Craig vs Bart on the resurrection

I love debates. When one side makes a really good point you get to hear how the other answers it (or ducks it). Since I have been looking again at the evidence for the resurrection recently, I came across this debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman.

As always Craig’s argument is like a logical bulldozer that refuses to be stopped. Ehrman’s is of the “anything is more likely than the resurrection” sort, which I do get. He presents a few possibilities (Jesus had a twin) but says he does not think those possibilities are what really happened, but that they are more likely than a bodily resurrection. I think, If I remember right, he also argues that history cannot tell if Jesus was resurrected. It is a theological truth rather than a historical one. He does not accept though that he is using Hume’s now debunked argument against miracles.

Bart argues that an unlikely event needs very strong evidence to prove it. Craig throws back some very complicated probability theory at him to say that that is not actually true. You also have to consider and factor in the probabilities that it did not happen given the evidence.

B = background knowledge of the world

E = evidence for the resurrection

R = resurrection of Jesus

/ = given

‘ = not

Pr( R / B & E) =  [Pr( R / B ) * Pr( E / B & R)]

/  {[Pr( R / B ) * Pr( E / B & R)] + [Pr (R’/B] * Pr(E/B & ‘R)]}

This is where I got a bit lost but I think it’s just saying that we need to think about how likely the evidence would be if the resurrection did not happen. It’s a kind of “reasonable doubt” term I think.  This guy is not impressed by Craig’s argument and neither was Bart who joked that Craig was trying to give him a mathematical proof of Jesus rising from the dead. I was never that good at probability theory so I could do with a simple illustration of this point about something other than the resurrection. I can see the general idea though.

My view is that while the evidence does not prove that Jesus rose from the dead, it does make the conviction that Jesus did rise from the dead reasonable. There are reasons to believe it. The evidence does take you quite a long way but is there “reasonable doubt” that he did not rise? Can a strong case be made that he did not rise from the dead? We can certainly do that based on our background knowledge of the world. ie it is vanishingly unlikely that anyone should rise from the dead and therefore almost certain that Jesus didn’t. But what about the probabilty that he didn’t and we have the evidence that we do? ie the empty tomb and the disciples willingness to die for the conviction that they had seen Jesus after he had died. I think the probability that we have the evidence we do but that Jesus did not rise is very small and I guess it’s this that Craig is arguing we need to feed into our equation. Many suggestions have been made but no one, including Bart, seems willing to stand by any alternative theories. Here are some that I have heard to explain the two key facts:

1) The empty tomb:

The disciples stole the body

The Romans took the body

The Jews took the body

Thieves took the body

The grave site was mistaken by the disciples.


2) The appearances :

The disciples hallucinated

Jesus didn’t die

Jesus had a twin


Each seems very unlikely to me based on the evidence we have. For example, if the disciples stole the body they knew he had not been raised and they died for a lie. To explain both facts,  the probabilities for each explanation must be multiplied together giving an even smaller number. All these combinations must then be added together though giving a slightly larger number.

Ah, I know what all this is. It’s the general probabilistic version of Sherlock Homes’ “once you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth”.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s