Sunday, March 19, 2017

EPS Dialogue: Ehrman's Resurrection Historiography

So, this past weekend I was in Louisville, Kentucky for the Southeast Regional meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.  Great conference!  I presented a paper I wrote, as a Socratic dialogue featuring Bart Ehrman and his interlocutor, Professor Dart Bearmahn, interrogating Ehrman's historical methodology concerning the post-mortem fate of Jesus of Nazareth.  One of my old professors, Dr. Mark Coppenger, honored me by reading the paper with me - and, I have to say, it was the most fun I have ever had presenting an academic paper!  A new friend, Keith Buhler (currently finishing his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Kentucky) was kind enough to take a bootleg copy of the presentation.  Below, I provide the abstract of the paper, and a link to Keith's Youtube video.  Hope you enjoy it!

Dart Bearmahn: “Why Leah Never Won the Lottery, The Red Sox Didn’t Win the 2004 World Series, Man is Not Descended from Apes, and Jesus Never Died on the Cross.”

Bart Ehrman’s historiography designates miracles “the least likely of all possible events.”  Furthermore, Ehrman argues that affirming a miracle requires belief in God.  Hence, on two counts, historians are unable to argue historically that a miracle (such as Jesus’s resurrection) occurred.  First, historians try to arrive at the “most probable” historical explanation; and since a miracle is by definition the least likely occurrence, it can never be the most probable explanation.  Second, historians draw conclusions that are open to peers of all worldview beliefs; and since belief in miracles requires belief in God, and since not all historians believe in God, therefore historians cannot conclude as a matter of history that a miracle has occurred.

In this paper, I will playfully (but logically and rigorously) apply Ehrman’s reasoning to four other historical hypotheses in an imaginative dialogue between Dr. Ehrman and his heretofore-unknown academic mirror, Prof. Dart Bearmahn.  Dr. Ehrman will articulate the historical reasoning that leads him to reject the resurrection of Jesus.  Prof. Bearmahn will enthusiastically jump on the bandwagon, drawing conclusions that seem to follow logically from Dr. Ehrman’s principles, but leave Dr. Ehrman aghast.  First, Leah’s lottery win was the least likely of all possible events.  I will demonstrate that every other historical hypothesis, no matter how far-fetched, is nonetheless more probable than Leah’s win.  Second, the Red Sox playoff victory over the Yankees was without precedent, and thereby had an antecedent probability of virtually zero.  Third, not all people (historians or scientists) embrace Darwinian evolution, therefore common descent is an illegitimate historical hypothesis.  Finally, on the same count, some doubt the very existence of Jesus: therefore, we cannot say that Jesus died on the cross as a matter of history, even if someone wants to claim that, theologically, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans.