Feb 20

Brief Comments on the Resurrection

It’s been difficult to post lately, so I’ve decided to focus on shorter posts and less on establishing philosophical rigor. That’s not to say the points won’t be valid. Rather, I just won’t be providing as much defense of each point and won’t be considering as many counterpoints.

I’d like to begin this effort by discussing an unusual argument. It’s unusual because apologists seem to love it and most others seem to think it’s absolutely ridiculous. I mean the argument on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Apologists claim that based on several “facts” they can say with confidence that Jesus was actually raised from the dead and not just take it on faith.

Their argument is essentially as follows:
– New Testament scholars generally agree that a core set of things from the resurrection stories are probably true
– These things include the crucifixion of Jesus, the empty tomb, and the belief by the early church in the resurrection, among others.
– If these things are facts, then the best explanation of these facts is that Jesus was resurrected

Now just why do I think this argument is terrible? Let me list a few issues.

1. Their argument is generally structured as an argument to the best explanation. This tactic is often presented as detectives solving cold case crimes or presenting a case to a jury. Of course, detectives, lawyers, and juries aren’t exactly schooled in Bayes Theorem. What these arguments to the best explanations tend to do in Bayesian terms is ignore prior probability and only focus on the relationship between the evidence and the hypothesis. That’s only half of the battle, making their argument incomplete at best.

2. It turns out prior probability is quite important to consider. As I described in my post on Extraordinary Claims Really Do Require Extraordinary Evidence, it turns out that the prior probability tells us just how strong the evidence of one competing explanation needs to be compared to others. In a case like resurrection, it may be the case that the evidence we have needs to be 100,000,000,000 times more likely under the resurrection hypothesis than under all other hypotheses combined. That’s a pretty big problem for apologists. I would add that it’s even more important the further away from the event we get. In a case like this it’s even harder to assess the evidence, which means we may want to rely even more on the prior probability.

3. Calling these items facts is dubious. The overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars are Christians and went into the profession already being Christians. These scholars are also not as well trained as they should be in either methods of history or methods of probability. Mike Licona admitted this in his interview with Luke Muehlhauser. The methods of determining historicity by New Testament scholars includes problematic criteria, as discussed at length in Richard Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus. The methods of determining probability are basically non-existent. So excuse me if I’m not particularly moved by surveys of New Testament scholars.

So, we have dubious facts that, even if true, don’t make it probable that Jesus was resurrected.

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