DiSilvestro defends William Lane Craig’s argument for the resurrection:
- Four facts need to be explained by any theory about the resurrection: (1) Jesus was buried, (2) Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty, (3) some people reported seeing Jesus after he was dead, (4) Jesus’ followers preached the resurrection when they had every reason not to.
- The best explanation of these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
DiSilvestro presents the usual evidence for these “four facts”: gospel writers would not have invented a story that women, who were untrusted in ancient Palestine, were the first to find the empty tomb… and so on.
Next, is “God raised Jesus from the dead” the best explanation of these facts? DiSilvestro (like Craig) first quotes Christian historian C.B. McCullough’s list of criteria pointing toward a “best explanation”:
- Good explanatory scope (the hypothesis explains lots of data, not just a few data).
- Good explanatory power (the hypothesis makes the data more likely).
- Plausibility (the hypothesis fits with our knowledge).
- Not contrived (the hypothesis does not require additional, unproven assumptions).
- Fits with widely accepted beliefs.
- Beats rival hypotheses with regard to the above 5 criteria.
DiSilvestro then concludes that the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” meets these criteria better than rival hypotheses, for example the “hallucination” hypothesis.
This abuse of McCullough’s work is common, but not available to those who have not read McCullough’s work – as is explained by Hector Avalos and Chris Sandoval. (At least, I hope DiSilvestro has not read McCullough’s work. If he has, that makes him, like Craig, a bit dishonest in addition to mistaken.)
McCormick does not call attention to this abuse, but rather opens with the work he has been developing for his forthcoming book, The Case Against Christ:
- A story’s fidelity is degraded as it passes from person to person, like in the game Telephone.
- When people report a miracle, the chance that their report is true is at best close to 0. (Think of Lourdes, where even the Catholic Church acknowledges only 67 of millions of reported miracles.)
- Hallucinations of dead people are common.
- Iron Age magical thinkers without the benefit of the last 2000 years of scientific explanation would have been far more likely to accept supernatural explanations without much evidence.
- Memories are unreliable and can be invented easily.
- The canonization process left unpreserved nearly all written accounts that disagreed with a particular narrative that the book-selectors sought to spread.
DiSilvestro says the points McCormick raises are commendably honest, and says “these are exactly the kinds of honest, straightforward conversations we should be having within all of our churches, or for that matter our mosques, our synagogues, and temples.” If only!
He then says that even if we accept McCormick’s points, it’s not clear we have to give up any of the “four facts” listed earlier. And yet, he disputes some of McCormick’s points:
- The New Testament documents are better-attested in history than many other ancient documents.
- The canon was chosen so that the most accurate documents were preserved, not just to prop up a particular story.
- If the gospels were written to preserve a consistent story, there wouldn’t be so many apparent inconsistencies in the texts.
McCormick responds that DiSilvestro’s four facts should not be considered “facts.” We don’t know them so certainly; our witnesses are not that reliable.
McCormick also points out that if he had explained his skepticism about other accounts of magical deeds in history, such as the origins of Islam or the Salem Witch Trials, the Christian audience would agree that these are reasons to be skeptical. But they hold a double standard for the resurrection of Jesus, even though we have better evidence for witches at Salem than for the resurrection of Jesus.
He also says: Notice that you don’t need to defend any particular story about what happened at Salem in order to reject the “actual witchcraft” hypothesis.
DiSilvestro says that we should apply consistent standards, but that he’s “not convinced” that witchcraft didn’t happen in Salem! Wow. Talk about biting the bullet!
McCormick illustrates his point about the unreliability of ancient superstitious witnesses by referencing Ishi, the last Iron Age Native American to have lived completely outside the influence of European-American culture (until he wandered out of isolation and spent the rest of his life being studied by anthropologists).
McCormick concludes by asking why a good God who wants us to believe in him would not have provided better evidence for the supposed central event in history.
In many ways, this is an ideal debate. The debaters respect each other. They are both clear that there is much being left out, and a one-hour debate cannot decide the issue. They summarize standard arguments given by both sides. Moreover, it almost helps that neither is a professional historian or New Testament scholar, as they didn’t get locked on arguing about arcane details like the correct translation of certain Aramaic phrases.
However, both contestants could done a better job of summarizing their case and why they think it is superior to their opponent’s case, something William Lane Craig always does.