Closing Thoughts on the Resurrection Debate

Over the last few months we’ve been hosting a formal written debate between myself and Malcolm Trevena on the historicity of the resurrection (see here, here, and here). Unfortunately I have decided to formally close the debate.

Before setting out on the exchange, Malcolm and I both agreed to several rules or guidelines for the debate. One of these was that we would reply to our opponent’s posts within five days. At the time, this sounded like it would afford plenty of opportunity to respond adequately to each other and keep the debate moving swiftly. While writing my opening statement however, I quickly realized that this would be a struggle to maintain. I therefore suggested to Malcolm that if he wanted to take a week or two to write a good response, then this would be fine with me and we could count the original guideline as flexible. Afterall, we are both active people with full, active lives. However, it has now been 5 weeks since I have heard anything from him. Not just a response to my first response, but any communication whatsoever. And so I believe it best that we close the debate and open it up to the readers for their comments.

I thought I would offer four reflections on the debate ending.

First, obviously, is to express my disappointment in having to close the exchange. I was hopeful that this debate would be mutually beneficial. I believe Malcolm’s opening statement was way off the mark in attacking biblical inerrancy rather than the historical case for the resurrection but even so, I found responding to it extremely gratifying. His remarks gave me the motivation and opportunity to do some digging on problematic passages in Scripture, the differences in the two genealogies recorded in the gospels, the traditions regarding the witnesses to the empty tomb, and more. It was fun and I recommend the activity to anyone, Christian or not-Christian: pick a problem in the Bible and do some digging to figure out if the difficulty can be resolved.

I was also disappointed that Malcolm, for whatever reason, has ceased all contact since his opening statement.

Second, I won’t be doing this again with just anyone. If I do decide to debate again, it will preferably be with someone who has some knowledge of the relevant issues and material under discussion and is able to put up a good fight. Ideally, someone with a degree in theology, history or philosophy, but failing that, at least someone who has read a book or two on the subject, and has made some sort of effort to understand the subject area. As I have found typical in other interactions with New Atheists, the level of confidence does not match the level of competence.

Third, any victory that may be attributed to myself does not prove that God raised Jesus from the dead. It does not even prove that I have the best case to show that God raised Jesus from the dead. It just means that, in this instance, Malcolm did not have a comparatively good case to offer, on the assumption of course that he did not default for some other reason.

Fourth, it was a pity there was no case to answer. Malcolm’s opening statement was more along the lines of a first response statement. As I mentioned in my own response to it (the third and apparently knock-out salvo of our exchange), by neglecting to construct a positive case for “the fictional” view, Malcolm was essentially arguing for the negation of my positive case for “the fact” view, which if successful only gives an agnostic position – which is compatible with the Christian account of history. Yet he did agree beforehand, and even clarified a second time, that he would be arguing for the resurrection being a fiction. He also stated as much in his opening statement. But it was not to be.

Lastly, a reminder that the comments on each of the posts in our exchange are now open for public discussion.

2 replies
  1. thom waters
    thom waters says:

    Stumbled upon this site this morning, and found myself most absorbed in your opening statement of the proposed debate between yourself and Malcolm.  Malcolm apparently had a change of heart regarding the debate and opted out of any further exchanges.  If you are interested, I would be happy to take up the gauntlet.

    I appreciate your new position of wanting to debate only someone with, at least, a workable knowledge and understanding of the proposition at hand.  I have read, at the very least, a book or two on the subject  of the Resurrection and consider myself well-acquainted with the Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection put forth by Habermas, Craig, Licona, and some others.  Beyond that I also hold a post-graduate degree from a leading evangelical seminary, one that you would immediately recognize.

    If you are interested, we can certainly work out some specifics, although I am not entirely disagreeable to your original agreement with Malcolm.  Perhaps one week for responses would be good.

    One final thought:  The wording of the Resurrection as “fiction” seems to imply too many incorrect notions of the entire event or so-called event.  It would seem more in keeping with a debate of this nature if an alternative view might be considered.  That would be the following:  From all of the historical evidence at our disposal is it a reasonable position for a person to conclude that Jesus was not raised from the dead?  This question keeps the proposition within the historical context that you seem to prefer.

    Anyway, let me know.


  2. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hi Thom, thanks for the offer! 

    I’m pretty snowed at the moment, it being the middle of a pretty full on academic year, so I’m a little hesitant. I started this debate with the idea that it would be done before the first week of lectures and assignments, etc. Also, another offer has been laid on the table for a different debate topic entirely already – this time with a Catholic, and I’m quite interested in participating in that as well. As such, if you want to respond, say, with an alternative opening statement or rejoinder to the second reply of Trevena, and it poses a significant and worthy challenge that is on topic, then I’ll definitely consider replying, but I don’t want any further exchange to have the pressure the formality (i.e. time pressure and obligation). If this is agreeable to you, send me an email and I’ll send you some more info regarding just a couple more ground rules.

    Also, I don’t consider your rewording of the ‘fiction’ historical hypothesis to be significantly different. In fact, from my perspective I think it probably is the same. :-)


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