Can historians prove that Jesus was raised from the dead?
Mike Licona and Bart Ehrman debated this issue, and it's posted on youtube in four parts:
Ehrman was careful in his first speech to say that the debate was not over whether the resurrection happened, but over whether we can use historical methods to demonstrate that it happened. His argument was basically that since God is necessary to make a resurrection happen, and God is not accessible by historical methods, then the resurrection cannot be demonstrated by history. He also gave a Humean argument against miracles based on probability.
I think Ehrman is very confused about how probability works. Bill Craig pointed that out to him in a debate once, but I don't think Ehrman understood what Craig was explaining, because he accused Craig of trying to make a mathematical proof of the resurrection. I don't think Licona did a good job of addressing Ehrman's confusion.
Ehrman also made a number of irrelevant points. He pointed to the many discrepancies between the gospels in order to demonstrate that they are unreliable in order to demonstrate that we have poor evidence for the resurrection. But as Licona demonstrated, using quotes from Ehrman himself, none of these discrepancies prevented Ehrman and the vast majority of scholars from concluding that Jesus was crucified and that the disciples had experiences they understood as being appearances of the risen Jesus. Since Licona was arguing from three premises that Ehrman already agreed with, Ehrman's discussion of Bible contradictions was completely irrelevant.
Licona based his whole argument on three facts:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.He argued that the resurrection hypothesis was a better explanation of these facts than rival hypotheses because it better fulfilled four historical criteria--explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and the least ad hoc.
2. Jesus appeared to the apostles.
3. Jesus appeared to Paul.
Licona defined an ad hoc explanation as an explanation that requires positing entities for which there is no independent evidence. But then later, Licona posited God as a necessary condition for the resurrection without giving any independent evidence for God. I thought this was a severe blunder on Licona's part.
Ehrman claimed that Licona's first point--that Jesus died by crucifixion--was irrelevant to the case for the resurrection since if Jesus had died by stoning, the structure of the argument would've been the same. And since the second and third points are really the same point--that Jesus appeared to people after his death--that Licona really only had one point to argue from. I don't know if I'm confused or if Ehrman is confused. I mean sure, it doesn't matter how Jesus died, but obviously that Jesus died is extremely relevant to the resurrection. A person can't be raised from the dead if they haven't first died. The fact that Jesus die by crucifixion, of course, entails that Jesus died, so Licona does not just have one point. He's got two. I thought Licona should've pointed out the nonsense behind Ehrman's argument, but he just ignored it.
While demonstrating the inadequacy of the hallucination hypothesis (which Erhman preferred to call the visionary hypothesis), Licona said hallucinations don't happen in groups. This is another area where I think Licona smuggled in some information without substantiating it. His whole intention in the debate was to show that you could infer the resurrection from historical facts that are already accepted by almost all new testament scholars. One of them was that Jesus appeared to the disciples. But the fact that the vast majority of scholars agree that Jesus appeared to his disciples does not mean they all agree Jesus appeared to them in groups. Licona just smuggled that one in, and Ehrman didn't seem to catch it.
Ehrman's response was to give counter examples. He pointed to the many episodes of the virgin, Mary, appearing to many people in groups. Licona didn't respond to that, which was disappointing. I wish there had been a cross examination period.
Ehrman claimed that the disciples only saw visions of Jesus, not Jesus himself. He brought up the incident where Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, and pointed out the fact that even though Moses and Elijah appeared to Peter, James, and John, it didn't cause them to believe they had been raised from the dead. That really surprised me because if Ehrman was claiming that the vision of Jesus after his death was the same kind of thing, then he's left without an explanation for why the appearance of Moses did not cause them to think Moses had risen from the dead but the vision of Jesus did cause them to believe that Jesus had been risen from the dead. It seems to me that we can reasonably infer that the appearance of Jesus was not the same as the appearance of Moses. And if the appearance of Moses was a mere vision, then the appearance of Jesus was not a mere vision.
Ehrman also asked how Paul recognized Jesus since Paul didn't know Jesus during his mortal lifetime. He seemed to think that somehow worked as an argument against Paul's appearance, but he didn't explain how. Licona didn't answer the question, and unfortunately, there was no cross examination period. I suppose Jesus introduced himself to Paul, and that's how Paul knew who it was. Granted, it's possible some supernatural being other than Jesus just felt like appearing to Paul and pretending to be Jesus so Paul would convert to Christianity, but it seems far more likely to me that it was Jesus himself.
I thought it was a good debate. Some points each brought up were not adequately addressed by the other side, but given the time constraints of debates, that's to be expected. I would say the debate was a tie, because I can't decide who won.