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"A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth"--Now available in draft

I'm pleased to announce the completion and posting in draft of an article written by Tim McGrew and me that I hope will be of help and interest to a variety of readers. "A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth" is available on my web site here. It has been commissioned for the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. Blackwell has given us permission to post a draft version of our own, with none of their pagination or typesetting, to a personal web site. If you refer others to the on-line version, please make it clear that it is a draft and that the "real" final version will be published on paper with Blackwell.

The main thing missing from this version is the bibliography, which is presently being formated. The article is in MLA style, so if you should want full reference information for a given book, please feel free to e-mail me and ask.

Since the piece is very long, I'm giving here a few highlights and features, with some page numbers in the PDF, in case you want to zero in on particular sections rather than either browsing it or trying to read the whole thing.

Update The bibliography is now available here.

Although to a large extent we set aside the many textual debates, we do discuss some of these on pp. 4-12 and there give the reader an idea of where to go for further reading.

Though I will be talking a lot about confirmation theory in this post, I want to stress that there is plenty of the article that can be read quite easily without knowing such theory--for example, not only the discussion of textual assumptions but the laying out of what we call the salient facts on pp. 15ff and even our rationale on pp. 29ff for giving those facts the weight we do give them. Though it's a professional article, we also try to explain what we are doing with the formalism.

A major feature of the article is its wedding of historical, evidential apologetics with a detailed use of Bayesian confirmation theory. The advantages of such an approach are too numerous to mention. One advantage is that using the odds form of Bayes's Theorem allows us to isolate the impact of the direct evidence for the resurrection and to see that evidence as clearly as possible without being distracted by indirectly relevant issues such as other arguments for or against the existence of God.

This approach also allows us to address a confusion that comes up frequently in the literature as to whether we are obligated to treat the existence of God as a premise for the occurrence of a miracle like the resurrection or whether we may treat the resurrection as evidence for the existence of God. The sections later in the paper on "Worldview Worries" (pp. 47-55) and on Alvin Plantinga's so-called "principle of dwindling probabilities" (pp. 55-60) deal with this issue in some detail.

A Bayesian approach has the nice feature that it allows us to demonstrate the relative weakness of theories that "explain" the evidence but that have a low prior probability even on the assumption that the resurrection did not occur. We use a Bayes factor analysis to describe the relative power of R (the proposition that the resurrection occurred) and ~R (the proposition that it didn't) to explain various bits of evidence. If a sub-hypothesis--say, the theory that the disciples all had hallucinations--has a low prior probability given ~R, it does little to help ~R in what one might call its "Bayes factor competition" with R to explain the evidence in question. (See pp. 27-28 and 46-47.)

The question of independence is of particular interest in arguments about miracles. Much of the force of arguments for a miracle comes from the existence of multiple, independent lines of evidence--for example, multiple, independent witnesses. But it is easy enough to point out that Jesus' disciples knew one another and were interacting with one another during the time when they testified that Jesus was risen. It's not as though they were all locked up in separate rooms and didn't know what each other were saying. Doesn't this make it unreasonable to treat their testimonies on the matter as independent? The surprising answer is that it doesn't. We discuss that issue on pp. 41-47.

One final feature of this paper that I must mention is its references to works of historical apologetics from the 18th and 19th centuries. This aspect of the paper is entirely the work of my co-author; I am fairly ignorant of the history of apologetics, beyond what I have recently learned from him. But it has emerged very strongly in the course of our research for this article that the last several centuries are full of now-unsung heroes of the faith, men who came forward and defended Christianity against the assaults of, e.g., the deists. And, speaking in terms of the actual strength of their case, they won. That men like David Hume should be thought, now, to have put paid to the possibility of defending a religious miracle by testimony is an historical scandal. References to Chalmers, Butler, Paley, and many more are scattered throughout the paper but are probably heaviest in the final section, pp. 60-69, which discusses the second part of Hume's "On Miracles." Hopefully this paper can be in a sense a down payment on what is owed to these men in the way of unearthing them from an undeserved obscurity.

Comments (80)

Outstanding. I gave a talk on the same theme several years ago. Bayes's theorem implies that the probability that miracles occurring in series and attested by multiple witnesses actually occurred is very high.

Thanks, Dan. We don't go into the "occurring in series" bit, because we're focusing on a particular one. I'm thinking of the guy who does a very erudite article in which he discusses that--a Brit, but his name isn't coming to me. Roger...I'll think of it in a minute.

Of course, whether the posterior probability is very high or not depends not just on the likelihoods but on the priors. This is one reasons why the odds form is so useful--because it isolates the likelihoods as a consideration separate from the priors, enabling one to see the force of _this_ bit of evidence, regardless of the prior probability for the event.

That would probably be the astronomer and Anglican curate Rodney Holder.

I'm looking forward to it, Lydia; it's just that I'm drowning in other reading material at the moment. Considering the subject, I think it will make good Christmas reading.

That men like David Hume should be thought, now, to have put paid to the possibility of defending a religious miracle by testimony is an historical scandal.

Especially looking forward to that part.

I'm eagerly anticipating settling down with this piece, once I have the time - once, that is, we're finished moving. Any piece that begins with a debunking of the pretensions of form criticism has to be good.

Thanks, Maximos. As I say, we don't go into the textual stuff in great detail, but we give an idea of where we're coming from and why. It's interesting to see how, for example, scholars of Roman history would give their eyeteeth to have, for some figure they are studying, the kind of information we have about Jesus. The extreme skepticism that has been fashionable for so long is a function of the capturing of New Testament studies by highly fanciful literary criticism rather than sober historical scholarship. Our footnote 10 mentions a plagiarism lawsuit against (of all people) H.G. Wells, in which an attempt was made to apply the methods of biblical criticism to other literature--with humorous results.

Lydia--
I managed to read your excellent article over the course of the day. It is very well argued. That said, if I were going to promote the probability that a miracle associated with Christ in order to establish the truth of Christianity, I dont' think that I would have chosen the Resurrection. I happen to believe that the Crucifixion--the idea that God could be hanged on a cross and executed like a common criminal--is a greater miracle; but that's a different discussion.
With regard to the Resurrection, it must be remembered that the resurrection from the dead had already been established, in the Gospel of John, prior to the Resurrection of Jesus. If you haven't stopped reading when Jesus raised Lazarus, then you won't be having a problem with the Resurrection of Jesus. Moreover, the raising of Lazarus (whom Jesus explicitly tells us is dead), unlike His own Resurrection, takes place in front of dozens of people. His disciples are with Him; Martha and Mary are there; and there is also a contingent of random Jews, some of whom run off to report to the Pharisees what they have seen. One wonders, therefore, why the disciples should doubt that Jesus would rise from the dead, as He had told them He would. They had seen it before. More than once, actually, but never mind.
So, the miracle I would have chosen is the Ascension. If we stipulate the existence of God, it is not so hard to believe that God could, if He wanted, reanimate a dead body. He is, after all, Life, and the sustainer of the material universe. But, consider the Ascension. Jesus appeared to them for forty days--and then what?
Suddenly, He stopped appearing to them. The references to this in Mark and Luke are rather vague, as is the reference in Ephesians. But in Acts 1:9-11, we have: "When he had said this, as they watched, he was lifted up, and a cloud removed him from their sight. As he was going, and as they were gazing intently into the sky, all at once there stood beside them two men in white who said, 'Men of Galilee, why stand there looking up into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken away from you up to heaven, will come in the same way as you have seen him go.'"
This, compared to the Resurrection, is much harder to believe. According to the first century model of the universe, a physical body could, perhaps, be lifted "up" to heaven. But knowing what we know now about the nature of reality, this concept of a body going "up" to heaven, just doesn't work. So, what is being reported here?
This is a miracle the probability of which would indeed be a challenge to establish.

As I wasn't there at the raising of Lazarus, and neither was anybody else after a couple of generations, that argument really isn't relevant, Rodak. Why the disciples should have thought Jesus unlikely to rise after he had raised Lazarus before them is an interesting question, but my own opinion is that it was because there was no one left on earth to work the miracle for Jesus. Jesus himself, the one who had raised the dead, was the one who had died. That would have been a much bigger deal for them, and understandably so, because there was then no one tangible they could call on, and there was no precedent for God's raising someone dead "out of the blue," as it were, with no connection to a prophet, etc.

In any event, we don't know of anyone who died a grisly and foreseen death for his testimony to having seen Lazarus raised per se, but that was very much the central truth that the disciples taught and that motivated them to be willing to die.

"...my own opinion is that it was because there was no one left on earth to work the miracle for Jesus."

There clearly didn't need to be anyone "left on earth" to work the miracle for Jesus. Jesus had taught them that He would suffer and die and be raised again, not by any earthly power, but by Heavenly Power. When Jesus raised Lazarus He "looked upwards and said, 'Father, I thank thee; thou has heard me. I knew already that thou always hearest me, but I spoke for the sake of the people standing around, that they might believe that thou didst send me.'"

"In any event, we don't know of anyone who died a grisly and foreseen death for his testimony to having seen Lazarus raised per se..."

But we do know that the raising of Lazarus is followed immediately in the Gospel of John by the pronouncement of Caiaphas that "it is better that one man die for the people, than that the whole nation should be destroyed." So, according to John it was the resurrection of Lazarus that was the immediate impetus for the Jewish powers-that-be to decide that Jesus must die a grisly and foreseen death for his testimony. So what you have in the raising of Lazarus is a double-foreshadowing.
And I am wondering if you have anything to say about my comments concerning the Ascension, which was really the purport of the comment to which you are replying?

I know and you know that Jesus didn't need anyone else to raise him from the dead. We can say the disciples should have known, but I for one am not going to blame them for having been quite unsure of that after going through the shock of his arrest and crucifixion (John being present at the crucifixion). Part of the point is that they hadn't fully concluded that he was God until after his resurrection. And given the precedents about how God did and didn't act, that conclusion would have helped a lot. Prophets had worked miracles and even raised others from the dead before; none of them had themselves been raised from the dead all by themselves. I sympathize with the disciples fears and doubts. The resurrection of Jesus seemed to them too good to be true. Fortunately, he gave them plenty of evidence.

I'm not sure where you are trying to go with the Ascension. Again, it by itself was not the central miracle of the faith but was indeed attested to as the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. And in fact, if the disciples had had hallucinations that Jesus was risen, this seems an oddly consistent way for the whole thing quite suddenly to end. One might have expected them to go on having such hallucinations at intervals indefinitely. So it does some work to rule out pure mental aberration on their part. As to _what_ happened, physically, the claim is apparently levitation up a ways, followed by being unable to be seen anymore because of a cloud. That's about it. It's important to be able to say "we don't know." We simply don't know in physics terms where Jesus presently lives, particularly if he is still embodied in his resurrection body, which I would assume he is. (Hence the need for the sending of the Holy Ghost.) Clearly he isn't somewhere within our own physical space-time continuum. But what happened physically when the cloud received him out of their sight, we're not told. He did say things that made it quite clear that he hears our prayers and "is with us," but this of course not in a strictly physical sense. Saul's vision on the road to Damascus was a _vision_, that is, Jesus was evidently audible but not, as he was to the disciples, tangible. They actually walked and talked and ate with him after his resurrection; that is no longer, apparently, possible. I don't think there's much more that we can say. But if he hadn't been resurrected he couldn't have been ascended, that's for sure. I'm not really sure where you are going with this, though I have a sneaking suspicion of some kind of anti-evidentialism lurking around the corner.

Lydia--
I see the Resurrection as an anomaly within the natural order; amazing, but believable, nonetheless. The Ascension, however, given the physical Resurrection of Jesus, is a true miracle, in that it transgresses the laws of physics and contradicts the natural order. Discussions I've had with Catholics (Tom of "Disputations" in particular) have stressed to me the importance of a belief that the physical resurrection with will that of the *same body* that we now possess. This makes the issue of the Ascension more important than it might at first seem to be. It means that "heaven" must be a material place, rather than a spiritual state.
So, this would be the miracle, that showing the probability for the reality of which would really be enlightening. It also raises interesting questions about why Jesus said that in heaven they are like angels and don't marry. In what way did he mean that they are like angels? And if "they" are in heaven now, being like angels, whatever that means, what is the significance of the physical resurrection?

I think Jesus' resurrection was certainly a true miracle. No question about it.

As to our being like angels in heaven, it at least means there will be no sexual intercourse and no babies being born. I guess history has to end some time. That doesn't preclude our having physical bodies, though. And our physical resurrection is clearly taught in scripture, repeatedly. It always seemed to me a great thing. Certainly not something to worry about.

"I think Jesus' resurrection was certainly a true miracle. No question about it."

If so, it at least was not an unprecedented miracle, or one that hadn't already been seen, unequivocally, by the followers of Jesus on one occasion (Lazarus), and presumably known about, if not witnessed, on at least two other prior occasions.
I bring the Ascension up because, if your article is meant to prove the credibility of the witnesses, the Ascension brings that credibility into even more question than does the Resurrection, because it remains inexplicable, and highly unlikely.
The Resurrection as a stark fact, since it is not unique, proves nothing other than that it happened. It also happened to Lazarus, and Lazarus was nobody special.

Rodak, I don't think you are maintaining a consistent epistemic perspective. On the one hand, you seem to be asking us to adopt the perspective of "what the disciples knew," accepting for the sake of that argument the veracity of their accounts, including the accounts of miracles en toto--e.g. Lazarus. But in that case, the ascension was something they saw and attested to, they knew it happened because they saw it (just like the raising of Lazarus), and that's that.

On the other hand, you want us to adopt the attitude of a skeptic about their accounts and to ask what calls their veracity into question. But a skeptic won't believe that Lazarus rose from the dead! He'll take that for a fairy tale just as much as the ascension, and he certainly won't think that it calls the veracity of the accounts into question _less_ than does the ascension. In the normal course of events, dead men do not rise, and if you are questioning the biblical accounts, then you can't use Lazarus, or the widow's son, or any of those as precedents.

As to the credibility of the witnesses re. the resurrection, yes, I take it that the truth of their account is a much, much better explanation of their behavior than its falsehood. We do argue for that, given what their actual behavior was in the context in which it actually occurred. I just disagree with you that the account of a man's levitating 30 or 50 feet into the air and then being enveloped by a cloud is more of a problem for their veracity than the account of a previously dead man's talking and eating fish with them! If the ascension had no "point" to it, if it were just, "Hey, guys, watch me levitate!" then that would be more of a problem, as the likelihood that God would cooperate with such silliness is very low. But the ascension was a necessary end to the story, as Jesus himself said--it was necessary that he should go away.

Lydia--
If you are going to attempt a quasi-scientific "proof" of the truth of Christianity, then physical resurrection, because it was shown to be a repeatable "experiment" is, on the one hand, excellent data, but on the other hand, because of its repeatability, less valuable as a proof about the uniqueness of any one person who was ressurrected.
The Ascension does not have this drawback. On the other hand, however, the Ascension, for multiple reasons, is less believable, or at least less susceptible to any rational explanation, than is the group of ressurections that are reported in the Gospels. This brings into question the reliability of the witnesses, which, since they are the same witnesses, in great part, as the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, might be used as circumstantial evidence against your argument concerning the resurrection. It would, therefore, be a plus to apply the rigorous logical proof to the Ascension (if possible) thus strengthening the *overall credibility* of the Gospel witness.
I contend that the post-resurrection martyrs did not die for their assertion that Jesus was resurrected, but for their assertion that He has the Messiah and the Son of God. Nobody died for asserting that Lazarus was resurrected,about which there was no uncertainty. Nor did anybody make "blasphemous" claims about Lazarus *because* he was resurrected. I, therefore, don't see how the resurrection *alone* makes your case.

The resurrection would be evidentially of little value to the proposition that there is a God if it were not a miracle. So this whole notion of "rational explanation" is bizarre to me, if by "rational" you mean "non-miraculous" (a terrible way to use the word "rational," IMO).

I think you just really don't understand how to go about constructing a case directed to a particular person in a particular epistemic situation. We were not there for any of these things. We have to decide how likely it is that this or that happened, given the evidence available to us. The whole "repeatability" thing is ridiculous. Nobody is claiming anything like, "Jesus was raised from the dead, because resurrections are a repeatable type of event." That's silly. The whole point is that it was something God the father did freely, as a miracle, as evidence that Jesus was who he said he was.

As for their dying for the assertion that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, they would not have continued to believe this had he not risen from the dead. This is quite clear in the post-crucifixion narratives--consider, e.g., what the men on the road to Emmaus say: "We _thought_ he was the one who was to deliver Israel. And by now it is the third day..." etc. As for making blasphemous claims about people, I think you are having a lot of trouble understanding being raised _by_ Jesus and being Jesus, raised. Obviously, the glory in the resurrection of Lazarus or of Jairus' daughter went to the one who performed the miracle: Jesus. The glory in Jesus' own resurrection went to...Jesus. He said various shocking things about being one with the father, being I Am, and so forth. God would not have raised him if these were lies or if he were a madman.

Blasphemy: clearly, I was referring to the charges of blasphemy laid against Jesus by the Jewish temple authorities; I was not saying that I considered anything He said to be blasphemous.
I don't understand why you are bothered by my use of reason when you are using logical formulae to make your point. If you are not appealing to *reason* you are not making an argument.

Lydia,

I don't think Rodak is up to following an argument on this subject. You've done your best, but he lacks the background required to get across the pons asinorum.

"Rational" doesn't mean "non-miraculous," or one could never be reasonable in believing that a miracle had happened. In any event, historical argument is never the same as argument for a regularly-occuring event. Repeatability is irrelevant to historical argument, even at the mundane level: Caesar didn't cross the Rubicon with an army, defying the Senate, more than once. This is where the term "scientific" can be confusing.

...physical resurrection, because it was shown to be a repeatable "experiment" is...less valuable as a proof about the uniqueness of any one person who was ressurrected. The Ascension does not have this drawback.

Complete b.s. A miracle is no less miraculous for having happened more than once, as though the millionth instance of it made it any easier to explain the first. And it happened to Christ only once.

Hell, I saw David Blaine levitate. There just didn't happen to be any clouds around to swallow him up.

The resurrection of Lazarus and Jairus' daughter were totally different kinds of events: they were "resuscitated" from the dead, so to speak. They did not have "resurrected" bodies, and no doubt but that they both died later.

Jesus' Resurrection was totally different - unique in the history of mankind - a body of which kind noone had ever observed or imagined. It was the kind of body He had, especially after his horrific death, which was part of the Apostles' witness. They were willing to be martyrs for the promise as evidenced by the kind of bodily resurrection - not one like Lazarus.

The Ascension therefore is "just" another example of a body which appears though doors and yet can eat food. The physics of the next world will be totally different from this - and yes heaven is physical! Time and space will be palpable and yet we will experience such accidents as gods will. That is what the Apostles had physically testified to. Jesus must have had great talks with them those 40 days - what answers must they have been given.

"Hell, I saw David Blaine levitate."

Yes, well, thanks for supporting my point.

Jesus was resurrected; Joe Shmo was resurrected. Therefore, with reference to resurrection, Jesus and Joe Shmo are equivalent. Resurrection says much about the power of God over human life and death, but little, in itself, about those individuals who are resurrected.

"I don't think Rodak is up to following an argument on this subject. You've done your best, but he lacks the background required to get across the pons asinorum."

You can read my response to the above, which is too lengthy for a comment box, here.

Michael Phillips--
I like your take on it.

On his blog, to which he has directed us, Rodak writes:

[T]he article was never designed to be persuasive to a skeptical non-specialist in the first place. Rather, it is a gaudy clockwork canary of a piece, cleverly designed to whistle and trill as it dances along its gilded perch, evoking the hooting, foot-stomping kudos of the Byzantine lords and ladies of minor league academia. Well, hoo-rah.

“Pons asinorum” indeed. Try “bridge to nowhere.” It seems that I didn’t come properly equipped. It’s as if some poor schmuck, his house a-blaze, called the fire department, only to have the Chief inform him brusquely that he and his men would be happy to come over and extinguish the flames, provided, of course, that the unfortunate home-owner supplied the hoses and ladders, the axes and pumps needed for the task.

Perhaps I’m just not equipped. Or, on the other hand, perhaps one could say that my intellect is just not so jerry-rigged by hyper-edjumacation as to be susceptible to an argument that glitters and gleams like a gilded canary, but has no life in it.

This confirms what I wrote above. It also indicates that Rodak’s earlier references to “your excellent article” which is “very well argued” were disingenuous.

And that, together with some of his other recent interactions on this blog, suggests that Rodak is obsessed with contradicting Lydia.

Rodak, from your first post in this thread onward you have betrayed an almost unbelievable set of misconceptions regarding the aim and structure of this sort of argument. Here are eight statements illustrating these misconceptions:

1. “[T]he Crucifixion--the idea that God could be hanged on a cross and executed like a common criminal--is a greater miracle.”

The natural order is not violated by the crucifixion of a man by the Romans. Since the existence of God is not granted by the skeptic, the Crucifixion cannot be described, without begging the question, as God’s being hanged on a cross.

2. “[T]he resurrection from the dead had already been established, in the Gospel of John, prior to the Resurrection of Jesus. If you haven't stopped reading when Jesus raised Lazarus, then you won't be having a problem with the Resurrection of Jesus.”

Since the skeptic can disbelieve in the resurrection of Lazarus and keep reading the book, the mere fact that it was mentioned does nothing to establish to a skeptic that Jesus was raised from the dead.

3. [T]he Ascension. . . . , compared to the Resurrection, is much harder to believe.

If the skeptic would grant the resurrection, there would be no problem with the ascension. Since he doesn’t, the ascension doesn’t even come up as an item for historical discussion. As far as the skeptic is concerned, there was nobody there to ascend.

4. “I see the Resurrection as an anomaly within the natural order; amazing, but believable, nonetheless. The Ascension, however, given the physical Resurrection of Jesus, is a true miracle, in that it transgresses the laws of physics and contradicts the natural order.”

Someone who does not believe in Christian God does not find the resurrection believable. Surely if the ascension transgressed the laws of physics, so does the resurrection.

5. “[The Resurrection] at least was not an unprecedented miracle, or one that hadn't already been seen, unequivocally, by the followers of Jesus on one occasion (Lazarus), and presumably known about, if not witnessed, on at least two other prior occasions.
I bring the Ascension up because, if your article is meant to prove the credibility of the witnesses, the Ascension brings that credibility into even more question than does the Resurrection, because it remains inexplicable, and highly unlikely.”

If the resurrection occurred, there is no reason to disbelieve the reports of the ascension.

6. “The Resurrection as a stark fact, since it is not unique, proves nothing other than that it happened. It also happened to Lazarus, and Lazarus was nobody special.”

Since the skeptic does not grant that resurrections had ever occurred prior to the purported resurrection of Christ, the appeal to precedent falls on deaf ears.

7. “If you are going to attempt a quasi-scientific "proof" of the truth of Christianity, then physical resurrection, because it was shown to be a repeatable "experiment" is, on the one hand, excellent data, but on the other hand, because of its repeatability, less valuable as a proof about the uniqueness of any one person who was ressurrected.
The Ascension does not have this drawback.”

"Quasi-scientific" is a red herring here. We are dealing with history, not with a titration in the lab. I can do no better than to quote Lydia on this:

The whole "repeatability" thing is ridiculous. Nobody is claiming anything like, "Jesus was raised from the dead, because resurrections are a repeatable type of event." That's silly. The whole point is that it was something God the father did freely, as a miracle, as evidence that Jesus was who he said he was.

8. “I contend that the post-resurrection martyrs did not die for their assertion that Jesus was resurrected, but for their assertion that He has the Messiah and the Son of God.”

If what Lydia said above doesn’t make the point clear to you, perhaps you should read this.

On the whole, I think the best comment on this whole exchange is this one of Lydia’s:

I think you just really don't understand how to go about constructing a case directed to a particular person in a particular epistemic situation.

I have no disagreement with Michael Phillips's comment as far as I can tell w.r.t. the difference in kinds of resurrected bodies. It's pretty clear that Lazarus had to die again, whereas of course Jesus never did. "He dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him."

Rodak, at the moment I have no real interest in reading the blog post from which the unpleasant quotation above was taken. In order merely to clarify, let me say this: What a resurrection "says" about the person raised depends on the circumstances involved. If someone else raises you from the dead, that says something about _his_ power. If someone rises from the dead without anyone else visible performing it, that says something about _him_ and about his relationship with God. I don't quite understand why you don't see this to be true, but if I have not said it clearly enough before, I want to do so now.

What a resurrection "says" about the person raised depends on the circumstances involved. If someone else raises you from the dead, that says something about _his_ power. If someone rises from the dead without anyone else visible performing it, that says something about _him_ and about his relationship with God.

Lydia,

I think what you address here gets at what was lurking somewhere in Rodak's comments even if he was having trouble saying it explicitly.

I think he was saying something like:

A skeptic might say ok I’ll grant that Jesus was raised from the dead for just a moment. Granting this doesn’t necessarily ratify that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God. It's not clear what follows from accepting the resurrection. After all there are other accounts people being raised from the dead in the Bible and nothing special seems to be ratified about them. So even in granting the resurrection I’m not constrained to accept full blown Christianity.

Again I think this might be what Rodak was getting at but I’m not really sure. At any rate the proper response, it seems to me, would be to look at the circumstances as you said. The distinction you make about being raised by someone and being raised directly from God is helpful here. But if we also take into account Jesus’ own predictions and the claims he makes (as you mention somewhere) about his relationship with God than I think we can start to make a case as to what the resurrection does indeed ratify; that Jesus in the Messiah and Son of God.

"This confirms what I wrote above. It also indicates that Rodak’s earlier references to “your excellent article” which is “very well argued” were disingenuous."

No. It is an excellent article, and a consistent argument. I went about seeing if I could counter any of the arguments by looking at the premises from a different point of view.
For instance, the idea that the readiness of early believers to die for their belief that He was risen. That proves something about what the early believers believed and how strongly they believed it. It proves nothing about the *truth* of what they believed. Dozens of people were willing to die with David Koresh because they believed certain things about him. We had other believers who were willing to die because they thought they would be resurrected by space aliens following the Hale-Bopp comet in their starship.
I wasn't attempting to contruct a seamless counter-argument; I was merely looking at certain features of your argument and, at certain, points saying "But, what if...?"
If your argument was being addressed to a theist who was not, however, a Christian, then God can be posited without stipulating the divinity of Christ, for instance.
It's not so much my inability to understand your argument that is the sticking point here, but your total inability to stand temporarily outside of what you have constructed and look at it from the perspective of one, or more, points of view.
As for habitually disagreeing with Lydia, I habitually disagree with most conservatives on most points. But I don't have any fun talking only with people who tend to agree with me. I would rather try to bring people with an opposite viewpoint around to my way of thinking on a topic. There is nothing more boring, and ultimately pointless, than a bunch of people sitting around agreeing with each other and patting each other on the back. So I, for the most part, visit conservative blogs to talk politics and Catholic blogs to talk religion.

Mike D's first paragraph recapitulates exactly what I was saying on that point.

"The natural order is not violated by the crucifixion of a man by the Romans. Since the existence of God is not granted by the skeptic, the Crucifixion cannot be described, without begging the question, as God’s being hanged on a cross."

Let's say that our skeptic here is not an atheist, but a Jew. He believes in God. He does not believe that God walks the earth in the form of a man. But, even if you could get him to stipulate the Incarnation, he might well still not believe that God in human form would allow Himself to executed like a common criminal. This is the scandal of Cross. And the sacrifice of the Christ is also the key element in Christianity. The Resurrection is a sign (as were the other resurrections), but the Passion is the sacrament-of-sacraments. It's not in the believing that a *man* was hanged on the Cross, but that this man was God incarnate and *willingly* died on the Cross. It's the willingness, the obedience that counts here. Belief in the Resurrection is only a good predictor of the truth of Christianity when it is stipulated in strict conjunction with--not so much belief in, but *understanding of*--the scandal of the Cross.
I brought up the Ascension in order to see if the credibility of the witnesses to the Resurrection could be brought into question. Having been partially convinced (as a skeptic) in the truth of the Resurrection, if I am now told something by the same group that is even more far-fetched, I might then start to have second thoughts about believing what they told me about the former miracle. That would endanger some of the conclusions of your argument with regard to the question of the truth of Christianity, as based on belief in the resurrection.


Well, Rodak, I'm glad Mike d's paragraph captures your question, because that means that I have correctly divined it and have responded.

The whole idea that their willingness to die shows only what they thought and not what was true is something that whole swathes of our paper address. How probable is it that they would think *something like this* with *this degree of confidence* if it were not true? Skeptics continually fail to distinguish commitment to an ideology with commitment to a set of empirical claims to which they themselves claim to be the witnesses. The disciples didn't just believe what they did about Jesus in a vacuum. They believed those things because of what, as they themselves said, they had heard and seen. As you yourself say, Rodak, the resurrection was a sign. Without that sign, they would not have gone around preaching what they did preach. That much is obvious from their own behavior. But is that the kind of sign they would have believed in just on the basis of hysteria or credulity? How good of an explanation is sheer religious kookiness for _this_ claim, held to _this_ tenaciously? A very poor one. That is the difference between this and David Koresh or the comet-alien-followers. Again, waving one's hand at various strange religious beliefs and even willingness to die for them won't do the trick. If our paper has a thesis besides the thesis that the evidence at hand gives a huge boost to the proposition that the resurrection happened, that second thesis is that skeptics _must confront_ the actual case in a way that they usually don't.

As for the crucifixion, even--perhaps especially--if you take the Jewish perspective, the crucifixion shows nothing. Or one might even argue that it tends to indicate (by itself) that Jesus was _not_ God. As they said to him, "If you are the Son of God, come down." So while the crucifixion is theologically of enormous, overwhelming importance, evidentially it does not support the proposition that Jesus is God. Lots of people were crucified. God was never crucified before, but the proposition "Jesus is God" is *what is in question.* You can't assume it on pain of question-begging. Neither the Jew nor the atheist will grant it, and the crucifixion doesn't support it. That was why Jesus said that the sign that would be given them was that of Jonah--buried for three days and then resurrected.

Rodak,

I’m sorry, but all that I can see in the juxtapositions of your earlier, more gracious words and the screed you put on your personal blog is an inconsistency.

Your most recent comment misses the point yet again. Even for the Jew, who will by no means independently grant that Jesus was God incarnate, what is in question is whether the resurrection took place. It is not in doubt that the crucifixion took place. If the resurrection took place, then given the context in which it took place it is not problematic – your protests to the contrary notwithstanding – that the power of God has been exerted on Jesus’ behalf. That event, and only that event, puts the crucifixion in perspective. The actual Jewish perspective, as opposed to your imaginary one, is covered in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and elaborated in Isaac ben Abraham Troki.

The credibility of a witness who maintains a resurrection is already going to be in doubt from the standpoint of someone who does not believe that Jesus was God. Since the resurrection must have taken place in order for it to be even logically possible for the resurrected Christ to ascend, the focus of the discussion between someone who believes and someone who doubts must be on the prior point. The idea that someone might be persuaded of the resurrection but have second thoughts about the whole thing upon being told about the ascension is simply bizarre.

This article does not appear in a vacuum. It is a contribution to a discussion that has been going on for many centuries, since Origen answered Celsus and Eusebius answered Porphyry. And it is more specifically a contribution to the part of that discussion shaped by the works of Spinoza, Hume, Gibbon, Paine, Strauss, and Baur. There is no shame in being unfamiliar with this discussion; most people, even most educated people, are not. If you aren’t, and you want to ask questions, that is fine. But it is virtually impossible for someone who has not read the relevant literature to make a significant contribution to the discussion. At this point, the best thing you could do would be to pipe down until you’ve done at least some background reading.

For the rest, I am not the only reader here who thinks you’ve become obsessive about contradicting Lydia.

Lydia--
Will you agree with me that if you convince an atheist, or a Jew, etc., that Jesus was crucified dead and buried, and after three days rose again from the dead--and nothing else--you haven't necessarily convinced him that Jesus is God, even though he believes that God resurrected Jesus?
If the answer to that is "Yes", then will you further agree with me that if you haven't convinced our atheist that Jesus is God, you haven't convinced him of the truth of Christianity?
My point about the scandal of the Cross is that, while this is the sine qua non of the Faith, it can't be proven. The truth of Christianity can't be proven. We can argue about probabilities based on agreement among witnesses that various of the signs really took place; but the Truth is in the Cross and in the sacrifice made thereon by the Second Person of the Trinity. And this can't be proven, it can only be taken on faith.

"I’m sorry, but all that I can see in the juxtapositions of your earlier, more gracious words and the screed you put on your personal blog is an inconsistency."

Well, touche', I suppose. But, after that pons asinorum crack, which is what set me off, I guess it's a matter of "what goes around comes around." At least I vented at my place, rather than yours. Peace.

Rodak, there are all manner of effect-to-cause inferences that are not deductive but not therefore a matter of "taking things on faith." If you find footprints in the woods that look just like Nikes, it's _logically possible_ that there exists a hyper-intelligent turkey who put on a pair of cast-off Nikes and went around making tracks in them to avoid being shot for Thanksgiving dinner. But no one therefore says that it has to be "taken on faith" that a human being was in the woods wearing Nikes. It's logically possible that all of my posts on this blog and everything else that constitutes my web presence--my personal blog, my home page, etc.--were made not by a woman named Lydia McGrew but rather by Richard Dawkins, who made up "Lydia McGrew" for fun as an alter ego. But this bare possibility doesn't make us say that all the people who know me through the Internet must take my existence "on faith."

Rather, in these and innumerable other mundane matters, we mundanely refer effects to those causes which best explain them. That's all.

The same is true of the matter you raise: It is barely logically possible that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead but was not God. But no fideistic conclusion follows. No skeptic, Jew, or other non-Christian chooses to take his stand there, for the simple reason that, given the context of Jesus' teachings and life, the inference from "Jesus rose from the dead" to "Jesus is God" is very strong. Rather, they deny that he rose from the dead. From their perspective, this is the obvious and sensible place to balk.

Rodak: one thing you may be missing in your attempt to play devil's advocate is that "will compel the assent of an intransigent ignoramus" is a feature of truncheons, not arguments.

Zippy--
If I'm the truncheonist, who's the intransigent ignoramus?

I remember reading years ago, in Time or some such place, an interview with a Jewish Biblical scholar who said that if he believed that Jesus rose from the dead, he'd be baptized tomorrow.

Didn't St. Paul say something like "If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain"? If I had to pick some other event toward which to steer Lydia and Tim's attention, it would not have been the Ascension, etc., but the Incarnation, because it happens to be my particular point of fascination. If God truly took on human flesh, I find all the rest easy. But it's likely I wouldn't believe it had he not risen, for it was with that event that he put proof to all other claims. Besides, I want to read the book they wrote, not the one I'd have written.

"But it's likely I wouldn't believe it had he not risen, for it was with that event that he put proof to all other claims."

Bingo. The apologist always goes for the strongest case.

Bill,

That would be the German Rabbi Peter Levinson, reacting (with some asperity) to some comments from the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide. The quotation is here.

That's one helluva search job, Tim. Thanks. As I recall, that article, from the May 7, 1979 issue, was well worth the read, and still is. A couple of its observations pulled at random, relating directly to your subject:

His [Lapide's] argument draws upon the views of a number of medieval rabbis who believed that the Christian church must somehow be part of God's plan. If the two religions both derive from the same God, says Lapide, Christianity could not be founded upon a lie. And since it "stands or falls" with the Easter story, Lapide concludes that the church was "born out of an act of the will of God, which all the New Testament authors call the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead."

...he has been known to twit German liberal Christians about their lack of faith. The demythologizers of Easter, he says, are "sawing off the branch of faith upon which they are sitting."

The problem that I perceive in emphasizing Easter over the Passion is that Easter too easily evokes "Oh good! I'm going to get something!" rather than the "I understand! I need to give something!" that is at the heart of the Passion.
Quite obviously, with regard to Jesus, had His crucifixion been the end, there would be no Christianity. That said, had there been no "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son to die..." then the resurrection of Jesus would have had no more significance than the resurrection of Lazarus. It would have been a sign to Jews of the power of God, but not a reason in itself to worship Jesus. Any argument establishing proof of Christianity on the basis of the Crucifixion alone is lacking in this key element.

With regard to the Rabbi cited above, I see no reason why I should take instruction from a Jew--no matter how learned--on the Christian religion. Any Jew who has studied the New Testament and/or other Christian teachings, and who has remained a Jew is ipso facto not to be counted among those non-Christians who can hope for God's justification based on having been inspired by the Holy Spirit to live a good life, despite never have heard the explicit Word.

Tim--
I note that you link only to page two of the Time Magazine article from which the above quotes are extracted. Anybody who troubles to go back to page one, however, will find that Prof. Lapide states words to the effect that even if Jesus was resurrected (which he admits as a possibility only), Jesus was still not the Jewish Messiah. In the expression of these sentiments, then, Prof. Lapide is calling Jesus a liar and implying that the Christian scriptures are false records. So much for Prof. Lapide, in my book.

Um, er, Rodak, Bill Luse quoted Levinson, not Lapide, and Tim simply found the quote via a search. It is of course right that Lapide isn't being reasonable in saying that maybe Jesus rose but wasn't God or the Messiah. That was Levinson's point. If you cannot see that in the context of what Jesus had in fact claimed, and given his rising "on his own" (that is, without any other prophet working the miracle), the resurrection was indeed a reason to worship him, there's not much more I can say. Certainly most who deny his resurrection have indeed agreed about what _follows_ from it but have therefore challenged or watered down the empirical claim. They are unreasonable at one point. To my mind, you are being oddly unreasonable at another, though I don't know quite why. Perhaps it is because you dislike the notion of a strong evidential case to be considered soberly rather than a religious leap of faith. In that, you are not alone. Lots of people who deny that there is evidence for the resurrection will say (often rather patronizingly) that _if_ we believe it, we must accept it on faith. These people exist both among Christians and skeptics of various sorts. But Jesus was clearer. He spoke of his resurrection, and his other miracles for that matter, as signs of where he came from and who he was. He even said that if he had not done the signs he had done, the Jewish leaders would have no sin. God bears witness to a special revelation when he expects us to accept it. Fideism is not his style.

Lydia--
I didn't say, if you will reread what I wrote, that Lapide was "quoted" above, I said that he was "cited" above. A quote and a citation are not the same thing. A quote is a direct reproduction of a thing; a citation is a reference made to a thing. In the event, Levinson is the rabbi. I believe that Lapide is referred to as an Orthodox Scholar, not a rabbi. I did say "the Time Magazine article from which the above quotes are extracted"; but this did not attribute the quotes to Lapide, but only named their source. I think that I accurately paraphrased what Lapide said, as it pertains to the point I was making.

That said, I think that you make an excellent point here:

"Perhaps it is because you dislike the notion of a strong evidential case to be considered soberly rather than a religious leap of faith. In that, you are not alone."

I believe that there is a necessary "leap of faith" at the very heart of Christianity. And it is about this leap of faith that the essence of the teachings of St. Paul, in particular, expound.

Rodak,

As Lydia has pointed out, Bill brought up the comment by Levinson; I merely linked directly to a page giving that quotation and provided the context, viz, that Rabbi Levinson is

reacting (with some asperity) to some comments from the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide
I have no idea why you're talking about "anybody who troubles to go back to page one," since Bill had quoted some comments from page one almost five hours before your post came in.

If you want to make the world safe for leaps of faith, your best bet is Kierkegaard, though certain Dutch Reformed and Muslim apologists also come to mind. Such irrationalism finds no aid or comfort in either the writings of Paul or the account of Paul's teaching in the second half of Acts.

Heb.11
[1] Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
[2] For by it the elders obtained a good report.
[3] Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

The Crucifixion is a thing which is seen. The Resurrection, also, is a thing which is seen. But faith resides, ultimately, in that which cannot be seen: that it is God, not just a man, hanging on the Cross. And God, not just a man, who rises again on the third day.
Perhaps I have been unduly influenced in this conversation by the book on Luther's Theology of the Cross, which I recently read and posted on here.
That said, I am also profoundly influenced by the writings of Kierkegaard with regard to the leap of faith.
Finally, if I may bring in a concept from a set of teachings totally removed from Christianity, that may, nonetheless, cast an oblique light across where I'm coming from, there is:

"The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao."

This shows us the limitation inherent in all of our verbalizations concerning those things which are rightly called "mysteries."


No, Rodak, that passage of St. Paul does not mean that we should believe irrationally. We all believe in things we haven't seen, and believe *by evidence.* For example, I believe in your existence by way of evidence, though I have not seen you. C. S. Lewis is excellent on this. He argues that faith is opposed not to reason but to instinct and emotion, such as the instinctive revulsion to believing in and speaking to an invisible God. He gives the mundane example of having good evidence that an anesthetist is not going to smother him to death with the anesthetic mask but nonetheless feeling terrified when the time comes to have the mask put on. In the same way, many people feel that (for example) a God who intervenes in the world is "icky," or "undignified," or "not the God they want to worship." They have emotional and instinctive reasons--not rational ones--for not wanting to accept the truth of Christianity. Faith tells them that that doesn't matter.

But guess what: You can't make the case for Christianity poor just by wishing it were poor because you like leaps of faith. At the metalevel, as at the object level, things are the way they are. I have to break it to you that the evidential case is a good one, whether you like it or not! If people reject it, it will not be for want of evidence but in the face of it, and without reason on their side. And many, of course, do.

"Icky"?

Perhaps this, taken from the post I linked to above, will explain better where I'm coming from:

In a disputation at Heidelberg, Luther made these essentially significant statements in Theses 19 and 20:

19. The man who looks upon the invisible things of God as they are perceived in created things does not deserve to be called a theologian.

20. The man who perceives the visible rearward parts of God as seen in suffering and the cross does, however, deserve to be called a theologian.

Per McGrath: “For Luther, the sole authentic locus of man’s knowledge of God is the cross of Christ, in which God is to be found revealed, and yet paradoxically hidden in that revelation. Luther’s reference to the posteriori Dei serves to emphasize that, like Moses, we can only see God from the rear: we are denied a direct knowledge of God, or a vision of his face (cf. Exodus 33.23). The cross does indeed reveal God – but that revelation is of the posteriori Dei…but a genuine revelation nonetheless.” [p.149]

The text cited is: Luther’s Theology of the Cross by Alister E. McGrath

So, reason, following the evidence (things seen), can lead us unerringly to the brink of the abyss, which is exactly where we need to be; but it cannot bridge that abyss for us, because evidence stops at the brink; we can't see across to the other side.
Or, we can see God hanging on the Cross, but this aesthetic evidence does not disclose to us the full truth; i.e. that what we are seeing is God; we can see that Truth only with the "eyes of faith." And then, only with the grace of God, through the Holy Spirit; not through reason alone.

Ah, McGrath.

Again, Rodak, you can't make the case poor so that it requires an arational leap of faith if, in fact, it isn't poor.

Being committed to a person is, of course, different from believing that he exists. The devils also believe, and tremble. The demons may well be far better theologians than you and I, but they do not love God. That has really nothing to do with leaps of faith over "the abyss," with anti-rationalism, or anything else of that sort. It has to do with what you do with what you know. Just as a person can know that something is wrong but do it anyway, so a person can know, by reason, that God is, that Jesus was God, and that he ought to worship and follow him, but refuse to do so.

Contemporary man seems to think that these matters are all about intellect and what can or cannot be shown satisfactorily to the intellect, with "leaps of faith" supposedly filling in the gaps. Actually, where the sticking point usually comes is not there at all, but rather at the point of refusing to act rightly on what one knows to be true--the fallenness of the will, in fact, being the problem.

"Such irrationalism finds no aid or comfort in either the writings of Paul or the account of Paul's teaching in the second half of Acts."

I would refer you here to 1 Corininthians 2:

2:1 When I came to you, brothers, I didn’t come with excellence of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 2:3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 2:4 My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 2:5 that your faith wouldn’t stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

And,

2:12 But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things.

"Ah, McGrath."

Actually, more "Ah, Luther."

"Actually, where the sticking point usually comes is not there at all, but rather at the point of refusing to act rightly on what one knows to be true--the fallenness of the will, in fact, being the problem."

No argument there, Lydia. But I thought that, right now, we were discussing the problems of doxis, not those of praxis.

Rodak,

Both the quotation from Luther and McGrath's gloss on it are fairly obscure and afford little traction on this issue. But what does it matter? No Protestant is required to submit to Luther's pronouncements as to a Magisterium. It is not as though one's portrait of Luther need have no warts.

McGrath is not an authority on either philosophy or Christian apologetics, notwithstanding the way he is sometimes treated by earnest evangelicals. If you wanted a better representative of something like your position, you should look to Alvin Plantinga, who is actually a professional philosopher.

Your quotations from I Corinthians demonstrate nothing except a capacity for misreading: "man's wisdom" is not equated with "public evidence," as Paul himself decisively demonstrates in the very epistle from which you are quoting, chapter 15, verses 3-8. See also Acts 26:24-29, where Paul notably does not ask Agrippa to look at the matter with the eyes of faith but rather presses the point in the best evidential fashion: "[T]hese things were not done in a corner."

"...Alvin Plantinga, who is actually a professional philosopher."

What's that? Plantinga's turned pro? Geez, I hope Socrates doesn't hear about that!

But, seriously: What does Paul say in 1 Cor. 3? He says, "...I handed on to you the facts which had been imparted to me..." He isn't making an argument--he is asking to be trusted; i.e. he is asking that his word be taken on faith. And the key element of what he calls "fact" here, is "factual" only because that faith is assumed as a given; i.e. "that Christ died for your sins". It is "that Christ died for your sins" precisely which is that "invisible" factor requiring the leap of faith.
As for those verses of Acts, what Paul cites as not having taken place in a corner is "that the Messiah must suffer, and that he, the first to rise from the dead, would announce the dawn to Israel and to the Gentiles." He says he asserts "nothing beyond what was foretold by the prophets and by Moses". I don't know that ancient prophecy is "evidence" by any strict definition of the term.
By the way, what was Paul's general opinion of philosophers?
You can disparage McGrath, but the scholarship of the book I read is quite extensive. The notes take up about twenty-five percent of the volume. There are 14 volumes by McGrath in the University library I borrowed it from. More volumes than I have there.

Lydia--
If you would like to go completely off-topic and talk about "the fallenness of the will, in fact, being the problem", I'm game for that.
In fact, the McGrath book inspired some thoughts on precisely that, when I first started reading it. I posted on that, and then referred to it again in the post on the Theology of the Cross:


At this point, we might well say, Wha'?—we know some Lutherans, and none of them seem to be going through anything even remotely like this stuff! Ah yes: cheap grace; I’ve spoken of it before.


Rodak, I, too, have been a presuppositionalist, many-a year ago. I wonder what I, then, would have said in answer to some questions posed by myself, now. For example: What, exactly, are those verses supposed to show, as the anti-rationalist interprets them? Are we to conclude that the evidential case for Christianity *must be* rationally weak, that we can tell this without examining it, a priori, because of those verses? That's absurd on its face. Again, the case is what it is. Wishing for a "place for faith" won't make it weak if it's strong!

Or are we to conclude, from those verses, that even if the case is strong we should hide this fact from the unbeliever? For if the case is strong, and he finds that out, he might found his faith on evidence rather than dangling it in thin air, and we are _obligated_ to try to induce people to dangle their faith in thin air? This is morally absurd.

Not only does the fideistic interpretation of those verses contradict St. Paul's own practice, that interpretation is so obviously stupid when you think about what it implies that we should not attribute it to St. Paul in the name of pure charity!

(Paul appeals to prophecy before Agrippa because, as he himself says, he expects Agrippa already to accept the divine origin of prophecy. It's perfectly legitimate evidential apologetics to work from true premises you expect your audience to accept already.)

Lydia--
What worked on ol' Bronze Age Agrippa because he could be assumed in the first century to believe in the literal truth of OT prophecies, won't necessarily be quite that effective on some 21st century atheist/logical positivist reading your article. Neither will the fact that Paul convinced Agrippa by that tactic move him.
The bottom line is that there is no way to provide evidentiary proof that, 1) Jesus Christ died for your sins (as it is simplistically stated on bumper-stickers); or that, 2) anybody has ever gained eternal life through the agency of belief in the *historical fact* Jesus Christ was Resurrected. Here we make a leap of pure faith, founded upon hope. This is true, even though it is also true that, as Paul famously stated, your faith is in vain, if Christ was not resurrected. And St. Paul knew this. I'm not at this point going to get into duelling proof-texts. But I could.

Timothy and Lydia--
I am very much enjoying this challenging discussion. Any exercise that sends me dipping into the New Testament and thinking about God, rather than myself, is a positive.
But now, if you'll excuse me, guests are about to arrive, and turkey time is nigh.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, you and yours.

Rodak,

You write:

But, seriously: What does Paul say in 1 Cor. 3? He says, "...I handed on to you the facts which had been imparted to me..." He isn't making an argument--he is asking to be trusted; i.e. he is asking that his word be taken on faith.
I assume you mean I Cor. 15:3. If so, your interpretation is rejected by every major New Testament scholar with whom I am acquainted -- and with good reason. It is now almost universally acknowledged that Paul is referring here to a creed formalized in the first few years after the crucifixion, as the repetitions of και οτι and κατα τας γραφας, among other things, indicate. He is not asking them to take him on faith; he is pointing out that his teaching regarding the resurrection is in line with that of the original apostles at Jerusalem -- that he is delivering to them the authentic gospel, not something of his own invention. His reference to the five hundred witnesses, most of whom were still alive, was a standing challenge to his own opponents at Corinth to refute him.

McGrath is a professional historian of theology, and I would not presume to dispute with him on that ground without first doing considerable study. But he does not seem to feel a similar restraint when venturing out into epistemology, which is very remote indeed from his field of specialization.

Yes, Alvin Plantinga is a professional philosopher; he has been for over 40 years now. I'm sorry that this news catches you by surprise.

"I'm sorry that this news catches you by surprise."

Tim--

Do you have no sense of humor, at all? Gosh!

p.s. Sorry about calling you "Timothy" above. That is a baseless assumption on my part.

Rodak,

I have one -- we just don't share the same one, it seems :)

Enjoy your turkey!

Lydia, Tim,

A very good article. Some small thoughts:

(1) There appears to be a typo in the second line on page 9 (a missing "be").

(2) Your argument on martyrdom and testimony seems to have been anticipated by Lady Mary Shepherd in her essay on the Credibility of Miracles, in response to Hume (in Essays on the Perception of an External Universe and Ohter Subjects connected with the Doctrine of Causation). I highly recommend that essay, and suspect you'd like it; and Shepherd's responses to Hume on any point are always sterling -- even when she doesn't get Hume quite right she says things worth considering.

(3) I'm a little surprised, given that there's some emphasis on Hume's 'trial-by-proxy' that the Queen Elizabeth example he gives -- where it becomes clear that this is precisely what he is doing -- does not seem to be mentioned at all. Given the argument that's made about what Hume's argument really amounts to, those two paragraphs would seem to be the smoking gun, or close to it.

P42 - discussion of independence among the 13 male witnesses

Lydia -

"If the pieces of evidence are positively or negatively relevant to each other, it might be the case that the
calculation under independence exaggerates their force for R. But this will be the case *only if* the
equality above changes to [inequality favouring ~R]"

Can you clarify a point here for me? It seems to me that if independence does not hold, then the Bayes factor can still be an overestimate, even without favouring ~R in the inequality.

For example, relax independence and assume Di is symmetric on R vs. ~R. Then the original equality could hold, with each side equalling some number vastly larger than 1.

P(D1 & ... & D13 | R) P(D1 & ... & D13 | ~R)
--------------------- = ---------------------- = 10^6 (say)
P(D1|R)&...&P(D13|R) P(D1|~R)&...&P(D13|~R)

In this event, we have overestimated the Bayes factor without introducing an asymmetry between R and ~R. This appears to contradict your "*only if*" quoted above.

Note that I'm not arguing anything about how independence breaks on R vs. ~R (and this seems to be the crux of your argument going forward). I just want to clarify this very specific point.

thanks - I'm sure you can explain where I'm going wrong. (And apologies if the equation has terrible formatting. It's only supposed to be the equality on p42, but with each side > 1).

Thanks for the technical question. I'll check it out later today.

J. Evans,

On the technical point, here is (I believe) the mistake you are making: You have to keep in mind that our ultimate goal is an accurate Bayes factor showing the probability of all the evidence on R over the probability of all of the evidence on ~R. The equalities and inequalities in the independence section are showing, instead, the ratios of the probability of the evidence taken in conjunction on each hypothesis over the probability of the evidence taken as independent pieces and combined by multiplication, on each hypothesis. (The conjunction over the product, both on the same hypothesis.) If, as in the example you give, the probability of the conjunction of the testimonies on both R and ~R is much greater than the probability of the pieces taken to be independent (so independence fails in that they are positively relevant to one another), but this positive dependence is *exactly the same* for R and ~R, then that will simply cancel out when we go to do the Bayes factor for the ratio of all of the evidence on R to all of the evidence on ~R.

The formating here doesn't allow me to do this very well, but imagine the Bayes factor we give on p. 38 for the testimony of the disciples, with both the top and the bottom multiplied by 10^6 to reflect the failure of independence you envisage for both R and ~R. In that case, this is just tantamount to multiplying by 1 (that is, 10^6 over 10^6), and it makes no difference to the Bayes factor of 10^39 favoring R.

Hope this is clear.

Brandon,

Thanks for catching the typo. I'm collecting these and correcting them and will be posting a cleaned-up version shortly, to the same URL.

I would imagine that much of what we say is anticipated in the literature, as we are standing on shoulders of giants in more ways than one. I'm not familiar with Lady Mary Shepherd, but I'm sure Tim is. We have several claims to originality, but also many claims to having been anticipated. :-)

I don't really think the Queen Elizabeth example is a case of trial by proxy so much, as it was not actually claimed to have happened. But you are certainly right that it is the Queen Elizabeth example that makes it clear what Hume is really talking about. No one was under any illusions on this point in his own day. What is astonishing is the number of people who think he can *get away with* making these sweeping and general assertions, without dealing with the actual evidence for the resurrection, and yet somehow cashier the whole case. There are people who think this yet today. I just read a new article by Jordan Howard Sobel that says this very nearly in so many words.

Brandon,

(1) Thanks; we're collecting a list of typos (about a dozen so far) and will upload a corrected version later.

(2) I'm much obliged to you for the reference to Lady Shepherd's discussion of Hume. I have obtained a copy of the 1827 edition, alas missing pp. 286-87. The essay on Hume's critique of miracles is quite vigorous and interesting and ends strongly (pp. 339-45). Her resolution, on pp. 341-43, of the threat of circularity raised by Glanvill's principle of context is incisive and convincing.

You're right that Lady Shepherd is advancing an argument in many respects similar to ours, but that is hardly surprising, since as Butler observes it is one of the direct and fundamental proofs. Her observations on martyrdom resemble the longer treatment in Robert Jenkin's unjustly neglected Reasonableness and Certainty of the Christian Religion, vol. 2 (6th ed. 1734), pp. 528-33. But the locus classicus for this argument is the third book of Eusebius's Demonstration of the Gospel.

(3) We were running out of space, so we had to be selective. Of course there are several smoking guns in the essay ...

Lydia,

The thing that always strikes me most about the Queen Elizabeth example is that, when combined with the next paragraph ("But should this miracle be ascribed to any new system of religion....") it shows that one of Hume's primary goals in the essay is to portray religion (and Christianity in particular) as such a mix of knavery and gullibility that it can't be trusted in much at all, especially when it claims something out of the ordinary. And if you look closely, a large part of Hume's argument really depends on this rather than anything else. And, as you say, it's a bit astonishing that so many people think he can get away with this without going into the actual evidence.

Tim,

I'll have to look up Jenkins's argument; I think I may have read small parts of the work you've mentioned, but if so that was long enough ago that I remember very little, and may be confusing what I do remember with something else. And I have a warm place in my heart for any sort of unjustly neglected philosophical thought.

I have the 1827 edition (including pp. 286-287), so if you'd like the text for the missing pages, just email me and I'll type them up (it wouldn't be any problem). I'd scan them and send them to you directly, but I don't think I have easy access to a working scanner at the moment.

Brandon,

That would be most welcome, and thank you. If you don't already know how to get 'hold of me, Johnny-Dee knows how.

"If you want to make the world safe for leaps of faith, your best bet is Kierkegaard..."

As I was admonished by Tim above to check out Kierkegaard, I offer some of K's thoughts, from Training in Christianity, on proofs of Christ's divinity from history here.

Perhaps Bayesian analysis could be refined by applying it to a simpler test case.

Paul claimed to have gone to the third Heaven.

Nobody disputes that Paul claimed that.

What is the probabibility that Paul visited the third Heaven?

One in three?

:-)

So if somebody claims to have visited Heaven, there is a one in three chance that he has?

How was that worked out?

More miracles from personal testimony.

In Matthew, Joseph claimed to have been visited by an angel in a dream.

What is the probability that early Christians believed that sometimes what happened in a dream was real?

Steven Carr, you have no sense of humor.

The issue of how testimony is to be assessed is addressed extensively in the paper. You seem to be under a misimpression, but I will leave it at that.

So what sort of probability is there that Paul was telling the truth when he said he visited the third Heaven?

'We all believe in things we haven't seen, and believe *by evidence.*'

Paul certainly believed Jesus became a life-giving spirit at the resurrection.

But he hadn't seen that.

Even when converts to Christianity scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse, Paul could find not one detail of eyewitness testimony to tell them what a resurrected body looked like.

All he could do was trash the idea that resurrected beings were made of the dust that corpses dissolved into.

Hello Tim and Lydia,

Greetings from an old chess friend and brother in the faith. I have read this whole blog and have determined that I lack the background to understand many aspects of your argument. Nonetheless I am looking forward to reading the paper and gleaning what I can. In Seminary my most enjoyed profs were the philosopher/theologian ones.

Perhaps we will see you on the 5th as we are in Michigan on that day in January.

Don Brooks

Hello, Don! Please get in touch by e-mail before you come through so that perhaps we can see you. I understand our kids sometimes "see" each other on the ICC.

Do have a shot at the paper, and as I said to someone else, try "humming" the equations. Not that the equations are extraneous, but if you try the humming method, you will get past those parts to the parts that don't have so many equations. It's sufficiently long, heaven knows, that it has a bit of something for everyone. The final section on Hume shows him papering over/ignoring some historical errors of his own, too.

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