I will say that Ehrman got in his two main points, including the argument for improbability which had been somewhat neglected. Craig got in some nonsense that Ehrman didn't answer: another appeal to authority, along with the claim that Hume required people in the tropics to reject the existence of ice. This is nonsense, Hume said it made sense to reject the first relations of ice, just as it makes sense to reject the first reports of flying snakes and giant ants that travelers used to tell when travel was slower and mass communication nonexistent. Anyway, I don't think it matters in the end. The great William Lane Craig lost.
The above was written yesterday, and accidentally saved when I meant to post it. The below is an "update" of sorts
I started a discussion on this over at Christian Forums. Here's the comment of one Christian poster: "Clearly Craig won the debate. Erhman was back pedaling the entire time"
What to make of this? All I can think of is the fact that Ehrman ignored Craig's irrelevant counterpoints, which Craig wasted half of his time on. Given that Craig benefited from it in the minds of one person who read the transcript, might Craig have been spouting nonsense intentionally? I wouldn't put it beyond him. His standard strategy for debates on the existence of God is to throw out five arguments, complain if his opponents don't rebut every last one of them, and also insist that they provide arguments against the existence of God. Clearly, this is absurd: given a 70 minute debate, there would only be 7 minutes apiece per argument, and that's if the opponent failed to meet Craig's demand to provide arguments against the existence of God. He has to know that this makes serious discussion impossible. He may very well have intentionally avoided Ehrman's points and attacked straw men as a debating tactic.
John W. Loftus is commenting as well:
Comments on Craig's first rebuttal