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: It would be ridiculous to assume the existence of the Christian God, full stop, without offering any justification.

    Would it be objectively ridiculous or just ridiculous in your own subjective opinion?

    keiths: In other words, the assumption “the Christian God exists” is justified, in your scheme, by that stark choice: either embrace Christianity or embrace absurdity. Without the forced dilemma, we would not be justified in assuming the truth of Christianity.

    don’t be silly.

    I have already shown that knowledge is possible if Christianity is true. Therefore I am justified in assuming the truth of Christianity.

    There is no absolutely no need to assume that knowledge is only possible if Christianity is true in order to be justified in assuming the truth of Christianity.

    That is why it’s a hypothesis and not a presupposition that non-christian worldviews lead to absurdity

    Do you get it now?

    peace

  2. Kantian Naturalist: I think you have misunderstood your own position in this dialogue. It was your assertion that any non-Christian worldview must lead to absurdity.

    No I have repeatedly said that non-Christian worldviews must lead to absurdity is a hypothesis and not an assertion.

    That is the very thing that keiths is objecting to.

    It’s always possible that your worldview does not lead to absurdity. That is what the “how do you know?” question is about.

    peace

  3. Kantian Naturalist: I consider one’s beliefs to be true if they are useful for successfully navigating the environment and solving problems as they arise.

    OK, We all have our opinions

    I consider Marvel Comics to be better than DC comics.

    How do you know that what you consider to be true is actually true?

    peace

  4. keiths:

    No, it’s a presupposition, but first let me explain why I think you aren’t actually presupposing the existence of the Christian God.

    fifth:

    I believe it’s an hypothesis.
    Is it against the rules to tell my that I don’t believe what I claim to believe?

    It’s a failed hypothesis. You can’t demonstrate it, so you assume it instead. It’s a presupposition.

    And no, what I said doesn’t violate the rules. Think, fifth.

  5. fifth:

    I have already shown that knowledge is possible if Christianity is true. Therefore I am justified in assuming the truth of Christianity.

    Knowledge is also possible if Scientology is true. Therefore, by Fifth Logic™, you are justified in assuming the truth of Scientology.

  6. fifthmonarchyman: No God is a person and what is actually true is not independent of him.

    That’s your theistic theory of truth.

    But it is useless. Even assuming there is a God, you cannot know what God sees as truth. And the possibility of revelation doesn’t actually help you at all, because you cannot know whether you had a revelation or just a brain misfire.

    Supposing that God has an actual truth, then that would be something that God expresses in God language. You don’t speak God language. Your meanings are derived from your experience. You have no access to the meanings needed in God language. So even if there is a God, and expression of actual truth in God language, you would have no access to that.

  7. fifthmonarchyman: I believe it’s an hypothesis.
    Is it against the rules to tell my that I don’t believe what I claim to believe?

    peace

    That seems to be your position. What Keiths is doing is much simpler, he thinks what you believe is wrong.

  8. Neil Rickert: Supposing that God has an actual truth, then that would be something that God expresses in God language. You don’t speak God language. Your meanings are derived from your experience. You have no access to the meanings needed in God language. So even if there is a God, and expression of actual truth in God language, you would have no access to that.

    Incarnation, omnipotence, revelation. The trinity of knowledge

  9. newton: Incarnation, omnipotence, revelation. The trinity of knowledge

    No doubt it’s good apologetics. Throw those out to bedazzle the listener, in the hope that he does not notice that they are irrelevant.

  10. fifthmonarchyman: Rumraket: Yes, exactly. Then why the hell should I accept it to be otherwise?
    If, in fact, it seems to me that you don’t quote anything contradictory, then why should I believe that you do?

    Why shouldn’t you?

    Because the evidence I have before me, my experience, is the opposite of what you claim.

    Given your worldview what the heck makes you think what it seems like to you has any correspondence to how it actually is?

    I already told you, I’m not claiming that my experience are in fact that true state of the world. But they’re the experiences I have, I don’t have other experiences. I don’t have your experience.

    If you want me to change to your point of view, you’re going to have to find a different way of doing that, than merely suggesting to me that it is logically possible that things are not how they appear to me. Mere logical possibility is not that concerning to me. I can think of an infinite other mere possibilities. Like I’m a tomato living inside an 84 dimensional potato.

    Yes, things could be different from how they appear to me. But are they, and how do I find out? I don’t find out merely by having it suggested to me that they COULD be.

    This seems to be nothing but a leap of faith assumption on your part.
    What possible basis do you have for making it given your worldview?

    How many times do I need to repeat, that I in fact do not make this assumption at all?

    Why is it more likely that there are contradictions if it seems like there are contradictions and less likely if is does not?

    This is where I do the keys-in-my-pocket analogy all over again. This time using contradictions as a substitute for my keys, and my pocket as a substitute for my worldview.

    It’s seems like you are assuming you know that logic and reason and truth exist.

    Yes, I assume that.

    God is logic and reason and truth.

    That’s literally nonsensical.

    To say that “God is X”, whatever that X is, then logic would have to already apply (for example, the law of non-contradiction would have to apply). Otherwise it would be equally true that “God isn’t X”, simultaneously. Which would imply a contradiction. And then you’ve left the world of reason.

    Your presuppositional definitions of God are absurdities in and of themselves. Thank you for playing.

    Yet you also claim that you don’t know that God exists.

    That is a contradiction

    No, it’s just that you have a literally nonsensical definition of God. We understand that term/word (God) to be two entirely different things. Mine makes some degree of sense, yours doesn’t.

  11. Neil Rickert: No doubt it’s good apologetics.Throw those out to bedazzle the listener, in the hope that he does not notice that they are irrelevant.

    Rinse and repeat

  12. Neil Rickert: Supposing that God has an actual truth, then that would be something that God expresses in God language. You don’t speak God language. Your meanings are derived from your experience. You have no access to the meanings needed in God language. So even if there is a God, and expression of actual truth in God language, you would have no access to that.

    Since God in omnipotent he can if he chooses express things so that I can understand them. If this means translating God language into human language then he can do that.

    This process of translating could be described as incarnation

    Remember that if knowledge is possible at all then God can accomplish it.

    Omnipotence means you can do what ever is possible.

    peace

  13. keiths: Knowledge is also possible if Scientology is true.

    You need to provide support for that claim

    Scientology does not have an omnipotent God that is able to communicate knowledge to us. So it does not have the same capacity to justify knowledge as Christianity AFAICT

    peace

  14. fifthmonarchyman: Are you familiar with the historical-grammatical method?

    I am now.

    If you want to understand a writers meaning you need to understand the intended recipient and the context in which he wrote. That is a given with any writing

    True enough.

    No one who is being charitable takes another persons statements literally word for word.

    All of communication is simile and metaphor. That does not necessarily mean that it’s errant. What counts is not the squiggles on the page or the the words they represent but the message they convey.

    If we were talking about any writing except the Bible this would be an obvious given.

    Apparently for some reason “skeptics” loose their mind when we are talking about scripture

    peace

    You may be interested in this lecture given by Owen Barfield where he tries to convey his grasp of human words and language and how they relate to the Word as expressed in St. John’s Gospel. Here is an excerpt:

    Are there any pointers to a way of transcending our limited understanding of the nature of symbol and, in particular, of the essentially symbolical nature of the word? In trying to answer that, I must revert for a moment to that acutely elaborated medieval distinction between the Divine Word and the human to which I referred at the start. The inner word is always something at the same time proceeding from the intellect and remaining within the intellect. But what does it rely on for its origin? It relies for its origin on memory. It has to crystallize, so to speak, around some grain of sense perception given from outside itself and retained in itself. Whereas the Divine Word is self-generating. What the memory is to the human word the Creator himself, God the Father, is to the Divine Word. If I venture to reflect on the problem of meaning in language in terms of this kind of psychology, I find myself led on into a number of consequential reflections. Thus memory differs from its Creator in the fact that it is not permanent. It fades with time. In the same way, and no doubt for that reason, language fades. As has often been pointed out, words – or the living meanings in them – fade with the repeated use that they undergo with the lapse of time. Many philologists, for instance, have drawn attention to the fact that, if we look into their history, most words present the appearance of “fossilized metaphors.” That is one of the reasons why poetry is needed as well as prose. The languages of all civilized peoples, it has been pointed out, have undergone a process of “sedimentation.” It is not so much meaning that they present us with now as the husks of meaning. There is, however, a means by which the faded words, the fossilized metaphors, can be revivified, so that meaning again shines through them, so that language once again begins to reveal something behind or beyond its merely sensuous references. And that something is, precisely, the act of using language and the faculty of apprehending it as a tissue of symbols. In the case of religion, it is in much the same way – and, indeed, it is in close association with that very process of sedimentation – that what began as revelation fades into tradition. And here again the only known remedy for sedimentation appears to be the way of symbol. For tradition to re-acquire the pristine energy, so to speak, of revelation, it needs to be apprehended not only as historical record but also as a symbol. Herein, as I see it, lies the importance of what is generally called “typology” – a principle of interpretation, or hermeneutic, which, like symbolism, has been receiving more and more serious attention in the last hundred or hundred-and-fifty years. (The Oxford Dictionary gives no quotation on the word earlier than the 1830’s.)

    Jeanne Clayton Hunter in Owen Barfield: A Change of Consciousness gives us a bit more on Barfield’s thoughts:

    In a paper delivered before educators at the Columbia University Teachers College Conference at Woodstock Vermont, in 1980, Barfield suggests a preliminary way to loose our minds (and those of our students if we are teachers) from falsely held presupposition s (e.g. that people have always felt and thought as we do today)–that of “contemplative language study.” For it is in the historical study of words that one becomes aware of the “changes that have been going on in their meanings,” of “the fact that our twentieth-century way of thinking and perceiving and relating ourselves to nature is not the way of doing all that, but only one very recent way.” Elsewhere, in Speaker’s Meaning, Barfield makes the same point and uses the word subjective as an example. To the seventeenth-century thinker it meant (according to the Oxford English Dictionary): “pertaining to the essence or reality of a thing real, essential.” By “the first half of the eighteenth-century” it meant: “having its source in the mind.” By the end of the nineteenth-century, the meaning of subjective is actually reversed,

    so that the adjective whose lexical meaning was real, essential, becomes an adjective whose literal meaning is: existing in the mind only, without anything real to correspond with it; illusory, fanciful.

    But we needn’t stop at the word subjective. Our vocabulary is full of surprises.

    And if, as educators, we prefer to approach language “with our eye on the future rather than the past,” then what would “engage” us is the function of language as “symbol, or as a system of symbols,” and its significance “as an instrument of recognition.” As Barfield often points out, words themselves are but symbols of consciousness. And if some are led to the understanding of words not as symbols of things but of meanings, they may be further led to a new regard for words as signs not only of the reality of the quantitative, but also of the qualitative aspect of reality expressed in metaphor. They may be led to a conscious awareness of meaning as it reveals itself especially in the poetic element that is present in all language.

  15. fifthmonarchyman: Since God in omnipotent he can if he chooses express things so that I can understand them.

    Not at all relevant. You still have the problem that you cannot distinguish between God expressing things, and the neurons in your brain misfiring.

    You have convinced yourself, but it is only self-delusion.

  16. Rumraket,

    Nice try there. A for effort.

    Unfortunately, it’s not going to do any good. There’s just no way that we can persuade FMM that his insistence on identifying God with “logic, truth, and reason” (not that those are by any means identical, however closely related they are!) is just absurd.

    What’s frustrating to me about FMM is not his insistence on using these words in a completely idiosyncratic way — he can use words however he wants, if he doesn’t care about being understood!

    Rather, what frustrates me is his insistence that everyone else use these words exactly as he does, and then accuse us of epistemic deficiency when we don’t.

  17. fifth:

    I have already shown that knowledge is possible if Christianity is true. Therefore I am justified in assuming the truth of Christianity.

    keiths, after rolling eyes:

    Knowledge is also possible if Scientology is true. Therefore, by Fifth Logic™, you are justified in assuming the truth of Scientology.

    fifth:

    You need to provide support for that claim [that knowledge is possible if Scientology is true].

    That’s easy. Scientology holds that knowledge is possible, and that you can gain it through L. Ron Hubbard’s “tech”. Therefore: if Scientology is true, then knowledge is possible.

    So again, by the ludicrous standards of Fifth Logic™, you are justified in assuming the truth of Scientology.

    Do you see why we despair of having an intelligent conversation with you?

  18. fifth,

    Since God in omnipotent he can if he chooses express things so that I can understand them. If this means translating God language into human language then he can do that.

    This process of translating could be described as incarnation

    No. “Translation” and “incarnation” have different meanings, obviously.

  19. fifthmonarchyman:

    Further, you are ignoring all of the previous discussion where you admitted that you could be wrong about revelation.

    Yes again I’m not God. I’m fallible

    On the other hand By definition God can reveal stuff so that I can know it.

    That claim is not consistent with your acknowledged fallibility. You admit that you can mistake a revelation for a non-revelation. You admit you can mistake a non-revelation for a revelation. Therefore, there is no way for you to know whether or not a particular belief of yours is a revelation or not.

    Positing an (unevidenced) omnipotent god does not resolve the problem. You have defined omnipotence as the ability to do anything that is possible. Due to your admitted fallibility, it is not possible to provide you with a revelation that you might not be mistaken about. Your god cannot, in principle, reveal anything such that you know it.

  20. Patrick, to fifth:

    Due to your admitted fallibility, it is not possible to provide you with a revelation that you might not be mistaken about. Your god cannot, in principle, reveal anything such that you know it.

    Right, and it wouldn’t help even if he could, because fifth still wouldn’t know whether any particular revelation was genuine.

    Fifth is therefore doubly screwed, and he either doesn’t realize it or won’t admit it.

    His faith rests on a fallacy.

  21. keiths,

    Right, and it wouldn’t help even if he could, because fifth still wouldn’t know whether any particular revelation was genuine.

    Fifth is therefore doubly screwed, and he either doesn’t realize it or won’t admit it.

    His faith rests on a fallacy.

    Fifth seems to be arguing that his worldview (Christian) makes the most sense because there is a direct revelation from an incarnate God. This is based on the incarnate God being presupposed. Isn’t the weakness in his argument that the existence of the incarnate God is presupposed?

  22. colewd:
    keiths,

    Fifth seems to be arguing that his worldview (Christian) makes the most sense because there is a direct revelation from an incarnate God. This is based on the incarnate God being presupposed. Isn’t the weakness in his argument that the existence of the incarnate God is presupposed?

    But it’s nice of them to name their belief system after the fatal flaw in it.

    Glen Davidson

  23. Kantian Naturalist: Rumraket,

    Nice try there. A for effort.

    Unfortunately, it’s not going to do any good. There’s just no way that we can persuade FMM that his insistence on identifying God with “logic, truth, and reason” (not that those are by any means identical, however closely related they are!) is just absurd.

    What’s frustrating to me about FMM is not his insistence on using these words in a completely idiosyncratic way — he can use words however he wants, if he doesn’t care about being understood!

    Rather, what frustrates me is his insistence that everyone else use these words exactly as he does, and then accuse us of epistemic deficiency when we don’t.

    Thank you and I of course agree. The rational part of me don’t really believe it’s possible to change FMM’s mind on any of this. Yet I have a painful hoping instinct that other human beings can be reached with reason, it’s one of my failings.

    And I’ve read your other contributions to this conversation, and I agree with much of it (and then there’s other stuff I don’t understand, but I’m not a philosopher so… I’m still learning). Particularly on the whole “worldview” question (it’s a strange term), I really just went with it being synonymous with ones views on epistemology. I guess to FMM it does make sense to call it a “worldview”, since he apparently sees literally everything through the lense of his presuppositionalist God-belief.

  24. Patrick: You admit that you can mistake a revelation for a non-revelation. You admit you can mistake a non-revelation for a revelation. Therefore, there is no way for you to know whether or not a particular belief of yours is a revelation or not.

    FMM is confused, of course, but so is your post.

    I admit that I can mistake a cat for a non-cat and a non-cat for a cat. It does not follow that there is no way for me to know whether or not a particular percept of mine is of a cat or not.

    Better leave the critique to others.

  25. Rumraket: Thank you and I of course agree. The rational part of me don’t really believe it’s possible to change FMM’s mind on any of this. Yet I have a painful hoping instinct that other human beings can be reached with reason, it’s one of my failings.

    Same here.

    And I’ve read your other contributions to this conversation, and I agree with much of it (and then there’s other stuff I don’t understand, but I’m not a philosopher so… I’m still learning). Particularly on the whole “worldview” question (it’s a strange term), I really just went with it being synonymous with ones views on epistemology. I guess to FMM it does make sense to call it a “worldview”, since he apparently sees literally everything through the lense of his presuppositionalist God-belief.

    I think there’s something valuable and important to make one’s beliefs as consistent as one can, of course. Having radically incompatible beliefs is not a sign of a rational mind! 🙂

    However, I do think it’s really problematic to think of a “worldview” as involving some absolute first principle from which everything else derives or which somehow structures everything else that one believes.

    For one thing, I think that this attempts to import into the structure of empirical cognition an ideal that really belongs to the structure of mathematical cognition — or even more precisely, the ancient Greco-Roman model of what mathematical cognition is. (One way of understanding what Descartes wanted to do was to make metaphysics and epistemology as analytic and clear as mathematics, and above all, geometry.)

    For another, if one insists on absolute principles in this way that are static and fixed, then one cannot admit any temporality or dynamics into the structure of cognition. The principles are timeless, fixed, invariant. Particular facts might change but the not highest truths that lie at the “foundation” of the “worldview.” This necessarily leads to dogmatism about those absolute principles, and an inability to critically assess the universal truths themselves and especially to revise them in light of experience of the world.

  26. fifthmonarchyman: 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?

    In his worldview he assumes he knows the meaning of words, his lifetime of experience justifies that belief. Given your worldview how can you not know the difference?

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

    The ability to learn is valuable advantage for most creatures. In the environment modern humans live, mathematical knowledge can be a valuable skill. How do you presuppose the existence of an infinite God before you understand the meaning of infinite?

    newton: By his characterization of your analogy as bad,

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

    peace

    Is that a claim or a presupposition?

  27. Kantian Naturalist: For another, if one insists on absolute principles in this way that are static and fixed, then one cannot admit any temporality or dynamics into the structure of cognition. The principles are timeless, fixed, invariant.

    KN has a problem with fixed absolute principles. Why is that?

    Because it conflicts with his set of fixed absolute principles about what should be admitted into the structure of cognition. 😉

    Kantian Naturalist: I think that this attempts to import into the structure of empirical cognition an ideal that really belongs to the structure of mathematical cognition — or even more precisely

    How does KN know the structure of mathematical cognition do not belong with the structure of empirical cognition?

    He has a set of unchanging absolute principles that he uses to make these sorts of determinations of course. …..We call those principles a worldview

    Peace

  28. walto: I admit that I can mistake a cat for a non-cat and a non-cat for a cat. It does not follow that there is no way for me to know whether or not a particular percept of mine is of a cat or not.

    Thanks walto,

    There is a definite stratification in the comments of the skeptics here. The lower tier can’t get past the idea that knowledge requires certainty.

    I find it interesting that those are the same folks seem to be the anti-christian zealots. I wonder if there is some sort of connection in the two ideas?

    peace

  29. colewd: Fifth seems to be arguing that his worldview (Christian) makes the most sense because there is a direct revelation from an incarnate God.

    Not exactly,

    I’m only pointing out that knowledge is possible because the Christian God exists and asking if anyone can show that knowledge would be possible if he didn’t.

    peace

  30. newton: In his worldview he assumes he knows the meaning of words, his lifetime of experience justifies that belief.

    How does his lifetime of experiences justify that belief? He has already granted that he could be living in the matrix his experiences would be the same.

    He has not offered any reason why he should know the meanings of words given his worldview. In fact he has not given any reason why given his worldview that he should know anything at all

    newton: The ability to learn is valuable advantage for most creatures.

    How do you know that? Perhaps it only seems to be a valuable advantage and is in fact a wash or even a huge disadvantage.

    It seems that you are relying on some hidden assumptions about how reality must be.

    For instance in your worldview isn’t it more likely you are a boltzmann brain than a creature learning from your actual environment ?

    newton: Is that a claim or a presupposition?

    It’s his assertion that claims need support. I’m only helping him to be consistent

    peace

  31. fifthmonarchyman,

    I’m only pointing out that knowledge is possible because the Christian God exists and asking if anyone can show that knowledge would be possible if he didn’t

    So are you saying that revelation through the bible is the source of all knowledge? Are there other ways that the Christian God imparts knowledge prior to the bibles existence?

  32. colewd: So are you saying that revelation through the bible is the source of all knowledge?

    not at all

    colewd: Are there other ways that the Christian God imparts knowledge prior to the bibles existence?

    I would say that anytime whatsoever you acquire knowledge it is because God has God imparted it.

    Exactly how God imparts knowledge is an interesting question perhaps we can discuss it sometime. It’s been called illumination

    quote:

    The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
    (Joh 1:9)

    end quote:

    peace

    peace

  33. fifthmonarchyman: Exactly how God imparts knowledge is an interesting question perhaps we can discuss it sometime. It’s been called illumination

    In my experience you don’t discuss. You testify. You preach. You even obfuscate. But that’s about it.

  34. John Harshman: In my experience you don’t discuss. You testify. You preach. You even obfuscate. But that’s about it.

    And in my experience, those who “learn” by Making Shit Up, whether or not they call it god-imparted revelation, don’t actually end up knowing anything, in the sense that knowledge (being always tentative and hostage to tomorrow’s evidence) is the opposite of intractable conviction.

  35. fifthmonarchyman: There is a definite stratification in the comments of the skeptics here. The lower tier can’t get past the idea that knowledge requires certainty.

    Which tier are you in?

  36. fifthmonarchyman: newton: In his worldview he assumes he knows the meaning of words, his lifetime of experience justifies that belief.

    How does his lifetime of experiences justify that belief? He has already granted that he could be living in the matrix his experiences would be the same.

    Only the lower tier of skeptics think knowledge requires certainty. If it is a matrix then the knowledge you gain from experience is knowledge about the matrix. Like the meanings of words. Lacking infallibility and omniscience knowledge is provisional.

  37. Patrick, to fifth:

    Due to your admitted fallibility, it is not possible to provide you with a revelation that you might not be mistaken about. Your god cannot, in principle, reveal anything such that you know it.

    keiths:

    Right, and it wouldn’t help even if he could, because fifth still wouldn’t know whether any particular revelation was genuine.

    Fifth is therefore doubly screwed, and he either doesn’t realize it or won’t admit it.

    His faith rests on a fallacy.

    colewd:

    Fifth seems to be arguing that his worldview (Christian) makes the most sense because there is a direct revelation from an incarnate God. This is based on the incarnate God being presupposed. Isn’t the weakness in his argument that the existence of the incarnate God is presupposed?

    Fifth’s position is shot through with weaknesses and errors, but the particular weakness I’m focusing on here is this:

    Fifth wants to get from…

    I believe God has revealed X to me.

    …to…

    I know that X is true.

    That requires knowing that a) X actually is a message from God, and b) that God would not send a false message.

    Fifth knows neither of those things, and instead tries to substitute this:
    c) an omnipotent God could reveal X if he wanted to, in such a way that we would know that X is true.

    Even if that were correct, it doesn’t tell us that God did in fact send the ‘X’ message to us, or that if he did send it that he wasn’t lying to us.

    Fifth himself has admitted that he can mistake a brain fart for a revelation, and when challenged, he’s been unable to explain how he can reliably distinguish genuine revelations from bogus ones.

    “I think God revealed X to me” just doesn’t cut it.

  38. FMM,
    Who was Jesus’ grandfather? Luke says that Joseph is the son of Heli and Matthew says that he was the son of Jacob.

    Has god ‘revealed’ who is the actual grandfather of Jesus?

  39. fifthmonarchyman: I find it interesting that those are the same folks seem to be the anti-christian zealots.

    Hmm.
    Do you feel oppressed?

    I dunno. I think fanaticism of any sort is somewhat repellent. I’m uncomfortable at rock concerts in the presence of adoring fans. One memory of a Rod Stewart concert still gives me the shudders.

    It’s why I keep promoting a fair and free secular society. If I were persuadable towards a religion, I think I’d be much more persuaded by demonstration than argument. My Quaker friends, the Dalai Lama, Buddha.

  40. OMagain: Has god ‘revealed’ who is the actual grandfather of Jesus?

    Can anyone answer? Wasn’t Jesus the Son of God, created by the holy spirit rather than sperm, and therefore haploid? But then he was a clone of his mother and therefore unrelated to God? Makes sense.

  41. keiths:
    That requires knowing that a) X actually is a message from God, and b) that God would not send a false message.

    Fifth knows neither of those things, and instead tries to substitute this:
    c) an omnipotent God could reveal X if he wanted to, in such a way that we would know that X is true.

    Even if that were correct, it doesn’t tell us that God did in fact send the ‘X’ message to us, or that if he did send it that he wasn’t lying to us.

    Fifth himself has admitted that he can mistake a brain fart for a revelation, and when challenged, he’s been unable to explain how he can reliably distinguish genuine revelations from bogus ones.

    “I think God revealed X to me” just doesn’t cut it.

    Well summarized. Based on his history here, I don’t expect FMM to directly address the issue.

  42. God’s Y.

    The seed metaphor implies that women don’t contribute much to procreation, other than the nursery.

  43. Alan Fox: Hmm.
    Do you feel oppressed?

    Not at all.

    The antichristian zealots here don’t make me feel oppressed but they do drag the rest of the site down IMO

    I do think this would be a better website if it focused more on science and philosophy and less on God is a poopy head and Christians are idiots tropes.

    peace

  44. fifthmonarchyman:

    I do think this would be a better website if it focused more on science and philosophy and less on God is a poopy head and Christians are idiots tropes.

    If you’d stop injecting your religious beliefs into every thread in which you participate the issue wouldn’t arise.

    That includes telling people what they think.

  45. OMagain: Who was Jesus’ grandfather?

    Why is that important to you? Are you making a scrapbook?

    FWIW Traditional scholarship holds that Luke is recording the maternal line and Mathew is recording the paternal (foster) line in order to establish his Davidic bonafides to a Jewish audience.

    peace

  46. Patrick: If you’d stop injecting your religious beliefs into every thread in which you participate the issue wouldn’t arise.

    Are you kidding me?

    The only reason I comment in these threads is to counter the anti-christian tripe that flows so freely from them.

    If you don’t want me to talk about God stop mocking him

    peace

  47. Alan Fox: Can anyone answer? Wasn’t Jesus the Son of God, created by the holy spirit rather than sperm, and therefore haploid? But then he was a clone of his mother and therefore unrelated to God? Makes sense.

    Maybe but Mary had a father.

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