Evidence for the Resurrection: Why reasonable people might differ, and why believers aren’t crazy

Easter is approaching, but skeptic John Loftus doesn’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. What’s more, he thinks you’re delusional if you do. I happen to believe in the Resurrection, but I freely admit that I might be mistaken. I think Loftus is wrong, and his case against the Resurrection is statistically flawed; however, I don’t think he’s delusional. In today’s post, I’d like to summarize the key issues at stake here, before going on to explain why I think reasonable people might disagree on the weight of the evidence for the Resurrection.

The following quotes convey the tenor of Loftus’ views on the evidence for the Resurrection:

What we have at best are second-hand testimonies filtered through the gospel writers. With the possible exception of Paul who claimed to have experienced the resurrected Jesus in what is surely a visionary experience (so we read in Acts 26:19, cf. II Cor. 12:1-6; Rev. 1:10-3:21–although he didn’t actually see Jesus, Acts 9:4-8; 22:7-11; 26:13-14), everything we’re told comes from someone who was not an eyewitness. This is hearsay evidence, at best. [Here.]

The Jews of Jesus’ day believed in Yahweh and that he does miracles, and they knew their Old Testament prophecies, and yet the overwhelming numbers of them did not believe Jesus was raised from the dead by Yahweh. So Christianity didn’t take root in the Jewish homeland but had to reach out to the Greco-Roman world for converts. Why should we believe if they were there and didn’t? [Here.]

…[F]or [Christian apologist Mike] Licona to think he can defend the resurrection of Jesus historically is delusional on a grand scale.[Here.]

My natural explanation is that the early disciples were visionaries, that is, they believed God was speaking to them in dreams, trances, and thoughts that burst into their heads throughout the day. Having their hopes utterly dashed upon the crucifixion of Jesus they began having visions that Jesus arose from the dead. [Here.]

My natural explanation [additionally] requires … one liar for Jesus, and I think this liar is the author of Mark, the first gospel. He invented the empty tomb sequence. That’s it. [Here.]

Loftus is not a dogmatic skeptic; he allows that he can imagine evidence which would convince him that Christianity is true. However, it is his contention that the evidence of the New Testament falls far short of this standard. The problem, to put it briefly, is that evidence for the authenticity of a second-hand report of a miracle does not constitute evidence that the miraculous event described in the report actually occurred. This evidential gap is known as Lessing’s ugly broad ditch, after the 18th century German critic, Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), who first pointed it out.

In this post, I will not be attempting to demonstrate that the Resurrection actually occurred. Rather, my aim will be to outline the process of reasoning whereby someone might conclude that it probably occurred, while acknowledging that he/she may be wrong. I’ll also endeavor to explain how another person, following the same procedure as the tentative believer, might arrive at a contrary conclusion, which would make it irrational for him/her to espouse a belief in the Resurrection.

The key facts required to establish the Resurrection

Before I begin, I’m going to make a short list of key facts, whose truth needs to be established by anyone mounting a serious case for the Resurrection.

Key facts:
1. The man known as Jesus Christ was a real person, who lived in 1st-century Palestine.
2. Jesus was crucified and died.
3. Jesus’ disciples collectively saw a non-ghostly apparition of Jesus, after his death.
N.B. By a “non-ghostly” apparition, I mean: a multi-sensory [i.e. visual, auditory and possibly tactile] apparition, which led the disciples to believe Jesus was alive again. I don’t mean that Jesus necessarily ate fish, or had a gaping hole in his side: many Biblical scholars now think that these details may have been added to the Gospels of Luke and John for polemical reasons. Are they right? I don’t know.

Readers will note that none of the key facts listed above makes any mention of the empty tomb. My reason for this omission is that St. Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 15, which is the only eyewitness report, makes no explicit mention of Jesus’ empty tomb, although it seems to imply this fact when it says that Jesus was buried and raised. I won’t be relying on the Gospel accounts here, as they are probably not eyewitness accounts: most scholars date them to between 70 and 110 A.D. By the same token, I won’t be relying on the accounts of St. Paul’s encounter with Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles, which some scholars date as late as 110-140 A.D. St. Paul simply says of his experience: “last of all he appeared to me also.” That makes him an eyewitness.

It will be apparent to readers who are familiar with debates regarding the resurrection that my list of “key facts” is more modest than Dr. Willam Lane Craig’s list of minimal facts which he frequently invokes when he is debating the subject. Craig assumes that Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, and that the following Sunday, his tomb was found empty by a group of women followers of Jesus. I make neither of these assumptions, although I happen to think he is right on both. For those who are inclined to doubt, Dr. Craig’s article, The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus, is well worth reading.

Two types of skepticism

I propose to distinguish between two kinds of skepticism: Type A and Type B. Type A skepticism casts doubt on people’s claims to have had an extraordinary experience, while Type B skepticism questions whether a miraculous explanation of this extraordinary experience is the best one. In the case of the Resurrection, Type A skepticism seeks to undermine one or more of the key facts listed above, whereas Type B skepticism doesn’t question the key facts, but looks for a non-miraculous explanation of those key facts.

Carl Sagan’s maxim that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs” is often quoted when the subject of miracles comes up. But we must be careful not to confuse extraordinary claims with extraordinary experiences: the former relate to objectively real occurrences, while the latter relate to subjective experiences. There is nothing improbable about someone’s having an extraordinary experience. People have bizarre experiences quite often: most of us have had one, or know someone who has had one. However, extraordinary occurrences are by definition rare: their prior probability is very, very low.

The distinction I have made above is a vital one. The key facts listed above imply that Jesus’ disciples had an extraordinary experience, but as we’ve seen, there’s nothing improbable about that.

On the other hand, the prior probability of an actual extraordinary occurrence (such as the Resurrection) is extremely low. So even if we can show that Jesus’ disciples had an extraordinary experience which persuaded them that he had risen again, one still needs to show that the posterior probability of all proposed non-miraculous explanations of this experience is less than the posterior probability of a miracle, given this extraordinary experience, before one is permitted to conclude that the miraculous explanation is warranted. And even then, one is still not home free, because it makes no sense to posit a miracle unless one has independent grounds for believing that there is a God, or at the very least, that there is a small but significant likelihood that God exists.

To sum up, in order for belief in Jesus’ Resurrection to be reasonable, what one has to show is that:
(i) the total probability of the various Type A skeptical explanations listed below is less than 50%; and
(ii) given the key facts listed above, and given also that there is a reasonable likelihood that a supernatural Deity exists Who is at least able to resurrect a dead human being, if He chooses to do so, then the total [posterior] probability of the various Type B skeptical explanations listed below is far less than the posterior probability that Jesus was miraculously raised.

What’s wrong with Loftus’ argument, in a nutshell

Basically, there are two errors in John Loftus’ case against the Resurrection: first, he overlooks the fact that the probabilities of the various Type B skeptical explanations are posterior probabilities, rather than prior probabilities; and second, he thinks that because the prior probability of a resurrection is very small, any Type A skeptical explanation whose prior probability is greater than that of the Resurrection of Jesus is a more likely explanation of whatever took place. The following excerpt from a 2012 post by Loftus illustrates these errors (emphases mine – VJT):

In what follows I’ll offer a very brief natural explanation of the claim that Jesus resurrected. Compare it with the claim he physically arose from the dead. You cannot say my natural explanation lacks plausibility because I already admit that it does. As I said, incredible things happen all of the time. What you need to say is that my natural explanation is MORE implausible than the claim that Jesus physically arose from the dead, and you simply cannot do that.

As it happens, I’d estimate the probability of Loftus’ preferred explanation for the Resurrection of Jesus to be about 10%. That’s much higher than the prior probability that God would resurrect a man from the dead, even if you assume that there is a God. However, I also believe that there’s a 2/3 3/5 probability (roughly) that Jesus’ disciples had an experience of what they thought was the risen Jesus. If they had such an experience, and if there is a God Who is capable of raising the dead, then I think it’s easy to show that the posterior probability of the Resurrection, in the light of these facts, is very high.

Type A skeptical hypotheses regarding the Resurrection

The following is a fairly exhaustive list of skeptical hypotheses that might be forward, if one wishes to contest the “key facts” listed above.

1. Jesus didn’t exist: he was a fictional person.

2. Jesus existed, but he didn’t die on the cross: either (i) he fell into a swoon on the cross, or (ii) it was actually a look-alike who was crucified in his place.

3(a) The fraud hypothesis: Jesus’ disciples didn’t really see an apparition of Jesus; their story that they had seen him was a total lie. For thirty years, they got away with their lie and attracted quite a following, prior to their execution during the reign of the Emperor Nero. (James the Apostle died somewhat earlier, in 44 A.D.)

3(b) Jesus’ disciples saw what they thought was Jesus’ ghost, but much later on, Christians claimed that the disciples had actually seen (and touched) Jesus’ risen body – either (i) because of deliberate fraud on the part of some individual (possibly St. Mark, in John Loftus’ opinion) who first spread the story of an empty tomb, or (ii) because Jesus’ body had already been stolen by persons unknown, which led Christians to believe Jesus’ body had been raised, or (iii) because the body had disappeared as a result of some natural event (e.g. a local earthquake that swallowed it up), or (iv) because a later generation of Christians (living after the fall of Jerusalem) was no longer able to locate Jesus’ body (or his tomb), which led them to speculate that Jesus had in fact been resurrected from the dead.

3(c) Jesus’ disciples initially thought they had seen Jesus’ ghost, but shortly afterwards, they came to believe that what they had seen was a non-ghostly apparition of Jesus’ resurrected body – either (i) because of the unexpected discovery that Jesus’ tomb was empty or (ii) because of the mis-identification of Jesus’ tomb with another empty tomb nearby.

3(d) Jesus’ disciples experienced individual (rather than collective) non-ghostly apparitions of Jesus, on separate occasions, which convinced each of them that he had risen, and which made them willing to be martyred for their faith in that fact.

[UPDATE: New hypothesis added.]

3(e) Jesus’ disciples experienced a collective non-ghostly apparition of Jesus, which they all saw, but only one of the disciples (probably Peter) actually heard the voice of Jesus. It may have been because Peter was able to talk to Jesus that they were convinced that he was not a ghost; alternatively, it may have been because Jesus was not only visible and audible (to Peter) but also radiant in appearance that the apostles concluded he had risen from the dead.

Type B skeptical hypotheses

Supposing that one grants the key facts listed above, I can think of only two skeptical hypotheses by which one might seek to explain away the disciples’ non-ghostly post-mortem apparition of Jesus, without having recourse to a miracle. Either it was a purely subjective experience (i.e. a collective hallucination), or it was an illusion, created by mind control techniques.

4. Jesus’ disciples had an apparition of Jesus after his death which was so vivid that they came to believe that what they had seen was no ghost, but a resurrected human being. In reality, however, their experience was a collective hallucination, caused by either (i) the grief they were experiencing in the wake of Jesus’ death or (ii) Jesus hypnotizing them before he died and implanting the idea that he would rise on the third day.

5. Jesus’ disciples had a collective non-ghostly apparition of Jesus after his death, but in reality, either (i) aliens or (ii) supernatural beings (demons) were controlling their minds and making them see things that weren’t objectively real.

The Resurrection: Varieties of skepticism

Broadly speaking, there are resurrection-skeptics who believe in a God Who is capable of working miracles, and then there are resurrection-skeptics who have no particular religious beliefs.

Resurrection-skeptics who believe in a God Who can work miracles disagree with the claim that the total probability of the various Type A skeptical explanations listed above is less than 50%. For their part, Jews have traditionally favored explanation 3(a) [fraud], while Muslims favor explanation 2(ii) [a look-alike died in Jesus’ place]. Personally, I find the Muslim explanation wildly implausible: try as I might, I simply cannot imagine anyone volunteering to die in Jesus’ place, and managing to fool the Romans, the Jews, and (presumably) Jesus’ family and friends into believing that he was Jesus. The mind boggles. The fraud hypothesis was put forward by the Jews back in the first century. In the second century, St. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (c. 160 A.D.) records a Jewish skeptic asserting that Jesus’ disciples “stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (chapter 108). I have to say that I regard this explanation as a much more sensible one. If I had nothing but the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection available to me, I might be persuaded by it, but for my part, I find it impossible to read the letters of St. Paul to the Corinthians without becoming convinced of their author’s obvious sincerity. The man wasn’t lying when he said that Jesus appeared to him.

Non-religious skeptics who deny the Resurrection fall into different categories: there are both Type A skeptics and Type B skeptics. Among the Type A skeptics, there are a few Jesus-mythers (G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty, Robert Price, Richard Carrier) favor hypothesis 1, while swoon-theorists such as Barbara Thiering and the authors of the best-seller, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, favor hypothesis 2(i). However, most skeptics tend to either favor the Type A hypothesis 3(b) [the disciples saw a ghostly apparition; later Christians made up the resurrection – this is Loftus’ proposal] or the Type B hypothesis 4 [Jesus’ disciples had a collective hallucination, which was so vivid that it caused them to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead]. Hypothesis 3(c) has few proponents, and I don’t know anyone who advocates hypotheses 3(d) or 5.

My personal evaluation of skeptical explanations for the Resurrection

Reasonable people may disagree in their estimates of the probabilities for the various skeptical hypotheses listed above. However, my own estimates of the probabilities of these hypotheses are as follows:

Type A skeptical hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1 – Jesus never existed. Probability: 1%.
Pro: There’s no contemporaneous pagan or Jewish attestation for the amazing miracles Jesus supposedly worked (healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the 5,000), which is puzzling. Also, certain aspects of Jesus’ life (e.g. the virgin birth, dying & rising again) are said to have mythological parallels.
Con: No reputable New Testament historian doubts the existence of Jesus. Professor Graeme Clarke of the Australian National University has publicly declared: “Frankly, I know of no ancient historian or biblical historian who would have a twinge of doubt about the existence of a Jesus Christ – the documentary evidence is simply overwhelming.” Indeed, there is pretty good attestation for Jesus’ existence from Josephus (Antiquities, book XX) and Tacitus. Miracle-workers were a dime a dozen in the Roman Empire; one living in far-away Palestine wouldn’t have attracted any comment. The mythological parallels with Jesus’ life are grossly exaggerated. In any case, the question of whether Jesus existed and whether most of the stories about him are true are distinct questions. Perhaps there was a small kernel of truth behind the stories: Jesus healed some sick people.

Hypothesis 2 – Jesus didn’t actually die from crucifixion. Either (i) he fell into a swoon on the cross, or (ii) a look-alike was crucified in his place. Probability: 1%.
Pro: (i) Some individuals were known to survive as long as three days on the cross. Jesus’ death after just a few hours sounds suspicious. (ii) Some of Jesus’ disciples appear not to have recognized him, when they saw him after he was supposedly crucified.
Con: (i) Jesus was flogged, and pierced in the side, if we can believe St. John’s account. That would have hastened his death. But even if Jesus had survived crucifixion, he would have been severely weakened by the experience, and his subsequent apparition to his disciples would have alarmed rather than energized them. (ii) What sane person would volunteer to take Jesus’ place on the cross? Also, wouldn’t someone standing by the foot of the cross have noticed that it wasn’t Jesus hanging on the cross? Finally, the appearance of a risen Jesus who didn’t bear any of the marks of crucifixion would surely have made the disciples wonder if he really was the same person as the man who died on the cross.

Hypothesis 3(a) – fraud. Probability: 10%.
Pro: The perils of being a Christian apostle in the first century have been greatly exaggerated. The apostles Peter and Paul, and James brother of the Lord, lived for 30 years before being martyred, and even the apostle James lived for 11 years. During that time, the apostles would have been highly respected figures. Maybe they were motivated by a desire for fame and/or money. And maybe the apostles were killed for political rather than religious reasons, or for religious reasons that were not specifically related to their having seen the risen Jesus. We don’t know for sure that they were martyred for their belief in Jesus’ Resurrection.
Con: The fact remains that some apostles were put to death, and as far as we can tell it was for their testimony to the Resurrection. St. Clement of Rome, in his (first and only) Epistle to the Corinthians (Chapter 5), written c. 80–98, reminds his readers of Saints Peter and Paul’s martyrdom: “Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most just pillars of the Church were persecuted, and came even unto death. Let us place before our eyes the good Apostles. Peter, through unjust envy, endured not one or two but many labours, and at last, having delivered his testimony, departed unto the place of glory due to him. Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience: seven times was he cast into chains; he was banished; he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West, he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world, and having come to the extremity of the West, and having borne witness before rulers, he departed at length out of the world, and went to the holy place, having become the greatest example of patience.” Additionally, there is no doubting St. Paul’s obvious sincerity when he writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

There is little doubt among scholars that Paul is the author of this letter.

Hypothesis 3(b) – the disciples saw what they thought was Jesus’ ghost. Probability: 10%.
Pro: St. Paul writes that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” and it seems that his own experience of Jesus was just a vision. He never claims to have touched Jesus.
Con: St. Paul speaks of Jesus as the first person to be raised from the dead: he is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” If being raised simply means “being seen in a vision after one’s death,” this would make no sense. Post-mortem visions were common in the ancient world. Jesus wasn’t the first to be seen in this way. Nor would it account for St. Paul’s assertion that the resurrection of other human beings would not take place until the end of the world – “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” If a post-mortem appearance by a ghost counts as a resurrection, then many people are raised shortly after their death, and will not have to wait until the Last Day.

Hypothesis 3(c) – the discovery of the empty tomb tricked the disciples into thinking their visions of Jesus’ ghost were really visions of a resurrected Jesus. Probability: 10-15%.
Pro: It’s easy to imagine that people who’d had a post-mortem vision of Jesus might think it was something more than that, if they subsequently found his tomb empty. They might think he really had risen from the dead, after all.
Con: Despite its ingenuity, this hypothesis is at odds with all of the accounts of the Resurrection. In the Gospel narratives, the discovery of the empty tomb occurs before the appearances of Jesus, while in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, there’s no explicit mention of the tomb being found empty, and no suggestion that its discovery led to a belief in the Resurrection.

Hypothesis 3(d) – the disciples saw the risen Jesus individually, but never collectively. Probability: 3%.
Pro: It’s easy to imagine that over the course of time, the apostles’ individual post-mortem apparitions of Jesus were conflated into one big apparition, especially when many of them were being martyred for their faith in the Resurrection.
Con: The hypothesis assumes that the apostles (including St. Paul) were passionately sincere about their belief that Jesus had appeared to each of them, but that during their lifetimes, they did nothing to stop a lie being propagated: that they had seen him together. St. Paul himself propagates this statement in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says that Jesus appeared “to the Twelve”: are we to presume he was lying?

[UPDATE]

Hypothesis 3(e) – the disciples saw the risen Jesus collectively, but only Peter [and maybe James] were able to talk to Jesus and hear him speak. That may have been what convinced the others that Jesus was not a ghost; alternatively, it may have been because Jesus looked radiant. Probability: 10%.
Pro: There have been apparitions in which all of the seers experienced a vision, but only one seer was able to talk to the person seen – e.g. Fatima, where only Lucia was able to talk to Our Lady. (Jacinta heard her, while Francisco saw her but did not hear her, and did not see her lips move.) The hypothesis would also explain the pre-eminence of Peter [and James] in the early Church, since those who could actually hear the risen Jesus’ message would have been accorded special status.
Con: Seeing and hearing alone would not make a vision non-ghostly. Think of the Biblical story of Saul and the witch of Endor. The ghostly apparition frightened the witch, and even though Saul was able to communicate with the spirit of Samuel, that did not stop him from thinking it was a ghost. Appearing radiant doesn’t seem to have been enough either; in the Biblical story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9) it is interesting to note that even though Moses and Elijah were visible, radiant and heard conversing with Jesus, the apostles did not conclude that Moses and Elijah were risen from the dead. On the contrary, the early Christians expressly affirmed that Jesus was the first individual to have risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). [Please note that it does not matter for our purposes if the Transfiguration actually occurred; what matters is what the episode shows about Jewish belief in the resurrection in the 1st century A.D. Evidently, being radiant, visible and audible did not equate to being resurrected.] Finally, it is worth pointing out that St. Paul also claimed to have spoken to the risen Jesus – see Galatians 1:12, 2:2.

Total probability of Type A skeptical hypotheses: 35-40%. 45-50%.

Type B skeptical hypotheses:

Let me begin by saying that if one has prior reasons for believing that the existence of God is astronomically unlikely, then the evidence for the Resurrection won’t be powerful enough to overcome that degree of skepticism. (John Loftus is one such skeptic.) If, on the other hand, one believes that the existence of God is likely (as I do), or even rather unlikely but not astronomically unlikely (let’s say that there’s a one-in-a-million chance that God exists), then the arguments below will possess some evidential force. I have explained elsewhere why I believe that scientific knowledge presupposes the existence of God, so I won’t say anything more about the subject here. I would also like to commend, in passing, Professor Paul Herrick’s 2009 essay, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons.

Hypothesis 4 – collective hallucination. Posterior Probability: Astronomically low (less than 10^-33).
Pro: Collective visions have been known to occur in which the seers claim to have seen and heard much the same thing (e.g. the Catholic visions at Fatima and Medjugorje). And if we look at the history of Mormonism, we find that three witnesses testified that they had seen an angel hand Joseph Smith some golden plates.
Con: There has been no authenticated psychological study of a collective vision where the seers all saw and heard pretty much the same thing. It stands to reason that after having had the experience of seeing Jesus alive again after his death, the apostles would have cross-checked their reports, to see if they were in agreement about what they saw, before accepting the veracity of such an extraordinary miracle as a resurrection from the dead. If we very generously calculate the odds of one of Jesus’ apostles having a non-ghostly apparition of Jesus on some occasion as 10^-3, the odds of all eleven of them (Judas was dead) seeing and hearing substantially the same thing at the same time are: (10^-3)^11, or 10^-33. [See here for a more detailed explanation by Drs. Tim and Lydia McGrew.] And for a longer message delivered by the risen Jesus, (10^-3)^11 would be far too generous.
Re Catholic visions: it turns out that the Medjugorje seers didn’t all hear the same thing: they got different messages. Additionally, there is good reason to suppose that they were lying, on at least some occasions (see also here). The Fatima seers, on the other hand, were undoubtedly sincere, but only two of them heard Our Lady and saw her lips move; the other visionary, Francisco, didn’t hear her and didn’t see her lips move. Of the two seers who heard Our Lady, Jacinta never spoke to her and was never directly addressed by Our Lady; only Lucia spoke to Our Lady. The parallel with the Resurrection is therefore a poor one. [See also my post, Fatima: miracle, meteorological effect, UFO, optical illusion or mass hallucination?]
Re Mormon visions: each of the three witnesses who saw the angel hand Smith the golden plates had experienced visions on previous occasions. Also, the angel who handed Smith the plates did not speak, whereas Jesus’ disciples spoke with him on multiple occasions. Not a very good parallel.

Hypothesis 5 – alien or demonic mind control. Posterior Probability: Far less likely than the Resurrection.
Pro: An advanced race of aliens could easily trick us into believing in a resurrection-style miracle, if they wanted to. And if demons are real, then they could, too.
Con: The key word here is “if.” While this hypothesis is possible, we have absolutely no reason to believe that aliens or demons would bother to trick people in this way. The straightforward interpretation of the events – namely, that they actually happened – is far more likely.

That leaves us with the hypothesis of a miracle.

Resurrection hypothesis – Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead. Posterior Probability: Well in excess of 10^-11. Arguably close to 1.
Rationale: The number of human individuals who have ever lived is around 10^11, and well over 90% of these have lived during the past 2,000 years. Given the existence of a supernatural Creator Who can raise the dead, then in the absence of any other information, the prior probability of any individual being raised from the dead is 1 in 10^11, by Laplace’s Sunrise argument. Given the evidence listed in the key facts above (a death, and a post-mortem apparition with many witnesses substantially agreeing about what they saw and heard), the posterior probability of a resurrection is much higher. But even if it were only 10^-11, that’s still much higher than 10^-33, as in hypothesis 4.

Conclusion

Since my estimate of the total probability of the various Type A skeptical explanations is less than 50%, and since the posterior probability of the Resurrection is much greater than that of the various Type B explanations, belief in the Resurrection is rational, from my perspective.

Based on the evidence, I estimate that there’s about a 60-65% 55-60% chance that Jesus rose from the dead. That means I accept that there’s a 35-40% 45-50% chance that my Christian faith is wrong.

However, I can understand why someone might rate the probabilities of hypotheses 3(a), 3(b) and 3(c) at 20% each, instead of 10%. For such a person, belief in the Resurrection would be irrational, since the total probability of the Type A skeptical hypotheses would exceed 50%.

Summing up: a strong case can be made for the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection. However, a responsible historian would not be justified in asserting that Jesus’ Resurrection is historically certain. As we’ve seen, such a conclusion depends, at the very least, on the claim that there is a significant likelihood that there exists a supernatural Being Who is capable of working miracles, which is something the historian cannot prove. In addition, estimates of the probabilities of rival hypotheses will vary from person to person, and there seems to be no way of deciding whose estimate is the most rational one.

What do readers think? How would you estimate the likelihood of the Resurrection?

Recommended Reading

“Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” Online debate: Jonathan McLatchie (a Christian apologist) vs Michael Alter (an Orthodox Jew. Originally aired on the show, Unbelievable, hosted by Justin Brierley, on March 26th 2016.
The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry by Michael Alter. Xlibris, 2015. Meticulously researched, by all accounts. (I haven’t read it yet.) Probably the best skeptical book on the Resurrection available.
The Resurrection of Jesus by Dr. William Lane Craig.
The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus by Dr. William Lane Craig.
The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by Drs. Tim and Lydia McGrew.
The odds form of Bayes’s Theorem [Updated] by Dr. Lydia McGrew. Extra Thoughts, January 6, 2011.
My Rebuttal to the McGrews – Rewritten by Jeffrey Amos Heavener. May 13, 2011.
Alternate Critical Theories to the Resurrection by Dr. John Weldon. The John Ankerberg Show, 2004.
Origen, Contra Celsum, Book II. Chapters 57-70 provide an excellent historical summary of pagan arguments against the Resurrection of Jesus in the late second century, and Origen’s rebuttal of those arguments in the mid-third century.
Good and bad skepticism: Carl Sagan on extraordinary claims by Vincent Torley. Uncommon Descent post, March 15, 2015.
Cavin and Colombetti, miracle-debunkers, or: Can a Transcendent Designer manipulate the cosmos? by Vincent Torley. Uncommon Descent post, December 1, 2013.
Hyper-skepticism and “My way or the highway”: Feser’s extraordinary post by Vincent Torley. Uncommon Descent post, July 29, 2014.
Is the Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Better Than Mohammed’s Miracles? by John Loftus. Debunking Christianity, March 6, 2012.
Oprah Winfrey’s Half-Sister and The Odds of The Resurrection of Jesus by John Loftus. Debunking Christianity, January 21, 2012.
A New Explanation of the Resurrection of Jesus: The Result of Mourning by Gerd Lüdemann, Emeritus Professor of the History and Literature of Early Christianity, Georg-August-University of Göttingen. April 2012.
Michael Licona’s Book is Delusional on a Grand Scale by John Loftus. Debunking Christianity, July 22, 2011.
Dr. John Dickson To Me: “You are the ‘Donald Trump’ of pop-atheism” by John Loftus. Debunking Christianity, April 2, 2017.

1,009 thoughts on “Evidence for the Resurrection: Why reasonable people might differ, and why believers aren’t crazy

  1. keiths: CharlieM,

    It bears repeating that the Gospels are not meant to be historical documents and should not be taken as such. They are a recounting of one pivotal event, the Christ Event, related from the point of view of four great initiates.

    If so, then why can’t God get that message across to his followers? Why is he so incompetent?

    Why can’t we teach our kids mathematics in their first year of life? Why are we so incompetent? Answer: we are not incompetent, we realise that we need to wait for them to develop to the stage where they are able to acquire the necessary skills of comprehension.

    You are like someone who, when they study a text in a language they don’t understand, complains that their lack of understanding is the fault of the author of the text. The message has been given, the understanding is up to us.

  2. Rumraket: but as a matter of probability, having looked in my pocket makes it less likely they’re in my pocket if I didn’t detect them there.

    Why is that?

    Why do you to assume that what you call “probability” is actually the way things are in the universe? Perhaps your keys are in your pocket and you simply don’t have the ability to discover that. Perhaps you are imagining the whole thing.

    Rumraket: So having gone through my “worldview” a couple of times before, and not found any contradictions, leads me to believe there probably aren’t any.

    Again why do you think that just because you haven’t found any contradictions there are none?

    What in your worldview leads you assume that sort of relationship between what you experience and what actually is?

    Rumraket: But two sets of eyes are better than one, so you’re welcome to help me find any putative contradictions. Will you do that?

    That is what I’m trying to do right now but you need to cooperate. 😉

    Rumraket: Yes, the fact that I have been able to discover contradictions before, and modified my views accordingly.

    So you have found contradictions that you were unaware of previously. Good that is progress

    What makes you think you discovered them all or even that you have the ability to discover them all? Or that it’s even possible to discover them all?

    peace

  3. CharlieM: You are like someone who, when they study a text in a language they don’t understand, complains that their lack of understanding is the fault of the author of the text.

    Amen

    peace

  4. Rumraket: It doesn’t ring a bell. What is that?

    Quote:
    And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
    (Joh 1:14a)
    end quote:

    peace

  5. fifthmonarchyman,

    John Harshman: This would be a potentially telling argument if Christians were able to answer that question. I don’t think you can answer it any better than anyone.

    I would disagree. Revelation is the only satisfactory answer.
    God can reveal so that I can know.

    I’ll admit this is only a hypothesis and I am willing to be proven wrong. Why not give it a go

    That last sentence just isn’t true. That isn’t “only a hypothesis”. It’s a founding principle that you are unwilling to consider as up for discussion. And this is shown by your next comment, in which you say that revelation is basic.

    John Harshman: No. It merely invites the regress that you say you aren’t subject to.

    I think we have been over this. There is no regress because there is nothing behind revelation to regress to. Revelation is basic.

    ME: I know because it’s been revealed
    You: How do you know?
    ME: Because it’s been revealed

    See? There’s no way to argue with that. You declare by fiat that revelation is complete. You save yourself from regress purely by stating that revelation is immune to regress. You have no justification for your starting assumption that what you believe is revelation is really revelation. Your house is built on the same sand as everyone else’s. There is no rock. Wake up.

  6. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: but as a matter of probability, having looked in my pocket makes it less likely they’re in my pocket if I didn’t detect them there.

    Why is that?

    I seem to have the ability to find my keys if they ARE in my pocket. So when I look for them and don’t find them, they usually aren’t where I look for them.

    Why do you to assume that what you call “probability” is actually the way things are in the universe?

    This isn’t something I assume, it is something I have learned through experience. Going over all the times I have looked for my keys, if I looked for them in my pocket, then it was the case much more often that IF they were in my pocket, I would find them already the first time I looked there.

    I have had the experience of looking, not finding them, then later looking again and then finding them in my pocket. But that is very rare. This is an experience I have, not something I assume. Other people tell me they have similar experiences, which leads me to have greater confidence in my own.

    Perhaps your keys are in your pocket and you simply don’t have the ability to discover that. Perhaps you are imagining the whole thing.

    Perhaps I’m a tomato living in a 84 dimensional universe made mostly of potato. I don’t see any reason to believe in these things. If I discover good evidence for it, I might change my mind and start believing it. But, so far I have not run into any indications that I’m imagining the whole thing, or whatever other possibility we can think of.

    Rumraket: So having gone through my “worldview” a couple of times before, and not found any contradictions, leads me to believe there probably aren’t any.

    Again why do you think that just because you haven’t found any contradictions there are none?

    Here let me repeat the same answer (it hasn’t changed since you first asked): For the same reason as me looking for my keys in my pocket and not finding them there, leads me to believe that they’re not in my pocket. I could be wrong, maybe I didn’t look thoroughly enough, but as a matter of probability, having looked in my pocket makes it less likely they’re in my pocket if I didn’t detect them there.

    So having gone through my “worldview” a couple of times before, and not found any contradictions, leads me to believe there probably aren’t any.

    Again, I could still be wrong. But I have the ability that I have, and at some point it starts to feel like an exercise in futility to keep searching for someting that didn’t turn up the previous ten times or whatever, that I searched.

    But two sets of eyes are better than one, so you’re welcome to help me find any putative contradictions. Will you do that?

    What in your worldview leads you assume that sort of relationship between what you experience and what actually is?

    Nothing, I don’t make that assumption at all. I’m not sitting here claiming that it is some sort of true ontological status of some concrete fundemental reality, that I really do exist as a flesh-and-blood person, and that my experience of finding keys in my pocket, means those keys really do exist in some ultimate sense.

    I do not assume that.

    You seem to be assuming a lot about what I assume, rather than asking me. Why is that? I think we can make a lot of progress if we dispense with you making assumptions about what I assume, and instead you ASK me when you don’t know. That way we avoid this situation where I have to clarify that you asked an inapplicable question.

    Rumraket: But two sets of eyes are better than one, so you’re welcome to help me find any putative contradictions. Will you do that?

    That is what I’m trying to do right now but you need to cooperate. 😉

    Are you saying I have failed to cooperate in some way? Am I not answering your questions, or do you think I’m holding something back or being dishonest? If so, I’d really like to have that pointed out so I can remedy this situation immediately. I really do want to be as cooperative and forthcoming as I am capable of.

    Rumraket: Yes, the fact that I have been able to discover contradictions before, and modified my views accordingly.

    So you have found contradictions that you were unaware of previously. Good that is progress

    What makes you think you discovered them all

    I don’t know if I have discovered them all, so I don’t claim that. Rather, since I have searched and not found any, I will proceed until such a time as I do, should it arrive.

    or even that you have the ability to discover them all?

    I don’t know if I myself have that ability alone, so that’s one of the reasons we are doing this together. My hope is that we can discover more, if there are sone.

    Or that it’s even possible to discover them all?

    I don’t know whether it is possible, but let’s imagine for a moment that it isn’t, how could I know this?

  7. John Harshman: That last sentence just isn’t true. That isn’t “only a hypothesis”. It’s a founding principle that you are unwilling to consider as up for discussion.

    That revelation is a satisfactory answer is obvious.
    By definition God can reveal so that I can know or knowledge is impossible.

    That revelation is the only satisfactory answer is definitely open for discussion and debate. If it was not I would not ask the question so often

    John Harshman: You have no justification for your starting assumption that what you believe is revelation is really revelation.

    Sure I do it’s called revelation.
    We have already established that revelation can be a justification for knowledge by definition.

    John Harshman: Your house is built on the same sand as everyone else’s. There is no rock.

    How do you know this?? How can you possibly know this given your worldview??

    peace

  8. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: It doesn’t ring a bell. What is that?

    Quote:
    And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
    (Joh 1:14a)
    end quote:

    This makes literally no sense to me. I undestand words to be something that comes out of my mouth (or be written in books or other forms of physical media), in the form of vibrations in the air. And flesh is just another term for biological tissues of various sorts. I don’t see how vibrations in air molecules can somehow transform into biological tissues.

    If this is a concrete example of how God reveals things to you, it’s almost incomprehensible to me. What does this even mean? You hear a sound, as if a word is being spoken, and then suddenly before your eyes a lump of flesh comes into existence? What the fuck?

  9. fifthmonarchyman: John Harshman: You have no justification for your starting assumption that what you believe is revelation is really revelation.

    Sure I do it’s called revelation.
    We have already established that revelation can be a justification for knowledge by definition.

    Sure, if it’s really revelation. You know that revelation is really revelation by revelation. And you know that revelation is really revelation by revelation. And so on. But now you’re back in the infinite regress. That you can’t recognize this makes any discussion with you pointless. And yet we persist.

  10. Rumraket: I seem to have the ability to find my keys if they ARE in my pocket. So when I look for them and don’t find them, they usually aren’t where I look for them.

    In your worldview what leads you to believe that the way things seem to be are the way they are?

    Haven’t there been times when things aren’t what they seem?

    Rumraket: This isn’t something I assume, it is something I have learned through experience.

    In your world view what leads you assume that you learn things by experience? Haven’t you met folks who never seem to learn from experience?

    Rumraket: Here let me repeat the same answer (it hasn’t changed since you first asked): For the same reason as me looking for my keys in my pocket and not finding them there, leads me to believe that they’re not in my pocket.

    What is that reason exactly ?? Is it just something you assume? If so what in your worldview would make you think you should assume such a thing??

    Rumraket: You seem to be assuming a lot about what I assume, rather than asking me. Why is that? I think we can make a lot of progress if we dispense with you making assumptions about what I assume, and instead you ASK me when you don’t know.

    I can guarantee I don’t assume what you assume unless you assume that the Christian God exists.

    That is the only thing I assume. If God exists these things that you assume follow necessarily.

    I want to know why you assume these sorts of things when there is no reason that they should be true if God does not exist.

    Rumraket: Are you saying I have failed to cooperate in some way? Am I not answering your questions, or do you think I’m holding something back or being dishonest?

    No I just think you are not thinking deeply.

    It seems to me as if you have a gigantic God shaped blind spot that is beyond obvious and right in front of your nose.

    I keep pointing to the spot and saying look at it it’s right there in front of your nose.

    And you keep saying that if you had a blind spot you would surely see it. 😉

    peace

  11. John Harshman: You know that revelation is really revelation by revelation. And you know that revelation is really revelation by revelation. And so on. But now you’re back in the infinite regress.

    it’s not regress any more than this is regress

    (2+2)=4=(2+2)=4……..

    peace

  12. Rumraket: This makes literally no sense to me.

    Of course that would be the case, if it was not written to you.

    Rumraket: If this is a concrete example of how God reveals things to you, it’s almost incomprehensible to me.

    There is a whole discipline (cryptology) surrounding revelation that is meaningful to the intended recipient and incomprehensible to those who the message was never meant.

    If the message was not for you it’s no wonder you don’t get it.
    The cool thing is God revealed that to me in advance

    quote:
    The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
    (1Co 2:14)
    end quote:

    peace

  13. Rumraket: What does this even mean?

    I have a friend who often complained that scripture made no sense. She said it made her eyes glaze over.

    Then one day she looked at it and it all made sense. She could not believe how simple it was it was so obvious a child could easily understand it.

    We call that experience regeneration

    quote:
    Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    (Joh 3:3)
    end quote:

    peace

  14. Neil Rickert: This is just an argument for self-delusion.

    Why?

    Omnipotence necessarily implies the ability to do what ever is possible.

    It’s what the word means.

    Are you arguing that words don’t have meaning?

    peace

  15. fifthmonarchyman: Omnipotence necessarily implies the ability to do what ever is possible.

    You do not know it is possible without assuming your conclusion. Therefore you assume revelation is true.

  16. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: I seem to have the ability to find my keys if they ARE in my pocket. So when I look for them and don’t find them, they usually aren’t where I look for them.

    In your worldview what leads you to believe that the way things seem to be are the way they are?

    If you’d read further, you would have discovered that I don’t actually assume this in any deeper sense of truth or ontology.

    I have experiences of something and I act on those experiences. I don’t know whether I’m in the matrix or not, but I don’t seem to be, and that is good enough for me. I’m open to the possibility that I could be, but until I get indications of that, I don’t see why I should believe I am.

    I will say this however, a good way to sort of “test” an assumption is to imagine you didn’t make it, or assumed the opposite. So when I have this experience of not finding my keys in my pocket, and I infer that this means they aren’t in my pocket, suppose I now did the opposite of what I would normally do (look elsewhere), and I instead totally stopped making any inferences about where my keys are, then what… what could I then do? Nothing, I could just… do nothing. Which is really silly of course.

    And even worse, suppose I outright assumed that the opposite was the case. Suppose that when I experience not finding keys in my pocket, that I assume this means they ARE in my pocket… you see the problem here right? I now stand there with a seemingly(to me) empty pocket, yet I’m somehow trying to convince myself they ARE in there. How long should I keep standing there trying to force myself to believe that my keys are really in my pocket despite not finding them?

    Haven’t there been times when things aren’t what they seem?

    There have, but that is quite rare. Which brings us back to the probability thing. In general, I don’t have the experience of finding out that things were not how they first seemed. So when that happens, I alter my views and behavior accordingly.

    But I’d be wasting a lot of time if, when I feel in my pocket for my keys, I stand there reasoning to myself “oh but it could be different from what it seems” and then I check again, and then I can repeat it “oh but it could be different from what it seems” and then I check again and ad infinitum. I don’t want to spend an eternity searching what looks like an empty pocket.

    Rumraket: This isn’t something I assume, it is something I have learned through experience.

    In your world view what leads you assume that you learn things by experience?

    Because I have changed my beliefs and actions due to my understanding of the sensory perceptions I had. I think that’s really just what it means to learn from experience (at least, that’s just how I understand the word). Having some experience you didn’t have before, or you didn’t undestand before, and then understanding it and remembering it, and having it affect how you think and behave subsequently, that’s what I understand “learning from experience” to mean. And to my knowledge, I have done that.

    Haven’t you met folks who never seem to learn from experience?

    Wouldn’t that be another experience to learn from? 😉

    No. I can honestly say I have never met a person whom I thought NEVER learned from experience. I will grant that some people do it slower than others, and it appears they need to experience something many times before they learn from it, but even so those people could walk, talk, read and so on. And I think we learn those things in large part from experience.

    Rumraket: Here let me repeat the same answer (it hasn’t changed since you first asked): For the same reason as me looking for my keys in my pocket and not finding them there, leads me to believe that they’re not in my pocket.

    What is that reason exactly ??

    The experience that if I stop looking for them in my pocket, when I experience them being absenent from my pocket, and I start looking for them elsewhere, that I eventually find them elsewhere.

    Is it just something you assume?

    No, that’s also an experience.

    Rumraket: You seem to be assuming a lot about what I assume, rather than asking me. Why is that? I think we can make a lot of progress if we dispense with you making assumptions about what I assume, and instead you ASK me when you don’t know.

    I can guarantee I don’t assume what you assume unless you assume that the Christian God exists.

    I’m not saying we assume the same things, I’m saying you assume things ABOUT what I assume, when you ask particular questions of me. For example, when you ask “why do you assumeX?” The implicit assumption in that question is that I make the assumption. And since you are the one asking the question, you are thereby making an assumptions ABOUT my assumptions.

    Do you understand?

    That is the only thing I assume.

    If that’s the only thing you assume, I have to ask you to stop making questions with implicit assumptions in addition to the existence of the Christian God.

    If God exists these things that you assume follow necessarily.

    Okay, but I don’t really care about your worldview such as it is. I’m here to discuss my own and whether it leads to contradictions. So far, we still haven’t identified any (at no point have you pointed out that something I’ve said I believe or assume, contradicts anything else I believe or assume), so I press on.

    Just out of curiosity, how long do we keep going before we I can be confident that the two of us can’t find any?

    I want to know why you assume these sorts of things when there is no reason that they should be true if God does not exist.

    Be specific. Why do I assume what? You said “these sorts of things”. Give a concrete example.

    Rumraket: Are you saying I have failed to cooperate in some way? Am I not answering your questions, or do you think I’m holding something back or being dishonest?

    No I just think you are not thinking deeply.

    Oh, okay. Cool.

    It seems to me as if you have a gigantic God shaped blind spot that is beyond obvious and right in front of your nose.

    This doesn’t make much sense. If it’s a blind spot, it’s really not “beyond obvious”. Unless by ‘beyond’ you mean “not at all”. If it was obvious, it wouldn’t be a blind spot.

    I keep pointing to the spot and saying look at it it’s right there in front of your nose.

    That’s nice. I’m more interested in those contradictions in my worldview that I invited you to search for.

    And you keep saying that if you had a blind spot you would surely see it. 😉

    Oooh, so what you’re saying with that whole “God shaped blind spot” is just those putative contradictions we were searching for. Okay, gotcha!

    Okay then, where is it? The contradiction. You say that you are pointing to a gigantic God-shaped one. Be very specific. And remember, if you don’t know which assumptions I make or why I make them, just ask. Don’t ask me “why do you assume X?” if I have not actually explicitly stated that I do assume X.

  17. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: What does this even mean?

    I have a friend who often complained that scripture made no sense. She said it made her eyes glaze over.

    Then one day she looked at it and it all made sense. She could not believe how simple it was it was so obvious a child could easily understand it.

    We call that experience regeneration

    That’s a nice story. I hope she’s happy now.

  18. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: This makes literally no sense to me.

    Of course that would be the case, if it was not written to you.

    Well I’m not sure I see how that would be “of course”. I have written messages to people, that others could understand even though they were not the intended audience.

    Nevertheless, I suppose you mean this is a sort of code speak that only makes sense to those people with the right encryption key. Okay, fine.

    Rumraket: If this is a concrete example of how God reveals things to you, it’s almost incomprehensible to me.

    There is a whole discipline (cryptology) surrounding revelation that is meaningful to the intended recipient and incomprehensible to those who the message was never meant.

    If the message was not for you it’s no wonder you don’t get it.
    The cool thing is God revealed that to me in advance

    That is cool. I agree.

    It does raise the question, though, why you would then even bother quoting me an encrypted message? I don’t have the key to decipher it.

    quote:
    The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
    (1Co 2:14)
    end quote:

    Ait, well I’m going to assume that if I ever get the encryption key, this is going to appear profound and enlightening.

  19. CharlieM: If so, then why can’t God get that message across to his followers? Why is he so incompetent?

    Why can’t we teach our kids mathematics in their first year of life? Why are we so incompetent? Answer: we are not incompetent, we realise that we need to wait for them to develop to the stage where they are able to acquire the necessary skills of comprehension.

    You are like someone who, when they study a text in a language they don’t understand, complains that their lack of understanding is the fault of the author of thetext. The message has been given, the understanding is up to us.

    Exactly how do your analogies hold?

    We just see what you’d expect of different authors using poorly constrained materials and no magic perfection of message, like other ancient texts. Probably because it is.

    But you’ve decided it’s something quite different, apparently without any kind of evidence you’ve shared with us. Where’s the evidence that the Bible is the slightest bit like your analogies, rather than your claims being the sappy excuses we get for religion and ID all of the time?

    Glen Davidson

  20. Rumraket: That’s a nice story. I hope she’s happy now.

    She is, Thank you.

    She quit using drugs very shortly afterward. She found that she did not like them anymore. Lot’s of other things changed in her life as well.

    Rumraket: why you would then even bother quoting me an encrypted message? I don’t have the key to decipher it.

    I’m not doing it for you exclusively and there is always the chance that God will see fit to force you to open your eyes.

    Rumraket: well I’m going to assume that if I ever get the encryption key, this is going to appear profound and enlightening.

    Yep

    quote:

    but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    (1Co 1:23-24)

    end quote:

    peace

  21. Patrick: In all seriousness, of course it is a violation of the rules. I have made it clear, both here and in private communication to Lizzie, that the rule about assuming good faith cannot be unrestricted without handing full control of the site to people who are manifestly not participating in good faith. It should certainly be the default and initial assumption, and we should always be ready to re-extend it, but when people like FFM try to hide behind “presuppositions” it shouldn’t be against the rules to call them out on it.

    Perhaps since you feel this way and are unable to guano your own post which violates the rules as they are not as they should be you should contact Neil or Alan and ask them to moderate your post and move it if they deem it as an violation. A level playing field

  22. fifthmonarchyman: it’s not regress any more than this is regress

    (2+2)=4=(2+2)=4……..

    You certainly love your bad analogies, but all you have here is proof by assertion. It’s a story you tell yourself so that you can believe what you want is on a firm foundation, or, more correctly, can maintain itself in mid-air.

  23. Rumraket: I have experiences of something and I act on those experiences.

    Sounds algorithmic. A computer program could accomplish that and never know anything at all let alone whether his worldview had contradictions.

    Rumraket: don’t know whether I’m in the matrix or not, but I don’t seem to be, and that is good enough for me.

    Then why act like you are concerned about whether you worldview has contradictions.

    If you are fine with absurdity as long as it seems right to you. Why bother acting as if the way things really are is important?

    I’m confused, you seem to be talking out of two sides of you mouth. It’s almost like there is a contradiction there somewhere 😉

    peace

  24. John Harshman: You certainly love your bad analogies, but all you have here is proof by assertion.

    Calling it a bad analogy is not the same thing as demonstrating it is a bad analogy. You can’t so you don’t

    John Harshman: but all you have here is proof by assertion.

    Do you think (2+2)=4 is proof by assertion? If not why not?

    peace

  25. John Harshman: You certainly love your bad analogies, but all you have here is proof by assertion. It’s a story you tell yourself so that you can believe what you want is on a firm foundation, or, more correctly, can maintain itself in mid-air.

    Nice analogy

  26. fifthmonarchyman: Calling it a bad analogy is not the same thing as demonstrating it is a bad analogy. You can’t so you don’t

    Calling it revelation is not the same thing as demonstrating it is revelation,You can’t so you don’t.

  27. Rumraket: This doesn’t make much sense. If it’s a blind spot, it’s really not “beyond obvious”. Unless by ‘beyond’ you mean “not at all”. If it was obvious, it wouldn’t be a blind spot.

    I almost missed this one.

    A blind spot is obvious to folks who don’t have it, to the one with the spot not so much.

    peace

  28. newton: Calling it revelation is not the same thing as demonstrating it is revelation,You can’t so you don’t.

    I agree that’s why God’s existence is a presupposition for me and not a claim

    Is that what is going on with John Harshman’s claim that I made a bad analogy?

    peace

  29. fifthmonarchyman: Is that what is going on with John Harshman’s claim that I made a bad analogy?

    No, it’s that you effectively accused him of lying. This is against the house rules.

  30. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: I have experiences of something and I act on those experiences.

    Sounds algorithmic. A computer program could accomplish that and never know anything at all let alone whether his worldview had contradictions.

    Right, a computer program could accomplish that. An interesing hypothetical possibility.

    Rumraket: don’t know whether I’m in the matrix or not, but I don’t seem to be, and that is good enough for me.

    Then why act like you are concerned about whether you worldview has contradictions.

    You’re right, you are confused. The hypothetical possiblity that I could be living in the matrix does not mean my worldview leads to internal contradictions. If I live in the matrix, I would like to know. But that does’t mean there’s an internal contradict between belief X and belief Y that I have. It just means that, in so far as I believe I’m not in the matrix, I’m wrong.

    If you are fine with absurdity as long as it seems right to you. Why bother acting as if the way things really are is important?

    But I’m not fine with having absurdities follow from my worldview. Me being mistaken about whether I’m in the matrix is not an internal contradiction.

    I’m confused

    I believe you.

  31. Alan Fox: No, it’s that you effectively accused him of lying. This is against the house rules.

    And self delusional

    ETA: self delusion would explain his lack of knowledge of his own beliefs

  32. Speaking of blind spots and contradictions:

    newton:

    Calling it revelation is not the same thing as demonstrating it is revelation,You can’t so you don’t.

    fifth:

    I agree that’s why God’s existence is a presupposition for me and not a claim

    God’s existence would not magically turn all purported revelations into legitimate ones. You’ve already admitted that you can mistake a bogus revelation for a valid one.

  33. Also, your actual presupposition — the thing you assume without justification — isn’t that the Christian God exists.

    It’s that “the alternative to Christianity is absurdity”.

    The latter is your (illegitimate) justification for the former.

  34. Neil Rickert: That’s not actually relevant.

    why not? If seems highly relevant since the topic is whether revelation is a sufficient justification for knowledge.

    If knowledge is possible the omnipotent Christian God can reveal so that I can know.

    That statement obviously true if words have any meaning at all

    peace

  35. keiths: Also, your actual presupposition — the thing you assume without justification — isn’t that the Christian God exists.

    It’s that “the alternative to Christianity is absurdity”.

    nope that is not a presupposition that is a hypothesis.
    That is what the questions are all about. It’s not been proven true but it has not been falsified yet either.

    If you have convincing evidence that your worldview does not lead to absurdity I am all ears

    peace

  36. fifthmonarchyman: I agree that’s why God’s existence is a presupposition for me and not a claim

    Then it seems that the statement that it true everyone believes God exists is false since you have to presuppose His existence.

    Is that what is going on with John Harshman’s claim that I made a bad analogy?

    John is assuming the he understands the difference between an infinite loop and a infinite regress of causation. By his characterization of your analogy as bad, he obviously does not assume everyone understands the difference .

  37. fifthmonarchyman: A blind spot is obvious to folks who don’t have it, to the one with the spot not so much.

    Not necessarily, those folks might have a different kind of blind spot.

  38. newton: Then it seems that the statement that it true everyone believes God exists is false since you have to presuppose His existence.

    nope, That God exists is not a claim whose truth is demonstrated it’s the basis by which we all determine if a claim is true

    peace

  39. newton: John is assuming the he understands the difference between an infinite loop and a infinite regress of causation.

    why given his worldview should he assume he knows such a thing?

    Does understanding the infinite come with a selection advantage for prehistoric primates?

    newton: By his characterization of your analogy as bad,

    How so? That is the claim he needs to support and not just assert

    peace

  40. newton: Not necessarily, those folks might have a different kind of blind spot.

    we all have blind spots. The only way we could ever recognize them is………revelation

    peace

  41. keiths: God’s existence would not magically turn all purported revelations into legitimate ones.

    Right but his existence does guarantee that there can be legitimate revelation and therefore that knowledge is possible.

    What do you have that works like that in your worldview?

    peace

  42. Rumraket: he hypothetical possiblity that I could be living in the matrix does not mean my worldview leads to internal contradictions.

    It means that it’s possible that your worldview does lead to internal contradictions. So given your worldview you could never know one way or the other

    Rumraket: If I live in the matrix, I would like to know.

    But you just said you can’t know and apparently you are fine with that.

    Rumraket: It just means that, in so far as I believe I’m not in the matrix, I’m wrong.

    right and like you just said you can’t know that you are not wrong given your worldview.

    The Christianity or absurdity hypothesis remains un-falsified.

    peace

  43. fifthmonarchyman: If seems highly relevant since the topic is whether revelation is a sufficient justification for knowledge.

    If knowledge is possible the omnipotent Christian God can reveal so that I can know.

    That statement obviously true if words have any meaning at all

    Yes, it is obviously true (assuming Christianity). And it is obviously not relevant to anything.

    This is why I say that you are setting yourself up for self-delusion. You are relying on presuppositions that are not relevant.

    It is not relevant, because knowing it does not help you. It only gives you an excuse for self-delusion.

  44. fifthmonarchyman: It means that it’s possible that your worldview does lead to internal contradictions. So given your worldview you could never know one way or the other

    But you just said you can’t know and apparently you are fine with that.

    right and like you just said you can’t know that you are not wrong given your worldview.

    The Christianity or absurdity hypothesis remains un-falsified.

    This bit of reasoning turns on the premise that I am justified in asserting that I have knowledge only if I can eliminate the logical possibility that I do not.

    In short, I am justified in asserting X only if I can rule out the logical possibility of not X. This ties justification to logical necessity.

    But doing so confuses the relation between semantics, epistemology, and metaphysics. What I am justified in asserting all depends on what it is reasonable or unreasonable to say at a given time and place, relative to a given context, to a given audience, and given background beliefs, commitments, and principles.

    None of that can be done in a way that eliminates the logical possibility of being mistaken.

    The idea that being justified involves being able to rule out the possibility of being mistaken is just a mistake. It’s a mistake with a long history — it’s central to how Descartes conceptualizes what would be required to refute skepticism — but a mistake nevertheless.

  45. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: he hypothetical possiblity that I could be living in the matrix does not mean my worldview leads to internal contradictions.

    It means that it’s possible that your worldview does lead to internal contradictions.

    But I never said otherwise, and I already know this. This is one of the very first things I said when we began this conversation. It is entirely possible there are undiscovered contradictions inherent to my beliefs, but until such a time that I find them, I can’t act to fix them. I have to find the error and understand it before I can fix it, provided there is one.

    So given your worldview you could never know one way or the other

    How do you derive that conclusion? If I lived in the matrix, but didn’t know it, in what way would it follow that my beliefs are internally contradictory and I could never find out? Explain how you conclude that.

    Premise 1. I live in the matrix.
    Premise 2. I’m not aware of it.
    Premise 3. I believe X, Y, Z and so on.
    Premise 4. …
    Conclusion: Therefore my if my beliefs (X, Y, Z and so on) are internally contradictory, I can never find out.

    Fill in the missing premises please.

    Rumraket: If I live in the matrix, I would like to know.
    But you just said you can’t know and apparently you are fine with that.

    No, I said I’m not aware that I live in the matrix, but as far as I am aware I don’t seem to, and I’m fine with that.
    Here are my exact words “don’t know whether I’m in the matrix or not, but I don’t seem to be, and that is good enough for me.”

    Rumraket: It just means that, in so far as I believe I’m not in the matrix, I’m wrong.
    right and like you just said you can’t know that you are not wrong given your worldview.

    As just established, I did not in fact say that.

    The Christianity or absurdity hypothesis remains un-falsified.

    Rather, it has not been proven correct. So far, all we have is your mere assertion. You claim it is christianity or absurdity, which means you think my non-christian worldview leads to absurdity. Yet we have still not discovered any absurdities in it.

  46. fifthmonarchyman: nope that is not a presupposition that is a hypothesis.
    That is what the questions are all about. It’s not been proven true but it has not been falsified yet either.

    Okay, so you take it as a hypothesis. And when you and I have this conversation about my worldview, we are in effect testing your hypothesis, right?. If we fail to discover a contradiction, have we then falsified your hypothesis?

    And relatedly, how far do we go? How long do we go on? A fixed number of posts?
    Days? Years? The rest of our lives?

    If not, how do we go about doing that? What if nobody in existence is competent enough to throroughly assess their own worldview in such a way, that they could prove it didn’t contain internal contradictions? Wouldn’t that then mean your hypothesis is practically unfalsifiable?

    And shouldn’t you be working to try to falsify your own hypothesis?

  47. Rumraket: Rather, it has not been proven correct. So far, all we have is your mere assertion. You claim it is christianity or absurdity, which means you think my non-christian worldview leads to absurdity. Yet we have still not discovered any absurdities in it.

    What FMM needs to think, it seems to me, is something like this:

    since it is possible for non-Christian worldviews to contain contradictions, then that is sufficient for them be “absurd”, whereas it is not even possible for Christianity to contain any contradictions (once one grants the assumption that an omnipotent God can do anything that’s logically possible).

  48. That just makes it worse, because any idiot can just sit there and erect the opposite hypothesis:
    I could play the same game and just say: It is my hypothesis that it is either my own worldview or absurdity. And my own worldview cannot possibly be internally contradictory, and everyone else must prove to my satisfaction that not only does theirs not, that it also cannot even in principle.

    If that’s how he thinks, I’m not going to do the same thing, because it makes me sick even thinking about “reasoning” like that.

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