Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Job of Historians, Ehrman vs Craig

Is the resurrection of Jesus an event supported by historical evidence?

This series of posts is dedicated to summarizing and analyzing a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Bart Ehrman. This post is a brief introduction to what it is that historians seek to accomplish. Later on in the discussion concerning the historicity of the resurrection, this information will become vitally important.

Here are two brief quotes from Dr. Ehrman:

“Let me begin by explaining in simple terms what it is that historians do. Historians try to establish to the best of their ability what probably happened in the past. We can’t really know the past because the past is done with. We think we know [the] past in some instances because we have such good evidence for what happened in the past, but in other cases we don’t know, and in some cases we just have to throw up our hands in despair.”

“Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past. The problem with historians is they can’t repeat an experiment. Today, if we want proof for something, it’s very simple to get proof for many things in the natural sciences; in the experimental sciences we have proof. If I wanted to prove to you that bars of ivory soap float, but bars of iron sink, all I need to do is get 50 tubs of lukewarm water and start chucking in the bars. The Ivory soap will always float, the iron will always sink, and after a while we’ll have a level of what you might call predicted probability, that if I do it again, the iron is going to sink again, and the soap is going to float again. We can repeat the experiments doing experimental science. But we can’t repeat the experiments in history because once history happens, it’s over.”

I am in complete agreement with Dr. Ehrman on what historians attempt to do. We collect as much evidence as possible and then assign a probability as to whether or not an event happened in the past. Some events almost definitely took place, such as World War II. Unfortunately, as we move further and further into the past our vision becomes increasingly blurry. For a list of some of the specific criteria used by historians, check out

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