Calum Miller and R. Greg Cavin debated Jesus' resurrection this past Tuesday. I've watched a YouTube video of the main portion of the debate. Only the beginning of the question and answer segment at the end is included in the video, so I won't be commenting on that part. Far too much came up in the debate for me to comment on everything, but I'll make several points. The reference numbers in parentheses below are citations of the relevant minutes in the YouTube video.
- Cavin maintains that the prior probability of the resurrection is "astronomically low" (43), but doesn't address Christian arguments for increasing the probability, like some of the points Miller made in the debate and arguments Christians have presented elsewhere for Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy, his healings, modern miracles done in his name, etc. When determining a prior probability, we take far more into account than Cavin does in the debate. The large majority of what Christians would cite in support of the prior probability of the resurrection wasn't even mentioned by Cavin.
- He says that we "have" to give him a Bayesian argument for facts cited in support of Jesus' resurrection, like the empty tomb, before he'll accept those facts (1:26). Yet, Cavin repeatedly cites alleged facts in support of his views, including disputed facts, without presenting a Bayesian argument (e.g., his claims about the patristic evidence pertaining to Biblical authorship).
- He keeps saying that we would need experience with a resurrection body in order to know what it's like. But how could we have any experience to draw from if there weren't a first encounter? And how could we draw anything significant from that first encounter if its being a first encounter makes it undiscernible? There's a first time for everything. And we often accept something others have reported to us without having experienced it ourselves (events that occurred before we were born, what others tell us about experiencing a particular illness without our having experienced it, etc.). The early Christians tell us not only that they encountered the risen Jesus, but that they encountered him on multiple occasions. They don't describe every detail of the resurrection, but they give us some information about the nature of Jesus' body, such as its physicality and its continuity with the pre-resurrection body. Cavin claims to know some details about the early Christians' beliefs concerning the resurrection body, such as what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, so why can't modern Christians also know some of the details?
- Cavin says that the resurrection body of Jesus that Paul refers to is an "empty blank" (55), and that it could be "physical or spiritual" (58), but elsewhere refers to how it's a "spiritual body, not a physical body" and cites the phrase "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 15:50) as evidence (1:27). Later in the debate, he acknowledges that the phrase "flesh and blood" in 1 Corinthians 15:50 is a Jewish idiom that doesn't normally refer to physicality (2:01), but he claims that the context proves that Paul is using the phrase in an abnormal way. Cavin never demonstrates that claim. Concerning Paul's belief in a physical resurrection body, see here and here. Cavin ignores and contradicts the large majority of the evidence.
- He tells us that Paul is the only resurrection eyewitness who's left us any writings (58). According to Cavin, we have "no reason" to accept what Papias, Irenaeus, and other sources tell us about gospel authorship (59). He ignores the large majority of the evidence for the traditional authorship attributions. To read about some of that evidence, see the relevant posts linked here. He says nothing about the non-Christian corroboration we have for the traditional authorship attributions of the gospels and other relevant documents.
- He repeatedly singles out facts cited in arguments for Jesus' resurrection, such as Biblical authorship attributions (1:25), and asks whether it's more likely that Christians are mistaken about those facts or more likely that Jesus rose from the dead. For example, is it more likely that Irenaeus was wrong about attributing the fourth gospel to John or that Jesus was resurrected? But Cavin never justifies that framing of the argument. People can believe in Jesus' resurrection without believing in John's authorship of the fourth gospel. They can believe in Johannine authorship without believing in the resurrection. Why can't a Christian answer Cavin's question by saying that Jesus' resurrection is more likely than Irenaeus' being mistaken about Johannine authorship, given how likely Jesus' resurrection is in light of his prophecy fulfillments, his healings, his exorcisms, modern miracles done in his name, etc.? To be consistent with his reasoning, which he isn't, Cavin should reject Pauline authorship of documents like 1 Corinthians. After all, what's more likely? That Irenaeus was mistaken about Paul's authorship of 1 Corinthians? Or that Jesus rose from the dead? Part of the Christian argument for Jesus' resurrection is that Jesus existed. You can't have a resurrection of somebody who didn't first exist. If Cavin is going to weigh the non-historicity of any fact used to argue for Jesus' resurrection against the alleged astronomical improbability of the resurrection itself, and ask us to choose between the two, should we conclude that Jesus didn't exist? That Pilate, who had Jesus executed, didn't exist? Cavin didn't demonstrate that Jesus' resurrection has an astronomically high prior improbability, much less did he demonstrate that its overall probability is as low as he suggests. Why are we supposed to think that the supposed improbability of the resurrection is grounds for dismissing not only the resurrection itself, but also a long series of facts utilized in arguments for the resurrection?
- Cavin thinks it's "likely" that the original disciples "worked themselves into a trance state" and thereby came to believe that they'd seen Jesus risen from the dead (1:32). He doesn't address the many problems that have been documented with such hypotheses. And as far as I recall, he didn't explain why opponents of Christianity, namely James and Paul, would have thought they saw the risen Christ.
- Cavin cites the use of "all" in Acts 1:1 as evidence that Luke was being exhaustive in his gospel (1:34). Therefore, when other sources, like the other gospels, include material that Luke didn't include, they're contradicting Luke. But the remainder of Acts 1 goes on to include material about Jesus' resurrection and ascension that wasn't included in Luke 24. Acts 20:35 cites a saying of Jesus that wasn't included in Luke's gospel. And so on. The idea that Acts 1:1 is saying that Luke's gospel is exhaustive is dubious on its face, and it becomes even more implausible as we read the rest of Acts and see Luke repeatedly providing details about the gospel events that he hadn't mentioned in his gospel. Luke's gospel wasn't intended to be exhaustive, nor were the others.