Tag Archives: Debate

William Lane Craig debates Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God

This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates).

Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it!

The MP3 file is here.

There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.

The debaters:

The format:

  • WSA: 15 minutes
  • WLC: 15 minutes
  • Debaters discussion: 6 minutes
  • Moderated discussion: 10 minutes
  • Audience Q&A: 18 minutes
  • WSA: 5 minutes
  • WLC: 5 minutes

SUMMARY:

WSA opening speech:

Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)

God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)

He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically

Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God

His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument

Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines

The inductive argument from evil:

  1.  If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  2.  There is evil in the world.
  3.  Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  4. Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.

Defining terms:

  • Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
  • Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling

God could prevent tooth decay with no pain

God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer

Responses by Christians:

  • Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
  • Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
  • Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
  • Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
  • Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
  • God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
  • We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
  • Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good

WLC opening speech:

Summarizing Walter’s argument

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. Gratuitous evil exists.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.

Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.

The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.

Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.

  1. the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
  2. Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
  3. Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous

Christian doctrines from 2.:

  • The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
  • Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
  • For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives

Arguing for God in 3.

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. God exists
  3. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):

  • the kalam cosmological argument
  • the fine-tuning argument
  • the moral argument
  • the argument from evil

The kalam cosmological argument defended in a peer-reviewed science journal

Here’s the peer-reviewed article. It appears in a scientific journal focused on astrophysics.

Here’s the abstract:

Both cosmology and philosophy trace their roots to the wonder felt by the ancient Greeks as they contemplated the universe. The ultimate question remains why the universe exists rather than nothing. This question led Leibniz to postulate the existence of a metaphysically necessary being, which he identified as God. Leibniz’s critics, however, disputed this identification, claiming that the space-time universe itself may be the metaphysically necessary being. The discovery during this century that the universe began to exist, however, calls into question the universe’s status as metaphysically necessary, since any necessary being must be eternal in its existence. Although various cosmogonic models claiming to avert the beginning of the universe predicted by the standard model have been and continue to be offered, no model involving an eternal universe has proved as plausible as the standard model. Unless we are to assert that the universe simply sprang into being uncaused out of nothing, we are thus led to Leibniz’s conclusion. Several objections to inferring a supernatural cause of the origin of the universe are considered and found to be unsound.

The whole text of the article is posted online here.

Here’s an excerpt in which the author, Dr. William Lane Craig, explains the Big Bang cosmology:

The monumental significance of the Friedman-Lemaitre model lay in its historization of the universe. As one commentator has remarked, up to this time the idea of the expansion of the universe “was absolutely beyond comprehension. Throughout all of human history the universe was regarded as fixed and immutable and the idea that it might actually be changing was inconceivable.”{8} But if the Friedman-Lemaitre model were correct, the universe could no longer be adequately treated as a static entity existing, in effect, timelessly. Rather the universe has a history, and time will not be matter of indifference for our investigation of the cosmos. In 1929 Edwin Hubble’s measurements of the red-shift in the optical spectra of light from distant galaxies,{9} which was taken to indicate a universal recessional motion of the light sources in the line of sight, provided a dramatic verification of the Friedman-Lemaitre model. Incredibly, what Hubble had discovered was the isotropic expansion of the universe predicted by Friedman and Lemaitre. It marked a veritable turning point in the history of science. “Of all the great predictions that science has ever made over the centuries,” exclaims John Wheeler, “was there ever one greater than this, to predict, and predict correctly, and predict against all expectation a phenomenon so fantastic as the expansion of the universe?”{10}

As a GTR-based theory, the Friedman-Lemaitre model does not describe the expansion of the material content of the universe into a pre-existing, empty, Newtonian space, but rather the expansion of space itself. This has the astonishing implication that as one reverses the expansion and extrapolates back in time, space-time curvature becomes progressively greater until one finally arrives at a singular state at which space-time curvature becomes infinite. This state therefore constitutes an edge or boundary to space-time itself. P. C. W. Davies comments,

An initial cosmological singularity . . . forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. . . . On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.{11}

The popular expression “Big Bang,” originally a derisive term coined by Fred Hoyle to characterize the beginning of the universe predicted by the Friedman-Lemaitre model, is thus potentially misleading, since the expansion cannot be visualized from the outside (there being no “outside,” just as there is no “before” with respect to the Big Bang).{12}

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.“{13}

[…]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Every theist should be able to understand and defend this argument. It is a scientific refutation of materialism, and it is supported by six lines of scientific evidence – all of which emerged as science has progressed.

Scientific evidence:

  1. Einstein’s theory of general relativity (GTR)
  2. the red-shifting of light from distant galaxies implies an expanding universe
  3. the cosmic background radiation (which also disproves the oscillating model of the universe)
  4. the second law of thermodynamics applied to star formation theory
  5. hydrogen-helium abundance predictions
  6. radioactive element abundance predictions

Those are the scientific discoveries that have led us to the beginning of the universe, which support’s Dr. Craig’s argument.

Here’s a re-cap of the three main evidences for the Big Bang cosmology from Caltech. (Numbers 2, 3 and 5 from the list above)

Excerpt:

Until the early 1900s, most people had assumed that the universe was fixed in size. New possibilities opened up in 1915, when Einstein formulated his famous general relativity theory that describes the nature of space, time, and gravity. This theory allows for expansion or contraction of the fabric of space. In 1917, astronomer Willem de Sitter applied this theory to the entire universe and boldly went on to show that the universe could be expanding. Aleksandr Friedmann, a mathematician, reached the same conclusion in a more general way in 1922, as did Georges Lemaître, a cosmologist and a Jesuit, in 1927. This step was revolutionary since the accepted view at the time was that the universe was static in size. Tracing back this expanding universe, Lemaître imagined all matter initially contained in a tiny universe and then exploding. These thoughts introduced amazing new possibilities for the universe, but were independent of observation at that time.

Why Do We Think the Big Bang Happened?

Three main observational results over the past century led astronomers to become certain that the universe began with the big bang. First, they found out that the universe is expanding—meaning that the separations between galaxies are becoming larger and larger. This led them to deduce that everything used to be extremely close together before some kind of explosion. Second, the big bang perfectly explains the abundance of helium and other nuclei like deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) in the universe. A hot, dense, and expanding environment at the beginning could produce these nuclei in the abundance we observe today. Third, astronomers could actually observe the cosmic background radiation—the afterglow of the explosion—from every direction in the universe. This last evidence so conclusively confirmed the theory of the universe’s beginning that Stephen Hawking said, “It is the discovery of the century, if not of all time.”

The article goes into detail about each of these three evidences.

This is the kind of evidence I expect all Christian theists to be using when discussing the question of whether God exists. Scientific evidence. When talking to non-Christians, we first need to show that we understand science, because science is a reliable and respected way of getting knowledge about the universe. Non-Christians do not accept the Bible, but they do accept science, so we begin evangelism with science. Science (experimental, testable, repeatable science) should set limits on what anyone can believe – including non-Christians, who might otherwise not be inclined to listen to Bible verses and theology.

The Big Bang is not compatible with atheism

According to the Secular Humanist Manifesto, atheism is committed to an eternally existing universe, (See the first item: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”). If something non-material brought all existing matter into being, that would be a supernatural cause, and atheists deny that anything supernatural exists. The standard Big Bang theory requires that all the matter in the universe come into being out of nothing. This falsifies eternal models of the universe, which are required by the atheistic worldview.

You should definitely print out both articles and get familiar with the arguments and the evidence. I have tried this argument out on atheists, and the response I usually get is that scientific discoveries will soon emerge that falsifies all of these six scientific discoveries. That sounds more like faith than reason to me. And we have to make it clear to others who are still deciding that there is a conflict between science and religion. Just not the one they’re expecting. Let’s make our decisions about what to believe based on what science is telling us today. Let’s hold accountable people who want to have a worldview that is based on speculations.

Jennifer Roback Morse debates on marriage at Columbia University

Cloning her would solve the marriage problem
Dr. J makes marriage interesting and fun

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse defends marriage at Columbia University in this short hour-long exchange. This is your chance to hear how anti-child advocates of same-sex marriage really are. And Dr. J links SSM to unilateral divorce at the end of the Q&A, too. Awesome! This debate really needed to go for twice the time, and I look forward to hearing MORE debates from Dr. J.

Details:

Columbia University’s Federalist Society hosts a debate between Dr J and Professor Katherine Franke based on the question “Is Marriage Equality Possible?”  About an hour of audio includes opening position (Dr J), arguments (Prof. Franke), and rebuttal (Dr J), as well as a brief question-and-answer period.

The MP3 file is here.

Dr. J’s opening speech (15 min.)

Two basic contentions:

  • 1) same-sex marriage is not the equivalent of traditional marriage
  • 2) if we legislate that they are equal, then we are really redefining marriage by changing the essential purpose of marriage

A case study from Ireland:

  • a known sperm donor for a lesbian couple was excluded from having a relationship with the child he conceived
  • after the child was born, the sperm donor wanted regular contact with the child, but the women opposed giving him access
  • same-sex marriage requires that courts are able to assign parental rights instead of having rights assigned biologically, as with traditional marriage
  • That is why SSM is different from TM

What is the purpose of marriage?

  • Marriage is about attaching mothers and fathers to children, and mothers and fathers to one another
  • Children are born helpless from two opposite-sex parents and they need parental guidance and care during development
  • In TM, there is no third party needed in order to have a child
  • In TM, the biological parents have rights and responsibilities for the child
  • TM is about providing the child with justice
  • Every child is entitled a relationship to both biological parents, and is entitled to care, protection and nourishment from both parents, and every child is entitled to a stable family environment
  • the problem is that children don’t have standing to sue for these rights in court
  • so the purpose of marriage is that we have a social construct to provide these rights to children naturally, without the state having to intervene

The purpose of marriage according to SSM?

  • In SSM, the essential child-centered  purpose marriage is replaced with new purposes like pooling resources and having same-sex couples recognized by society

SSM redefines marriage in four ways:

  • it diminishes the entitlement of children to a relationship with both biological parents
  • it diminishes the identification of parental roles with biology
  • it requires the state to determine parental relationships, instead of recognizing biological parents
  • it enshrines the idea that mothers and fathers are interchangeable, that children don’t really need mothers AND fathers

Dr. Franke’s opening speech (20 min.)

Hard cases make bad law 1: the presumption of paternity

  • consider the case where a mother is married and has an affair resulting in a child
  • the Supreme Court has ruled that the father of the child has no right of contact
  • this is a case where marriage gets in the way of biological parents having a relationship with the child
  • so it can be the case where marriage is in conflict with the relationships to biological parents

Hard cases make bad law 2: the purpose of marriage can be changed

  • marriages was used to keep peace between families and communities
  • marriage used to be about trading and trafficking of women
  • so the concern for offspring was not always the greatest concern

TM and SSM are both equally able to create stability for children:

  • same-sex unions are just as stable for children as TM marriages

Same-sex unions do provide justice for the child:

  • giving the adults in same-sex couples the social recognition that opposite sex married couples have is good for children

Children can sue in court

  • children can use guardians to sue their parents in court to get their rights

Opposing SSM is racism

  • opposing same-sex marriage is equivalent to racism
  • we could abolish marriage completely and let individuals form private contracts, then the state would really be neutral on marriage

Dr. J’s rebuttal speech (5 min.)

The state cannot be neutral on marriage

  • what the deinstutionalization of marriage means is that the private contracts are made by adults and children will have no consideration in those contracts

Regarding the adultery case

  • the presumption of paternity is there to protect the marriage
  • such borderline cases almost never happen with TM, whereas in SSM these third party problems occur in 100% of the cases

Children are not happy being separated from their biological parents

  • adults do not have a right to exclude a child’s biological parents from having a relationship with them, and children are often not happy being excluded from their biological parents

Bart Ehrman debates the reliability of the gospels with Craig Evans

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

This is the first debate ever between these two top-ranked scholars. Both Evans and Ehrman are probably 2 of the 10 most recognized historical Jesus scholars.

The MP3 audio and a link to the video is here. (From Brian Auten at Apologetics 315)

Speakers

Bart Ehrman

Dr. Ehrman, is a graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Professor Ehrman received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-one books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. Among his fields of scholarly expertise are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.

Craig Evans

Dr. Evans received his B.A. degree in History and Philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, his M.Div. degree from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Biblical Studies from Claremont Graduate University in southern California. Author and editor of more than fifty books and hundreds of articles and reviews, Professor Evans has given lectures at Cambridge, Durham, Oxford, Yale, and other universities, colleges, seminaries, and museums, such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

Note: This is a very snarky summary, and I am just paraphrasing things to be silly and funny. Reader discretion is advised.

Summary

Snarky things I made up are in italics.

Question 1: are the gospels historically reliable?

Bart Ehrman opening speech:

  • I used to be an ignorant fundamentalist like you!
  • but then I went to Princeton, and now I know better
  • to Craig: are there errors in the Bible
  • the gospels have some reliable and some unreliable info
  • only careless readers don’t see contradictions in the gospels
  • contradictions in the genealogies
  • contradictions in timing of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah
  • contradiction about when Jesus died
  • contradiction about when the stone was rolled away
  • contradiction about who was at the empty tomb
  • contradiction about when the disciples went to Galilee
  • contradictions in minor details means the gospels are unreliable

Craig Evans opening speech:

  • the question is “do the gospels tell us enough about Jesus for faith?”
  • the gospels don’t tell us everything, but they tell enough for faith
  • the extremely early creed in 1 Cor 15:3-7 has an outline of the gospel
  • it contains the burial, the appearances to eyewitnesses
  • and it agrees with the early sermons of Peter in Acts 2
  • the gospels agree with these extremely early summaries
  • the gospels are based on earlier sources
  • the gospels are corroborated by the Jewish historian Josephus

Question 2: Do the gospels accurately preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ?

Bart Ehrman

  • are there any discrepancies in the gospels?
  • the gospels have things Jesus said, and things he didn’t say
  • if the Bible is inaccurate in some minor details, then it’s all unreliable
  • in the latest gospel, John, Jesus calls himself God and sees himself as divine
  • but these high-Christology statements are not in the synoptics
  • therefore, Jesus really didn’t say these things
  • why didn’t the synoptics record these claims to divinity
  • the author of John changed the words of Jesus and John the Baptist?

Craig Evans

  • E.P. Sanders (a non-Christian scholar) says we can know what Jesus taught
  • cites E.P.’s list of Jesus’ core teachings that are agreed on by most scholars
  • Jesus’ focus was talking about the Kingdom of God – the rule of God
  • Jesus’ followers were expected to record and understand the words of Jesus
  • It is permissible for the followers of Jesus to have some editorial license

Question 3: Do the gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ?

Bart Ehrman

  • E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are discrepancies in the gospels
  • E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are mistakes in the gospels
  • If Jesus’ followers changed his words a little, then we can’t know anything he said
  • If the author changes the story a little, then the story was changed a lot
  • If there not 100% accurate, then they’re not accurate at all
  • contradiction of the ordering of Jesus’ temptations
  • contradiction of the number of animals Jesus rode into Jerusalem
  • contradiction of whether Jesus spoke or didn’t speak in some instance
  • contradiction of what Jesus said on the cross
  • contradiction of the number of robbers who speak to Jesus
  • Jesus can only say ONE THING when he’s on the cross
  • the gospel writers have to be in complete agreement

Craig Evans

  • E.P. Sanders (non-Christian) lists 7 virtually indisputable facts about Jesus
  • just because there are discrepancies, doesn’t mean there are no minimal facts
  • in additional to E.P. Sanders, there are other facts that are widely-accepted
  • many assertions in the gospels are embarrassing to the author
  • many liberal scholars think that Jesus was a healer and an exorcist
  • all scholars agree on the crucifixion
  • most scholars accept the “King of the Jews” placard placed over the cross
  • this means that Jesus was viewed by his followers as the Messiah

Question 4: Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition?

Bart Ehrman

  • I used to be an ignorant uninformed fundie, like you all
  • but then I started to study seriously, not like Craig Evans
  • I changed my mind based on intense research, not peer pressure
  • My apostasy has nothing to do with the problem of evil and suffering!
  • I use my brain, and Craig Evans and you fundies don’t use your brains
  • the gospels don’t claim to be written by eyewitnesses
  • the titles of the gospels were added later
  • the gospels don’t claim to be written by the authors attributed to them
  • the gospels were written anonymously
  • the gospels only had names attached in 120-140 AD
  • even if gospels were written by eyewitnesses, they are not always accurate
  • written 40-60 years after Jesus died
  • written in Greek, not Aramaic
  • written in different countries
  • based on stories that were told and retold and changed over time

Craig Evans

  • Richard Bauckham says the gospels are largely based on eyewitness accounts
  • the gospels were written while there were still eyewitnesses alive
  • the people who met Jesus were there to correct the written accounts
  • there were many disputes about things in the early church, so if the early church invented sayings, then why not invent sayings of Jesus to resolve the disputes?
  • there is no evidence of things being invented wholesale by the early church
  • Pappias says that he talked to Christians who knew the eyewitnesses to Jesus

Question 5: Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources?

Bart Ehrman

  • archaeologists do not use the gospels, they just dig things up
  • historians do use gospels
  • Jesus is not mentioned by any Greek or Roman non-Christian source for 80 years after Jesus’ death
  • The earliest Jewish source is Josephus, writing 60 years after Jesus’ death
  • Paul is the earliest source, but says nothing about Jesus’ words and deeds
  • the earliest sources for words and deeds are the discrepancy-filled gospels
  • the gospels are based on telling and re-telling of the stories

Craig Evans

  • James Charlesworth has a 700-book about archaeology and the Bible
  • the book contains hundreds of references to the four gospels
  • the four gospels and Acts are viewed as the best sources for archaeologists
  • they provide accurate information about the way things were
  • the gospels and Acts helps archaeologists to know where to dig for things
  • the Biblical sources are early and based on eyewitnesses
  • the gospels and Acts fit well in the first century culture
  • the gospels and Acts talk about real events and real places and real customs
  • the gospels and Acts talk about real buildings and real public figures and real groups
  • the language of the gospels traces back nicely to Aramaic
  • the gospels talk about geography and climate
  • archaeologists discover many things discussed in the gospels

Question 6: Have the gospels been accurately preserved done through the centuries

Bart Ehrman

  • if God inspired the Bible without error, he should have preserved it without error
  • but the originals have NOT been preserved without error
  • so I no longer accept the inerrancy of the autographs (the originals)
  • we don’t have the originals
  • we only have copies of copies… of copies… of copies… of copies
  • and the copiers all made mistakes
  • the first manuscripts are decades later
  • and the manuscripts we have are different from one another
  • the earliest copies have the most mistakes
  • even if we have many copies, they are late, so we don’t know what the original said
  • we don’t have early manuscripts

Craig Evans

  • we know where the discrepancies in the manuscripts are
  • the discrepancies are marked in your Bible
  • the discrepancies affect peripheral issues
  • some discrepancies are supported by other verses
  • Mark doesn’t have the appearances, but 1 Cor 15 does, and it’s earlier
  • the errors are things like spelling and grammar errors, typos, etc.
  • we have fragments that are earlier than the full manuscripts
  • some early manuscripts have errors, but other early manuscripts are correct

Question 7: Do scribal errors and textual variants significantly impact any teaching of Jesus or any important Christian teaching?

Bart Ehrman

  • the woman caught in adultery is a late addition
  • the ending of Mark is a late addition
  • can we handle snakes or can’t we?
  • did Jesus sweat blood or didn’t he?
  • some manuscripts have errors – that should not be allowed by God
  • some scribes are careless – that should not be allowed by God
  • we have to have perfect copies of the originals, or I won’t believe!
  • if God really inspired it, it all has to be perfect! Perfect! I was lied to!!!!
  • if the snake-handling verse isn’t there, then the whole Bible is lies! Lies!

Craig Evans

  • no variants impact any teaching of Jesus or significant Christian teaching
  • the vast majority of the manuscripts agree on 98-99% of the text
  • often, the theology gives rise to a variant, which is introduced later
  • variants aren’t central enough to affect any theological doctrines

And then there are concluding speeches by each speaker.

I made this summary based on the video, which is here on Apologetics 315.

Mike Licona debates Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the gospels

Two ninjas face off at sundown
Two ninjas face off at sundown

From the Unbelievable radio show.

Details:

Bart Ehrman is well known as a US New Testament Scholar who lost his Christian faith and now questions many core precepts of Christianity, including the Resurrection of Jesus.  When Mike Licona had doubts he devoted himself to investigating the evidence and became convinced that Jesus resurrection is the only rational explanation for the facts.

They debate key historical facts about the resurrection – are the letters of Paul that report the resurrection and the Gospel accounts trustworthy or theologised and changed with time?  What about apparent contradictions between the Gospels? Does the consensus of scholars count as evidence, or is there a Christian bias?  Can a miracle count as an explanation for historical data?

The MP3 file is here. (Note: this link works)

Snarky summary of the radio debate: (items with * are my made-up paraphrases/clarifications)

Ehrman:
– Bart’s new book is about forgeries in the ancient world
– some books were falsely attributed to prominent Christian figures
– there are mistakes in the Bible
– there are mistakes in the resurrection narratives
– the defeat of inerrancy led to his conversion to liberal Christianity
– the problem of evil and suffering caused him to become a non-Christian

Licona:
– there are minimal facts that are agreed to by a broad spectrum of scholars
– the minimal facts are accepted because they pass standard historical criteria
– Fact 1: Jesus died by crucifixion
– Fact 2: Individuals and groups had visions of Jesus after his death
– Fact 3: Paul, a skeptic and an enemy, had an appearance of Jesus that converted him
– these facts are agreed to atheist scholars, liberal scholars, etc.
– virtually 100% of scholars agree with these three facts
– there is no naturalistic explanation of these three facts
– therefore, the best explanation of these three facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead

Ehrman:
– all historians would accept these three facts, except for maybe the group appearances
– the death of Jesus is irrelevant to the resurrection
– the second and third point can be collapsed together
– so really there is only one fact

Moderator:
– the crucifixion is relevant because Muslims don’t admit that fact
– the crucifixion important because it establishes a resurrection, not a resuscitation

Ehrman:
– well, if the point is that he died, then yes, this does require a resurrection

Licona:
– the crucifixion refutes Muslims who deny that Jesus died
– the crucifixion refutes the apparent death theory (swoon theory)
– the death is required for a bodily resurrection
– it’s important to know what facts most scholars, regardless of worldview, agree on
– it’s important to emphasize that Licona is working from historical bedrock facts
– the resurrection is the best explanation for the historical bedrock facts

Ehrman:
– you are trying to list 3 things, but really it is just one thing – the appearances
– and not ALL scholars agree that the group visions occurred

Licona:
– name one prominent scholar who denies the group appearances

Ehrman:
– the radically leftist atheist nutcase John Dominic Crossan denies the group appearances
* Crossan is so far on the left that I look like a nutcase for even citing him
* Crossan believes in the Secret Gospel of Mark, which is a hoax – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan believes that the synoptics are LATER than gnostic forged gospels – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan presupposes atheism, so he cannot admit to miracle stories as a pre-supposition – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan pre-supposes religious pluralism, so he cannot allow any exclusive claims Christians make – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan is a good historian, it’s just that he is so far to the left that no one – NO ONE – agrees with his all of crazy theories
* I think it is a good idea to cite historians who pre-suppose atheism and political correctness before they sit down to do history

Licona:
– let me explain why most scholars accept the individual and group post-mortem appearances
– the best source for the appearances is the early creed recorded by Paul in 1 Cor 15:3-8
– Paul himself had an appearance of Jesus after Jesus’ death
– Paul received this material from a source very soon after the appearances – within 1-3 years
– we know that Paul met with Jesus disciples multiple times prior to writing
– Paul probably received it from Peter and James, who were themselves eyewitnesses

Moderator:
– this early dating presumably rules out legend

Licona:
– well legends CAN start quickly
– it does show that Paul was an eyewitness
– it does show that Paul was in contact with reliable eyewitnesses

Ehrman:
– 1 Corinthians is written around 55 AD, twenty-five years after Jesus died
– it is not implausible that Paul got the creed from the disciples, who were eyewitnesses
– but you don’t need a long time for legends to emerge, so that is a possibility

Licona:
– only about 3% of people could read and write back them
– instead, people had enormous capacity for memorization
– the Pharisees were particularly good at memorization
– Jews were very serious about passing along traditions accurately
– Paul, a prominent Pharisee, would have been capable of passing on early creeds accurately
– Paul, in 1 Cor 7, shows that he is willing to separate his opinions from authentic tradition
– Paul had an opportunity in 1 Cor 7 to put words into Jesus’ mouth, but he wouldn’t do it

Ehrman:
– cultural anthropologists show that things do get changed in some oral cultures
– in these oral cultures, it is assumed that the story teller will change the story
– only in written cultures are they careful to avoid changing the story
– in the New Testament, you can compare the same story in two different gospels, there are differences

Licona:
– Ehrman is right that the gospel writers pick and choose things from the oral tradition that they want to include in their gospels
– different oral tradition transmission schemes have more or less embellishment
– african tribes embellish more, rabbinic teaching embellishes less
* Jesus’ followers would have viewed him as a rabbi, and been careful about adding to his teachings
– Paul, an eyewitness, probably received the creed in 1 Cor 15 from other eyewitnesses
– Paul speaks about going twice to Jerusalem in Galatians
– he is meeting with Peter and James to check his facts

Ehrman:
– when you look at Mark and John, there are lots of differences in the narrative

Licona:
– I agree that the gospels have differences, but the oral tradition is likely fixed

Ehrman:
– but Mark and John have different sayings
– why doesn’t Mark have the same explicit high Christology that John has?

Licona:
– first, John is trying to weave the oral tradition into a compelling story
– and second, when you look in Mark, the high Christology is there in the Son of Man sayings
– the apocalyptic Son of Man is in Mark, and everywhere in the New Testament

Ehrman:
– the “apocalyptic Son of Man” isn’t in John

Licona:
– what about in John 9 with the man who was born blind

Ehrman:
– where is the apocalyptic part?

Licona:
– the healed man worships Jesus because he is the Son of Man
– that links to the apocalypic passages in the Old Testament

Moderator:
– what about the differences between the gospels?

Ehrman:
* well, now is the time for me to set up an inerrantist straw man and then knock it down!
* who was at the empty tomb: one angel or two angels? we don’t know, so the whole Bible is false!
* I used to be an inerrantist, so one minor difference is enough for me to dump the whole Bible
* I’ll kill you, you stupid straw man! I hate you, Moody Bible Institute! You lied to me!

Licona:
– many of these problems can be solved by realizing that the gospel writers compress time
– the stories don’t have to list ALL the characters in every scene
– you don’t have to force the Bible to meet some sort of wooden chronology
– the main thing is that the events happened, not that the descriptions match word for word across sources

Ehrman:
– you can’t infer a miracle from history, David Hume says so
* extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, David Hume says so
* no I don’t know what begging the question is, I’m not a philosopher
* no I don’t remember when Bill Craig kicked my ass on this Hume objection in our debate
– the New Testament gospels contradict each other at every point, they are not reliable at all!
* they cannot even agree what Jesus’ name is! There are 1 trillion variants of Jesus’ name!
* “one angel vs two angels” proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point
* my expansive list of FOUR theologically insignificant variants proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point

Licona:
– um, the gospels agree on the central narrative and disagree on the peripherals
– and they agree on the minimal facts I presented, even if they disagree about the number of angels

Ehrman:
* they have to agree on everything and be inerrant! The Moody Straw Man Bible Institute says so!
* I really really really need to have the number of angels be the same, or Jesus didn’t die on the cross

Licona:
– but you don’t deny any of the three minimal facts I presented (crucifixion, appearances, Paul)

Ehrman:
– well, I don’t know if the group appearances occurred – maybe they did
– i think Jesus died on the cross, and I think that people said they saw him alive afterward

Licona:
– if you deny the minimal facts, then you are outside the majority of scholars

Ehrman:
– the majority of scholars who agree to the minimal facts you presented are Christians
* Gerd Ludemann is an atheist Christian
* James Crossley is an atheist Christian
* Hector Avalos is an atheist Christian
* the majority of the atheist scholars are all Christians!
– VIRTUALLY EVERYBODY IN THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE IS A CHRISTIAN!!! (Yes, he said that)

Licona:
– you really think so?

Ehrman
– you name one non-Christian in the SBL

Licona:
– (incredulous) um, John Dominic Crossan is an atheist

Ehrman:
– but he CLAIMS TO BE A CHRISTIAN so that means HE IS A CHRISTIAN
* all you have to do to be a Christian is claim to be one
* you can even deny the existence of God and the divinity of Christ and still be one, you bigot!

Licona:
– would Jesus or the apostles recognize a Christian as being someone who doubts God’s existence

Ehrman:
– my view is that Jesus and the apostles would not recognize evangelical Christians as Christians
* a non-theist can be a Christian just by claiming to be one, but evangelical Christians are not Christians even if they claim to be Christians
– Christians can’t record accurate history about the resurrection because they are biased

Licona:
– on your view, if a person is a Christian then he can’t write about the evidence for the resurrection
– so then similarly, you would not allow Jews to write about the historicity of the Holocaust
– because you think that if people have an interest in what they are recording then they can’t be objective
– but you have to consider the evidence we have, taking the biases of the sources into account

Ehrman:
– but the only people who believe in the resurrection are Christians!

Licona:
– well, people can consider the evidence for the resurrection as non-Christians
– and then if they accept it they can become Christians

Moderator:
– what about your bias? you don’t believe in God – doesn’t that pre-supposition affect how you do history?

Ehrman:
– well, I presuppose naturalism, so I can’t admit to anything in history that implicates supernatural causes
* no I have never heard of the arguments for the Big Bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, limits on mutations creating information, habitability and so on – I never heard about that stuff from my atheist university professors and even if I had I would have been expelled for talking about it because that would make people feel bad about their sinning

Licona:
– so it’s not bias you are concerned about, it’s that you don’t want history to contradict your untested religion of naturalism?
– why not just do the history without pre-suppositions to gather the minimal facts and then see what the best explanation is?

Ehrman:
* well God is out of bounds as an explanation because I could not have got my PhD if I mentioned God
* I really needed my smart atheist professors to like me and give me good grades so God is RIGHT OUT
* ideas like a real God and moral laws and Hell makes my atheist professors uncomfortable and that means low grades for me
* I’m not really interested in butting heads with professors – it’s easier to just agree with them and move on to selling books to the gullible
* My books are much more sensational than Dan Brown books, so please buy lots of them!

Licona:
– what if the historical evidence is good enough to show that Jesus rose from the dead?

Ehrman:
– well I would not call someone rising from the dead a miracle – I would call it weird
* I also think that the Big Bang is “weird” but that doesn’t prove that God created the universe out of nothing
* if it’s a miracle then I’m going to have to not sin, and maybe even go to Hell, and we can’t have that

Licona:
– well, you accept the three minimal facts
– what if we try all the naturalistic explanations for those three facts and there are problems with all of them?
– what if the resurrection is the best explanation for the three minimal facts?

Ehrman:
– but I want to arbitrarily rule God put because I want to pre-suppose naturalism
– there is not historical reason I have to rule put supernatural explanations a priori

Licona:
– I think you are struggling with the theological implications of a historical conclusion

Ehrman:
– well when you do theology, you have to avoid grounding your theology on science or history
– theology has to be completely made up or it’s not good theology

Licona:
– I think you are letting your dislike of the implications of the resurrection determine your historical conclusions
– you have to use historical methods to gather the minimal facts that every scholar accepts, regardless of worldview
– then you weigh ALL the hypotheses, natural and supernatural, that could account for these minimal facts
– then you choose the hypothesis that best explains the minimal facts