Wednesday, August 15, 2012

William Lane Craig's Resurrection Argument

Below is a transcript of what I said about William Lane Craig's resurrection argument for the existence of the Christian God (taken from our debate). In case anyone is interested. My point is that we should expect quite a few baffling, exceedingly-hard-to-explain-naturalistically miracle and other extraordinary testimonies to crop up through the centuries, whether or not there's any truth to them. But then the fact that there are such testimonies provides no support to such miracle and other extraordinary claims.

Several people have misunderstood my point (largely because they have tried to use one of the standard, scripted answers provided by Craig and other Christian apologists in response to doubts about the resurrection - but they don't work here). I do think Craig understood my point. In fact, I'm exploiting a point Craig himself often makes in connection with the maxim "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", namely: that evidence for an extraordinary claim can give strong support to that extraordinary claim IF the probability of the evidence obtaining if the claim were false is very low. Craig says:

"1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This sounds so commonsensical, doesn’t it? But in fact it is demonstrably false. Probability theorists studying what sort of evidence it would take to establish a highly improbable event came to realize that if you just weigh the improbability of the event against the reliability of the testimony, we’d have to be sceptical of many commonly accepted claims. Rather what’s crucial is the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred. This can easily offset any improbability of the event itself. In the case of the resurrection of Jesus, for example, this means that we must also ask, “What is the probability of the facts of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, if the resurrection had not occurred?” It is highly, highly, highly, improbable that we should have that evidence if the resurrection had not occurred." Source.

My point is that the probability that such evidence would exist if the corresponding extraordinary claims were false is NOT very low. In fact, this is exactly the sort of evidence we should expect to crop up on occasion whether or not miracles etc. happen.

This is so blindingly obvious it is weird the point is not being made against Craig et al on a regular basis. The usual apologetic argument-to-the-best-explanation blather about "Well it's hardly plausible the eyewitnesses would lie, were hallucinating, etc." is all smokescreen.

To see why, consider the 1967 UFO case described below. It  could similarly so very easily have been a case that went down in annals of UFOlogy as deeply baffling and unexplained (rather more so, in fact, as in that case we have real first-hand eyewitness testimony from trained eyewitnesses - police officers - with no ideological to grind, backed up by a radar blip, rather than [in the resurrection case] second- or third-hand testimony recorded a decade or more later by passionate True Believers). "What's the BEST EXPLANATION?" the UFO-enthiasiasts would have said. "That several independent eyewitnesses, police officers no less, would have mistaken e.g. Venus for such an amazing object? Or that they would have collectively made it up? Thereby potentially deeply embarrassing themselves? And that the radar blip was just a coincidence? Or that they really did see an extraordinary object hanging over the plant?" Clearly the latter!!"

The fact that we couldn't come up with a plausible-sounding naturalistic explanation for the police officers's and magistrate's testimony and that simultaneous radar blip gives us little, if any, reason to suppose that there really was something extraordinary hovering over the power plant. Similarly, even if it were true (which it isn't) that we couldn't come up with a plausible-sounding naturalistic explanation for the Gospel testimony regarding the empty tomb, post mortem appearances, etc. that would give us little, if any, reason to suppose Jesus really rose from the dead.

RESURRECTION ARGUMENT

Let’s now turn to the resurrection argument.

It turns on claims made in the New Testament: that there was an empty tomb, that there were independent eyewitness reports of Jesus alive after the crucifixion, and so on.

The claim is that the best explanation of these alleged facts is that Jesus was resurrected by god. You should always be suspicious of arguments to the best explanation in such contexts.

Let me tell you a UFO story from 1967. There were reports of a strange object appearing nightly over a nuclear power site in Wake County. The police investigated. An police officer confirmed “It was about half the size of the moon, and it just hung there over the plant.” The next night the same thing happened. The Deputy Sheriff described a “large lighted object.” The County magistrate saw, and I quote, “a rectangular object, looked like it was on fire… We figured it about the size of a football field. It was huge and very bright.” There was, in addition, hard data: a curious radar blip reported by local air traffic control.

Now, what’s the best explanation for these reports? We have multiple attestation. We have trained eye-witnesses – police officers – putting their reputations on the line by reporting a UFO. We have hard, independent confirmation – that blip on the radar scope. Surely, then, it’s highly unlikely these witnesses were, say, all hallucinating, or lying, or merely looking at a planet. Clearly, by far the best explanation is that they really did see a large, lighted object hovering close to the plant, right?

Wrong. Here’s the thing. We know, pretty much for sure, that what was seen by those police officers was the planet Venus. Journalists arrived on the scene, were shown the object, and chased it in their car. They found they couldn’t approach it. Finally, they looked at it through a long lens and saw it was Venus. That radar blip was just a coincidence.

What does this show? Every year there are countless amazing reports of religious miracles, alien abductions, ghosts, and so on. In most cases, it’s easy to come up with plausible mundane explanations for them. But not all. Some remain deeply baffling.

So should we believe in such things, then?

No. For, as my UFO story illustrates, we know that some very hard-to-explain reports of miracles, flying saucers, and so on are likely to crop up anyway, whether or not there’s any truth to such claims. That 1967 case could easily have been such a baffling case. Had those reporters not shown up and investigated, this case might well have gone down as "unsolved".

So, let’s suppose that Biblical documents written a decade or more after the events they report, written exclusively by devotees of a new religious movement, not even by first hand witnesses, detailing events for which there’s pretty much no independent confirmation, constitutes really, really good evidence that there was an empty tomb and that the disciples did report seeing the risen Christ.

Is that, in turn, good evidence Jesus was resurrected?

Evidence supports a hypothesis to the extent that the evidence is expected given the hypothesis is true, and unexpected otherwise.

The absolutely crucial point to note is this: we have good reason to expect some baffling, very hard-to-explain-in-mundane-terms reports to crop up occasionally anyway, whether or not there are any miracles, gods or flying saucers. So the fact that an otherwise baffling, hard-to-explain case has shown up provides us with little, if any, evidence that a miracle happened.

40 comments:

Martin said...

Here's, very briefly and "intuitively", where I think your argument fails.

I agree that we ought to expect events to crop up from time to time which are pretty hard to explain naturalistically, even though they have a natural cause. These "freak" occurrences do happen.

Let's assume the data surrounding the resurrection reports are hard to explain naturalistically. What make it not just another weird case is that this difficult data surrounds Jesus' death.

Isn't it just uncanny that all this strange data appears not around a nobody but a real religious somebody? Isn't it just too coincidental that it appears around a man who claimed, in some sense, to be God and the Messiah - the judge of life-giver to all humankind? If similar reports circulated after the death of some until-then-nobody-peasant, we could rightly dismiss it as just one of those bizarre cases. But in the case of Jesus the data is freaky in another sense. The sense that it's too improbable a combination to just be chance.

Of course you can argue that such high-Christology is later legend or whatever if you want. My point is, I think a good argument for the resurrection requires first an argument for the religious significance of Jesus' life/self-understanding. If that's in place then I don't think your argument can knock it back.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether you're speaking of:

P(Resurrection|Explanatorily resistant claims are occasionally made, whether or not they're true)

or

P(Resurrection is a member of the set of explanatorily resistant claims that are occasionally made, whether or not they're true|Resurrection is explanatorily resistant)

or some such

AIGBusted said...

Hi Stephen,

My position on miracles is not identical to David Hume's, but it is very similar. I proudly wear the title of Neo-Humean. It's kind of astonishing that you posted this right after I got done typing up an essay on miracles that contained similar sentiments:

"So many events happen in the world that even super-unlikely events will happen every once in a while (for example, lottery winners who won multiple times). How to find our way out of the maze? Well, if seemingly supernatural events happened more often than was likely if there were no miracles, the problem would be solved. It’s hard to say exactly how often such events would need to happen in order to justify a belief in the supernatural, but obviously if these were common and repeatable, no one would doubt that they occurred. Fortunately, I don’t think the real world is ambiguous enough to throw us into debating how much is enough."

Excerpted from
http://www.skepticblogs.com/humesapprentice/2012/08/14/of-miracles/

wombat said...

@Martin "Isn't it just uncanny that all this strange data appears not around a nobody but a real religious somebody? "

Well he was a religious nobody at the time though wasn't he? Son of a carpenter, not a head of a major household or tribe, not a chief rabbi, not a major figure in any of the established religious communities in the country. Which country was in itself a relatively small part of the Roman Empire. He probably would have had less followers at that time than the turnout you'd get at a William Lane Craig debate. He did not become a major religious figure until after the resurrection.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Martin,

There is a confluence between iconic religious figures and miracles, not just Jesus. Buddha and Mohammed both have miraculous events attached to them.

In pre-enlightenment times, attributing miracles to ordinary people was a means to elevate their divine status. The Catholic Church still does this today with the canonisation of saints.

Regards, Paul.

Steven Carr said...

Paul scoffs in 1 Corinthians 1 at Jews who expected Christianity to have stories about miracles.

And he asks rhetorically in Romans 10 how Jews could be expected to believe in somebody they have never heard of? He answers his own rhetorical question by pointing out that people have been sent to preach about Jesus, so Jews have now heard of him.

David Mummery said...

If God was real, he wouldn't need a bunch of semi-literates to wander around telling people about him.

Rhonda said...

David Mummery said...

"If God was real, he wouldn't need a bunch of semi-literates to wander around telling people about him."

Are we questioning what "God needs" or what "the semi-literates wandering arounding talking people about him" need? And of course their [the semi-literates] need would be far less being that they are "semi" literate; as regards God, than to those those who are completely illiterate of God ... "IF" God was real.

Quite a deceptive comment. Would you not yourself be amongst those "semi-literates" to suggest such an absolute "knowledge" of what God needs... If God was real? I believe that is called hypocrisy.

Rhonda said...

My answer to Stephen Law's blog as regards Wm Lane Craig's argument for the resurrection a problem that falls under the "vicious cycle fallacy"

My answer as regards Wm Lane Craig's argument for the resurrection also a problem that falls under the "vicious cycle fallacy"

For every argument put forth in logic there appears to be an equally valid opposite argument - that is a vicious cycle of tautologies that resolve in a conundrum quite like the chicken and the egg.

To argue about God or the truth is like trying to argue hotness without ever experiencing it. No matter how much anyone studies the idea of hotness, its consequences, and what it feels like - no one "knows" until they experience it. And the one who has experienced hotness can never get, communicate, nor convey rightly to the other, "knowledge" of this hotness.

Someone can accept the word of another but this isn't knowledge, it merely forms a belief... and it is from this belief the "vicious cycle fallacy" ensues. Once the "vicious cycle fallacy" has begun it is fueled by the incessant and obsessive need to "fix it".

I believe Einstein called insanity: "doing the same thing over and expecting different results" - yet man doesn't "see" the repetition of his self made "vicious cycle" because he changes the forms and believes this will change the end. Unfortunately form is merely a means an end - coupled with the fact that a belief system lacks direct knowledge of something [has no real content]how can it ever come to a real resolve?

Einstein also said “We cannot fix a problem with the same mind/thinking that created it”? If the problem of our problems is the problem then the more the problem; that was both the cause and the effect of the problem, tries to fix it, the greater [regress] the problem becomes. If the content of our thinking is belief or lack of direct knowledge [nothingness] that IS a problem. Sadly, nothing can resolve nothing – thus trying to fix nothing is both futile and in vain. Indeed, it’s a vicious cycle.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe craig would make such a simple minded argument. We would have to accept every loony claim by that logic. He also seems to be completely mangling what "extraordinary evidence" means. It must be extraordinary exactly because claims are very easy to make and utterly unreliable on their own.

Rabbie said...

Is not Jesus supposed to be both fully human and fully divine according to orthodox belief? If so, how can the divine part of Him ever die? Are we to suppose that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday the Holy Trinity became a Divine Duo?

If that which is divine in Christ can never die, how could there possibly be a Resurrection? And seeing as Christ, despite His incarnation in flesh, is timeless ("Before Abraham was, I am") how can His physical body possibly be subject to death or subject to the laws of space time? Furthermore, if Christ is really God you would expect Him to act in accordance with His freewill. Instead, He makes it clear that He is following a script throughout, being the fulfilment of prophecy. The resurrected Jesus explains all this to the disciples at the end of Luke, but strangely enough He fails to quote them the exact prophecy from the Torah where YHWH states that He will walk the earth in the person of His Son and effect His own Resurrection.

One Resurrection that always seems like a miracle to me is the finale of Mahlers Second Symphony.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

The fact that he was a relgious figure and not some random nobody (at the time of the miracles being written down) dramatically increases the chances that it is just an invented claim to bolster JC's God cred.

Craig's argument is sordidly pathetic. I am quite certain Craig himself would scoff and dismiss any such argument put forth by a Muslim for Mohammed cracking the moon or by a hindu for Lord Ram's army of monkeys building a bridge for him, etc.

Craig is either being brutally dishonest or a bit simple to seriously put forth this rancid bilge of an argument. I had to hold my nose and gird my stomach while I read it.

Charles Bailey said...

WLC comments: " Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This sounds so commonsensical, doesn’t it? But in fact it is demonstrably false."

When I heard the recent podcast that contained these remarks, I wrote down the following response as part of a collection of personal notes about the statements I've heard Craig make over the years...

One of the tactics that William Lane Craig frequently employs in his campaign against skeptics of Christian theism is to deny the maxims that critical thinkers often cite as a basis for dismissing certain theistic truth claims. By disputing the validity of these maxims, Craig attempts to restore some initial plausibility to his case for Christian theism by seemingly undermining one of the atheist’s most basic assumptions. Then, when no one is looking as it were, Craig can often be found adopting the very same maxims that he’s denied elsewhere.

One such example of this type of inconsistency on the part of Craig involves the claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof which is, of course, a maxim that atheists frequently adopt when evaluating the truth claims of theists.

Though Craig explicitly denies the maxim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof with little more than hand waiving, he implicitly affirms the maxim every time he insists that atheists take on an enormous burden of proof when they, for example, imply that God could not have morally sufficient reasons for allowing so much evil in the world. But by suggesting that the atheist is taking on an enormous burden of proof in any particular case, wouldn't it have to be the case that Craig is suggesting that such atheists are making an extraordinary claim that would require extraordinary proof?—a claim for which he is obviously not prepared to simply take anyone’s word for? What else could Craig mean here? What would make the burden of proof so enormous if not for the fact that he regards the implications of the atheists arguments to be extraordinary in some sense?

Paradoxically, it would seem that in order to disprove a maxim like this that one would first have to adopt it...which is to say that, to be skeptical of the maxim, one would have to treat it as if it were an extraordinary claim of sorts.

So to deny the maxim, Craig has to imply that the maxim itself is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof—otherwise he would just accept it as an ordinary or self-evident claim.

This paradox might offer some insight into how maxims are ultimately defined and formulated--as well as inform us as to in what ways maxims of this sort might actually differ from other sorts of claims.

Is Craig’s inconsistency in adopting maxims that he denies elsewhere just an honest mistake on his part? I’m afraid the only fair thing to do here is to suggest that everyone decide for themselves.

Charles Bailey said...

An observation I've made when listening to Craig drone on about how fantastic the historical evidence is for the resurrection of Jesus has to do with how he defends the initial probability of the event itself.

Remember, Craig is offering the "Resurrection of Jesus" argument as part of his cumilative case for the existence of God which means that this argument is intended to help prove that God exists. However, Craig agrees with the atheists that if the claim was that Jesus was raised naturally from the dead that this would indeed be an extraordinary claim, but that this isn't the claim that Christians are making. No, the Christian is making the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead supernaturally.

What?? How can Graig think that he can get away with simply assuming that God and the supernatural exist as premises to an argument that is intended to prove that these things exist?

If atheists granted supernaturalism then, indeed, there would be nothing extraordinary about accepting the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead. But where has supernaturalism been demonstrated? I think Craig is simply engaging in a bot of question begging and special pleading here.

And isn't the point of the Resurrection Argument--as with any argument from miracles--supposed to be that some extraordinary occurence proves in itself that God exists and is responsible for the extraordinary occurence? If this is the point, then how can it then be denied that the claim that Jesus rose from the dead is not in fact an extraordinary claim?

David B Marshall said...

Interesting response, but I see several problems with this argument.

First, Jesus is not just a random point in human history. It's not just that he later became the most famous and influential person who ever lived. It's also that the character and significance of his life and teachings are intrinsically unique. I could give a long list of quotes from great non-Christian thinkers who recognize this.

What does that mean for Law's argument? He claims that "very hard to explain reports" are bound to turn up, on materialistic assumptions. That's because we have billions of people living, and undergoing trillions of experiences -- one expects a few mysteries. Sure. But one does not expect so remarkable a mystery to show up at the most significant point in what is already arguably the most significant life. That's uncanny, and worth attending to.

Second, of course Law's argument does not favor materialism in any way. Strange events may be reported on atheistic premises; they are more to be expected on supernaturalistic premises. On what grounds, then, does he favor the former model?

Third, the UFO analogy is not really so good. The "U" in UFO stands for "unidentified," of course. It's one thing to say, "I see I know not what light in the sky," quite another to say, "Ronald Reagan barbecued fish by the lake for me yesterday!" "I thought he was dead?" "So did I!" This, from several people who knew the former president well, in the days before makeup artists, would require a different explanation.

Fourth, of course it would seem pretty arbitrary for even a former president to resurrect from the dead. Nothing in conservatism requires that, though it might seem nice to get such a divine imprimatur on our movement. But Christianity is about bigger and specifically divine issues. The resurrection of Jesus was recognized (and predicted, even in Isaiah 53) as a fundamental divine stamp of approval on Jesus, and sign of hope for all humanity. So Jesus' resurrection fits the claims he made, in a way the resurrection of Ronald Reagan or Martin Luther King would not.

Fifth, yes there are many other reports of miracles. And many of them are, evidently, true. (See Craig Keener's two volume series on the subject, if you haven't encountered evidence of your own.) The fact that the Resurrection fits into this larger pattern, should hardly be held as evidence against it. On the contrary, in some cases they make it more credible.

It seems that there may even be an element of circularity to Dr. Law's argument.

Rabbie said...

David B Marshall said
The resurrection of Jesus was recognized (and predicted, even in Isaiah 53) as a fundamental divine stamp of approval on Jesus.

Isiah 53 is evidently NOT about the resurrection of Jesus, and the suffering servant of the Lord is not himself the Lord. The chapter certainly influenced Christian apologetics, but as has happened with so many verses of the Hebrew Bible, Christians have loaded it with all sorts of interpretative baggage.

It is strange that the Resurrected Jesus chooses to spend hardly any time on earth, and floats up to the skies at the beginning of Acts. He gives an evasive, politican´s reply to the disciples´ burning question "Lord when will thou restore the Kingdom to Israel?" The first chapter of Acts gives us good reason to be skeptical about the Resurrection.


Stephen Law said...

Thanks David B Marshall for the thoughtful comments.

You say: "What does that mean for Law's argument? He claims that "very hard to explain reports" are bound to turn up, on materialistic assumptions."

I made no materialistic assumptions. I don't even sign up to materialism.

You say: "Third, the UFO analogy is not really so good. The "U" in UFO stands for "unidentified," of course. It's one thing to say, "I see I know not what light in the sky," quite another to say, "Ronald Reagan barbecued fish by the lake for me yesterday!" "I thought he was dead?" "So did I!" This, from several people who knew the former president well, in the days before makeup artists, would require a different explanation. "

This is to misunderstand my analogy. The point is, the UFO eyewitnesses reported a large lighted object hovering over the plant where there was none. This illustrates the point that even trained eyewitnesses can get things very, very wrong, particularly in relation to wacky claims. My point is there are very many ways (not just misperception) that can produce false testimony (of which this is merely an illustration). These ways may seem highly implausible in some cases, but in fact many will still be correct. But if such false reports are to be expected anyway, whether or not true, they are not good evidence.

You say: "Fifth, yes there are many other reports of miracles. And many of them are, evidently, true. (See Craig Keener's two volume series on the subject, if you haven't encountered evidence of your own.) The fact that the Resurrection fits into this larger pattern, should hardly be held as evidence against it. On the contrary, in some cases they make it more credible."

This is to miss the point that there are a great many false reports or miracles, flying saucers etc, - reports that in some cases we won't be able to provide a plausible naturalistic explanation for. But they are false nevertheless. Hence a report for which we can’t provide a plausible naturalistic explanation is not good evidence for the event. Whether or not some reports are also true is irrelevant.

The rest of your response seems to be that Jesus was special, and this means it’s much more likely the testimony about his resurrection is true.

Note, first, that the claim Jesus is special is often supported by the claim he was resurrected. In fact, his resurrection is what Craig et al tend to focus on in proving his specialness. Such an appeal to specialness in support of the resurrection really happening is clearly entirely circular.

But in any case, even if Jesus were special in some other ways – if he said particularly deep and unusual things, say - that hardly lends further credibility to a miracle claim made about him, as it's precisely such a person, rather than a supermarket checkout attendant, that is likely to attract *false* miracle reports in the first place. It's hardly an amazing coincidence that it should be Jesus that has false miracle claims made about him rather than someone else (particularly given those prophecies to which you allude!). But than the existence of such claims about this "special" person is not good evidence of their truth.


el ninio said...

Reading this post reminded me of what the Skeptic's Dictionary has to say about the Law of Truly Large Numbers:

http://www.skepdic.com/lawofnumbers.html

David B Marshall said...

Rabbie: I think Isaiah 52-3 either was about Jesus (though this his nor required by my argument), or at least provides a pointer to Jesus as fulfillment of Jewish Scripture. I discussed the passage, and scholarship on it, with the American philosopher Richard Field at some length, but can't find the original, now; I may read the commentaries again, try to bring that back to life some time, and post it.

David B Marshall said...

Dr. Law: I appreciate your response, and find your initial argument interesting. But I don't think it works, nor your response to the points I brought up earlier. Because I find the discussion interesting, I've just posted a longer response (together with your comments) on my own blog. Let me give the abridged version, here.

(a) Your UFO analogy or example really does seem rather thin: perhaps you can find a better one. In your OP, you say of the lights in the sky over the power station:

"This is exactly the sort of evidence we should expect to crop up on occasion whether or not miracles etc happen."

What sort of evidence is that? A large ("half the size of the moon) and stationary light that "just hung over the plant."

That is, as I pointed out, miles away from claiming to have met someone you know intimately after he has died a vicious death, witnessed the scars on his hands, had an intense and meaningful conversation with him, and eaten a meal of fish that he roasted by a lake.

In response, you explain:

"This illustrates the point that even trained eyewitesses can get things very, very wrong, particularly in relation to wacky claims."

But a "bright (unspecified) light in the sky" does not seem that wacky by itself, nor do these rather dim-witted officers add much of the interpretation that would make it so. (As, no doubt, is sometimes added.) The only "wacky" part is their estimate of the object's size, which is just a matter of perspective, and their failure to move from one spot to see it moves with them. The error is pretty minor compared to the empirical reports from Easter.

(b) This object has a tendency to metamorphasize a bit in your argument, to enhance that argument. It begins as a "large lighted object" (a strictly accurate description, as it turns out) which "hung over" the plant. Then you say the police "put their reputations on the line by reporting a UFO." But that term is not used in the testimony he quotes -- with its extraterrestrial connotations, a UFO might indeed seem more risky to one's career than a "large lighted object." A few paragraphs later, you add,

"As my UFO story illustrates, we know that some very hard-to-explain reports of miracles, flying saucers, and so on are likely to crop up anyway, whether or not there's any truth to such claims. That 1967 case could easily have been such a baffling case . . . "

Maybe such reports do "crop up." But no one (so far as cited) said anything about flying saucers or (also mentioned above) alien abductions. We seem to be getting a touch of "weirdness creep," here. There were no very wacky claims here, apparently, nor did the cops get things all THAT wrong -- just the relative size of the object, and they were apparently too dim to bother walking to the side a few feet before calling in their report. Chief Wiggum does worse almost every coffee break.

(c) The word "extraordinary" may be misleading, when we say of the Resurrection that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." What one finds "ordinary" or "extraordinary" is relative to the character of the object of which an act is predicated.

I argue elsewhere that it is really not so extraordinary to say Jesus rose from the dead, given who Jesus was, prophecies of his life, and the plausible proposal that God intended to redeem the world in some such way. One cannot reasonably treat Jesus as just another person to whom something strange is said to have happened.

David B Marshall said...

(d) I think it is much less probable that aliens, if they exist so close in vast space (a highly questionable assumption, see Ward and Brownlee, Rare Earth), would travel thousands of lightyears, at enormous cost and for tens of thousands of years, in order to "hover" over a uber low-tech power station and freek out a few Keystone Kops, then be on their way.

(e) Why should such reports "crop up?" Presumably, because over the past two thousand years, some 100 billion human beings have lived, experiencing trillions of events. Some of them are bound to be strange. The random character you ascribe to these events is suggested by the term "crop up," which suggests things occurring in odd, unexpected places, and also by this example of the power station. The witnesses are no one special. Nor do the purported aliens do anything important.

(f) But Jesus, I pointed out, is not random. There are not 100 billion of him, just one, for reasons I touch on briefly in my post. So this is not a matter of strange stories "cropping up" at random. The so-called "Power of Large Numbers," mentioned by someone above, is useless to explain the resurrection of Jesus, even if it has such power elsewhere.

(f) You respond: "It's precisely such a person, rather than a supermarket checkout attendant, that is likely to attract false miracle reports in the first place."

Notice that this argument looks a little different from the one you started with. Now we are not claiming that given many events, a few odd reports are likely to "crop up," but claiming that the importance ascribed to Jesus for non-arbitrary reasons is likely to attract such reports.

But similiarly, couldn't we also say that God is more likely to do an amazing miracle on behalf of someone set to change the world, than the checkout clerk Law refers to? So it does not help establish rationalism, but may prove useful as a rationalization after one adopts Law's philosophy. (I apologize for my sloppiness in calling it "materialism," earlier, by the way.)

(g) Do great figures really attract miracle claims? Do they inspire early resurrection sightings of the character and detail found in the New Testament?

The former, sometimes. Mohammed is not said, in early literature, to have done any miracles, nor is Confucius, nor I think Lao Zi. But as the centuries pass, miracle stories do tend to accumulate -- faster about some disreputable gurus, like Sai Baba. I have argued that the character of such stories is markedly different and far less believable than those in the Gospels (esp Jesus and the Religions of Man.)

If you could point to cases of full-blown resurrection that appear as early and seem as historically genuine as the earliest accounts of Easter, occurring to key figures, and of a a similiar character, that might help your argument. (Especially if, in fact, we know those reports to be false.)

Of course, I am assuming that the Gospel accounts do seem somewhat reliable, historically, for reasons I have also given elsewhere. But for the sake of the argument, at least, you seem to be discounting the most radical Jesus skepticism, too.

(h) "Note, first, that the claim Jesus is special is often supported by the claim he was resurrected."

Yes, but I wasn't doing that, as you apparently recognize.

David B Marshall said...

(i) In response to my claim that some miracles seem to enjoy strong historical support, you write:

"This is to miss the point that there are a great many false reports of miracles, flying saucers, etc -- reports that in some cases we won't be able to provide a plausible naturalistic explanation for. But they are false nevertheless. Hence a report for which we can't provide a plausible naturalistic explanation is not good evidence for the event. Whether or not some reports are also true is irrelevant."

What do you mean by "plausible?" Are you assuming that any naturalistic story is more likely to be true than any supernatural story, under any conceivable conditions? Are you saying that EVEN IF supernaturalism is true, and there is strong evidence for it, you remain within your rights to disbelieve it?

Maybe not. Presumably, at some point the weight of the evidence would be allowed to overpower your prior assumption that naturalism is true: it would be interesting to know where that might happen.

(j) Strictly speaking, space aliens ARE a "naturalistic explanation." It might aid clarity to avoid conflating miracles and UFOs. One rational deduction from our experience from both sets of phenomena is that SOME historical claims, both natural and supernatural, prove dubious.

One thing I appreciate about your argument, is that it underlines the fact that historical claims are about more than just pure history -- the number, proximity, and credibilty of witnesses, internal and external archeological support, coherence, embarrassing details that suggest the author is forthright in his reporting, and so forth. There is also the question of how likely it is that such reports will appear, on various assumptions, such as naturalism, Jewish theism, or that ET lives on a nearby planet, and is prone to hovering over terrestrial power plants and "topping off the tank." Your analogy seems weak to me. But it is a question worth asking, and investigating further. Maybe closer parallels can be found. One cannot predict, in advance, whether such parallels would prove to support naturalism or Christian theism.

Your argument also underlines the importance of "prior probability." We don't come to the historical evidence intellectually naked. No doubt you have explained the grounds for your own a priori conviction in favor of naturalism elsewhere, but in this context, it is still worth asking how much contrary evidence that conviction can withstand. If you yourself were to witness one of the remarkable miracles described in Keener's book, for example, would your interpretive model still convince you nothing could have happened?

Anyway, a thought-provoking argument, worth more pondering and study, I think.

Stephen Law said...

That's a lot to respond to David. But, just to get the ball rolling,I am not committed to naturalism either. Nor did my argument assume naturalism.

You are running a standard apologetic theistic response that doesn't actually work here, I'm afraid (it doesn't work elsewhere either, in fact, but it certainly does not apply here).

You also continue to think that I am suggesting that post mortem reports of Jesus were a result of visual hallucination. I'm not making any such specific suggestion, in fact.

I am merely making the point that we tend to underestimate the extent to which even mundane mechanisms can give rise to pretty extraordinary reports - of e.g. an object about the size of a football field, rectangular, appearing to be on fire, hanging over a nuclear powerplant, corroborated by an independent radar blip. To say "Nah, they just saw Venus!" would produce hoots of derision from those thinking we're visited by aliens. "But we have police officers and a magistrate! Multiple attestation!" they'd say. "And hard evidence too - that radar blip. And the criterion of embarrassment applies here too!" They'd no doubt add. "Clearly this was no mere misidentified planet!" And of course that really would sound very plausible to naive ears, wouldn't it? Particularly to ears unschooled in how such wacky and weird can be and are often generated. Yet Venus is what they saw, nevertheless. Despite the fact that, to naive ears, the suggestion sounds highly improbable.

Now my point is there are all sorts of mechanisms - very, very, many - that generate false extraordinary claims. NOT just the one mechanisms involved here but (for illustrative purposes), for example, the power of suggestion, which certainly accounts for thousands of detailed reports of saucer-shaped objects (including windows, waving figures, etc. etc.) after the 1947 Arnold sighting.

Sometimes, it's very hard to come up with a plausible sounding mundane naturalistic explanation of what's reported. But of course that doesn't mean we should believe the claim. We're right to be pretty skeptical.

None of this is to assume naturalism is true, notice. It may not be. Personally, I'm undecided.

In essence, Craig's and your response sounds a lot like the UFO enthusiasts' claim that while very many UFO reports can be given plausible mundane explanations, about 3% are truly inexplicable in such terms (i.e. in terms of hallucination, sleep paralysis, lying, attention seeking, power of suggestion etc etc etc etc). They are the "true UFOs", as these OFO fans call them. But as Philip J Klass points out in "the Public Decieved" (I think it was?), actually, we should expect a few such cases to crop up, whether or not alien spacecraft are really visiting. We know that because we can point to cases that could so easily have gone down in UFOlogy as "true UFOs", but which were, in fact, a product of mundane mechanisms nevertheless (we just "got lucky" in discovering that they were nevertheless false). I am simply pointing out that this insight applies to your own favoured extraordinary event.

And of course you don't even have the original otherwise reliable eyewitnesses, as we do in many UFO and other such cases. You are relying on the testimony of largely anonymous true believers writing to spread the faith decades after the supposed events in question.

And you think this constitutes good evidence there was a resurrection? I find that jaw-dropping. Even many theists find it jaw dropping. Even quite a few Christians consider the historical evidence very weak (including Alvin Plantinga).

Clearly, some of us are deluded about what it's reasonable to believe in this case. Do you really think it's us?

Stephen Law said...

PS. David - Check this out and ask yourself - does this sound like me?

I think it does sound like you. A lot.

http://www.trueufosightings.com/the-abject-failure-of-ufo-debunking/spekticism-proof-galore...-51102.html

David B Marshall said...

Stephen: Thanks for dropping by.

Sorry, but you're misreading my argument in one or two particulars. First of all, I did not misconstrue your argument as specifying that the disciples suffered a "visual hallucination." My point is rather that the analogy you offer is too weak to much support your argument. The unlikelihood that the disciples mistakenly perceived their dead teacher was alive again, compared to the relatively trivial error the police made, is indeed part of what draws the force from your argument, both because of the positive strengths of the gospel evidence, and because of the clear weakness of the shining light story.

I understood your point. In fact, I concede that point: sure, false historical claims are common, both about extraordinary and ordinary events. I fully agree that it is often rational to dismiss a claim (again, whether supernatural or not) even when one cannot completely explain the evidence. Indeed, I would go further: NO hypothesis EVER completely explains a complex field of data, without remainder. One does the best one can. Absolute certainty is for mathematicians, not historians.

I am not troubled by the fact that "decades" intervene between the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and the first extant written reports of the event. This for the simple reason that Jesus' followers were young, and would have lived for decades afterwards, as early historical reports say some did. Also because I have studied the gospels in depth, reading skeptics like the fellows of the Jesus Seminar, and found remarkable evidence in those gospels for essential (not absolute, I am not an inerracist) historical accuracy. Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is a good overview of some of that evidence, along with the works of NT Wright, and from a different angle, my own Why the Jesus Seminar Can't Find Jesus.

So yes, I think the historical evidence for the resurrection is excellent, and is undergirded by unusually strong a priori grounds for expecting it (but not random alien visitations) to occur.

I don't think Plantinga conceded that the historical evidence for the resurrection was weak absolutely, rather as grounding for the full Christian faith. (I have read those comments, though I don't have them in front of me at the moment.) And after being taken to task by Tim McGrew, a philosopher with more knowledge of the historical issues and arguments (and of Bayesian probability) I believe, Plantinga seems to have walked even this back in his recent book on science, to some extent.

As for the paper you linked to, I fail to see great relevance. I've given several reasons already why random alien visitations are unlikely. I can hardly even tell why the author thinks the story about the car crash suggests alien visitation: certainly he doesn't try to explain it. I can see why God (if there is a God) might raise Jesus from the dead, but I can't see why aliens (if they exist and are in range) would travel tens of thousands of years to dent some cop's windshield and shin a light in his eyes, without any fuller communication. I've heard numerous first-hand reports of miracles that were far more probative than that, and made more sense, too.

Let me recommend Keener's book to you. At the least, it'll give you something more to debunk: at most, perhaps there's a chance it will persuade you.

Stephen Law said...

Thanks again for the response David. I might have to make this the last one as I feel pressure of other work! Anyway, my thoughts, for what they are worth…

David, you say: “I did not misconstrue your argument as specifying that the disciples suffered a "visual hallucination." My point is rather that the analogy you offer is too weak to much support your argument. The unlikelihood that the disciples mistakenly perceived their dead teacher was alive again, compared to the relatively trivial error the police made, is indeed part of what draws the force from your argument, both because of the positive strengths of the gospel evidence, and because of the clear weakness of the shining light story.”

Yes indeed, my point is NOT that the disciples misperceived. That’s just one of very many possible prosaic explanations that would account for this testimony in documents written by anonymous, ideologically committed zealots – not even eyewitnesses – decades after the supposed events in question, in order to spread their faith.

The point I am making is that Craig type arguments – in which several prosaic explanations for an extraordinary event are looked at and dismissed as not seeming very plausible/probable, leaving the miracle claim as the “best explanation” - and thus supposedly the most reasonable thing to believe - are flawed. The mere fact that such hard-to-explain-prosaically evidence crops up is NOT good evidence for the alleged events given we should expect such hard-to-explain testimony to crop up on occasion in any case. Such dodgy “arguments to the best explanation” are a form of bogus reasoning - a form you find cropping up right across the sweep of extraordinary claims, from ghosts to religious miracles to alien abduction. The link I gave provides a nice example: an argument for alien visitation that relies on the same form of “argument to the best explanation” strategy that Craig uses.

Are you conceding this point? You should – it’s correct.

David, you say: “I understood your point. In fact, I concede that point…I fully agree that it is often rational to dismiss a claim (again, whether supernatural or not) even when one cannot completely explain the evidence. “

But that’s not my point. My point is much stronger – it is that even when we find ourselves entirely baffled when it comes to providing mundane explanations, that does not mean we have good evidence for the extraordinary claim.

[continues below...]

Stephen Law said...

[continues from above]...

David you say” ““I am not troubled by the fact that "decades" intervene between the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and the first extant written reports of the event. This for the simple reason that Jesus' followers were young, and would have lived for decades afterwards, as early historical reports say some did.”

In a court of law, the judge will rightly look much less favourably on testimony provided only decades after the alleged event. So we should also take that into account here too. But in any case, you ignore the other points I made, which are that (unlike the UFO case) your witnesses are powerfully ideologically committed anonymous individuals with an axe to grind, who are not even eyewitnesses. We’re dealing with hearsay evidence trotted out by anonymous true believers decades after the events in question. What would such testimony be worth in a court of law? That’s what it’s worth here.

David, you say: “So yes, I think the historical evidence for the resurrection is excellent, and is undergirded by unusually strong a priori grounds for expecting it (but not random alien visitations) to occur.”

Trying to exploit some difference between prior expected (God raising Jesus) and prior unexpected events (alien visitors) won’t work here, David, for at least three reasons (i) what the UFO witnesses reported was NOT alien visitors, but merely a remarkable object (rectangular, the size of a football field, apparently on fire). So the fact that there is indeed good prior reason to suppose aliens aren’t visiting given vast interstellar distances is irrelevant, (ii) your “usually strong grounds” for expecting God to raise a Jesus-like figure from the dead is just hyperbole – it seems to me, as it does to very many, including many academics, that the resurrection/redemption theory is pretty ludicrous. Even Christians struggle to make sense of it, disagreeing even amongst themselves regarding the mechanics of God/Jesus apparently having to die (why?) to pay our sin debt for us (how?) so we can – IF we believe he is indeed the Christ who came back to life (and what a brilliant bit of viral marketing that suggestion was – compare those spam emails that say: “Pass this email on to ten friends and get amazing good fortune; fail to do so a be CURSED!”) - enjoy eternal life ourselves rather than eternal punishment, (iii) in any case, and most importantly, whether or not the prior probability of a hypothesis H is high or low, if the probability of the alleged evidence E existing is almost as high given H as not H, then E is STILL weak evidence for H. That’s to say, your point about prior probability is just irrelevant here.

[continues below...]

Stephen Law said...

[continues from above...]

David, you say: “I don't think Plantinga conceded that the historical evidence for the resurrection was weak absolutely, rather as grounding for the full Christian faith.”

I don’t have the quote to hand either, but Plantinga does say the purely historical evidence for the “great claims of the gospels” is weak. And of course he’s right to do so, notwithstanding McGrew’s nit-picky points. In fact this is also the sensible view of very many Christians, including even a significant proportion of Blblical scholars. Many of them will happily acknowledge the historical evidence for the resurrection is, at best, pretty weak.

Now, why do they fail to see that the evidence does very strongly support the resurrection? It can’t be because they are all biased atheists. They aren’t. Nor is it because they are all ignorant of the evidence. As I say, many Biblical scholars who are Christians admit the purely historical evidence is pretty weak (I actually work with some).

On the other hand, we do know that, unlike atheism, religion has an amazing ability to get even smart, college educated people to believe absurd things. Witness for example the 100+ million Americans who suppose the hypothesis that the universe is 6k years old is a good, well-supported scientific theory. Some are college professors. And they are really, really good at cooking up ever more convoluted and ingenious explanations for why what they believe is supported by the empirical evidence. Yet it’s obvious to the rest of us, including even very many Christians, that they’re just deluded.

This very strongly suggests that you and Craig are deluded about the Gospels being good evidence for the resurrection, does it not?

If the excellent evidence for the resurrection is really there, it’s surprising, is it not, that not only atheists, but theistic followers of other religions, and even many Christians, fail to recognize it. On the other hand, if this supposedly excellent evidence is not really there, it’s not very surprising that many would nevertheless think it was, given the amazing power of religion to get even smart, educated people to believe rather silly things. [END]

David B Marshall said...

Stephen: I meant to say something here, like, "I'll let you have the last word on your own blog, if you don't have time to continue, but continue the conversation on mine, for those who would like to go further." We normally get a few atheists over there, so I was hoping it wouldn't be quite so one-sided, and you could back out gracefully, if need be.

These forums can be great, but of course they're not real work, and I recognize that you have other priorities. That's the difficulty about participating for someone in your position, I'm sure: the open give-and-take is great, but one can't lavish as much time on each response as a proper answer would require, so the busier one is, the more at a disadvantage one becomes.

Another problem I found yesterday, is the hassle of multiple responses. I think I'll consolidate yesterday's responses into one blog, with the necessary links and emphasis for easier reading. Then maybe I'll invite other atheists to critique my critique,if I have time (my new book is out this week) -- a more normal situation for me to be in.

My only word here, for anyone reading this far, is that while I think there are a couple worthwhile points at the core of your argument, it seems to me to be imbedded in several dubious assumptions. You would also do well to carefully reread the McGrews' arguments -- aside from the two devastating articles I mentioned (and will link in the new post) Tim tells me that his initial rebuttal of Plantinga is actually this one:

http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf

Stephen Law said...

Thanks David. Will be turning my full attention to that stuff at some point. But other things I need to get written first...

Luke said...

Dr. Law,

The world's greatest Christian apologist has some questions for you. See here: http://tektonticker.blogspot.ca/2012/09/stephen-law-and-law.html

testinganidea said...

It seems to me that the argument on the tektonticker site can not even get started. I posted the following there.

----------------


Testimony n. oral evidence given under oath by a witness in answer to questions posed by attorneys at trial or at a deposition.

The Peoples Law Dictionary copyright 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill

It would appear the the answer to your first question:
“The New Testament is a collection of human testimony. Do you accept this? Yes or no?”
is clearly no.

Given the usage of the term testimony in a legal context, the rest of your argument and post title suggest this is the correct context, the New Testament fails as testimony.

testinganidea said...

Just an FYI as the tektonticker argument fails prior to this particular question.

----------------------


On the question of:
“What law, court decision or legal precedent accepts the principle, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"?”

HHJ Stephen Davies outlines the current (as of Oct, 2009) state of UK law on the burden of proof by quoting Lord Nicholls (In re H (Minors) [1996] AC 563 at 586):

"The balance of probability standard means that a court is satisfied an event occurred if the court considers that, on the evidence, the occurrence of the event was more likely than not. When assessing the probabilities the court will have in mind as a factor, to whatever extent is appropriate in the particular case, that the more serious the allegation the less likely it is that the event occurred and, hence, the stronger should be the evidence before the court concludes that the allegation is established on the balance of probability. ... [that] the inherent probability or improbability of an event is itself a matter to be taken into account when weighing the probabilities and deciding whether, on balance, the event occurred. The more improbable the event, the stronger must be the evidence that it did occur before, on the balance of probability, its occurrence will be established."

David B Marshall said...

Derek: I would disagree slightly on two (or three) points. First, neither Honi nor Hanina worked miracles anything like those of Jesus, and can barely be called "miracle workers" at all.

Second, Rasputin is maybe a worse parallel to Jesus, except in the limitted context of your argument, and that needs to be made clear. In Jesus and the Religions of Man, I describe five characteristics that distinguish "miracles" from "magic." I don't know if Keener does that (I've only read his second volume, so far): if he doesn't, it's a weakness, since there's so much confusion on the nature of miracle claims, which is also very historically relevant.

But your overall point (not the dig against Dr. Law's general history either, which is not required by your argument) is I think spot-on. We know darn well that miracle claims are often made of people who are historical: I would go further and say they are often made IN PRIVATE by FRIENDS who are honest and credible, and witnessed the work of God personally. If everyone to whom a miracle happened were suddenly ahistorical, that day would be like the rapture: whole villages would be depopulated, and cars would go spinning out of control.

David Span said...

The tektonticker link tries to present some odd arguments.

What is the relevance of the legal maxim "innocent until proven guilty"? This seems both an odd analogy and an odd location of the burden of proof. Who is being put on trial and for what? Given the overwhelming experience that dead men are, well, dead, a more reasonable position is “dead until proven resurrected.”

How does “What first century testimony counters the testimony of the evangelists” make sense? This again seems an odd location of the burden of proof. It begs the question that it is testimony to begin with, as opposed to someone just writing it. What if it isn't enough to have person see a vision of the dead? Then write down that 500 saw it.

Regardless, what if, during the 1980s, someone claimed to have seen Elvis Presley alive? What ‘testimony’ do I need now to counter this? Again, it seems reasonable that the burden be on the claimant.

There are indeed plenty of reports of people experiencing and interacting with loved ones after death – so resurrection must be quite common. Now if only someone then wrote down that the dead person had earlier said he/she was a god/goddess, then the case would be water-tight.

And how is the Ancient Documents Rule relevant? Establishing that a document comes from a long time ago doesn’t seal the truth of its contents. The Book of Mormon is an authentic 19th century document. We even know its actual author. Therefore what it says is true?

When it comes to claims of the truth, that someone wrote something in a book seems a ridiculously weak argument. I mean I can easily write down that 500 people saw something...

David Span said...

Correction to last paragraph: claims of the SUPERNATURAL truth.

Rabbie said...

I have just noticed an interesting anomaly which might be considered a logical problem for the orthodox canon in the words of the resurrected Christ in the Book of Acts. It follows directly after that burning question, "Lord, wilt thou now restore the kingdom to Israel?". In the KJV Jesus replies with "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power".
Acts I, 7.

I looked up the verse in the original Greek, and sure enough, Jesus has used the word "exousia" (power/authority) here, the very same word he used to give the disciples the Great Commission in Matthew 28-18, "All power is given unto ME in heaven and earth".

Except for when someone asks Him an awkward question that is, in which case it still resides with the Father.

One further point - according to Acts, Jesus taught the disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. We might expect an oral tradition to have developed based on these teachings - something analogous to Islamic hadith. No such tradition seems to exist however. Were these teachings kept secret, or did no one think it worthwhile to transmit them?

Will Prez said...

The fantastic story! I appreciate it very much. Thanks

Will Prez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

So to summarize your key argument:

A: Many "miraculous", seemingly inexplicable events happen regularly
B: Most of such seemingly inexplicable events have naturalistic explanations
C: Resurrection of Christ is one such "miraculous" event
D: Hence there is little evidence/low probability that Resurrection of Christ was a miracle
E: Hence, Resurrection of Christ is most likely not a miracle.
(F: Since we have to take a side, Resurrection of Christ is NOT a miracle (strong case))

Now, notice that I can replace "Resurrection of Christ" with any other "miraculous" event X. Argument flows through, we conclude X is false (aka has naturalistic causes).

Now, assume X is truly miraculous (axiom A). We have to allow that X exists for the sake of argument. Your argument still flows through, we conclude with E: X is most likely false, or F in the strong case, X is false. We get a contradiction with axiom A.

Hence, your argument fails as it gives false/no miracle no matter the input. What is wrong?

1. First, proposition B is problematic. It contains an initial bias against the existence of God and hence these events must have naturalistic causes - else why would "inexplicable" events need to have a naturalistic explanation? In which case your argument is circular as it already assumes no resurrection.

2. Now, granting that B is true. C is problematic. The argument presupposes that we do not know anything else about X (the resurrection of Christ) beyond that it seems inexplicable like all other reports. E is only true if C is the only thing we know about X. We do actually know more about X (resurrection of Christ), and this should lead to Bayesian updating of our value judgment of X. This is like taking a bean out of a bag of what we think is mostly red beans and proclaiming that the bean must be red without actually trying to observe the bean.

I don't think this argument is crucial to you really - I suppose you have other good arguments. I suppose this is just a not-so-well-thought-through blogpost.