I have been thinking about historical apologetics recently. I remember reading Evidence that Demands a Verdict as a young Christian, and then seeing Josh McDowell at a Campus Crusade retreat in 1973. I remember a friend of mine at the time simply exultant after the retreat about the force of McDowell's arguments, saying "I dare people to come here and try to PROVE US WRONG." That Christian friend was Timothy Grogan, whose deconversion story was recorded in the volume Ed Babinski edited, Leaving the Fold. I soon became disaffected with Campus Crusade, and always thought that the McDowell book had serious problems, mostly that it piled on quotations from evangelical sources and assumed the Bible's inerrancy in order to prove points at issue between Bible believers and their opponents. I remember writing a paper about it in seminary in which I said that McDowell uses the shotgun method, as if arguments were forceful as a result of their sheer numbers. The book, as we all know, was compiled by a committee evangelical seminary students. I certainly don't consider it worthless, but the case certainly needed to be put together more judiciously.
At the same time, there was nothing in there about Hume's essay on miracles, thought there was a second volume that had a brief rebuttal to Hume including one paragraph from Lewis's rebuttal in Miracles. Many philosophers I knew were simply willing to dismiss the whole thing out of hand on Humean grounds. At the same time, I remained convinced that there was something right about the historical argument which would have real force if it were done right.
Since that time, the historical argument has been deployed by William Lane Craig and others. When I first encountered Internet Infidels, their flagship project was an actual rebuttal or criticism of ETDAV, entitled The Jury is In, and J. P. Holding was firing back with A Jury In Need of Dismissal.
I think a few responses to how this all ought to go are in order. First, while I think that there is an overall consensus amongst philosophers that Hume's essay doesn't destroy the possibility of rational belief in miracles, it is true that the miraculous character of the events that the Historical Argument tries to defend are not ordinary events, and the evidence required to make them believable is bound to vary from person to person. The believability of the Christian miracles is going to depend, in the minds of different people, on the overall plausibility of Christianity in general, and many people are going to hold world-views that are sufficiently hostile to miracles to make just about any evidence coming out of the ancient world insufficient for belief. So, I don't think we can attribute all resistance to the case for the resurrection to pride, ignorance (usually self-imposed), or a moral problem. Extraordinary claims, we are told, require extraordinary evidence, but the inherent improbability of the miraculous can be mitigated by the plausibility of Christianity in other respects. Or not, as the case might be. I don't think antecedent improbability arguments are sufficient to show that a case for historical miracles can't be persuasive.
Second, for the purposes of a discussion historical apologetics, one needs to employ a conception of general reliability which is distinct from an inerrancy claim. The relevant texts need to be broadly reliable, as reliable as we should expect ancient documents to be which are serious attempts to discover the truth through contact with eyewitnesses. In fact, a certain amount of "errancy" actually helps the case for the Gospels by undercutting the idea that everyone was in collusion.
What I think I can argue is that no really sensible account of the events surrounding the life, claims, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the events involved in the founding of the Christian church, can be given in naturalistically acceptable terms. Even if we think whatever happened wasn't a resurrection, it is at least difficult to tell a story consistent with the facts which is also consistent with naturalism.
More on this later.