Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bart Ehrman responds

I got this message via John Sabatino

I didn’t back out of doing a book with him. There never was any agreement that we would do a book together. We agreed to stage a public debate, and afterwards I thought some of his arguments were so far removed from anything rational, that I decided giving him a platform to air them was conceding way to much.

Best wishes,

-- Bart Ehrman

Sabatino replies:

Dr. Reppert – here’s an email from Ehrman. I find it hard to believe that, if he felt his arguments were on more rational grounds in a *debate* with Craig, he would not want this to be given a “platform” – especially when he seems to have a fondness of the limelight himself. I suspect that he was simply frustrated with Craig’s arguments, given that he himself concedes many of the premises his own publications (e.g. the empty tomb, Paul’s notion of resurrection as bodily, etc.) in.



Jason Pratt said...

Hm. (Thanks to John for passing this along to you, btw. Planning to report the confirmation you received from WLC, too?)

I have to admit, I'm having some trouble parsing out BE's statement. While I think WLC commonly runs into some logical faults, on the whole he's a lot more cogent than some contenders I've seen. (Most recent example being the Tom vs. Richard debate on the SecWeb.) And in my experience I find him to be on stronger ground on Res debates (per se) than on some other topics.

Granted, if I thought I had totally slaughtered my opponent in a debate (due to freakishly irrational ineptness on his part), I might decline doing a book from it simply to spare him the embarrassment of flaming out so badly in a more public venue. But I wouldn't call that "conceding way too much" to him.

So, yeah, I agree--it looks suspicious. Still: I _also_ know, from experience, that an opponent can proceed by doing his best to fog things over completely for everyone in order to make it seem like they're accomplishing something. I _would_ consider it useless to jointly publish a book in that case, and might put my rejection in much the same way as BE.

That being said, I have an extremely difficult time imagining WLC doing _that_. {g} That isn't how he tactically operates; and I don't expect to see him doing it during the transcript of the debate to be released in June.

_However_: there's another possibility which would create much the same result (even though that wasn't WLC's intention). Maybe the problem is that the topic of the Res per se was still too wide to effectively _debate_. Even if one sticks strictly with the historical side (which I somewhat doubt either party would do), there's still a _lot_ of ground to cover. It may have been simply impossible to do justice to the various points brought up (mile wide, inch deep).

I myself wouldn't call _that_ problem as being "arguments so far removed from anything rational" on my opponent's part. But _if_ that was the problem (which is common in such debates, and could very easily be true here), and if the result was a rather large amount of apparent assertioning (which would be the most natural result), and _if_ BE didn't perceive the actual problem--then we would have a situation of him looking at a bunch of apparent assertions instead of actual argumentation. That _could_ be (somewhat understandably though mis-)described as "arguments so far removed from anything rational".

Following out the theory, BE would have found himself facing down a bunch of apparent assertions, any of which would require a whole debate to themselves for careful analysis. At which, setting aside whether BE himself was (due to wideness of initial topic and constraint of debate format) doing much the same assertioning (which he might not realize he was doing), I can see him not-unreasonably deciding that giving a platform to all the assertioning would be counter-productive. (Thus "giving him a platform to air them was conceding way too much.") Assertion spamming looks at first glance like it's accomplishing something powerful, and can't be feasibly defended against in anything like an equivalent amount of space.

So: I can come up with a charitable explanation of BE's remark, that doesn't necessarily require the kind of brute incompetency (or charlatanry) he's implying about WLC. One test will be to see whether WLC sticks to only a few debating points, or comes loaded for bear with ten or fifteen. (Given the very general description of the debate in promotions, as well as some familiarity with WLC's tactics in the past, I expect the latter rather than the former; but of course I could still be wrong.)

Jason Pratt

Victor Reppert said...

WLC told me he thought that Ehrman was embarrassed to let the book out.

Anonymous said...

I just read the transcript and my impression is that WLC is either fogging us or has introduced a new form of algebra. I have never heard WLC before but have seen almost all of what BDE lectures. This was right out of two or three BDE lectures. If BDE doesn't want to do a book with WLC, it is because he (BDE) might lose crediblity battling on one side or the other....He is a historian, not Elaine Pagels. Besides, WLC really sounds off the wall.

Anonymous said...

To the other anonymous: the so-called "New Algebra" you're talking about is an equation expressing a conditional probability, called Bayes Theorem. It's covered in most high school statistics textbooks.'_theorem

It's also the basis for spam filtering algorithms.

Anonymous said...

It's silly to enter this blog dialog so late, but oh well I will anyway-- I've just recently started reading the topics around Bart Ehrman and Misquoting Jesus, and I think I have something to add to this discussion.
From reading the aforementioned transcript, WLC's use of probability calculus, likely an unfamiliar topic to most debate attendees, smells suspiciously like 'baffle them with BS'. (Which may be what the first Anonymous poster meant by the 'new math' comment).
WLC boils it down to saying the overall probability of the Res is X/(X+Y), where X is probability of Res given our background knowledge, and Y is the probability of no Res (that is, something happened to Jesus after death OTHER than Res). And, he concludes, since Y is much closer to zero than X, the overall probability of the Res is near 100%, even if X is very small.
The difficulty here, which WLC glosses over, is asserting that Y is so small. I'll hazard to suggest that most people would agree that Y is not much closer to zero than X (i.e., natural explanations for the empty tomb are not significantly more improbable than the Res), even if one believes in the Res, and therefore the overall probability is still very small.
It isn't clear that BDE has anything to gain from agreeing to see this debate published, besides a few dollars which he probably doesn't need. Not because he didn't represent his position well, but because it wasn't really debated: WLC primarily appealed to the beliefs of his audience.