Friday, May 19, 2006

A note from Bart Ehrman

This is a note Ed Babinski passed along from Bart Ehrman. Thanks, Ed.

"Bart Ehrman" on Friday, May 19, 2006 at 7:26 AM
-0500 wrote:
Thanks for your note. Yes, I did know what Craig's positions were,
quite well, before our debate. And I came away from it thinking that he
had not done a very good job in defending his views -- especially as he
was completely unable to answer the objections I had raised (he evidently
is not used to someone dealing directly with his arguments and raising
hard questions). Most people I talked with thought that I had far the
upper hand in the debate (of course, people already convinced by his views
ahead of time probably thought that he won!). But I also felt that by
publicizing the debate, it would give him the kind of credibility that he
so desparately is seeking (he claims to have written an enormous number of
books: a lot of them are simply his edited transcripts: as if that's the
same thing as writing a book!).

What I'm most surprised about is that he approached my publisher about
publishing the debate, without even once asking me if I thought it was a
good idea or desirable, or asking what I wanted -- as if his own desires
were the only thing that mattered. And now he talks about my reaction,
again without saying word one to me. Why wouldn't he speak to me if he
wanted *our* debate published? Why would he talk about me behind my back?
This doesn't seem like very Christian behavior to me.
Thanks again for your note. Best wishes.

Bart D. Ehrman
James A. Gray Professor
Department of Religious Studies
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Jason said...

(Be warned--following all this out is going to take a while... If your eyes are glazing over already, take that as a sign and move along. {self-wry s})

So! {popping hands together!}--for those interested in following along at home, (and being more than a little curious myself)...

The Tally from Amazon:

Constraints: in each case I counted only books listed as being or having been printed, not exclusively on tape, CD, download, etc. (which is about even, as it happens); counted volumes, where these could be identified, as one publication (probably in WLC's favor slightly); counted printed college courses as books authored (significantly in BE's favor); reprints not counted (WLC seemed to have a few more of these); translations to non-English not counted (BE had several more of these); counted forewords where discernable, on the theory that some apparently authored books might not be classified by Amazon as being only a foreword (probably in BE's favor overall); articles listed not counted (one for each, I think).

Keep in mind that the best result from this can only be a general idea, since 'zon's list may not be complete in either case, and doesn't normally list contributed _articles_.

Breakdown, from probable least to definitely greatest contribution (keeping in mind possible mis-sorting here and there in categories, due to insufficient information):

editor (original works): 3
contributor (essay collections, 'x' views on 'Topic Y' collections, etc.): 5
published debates vs. 1 opponent: 4
co-author with 1 (apparently friendly) author: 4
all other books: 15
tally: 31, since at least 1979.

possible error drift note: I checked the tally twice, in two different ways, and discovered that I either included two co-authored texts in my main-author tally, or else vice versa. The tallies above reflect an estimate in favor of the co-author tally (which to my recollection seems more probable, though it will skew things a bit in BE's direction.)

Foreword: 1
Editor (original collection): 1
Editor (previous works): 3
(I am assuming in BE's favor these include more commentary on the texts, which are rather extensive in size already, than he would have been able to give in editing a collection of essays by modern authors. Books on GosJudas are included elsewhere below, assuming in BE's favor of contribution.)

Update of previous work by co-author: 1
(assuming in BE's favor that his contribution to the update of Metzger's already very thorough work was significantly extensive.)

co-author with 1 (apparently) friendly author: 2
all other books (including printed college courses): 21
tally: 29 works, since 1987

possible error drift note: titles of many books tended to be similar to others in the corpus, which made for difficulty in spotting dittos. Unless I could confirm a reprint or relisting of the same printing fairly easily, though, I counted in BE's favor.

Comparing tallies of published books where each author may be expected to have contributed at least half of the text: 23 WLC, 24 BE (counting the Metzger update in BE's favor).

Sidenotes: BE seems to have reached mainstream status considerably more recently; but is definitely publishing at a higher rate, especially in recent years. (Though neither author is slacking in authoring books recently.)

Sales totals were unavailable, but would be interesting to tally up for comparison. My off-the-cuff impression is that WLC currently has better market penetration established (some evidence being the 8 books coauthored evenly between allies and opponents in the field.)

After-market prices for WLC's scholarly treatises, long out of print, seem significantly higher than for BE's; though I didn't do a direct comparison so this may be a misimpression.

My own conclusion: neither author is obscure in the field, nor without a solid publishing record, including works well-beyond the popular level.

More importantly, publishers seem to show no lack of confidence in fronting rather large sums of money (which have to be prepaid by the pubs for production and marketing purposes) to get either man's books on the market at numerous levels of intellectual appreciation (from popular to scholarly). Reprints, re-issues, and other such things which would necessarily involve a publisher spending a large portion of their own already-earned profits in putting the same books out again on the market, appear to be fairly common for each man, too.

BE's conclusion: "[WLC] so desparately is seeking [credibility, of the sort that a published debate would give--despite BE's low opinion of the credibility of presenting such merely edited transcripts] he claims to have written an enormous number of books: a lot of them are simply his edited transcripts: as if that's the same thing as writing a book!."


Now for comments on the letter itself, updating the situation. Presented in a somewhat ascending topical order.

"But I also felt that by publicizing the debate, it would give him the kind of credibility that he so desparately is seeking (he claims to have written an enormous number of books: a lot of them are simply his edited transcripts: as if that's the same thing as writing a book!)."

See above, for whatever it's worth.

"he [WLC] had not done a very good job in defending his views [...] he was *completely unable* to answer *the objections* I had raised... Most people I talked with thought that I had *far* the upper hand in the debate" (asteriked emphases mine)

From this, we may continue supposing, with some safety I think, that BE not only believes and is claiming that WLC didn't merely lose the debate, but that he himself (BE) did smashingly well. This wasn't only a win, it was a crushing win. ("completely unable" to parry what BE was doing; "far the upper hand": this is not a mild critical assessment. It's on a strength-par with what we heard before via the letter to John Sabatino.)

"What I'm *most surprised* about is that he approached my publisher about publishing the debate, without even once asking me if I thought it was a good idea or desirable, or asking what I wanted -- as if his own desires were the only thing that mattered." (asteriked emphasis mine)

Approaching the publisher looks to me like a usual legitimate move. And it isn't like WLC and BE are exactly pals.

"Why wouldn't he speak to me if he wanted *our* debate published?" (asteriked emphasis BE's)

I can think of two possibilities worth floating, offhand, based on the BE evidence so far:

a.) WLC expected BE would say no
b.) WLC expected BE would be hostile (whether yes or no)

Going to the publisher needn't be a way of sneaking a book past BE in this case; unless BE doesn't trust his own publisher not to sneak a book out without BE's consent. But unless BE's own publisher was considering committing professional suicide in the field (to produce something BE seems to consider to be worthless in the field as credentials?), I think we may at least charitably suppose, as a realistic alternate hypothesis, that WLC was hoping the publisher could talk BE into permitting the publication.

Let us consider the flow of events, as presented so far by BE.

WLC debates BE. BE scores what BE considers to be a crushing victory against WLC (WLC didn't just fotz up the debate and make it a worthless waste of BE's time; BE had the upper hand by far all the way.) It would be odd for BE not to be noticibly pleased with the result, there at the time; and there's a bit of linguistic evidence that he talked with people about the debate afterward _at_ the time. (Most people he _talked_ with; not most people he _talks_ to.) But--let us consider as an option that BE packs up and leaves without giving any indication to WLC at all (directly or indirectly) that BE thinks _he_ himself was so strongly victorious.

WLC contacts the publisher about publishing the debate. This _surprises_ BE greatly.

Why the surprise?

BE knows WLC likes to publish debates (BE represents WLC's work as being largely this), so _that_ couldn't have been a surprise.

BE thinks that anyone already convinced of WLC's views ahead of time (we may presume with some safety BE would think this includes WLC himself) would believe WLC won the debate anyway. It would, admittedly, be greatly surprising if WLC himself had thought he (WLC) had hugely lost the debate _and then_ went to the publisher asking if there could be a book of it. But no indication is given yet that BE thinks (or thought) WLC considered himself the loser in any way. On the contrary, from how BE puts it, the surprise would be for WLC to think of himself as the loser at all. So, _that_ couldn't have been the most surprising thing.

The surprise is rather surprising. What's more surprising, on this account (so far), is BE's further response: hostility and affront. Publishing such a victory for BE's debate isn't a good idea, it isn't desireable, it isn't what BE wants.

Apparently, that was the "reaction" BE gave to the request: publishing such a victory for BE's debate would somehow affront BE terribly.

I think I can speak for most rational people on the planet when I say: to be told by someone who insists that he thoroughly won a debate against me and I thoroughly lost, that a book of his victory would be an undesirably bad idea and not what he wants (or words to that effect), would be... well, odd, at least. Notable even.

From this point, WLC begins discussing BE's reaction of refusal with people here and there. Extent, unknown; but three bits of info reach Victor, passed on originally as hearsay.

i.) BE doesn't want the debate to be published.
ii.) BE is embarassed about the debate. (far from an unreasonable conclusion from someone who, by BE's own understanding, has to think _he_ won the debate instead, when being faced with a strong refusal to continue by publishing the debate)
iii.) There had been some agreement previously to do a book; and BE is backing out.

(i.), of course, was instantly verified, by BE; and has continually been verified up to now. (Not only verified, but ramped up more strongly than the original hearsay; more on that in a minute.)

(iii.) was just as instantly denied by BE. Provisionally, I'm accepting this to be true; but we now know some further information that may help explain the other report: WLC kicked off BE's affronted refusal to publish (after such a great win on BE's part, per BE), by going to talk to BE's publisher.

It would be fairly normal for the publisher to make an informal pre-agreement with WLC about a book (which would have to be done that way, if BE's publisher ended up doing the book--which, in itself, would be a diplomatic good-faith offering on WLC's part, btw), pending BE's consent. After all, unless BE came back saying he lost hugely, his publisher (whose job is to make a profit) would think a publication would be fine for everyone. (Whatever BE's own opinion about published debates is, popularly they're regarded very well by BE's paying audience. {g} That means a publisher is going to like them, too.)

I think we may safely suppose that BE would affirm he _didn't_ come back and tell his publisher he hugely lost the debate, and so for God's sake whatever you do, _don't_ agree to WLC if he comes up knocking for a book!

So, the publisher either had no clue how the debate went, from BE (implausible though not strictly impossible); or else BE told his publisher he won and/or WLC lost. (I hope I can be forgiven for tenuously suggesting that if BE told his publisher anything about the debate... well, we've seen the kind of strength he's promoting the win as being!)

Here comes WLC, to the publisher, looking to do a book--blithely unaware of how badly he really lost, we'd have to say. Perhaps from lack of experience in debating?? BE gives the impression of WLC floundering from being unaccustomed to being attacked so directly. By the way, any sceptics in the audience want to chime in with a confirmation of BE's estimate on this?--I mean that up until now WLC's contentions really haven't been attacked all that directly by the all the sceptical opponents he's publicly debated so far, like Keith Parsons, JDCrossan, etc.

Anyway, blithely unaware of how badly he really lost after suffering through it (on BE's account). Because, and I think everyone here can agree with this, a person who thought he had been thoroughly beaten in a debate would most likely want to avoid publicizing that loss, and even be highly agitated about avoiding publication, in order to prevent whatever credence he might have at the moment, or for the foreseeable future, from being shot completely to hell. I mean in normal situations, that's how things could be expected to go, for someone who realized he totally lost the debate. (Though admittedly, someone who is desperate to be validly published, if he was so far removed from anything rational, _might_ perhaps seek publication anyway, even though he knows he lost the debate and so could never expect any real respect afterwards if that became known. But even that seems rather implausible, so...)

So, WLC, (almost certainly) blithely unaware of how badly he really lost, not unreasonably goes to the publisher wanting to know if the publisher will agree to the book. BE hasn't been talking before about how great the debate went for him--otherwise WLC would have gone to BE, of course, instead of hoping there was a chance the publisher could convince BE--or, perhaps the publisher (not being ignorant of the sales potential of the debate, and knowing WLC's willingness before the debate) had given some assurances about the book, and so WLC wants to check up on those. (If BE has come back boasting about the debate to the publisher, whether or not he ever gave that impression around WLC, then the publisher would have had even _better_ grounds to go ahead and make a more formal agreement with WLC, of course.)

BE, upon learning WLC has done this, and knowing that he himself majorly won the debate-- -- -- forcibly declares there will be no book. Later, he says that the thing that surprised him most was that WLC would even come ask without talking to him, as if WLC...

... ... should have expected BE to not find a book good, desirable, what he wants. _Instead_ of thinking about how this might _hurt_ BE (in some way strong enough to warrant such a refusal), WLC selfishly acts as though only _his_ desires are what mattered--by going to BE's own publisher and suggesting that BE (in effect) should be given some more royalties as compensation for his participation in the debate. After all, BE clearly knows that he himself... ... ... um... won hugely in the debate.

Well, okay, on the reasonable first-conclusion that someone seeking to publish a debate thinks he did pretty well in it himself, that person has to have thought that his opponent hugely lost. Or, rather, not necessarily (I can think of some debates where both sides did pretty well, and both could have agreed to a joint publication with respect to one another); but considering how thoroughly BE knows _he_ won the debate, it only.... makes sense?? ...for him to suppose that WLC figures _he_ won as thoroughly instead. So then of course it would be uncharitable for WLC to try to talk to BE's publisher about publishing a book, since that would hugely hurt BE. Not that it _really_ could, since BE so handily won, but it's the principle of the thing.

So: so far, in chronological order, the grounds reported here from BE about why he would so strongly reject publishing such a strong victory of his own.

"[BE] did not want to give a venue for Craig's views". (hearsay reported by Victor, confirmed later by BE as being accurate; further hearsay, from WLC to Victor, not reported afterward so far as I can tell)

"I thought some of [WLC's] arguments were so far removed from anything rational, that I decided giving him a platform to air them was conceding way too much." (from the brief correspondence apparently to John Sabatino, reported by JS to Victor) -- i.e. WLC's arguments were _so_ weak, that even though BE did "know what Craig's positions were, quite well, before our debate" and had no problem conceding to do the live debate anyway (which BE totally won, and was confirmed in this by most people he talked to afterwards), giving WLC a book would be conceding too much of... something... to WLC. Despite the fact that BE would thoroughly win on the book anyway, just as he did in the debate.

"by publicizing the debate, it would give [WLC] the kind of credibility that he so desparately is seeking" (from the longer letter May 19th, evidently to Ed Babinski, reported by him to Victor) -- 31 books on print at amazon for WLC since 1979, 29 books for BE since 1987; each with at least 15 sole-credit books under their belts. However, since WLC has no credibility worth mentioning, and knows he doesn't, he's desperately looking for anyone willing to front the large amounts of money necessary to go to production. Even BE's own publisher.

(Why so many sceptical scholars, including BE himself, have agreed _not only_ to debate someone with such little credibility that he would be desperate to be published by his opponent's own publisher, but in at least four cases--"a lot of" WLC's books, according to BE--actually agreed to go ahead and do books on the debate with such a worthless opponent who has no credibility {inhale}... remains to be clarified by BE.)

To which may be added as possibilities by extraction:

"as if [a published debate] is the same thing as writing a book!" -- i.e. the publication of such a thing would be beneath BE, though a live debate is somehow not, so he refuses in contempt of the offer.

"[as] if I thought [publishing the debate] was a good idea or desirable, or what I wanted -- as if his own desires were the only thing that mattered." -- i.e., WLC wrongly assumed that BE, who claims he himself strongly won the debate, would think that publishing the debate would be a good idea and desirable and what BE wanted, and so proceeded without asking BE if BE really thought that. Since BE hadn't given an impression one way or the other yet, or had in fact already been giving impressions that he won the debate (and WLC knew about it), then WLC was acting selfishly and only in his own interest to suppose BE might actually think publishing the debate would be a good idea. Thus BE's refusal, to punish WLC for assuming this--which refusal WLC then, for no good reason, began talking about to other people.

Or perhaps WLC believed BE _wouldn't_ think such a debate would be a good idea and desireable and what BE wanted, and so selfishly tried to do something he believed would hurt BE. Thus BE's refusal, to punish WLC for trying to hurt him that way. (Even though he couldn't really be hurt that way, of course, having won so completely over WLC in the debate. But it's the principle of the thing.)

{whew} I suppose, in lieu of further information from BE, this is where we stand on the matter. Glad he cleared everything up... {g}


Alethes Ginosko said...

Wow...when's a woman going to be worked into the plot so that the soap opera can REALLY get good...maybe the publisher is a woman


Dennis Monokroussos said...

Nice job, Jason.

Jason said...

{slapping forehead} YEAH!!! {scribbling plot-development notes on adding a woman in there somewhere...}

{chuckle!} At this point, I have to admit I'm rather more interested in what BE is doing, than about the debate itself. Res debates can be found all over (and I seriously doubt I'll see anything new in this one). This is more... um... unique. {beam!}

Honestly, though, I think all of what I wrote above can be summed down to: we're _still_ missing at least one piece. Can't be sure it's BE having some kind of post-debate meltdown; but neither would I say that that's an unreasonable conclusion, either. He could have nerfed the speculation easily enough by giving a moderate account of the debate; by giving a realistic assessment of WLC's credentials and publishing history (assuming he felt like he should say something at all on it); and by not treating WLC's approach to BE's own publisher as being some kind of sneaky personal attack on BE himself. (um.... going to the publisher of one's opponent is virtually guaranteeing nothing sneaky will be accomplished, y'know... {g})

Instead, he's done everything exactly in line with what could be expected of someone going through denial syndrome. At this point, I have a hard time imagining how he's going to pull himself out of the hole he's dug. (But then, really, he doesn't have to: if he just shuts up about it and stops trying to defend it, sooner or later it'll blow over. Some people will remember he acted way weird for a week or two back awhile ago, but so what? It isn't like _our_ opinions matter to anyone in the market. {shrug})

Celal Birader said...

Does anyone know if a transcript of the debate is available anywhere ?

Jason said...

It'll be hosted by HolyCross. (A university "in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition"--i.e. not necessarily the breeding ground of conservative theologians nowadays, as Fr. Neuhaus would say. {wry s}) Victor has a link to the eventual transcript site, down in his first post on the topic.

Or you can cut-n-paste here:

(Sorry, not real good with doing html tags. {s})


Edward T. Babinski said...

Didn’t something similar happen to Gerd L. after his debate with Craig? Craig apparently doesn’t seek permission from the people he’s debated. In the case of Bart, Craig went directly to Bart’s own publisher without even a cordial or perfunctory email to Bart about his plans to do so? (I don’t know what the case was between Craig and Gerd, but Gerd did think it strange enough to mention briefly as someone told me recently.)

Anyway, a published debate with Bart who has a book currently on bestseller lists would indeed by a coup for WLC.

Also, plug in Bart Ehrman and WLC’s names at amazon and compare the current rankings of the first five books listed under their names. When I compared them just now, Bart’s were 65 [his bestseller]; 1,400; 1,000; 964; 19,000; While WLC’s were 74,000; 10,000; 116,000; 223,000; 38,000.

Needless to say, for me, Craig’s arguments come off as contrived. He claims lists of “facts” as if no faith is needed at all in order to become a Christian believer, or as if there were no questions that did not have definitive answers. His god certainly has made the world extremely transparent to the illustrious Mr. Craig. But personally, when I read the Bible’s “testaments” it doesn’t hang together particularly well, certainly not as it does for Craig, not nearly as transparently and without question, not in terms of internal consistency, nor external consistency in terms of history, science, philosophically, etc.
As for the “prophecies” employed by the unnamed evangelists to prove Jesus’s messiahship, the less said the better.

Steve Locks said...

I would have thought it would be okay with Ehrman to have it at places where people who are already familiar with Craig could get hold of it - i.e. it wouldn't be publicity for Craig if the debate was at since Craig is already critically discussed there abundantly. However if it is a copyright issue then is it permissible for Craig to host the debate at

Anonymous said...

That Craig may have thought he did well is not surprising. There are many people that appear to sincerely believe their delusions. He comes off like a typical creationist debate by bringing up various Professors X to validate his claims. He never brought up the many times more Professors that disagree with his claims.

I though the biggest hole in Craig's arguments was his probability formula which he apparently thought was a strong point. He gives it as Pr(R/B&E) with B as background information, and E as Specific evidence (empty tomb, postmortem appearances, etc.). The hole is that the specific evidence is 2000 year old texts. That is not good evidence for such a claim regarding a physical event. If someone alive today made a miraculous claim, we would not accept "it was written" as evidence.

And you'll notice he didn't attempt to give numbers for the values except to appeal to another alleged authority.

I thought Ehrman made missteps as well, but he won it by speaking more directly to the debate topic of "historical evidence" than Craig did. Ehrman defined what qualifies as historical evidence, and how different testimony can be weighed. Craig seemed to think all historical data was created equal.