Bart Ehrman’s Method: A Look At Licona v. Ehrman
In a debate pitting two well-known scholars of the New Testament against each other, we can find a lot to unpack.(1)“Bart Ehrman vs. Mike Licona 2009 debate” Youtube video, 2:01:18, posted by Bart D. Ehrman, December 14, 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iE6YX9O5tE). On watching the debate recently, apart from enjoying it, I also had a number of thoughts on Ehrman’s argument against the idea that historians can prove the Resurrection. Bart Ehrman is probably the principal North American opponent of Christianity working in New Testament studies. He routinely publishes books that eschew the doctrines of orthodox Christianity (most recently, How Jesus became God). I’m going to focus on only one argument that Ehrman presents, which he calls the main reason why historians cannot prove the Resurrection.
Ehrman’s main objection to the idea that historians can use the Resurrection as an explanation is the following. He contends that miracles are “by definition the least probable event.” History is the study of what most probably occurred. Therefore, by definition, history cannot explain events in terms of miracles. This is clearly an argument for methodological naturalism. I’m going to focus almost exclusively on his first premise, because that is really where all the problems lie. If you look at it carefully, you will realize that it claims much more than it seems to be claiming at first glance. There are three issues with this premise. The first issue is the idea, seeming to be communicated, that miracles are always the least probable event. The second concerns the small but important phrase “by definition.” The third is the notion that miracles are generally speaking very improbable events.
The first and most important problem with Ehrman’s premise is the notion that miracles are least probable and not generally speaking improbable. Again, this claim is stronger than the empirical evidence Ehrman gave in support. Ehrman seems to be implying that miracles are always the least probable event. He states this explicitly in his 2006 debate with William Craig…
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