This debate was conducted on February 11, 2010 at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. It is not a typical debate in that while there were opening and closing statements by each party, the body of the presentation was a sit-down discussion and interaction between the two – with lots of meandering.
After viewing the entire two hours, here are some of my thoughts:
– The debate did not stay focused on the stated topic. Much of the time was used to discuss current-day supernatural experiences and whether or not they are credible.
– It’s always easier to tear down something than to build it. When Carrier did address the stated topic, he was usually attempting to cast doubt on Licona’s explanation rather than build his own.
– Licona stated his hypothesis clearly and cogently in his opening statement, but did not stick to it when Carrier took the conversation various different directions. Licona wound up chasing Carrier’s various objections and defending, for example, current-day miracles instead of the resurrection. Whether current-day miracles occur or not, and with what frequency, is irrelevant to whether Jesus rose from the dead.
– Carrier constantly referred to probabilities, which is a red herring in this discussion. Of course resurrection is improbable. That’s why the resurrection of Christ is such a big deal!
– Carrier essentially seeks naturalistic explanations for what is written in the New Testament. At those points where such explanations are irreconcilable with the text, he says the text is unreliable. For example, he says that Acts 1:3 is not true – implicitly acknowledging that it does not support his theory that Christ’s resurrection appearances were group hallucinations induced by the original hallucinations of Christian leaders such as Peter. Carrier gave no basis for deciding which texts were reliable and which weren’t, other than this distinction. Thus, it appears he’s merely imposing his naturalistic worldview on the New Testament documents and disregarding those passages that cannot be re-interpreted in that light.
– Carrier often professes openness to a non-naturalistic worldview. However, he makes the hurdle for evidence so high that it can never be attained in this life. (He wants Jesus to appear to Him, in the style of Thomas. Yet it’s clear even Thomas wishes he could retract that demand.)
– Carrier keeps the burden of proof on his opponent and continually stakes his position agnostically. That is, he seeks merely to cast doubt on the opposing argument as opposed to firmly establishing and defending his own.
– Carrier repeatedly argues that if Jesus really had risen from the dead, God would have presented the evidence for it differently. To be specific, Carrier argues that Jesus should appear to every person if that’s what He wants every person to believe. Of course, this doesn’t disprove that Jesus rose from the dead – just that Carrier thinks he knows better how to be God than God does.
– Carrier argues that since most missing bodies are not evidence that they have been resurrected that it is improbable that Christ’s body was actually resurrected. That’s like arguing that since most Jews who claimed to be the Israel’s messiah have been proven false that it is improbable that Jesus is the Messiah. Or that since most of the possible answers to the question “What is two plus two?” are wrong, it is improbable that two plus two equals four.
– Carrier says in his closing statement, “When the evidence is vague, we can only rely on what happens most often.” He thus sets the bar very low for himself, casts whatever doubt he can on the biblical account, and then declares essentially that improbable things probably didn’t happen. It’s a point of view that sounds erudite but is hollow. He is in effect stating nothing more than a tautology: Improbable events are improbable.
– Carrier employs psychological terms to give naturalistic explanations for supernatural events: schizotypal personality disorder, cognitive dissonance, hallucination, and so on. It’s as if he’s Freud and he’s putting Peter, Paul, and the others on the couch – some two thousand years and thousands of miles removed from the scene! I thought psychologists at least needed a living patient to interview. And Carrier’s supposed to be an historian and not a psychologist!
– One of Carrier’s most notable historical errors was to say that people in that time were steeped in resurrection motifs and this provided the breeding ground for their hallucinations. In saying this, he completely ignores the New Testament documents which show that no one in Israel – friend or foe – saw the resurrection coming. Yes, the resurrection of the Messiah after suffering was prophesied in the Old Testament, but no one recognized these prophecies until Jesus was raised from the dead and pointed them out to His disciples, who then pointed them out to others.
– This was not a good debate because it did not stay focused on the stated topic. When it comes to this topic, however, even good debates are not fully objective exchanges of facts and opinions. This is because only God is truly objective. Each of us is subjective – that is, subject to our own desires. A man arguing against the resurrection is in effect arguing to retain his autonomy from Jesus. No one can be objective about that idea. He either relishes the idea or shuns it. His mind hastens to support his will.