Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why Bart Ehrman Keeps Losing Debates

I recently listened to a debate held earlier this year, between Michael Licona and Bart Ehrman, on the subject of Jesus' resurrection. Much of what I said in a previous post about the 2006 debate between William Craig and Bart Ehrman is applicable to this more recent debate. Ehrman repeats a lot of what he argued in the 2006 debate, even on issues where Craig had corrected him.

Ehrman ignores Craig's refutation of his assertion that miracles are the "least likely occurrence" in any historical context. Not only did Craig correct Ehrman on this issue in 2006, but so did Licona in this 2008 debate, yet Ehrman kept repeating the argument even after Licona had refuted it as well. For an example of Ehrman's repetition of the argument after it was refuted, see the eleventh minute of the second hour.

Ehrman repeats a lot of claims of liberal scholarship that were answered long ago. He doesn't make much of an effort to interact with more recent and more conservative scholarship. Many of his claims have been refuted by the likes of Richard Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006) and Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd's The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007).

Early in the debate, Ehrman claims that the records we have of Peter's death are "legends that were written hundreds of years later" (thirty-second minute of the first hour). Yet, around the fifty-fourth minute of the second hour, he tells us that Peter and Paul are the only apostles for whom we have first-century records of their death. Even that second claim is wrong, as Licona notes. For more on this subject, see here.

He makes the dubious claim that none of the gospels claim to have been written by eyewitnesses (thirty-fourth minute of the first hour).

He comments that the titles of the gospels aren't found until the second century (thirty-fifth minute of the first hour), which doesn't have much significance if he's limiting his claim to gospel manuscripts. We don't have any gospel manuscripts prior to the second century.

He asserts that the gospel authors relied on oral tradition, as if there were no previous written records (thirty-fifth minute of the first hour).

He makes the ridiculous comparison between the early transmission of oral tradition and the telephone game played by children (thirty-sixth minute of the first hour).

He criticizes attempts to harmonize the gospels, as if such a procedure is equivalent to writing our own fifth gospel (fortieth minute of the first hour), even though historians regularly practice harmonization of sources.

He makes the absurd claim that Jesus' resurrection is a matter of theology, but not history (forty-second minute of the first hour).

He makes comparisons between the reports of Jesus' resurrection and allegedly similar reports in other sources, such as Apollonius of Tyana, but repeatedly fails to take note of the differences among these accounts. (For some discussions of such alleged parallels to the accounts about Jesus, see Steve Hays' e-book on the resurrection, This Joyful Eastertide, and here.) Ehrman doesn't seem to have much familiarity with the Christian response to his argument. Michael Licona's mentor, Gary Habermas, has frequently addressed this issue, for example.

Ehrman apparently didn't even know that Licona believes in Biblical inerrancy (fourth minute of the second hour).

He makes a ridiculous comparison between Sabbati Sevi's conversion to Islam and Paul's conversion to Christianity (twenty-fifth minute of the second hour).

He repeatedly ignores the evidence we have from Paul when discussing the nature of the evidence we have for the resurrection. In response to Licona's refutation of his comparison between Jesus and Apollonius of Tyana, Ehrman refers to the lateness of the gospels and their alleged anonymity, for example, without mentioning the earliness and non-anonymous nature of Paul and other sources Paul refers to (the creed of 1 Corinthians 15, for example). See, for example, minutes twenty-seven and forty-one of the second hour.

Ehrman's attempts to undermine the historicity of the empty tomb are weak, and he doesn't even address some of the most significant evidence supporting the historicity of the empty tomb. He claims that Mark's report of the discovery of the empty tomb by women is suspicious, because having women discover it would be consistent with one of the motifs of Mark's gospel. Supposedly, Mark wanted "outsiders" to discover the empty tomb, and the women qualified as such. But if the unbelief of other people, such as the apostles, disqualified them from being the discoverers of the empty tomb in Mark's eyes, then why wouldn't the unbelief of the women do the same for them? They didn't go to the tomb expecting it to be empty. And it's not as though Mark couldn't have had a male outsider discover the tomb. For some examples of the evidence for the empty tomb that Ehrman didn't address, see here.

Ehrman repeatedly assumes that ancient non-Christian or modern accounts of the miraculous are unhistorical, then parallels those accounts with what the early Christians reported and suggests that we shouldn't accept the Christian accounts either. But a Christian worldview allows for miracles outside of Biblical history, both Divine and demonic supernatural activity. He doesn't justify his assumption that these extra-Biblical reports are false, and he often ignores significant differences between those accounts and the Biblical accounts. For a discussion of one of the extra-Biblical categories he mentioned, Marian apparitions, see here. And see here.

Ehrman lost this debate, just as he lost his debate with William Craig in 2006. (Licona had a bad voice during the debate, and he didn't use a lot of good arguments he could have used, yet he did better than Ehrman.) He lost both debates for similar reasons. He keeps repeating bad arguments that have long been refuted by Christians, including Christians who have explained the erroneous nature of those arguments in his presence. He doesn't seem to make much of an effort to research the arguments of his opponents, and he hasn't kept up much with scholarship that's more conservative than his own.


  1. Nice debate summary Jason

  2. Jason,

    I think Bart is following the maxim that, "if you tell a lie enough times, it becomes the truth."

  3. Or maybe he's following the maxim, "Maybe the people who saw my debate with Craig will not see this debate, so I can still use the same argument from probability."

  4. I am beginning to believe that bart is in it for the money, not for truth.

  5. Spot on. Carrier is even worse than Erhman. These two guys arguments are funny especially when they fight each other.