bookmark_borderLink: Matthew Ferguson on “Understanding the Spirit vs. the Letter of Probability”

A while back, I wrote a brief commentary on William Lane Craig’s critique of Bart Ehrman on the probability of miracles. Matthew Ferguson recently weighed in. He agrees with my conclusions, but greatly amplified them by writing an entire essay expounding on supporting points. I highly recommend his essay to anyone interested in the topic of the probability of miracles in general and the probability of Jesus’ alleged resurrection in particular.

bookmark_borderRepost: Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence (ECREE), Part 2: Is ECREE False? A Reply to William Lane Craig

(This article was originally published on this blog on June 21, 2012. I am reposting because William Lane Craig recently tweeted a link to a video in which he objects to ECREE.)
In my last post, I offered a Bayesian interpretation of the principle, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (ECREE). William Lane Craig, however, disagrees with ECREE. In a response to philosopher Stephen Law, Craig wrote this.

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.3 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.
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[3] See the very nice account by S. L. Zabell, “The Probabilistic Analysis of Testimony,” Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference 20 (1988): 327-54.

I agree with Craig that it would be incorrect to “just weigh the improbability of the event against the reliability of the testimony.” I also agree with Craig that “the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred … can easily offset any improbability of the event itself.” I disagree with Craig, however, regarding his interpretation that ECREE requires that we ignore that probability. This can be seen using Bayes’s Theorem (BT).
Let B represent our background information; E represent our evidence to be explained; H be an explanatory hypothesis, and ~H be the falsity of H. Here is one form of BT:
BT
As I argued in my last post, an “extraordinary claim” is an explanatory hypothesis which is extremely improbable, conditional upon background information alone, i.e., Pr(H | B) <<<  0.5. And “extraordinary evidence” can be interpreted as the requirement that a hypothesis’s explanatory power is proportionally high enough to offset its prior improbability (the “extraordinary claim”). Here I offer an even more precise definition.
It follows from BT that H will have a high epistemic probability on the evidence B and E:
BT2just in case it has a greater overall balance of prior probability and explanatory power than its denial:
BT3Thus, we can somewhat abstractly define “extraordinary evidence” as evidence that makes the following inequality true:
BT4With that inequality in mind, let’s return to Craig’s objection to ECREE. Here again is the relevant portion of his objection:

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.

It seems, then, that Craig’s objection to ECREE is based upon an interpretation of ECREE which requires that we only consider the “extraordinary claim,” i.e., Pr(H | B). If that interpretation is correct, then I will join Craig in rejecting ECREE. But is it correct?
In mathematical notation, “the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred” is Pr(E | B & ~H). But now consider again the inequality used to define extraordinary evidence.
BT4
The expression, Pr(E | B & ~H), is literally right there, in the numerator on the right-hand side. It appears, then, that Craig’s objection is based upon a misinterpretation of ECREE. For the same reason, Craig’s reason that ECREE would cause us “to be sceptical of many commonly accepted claims” is therefore misplaced.
I could be wrong, but I suspect there are two factors which contributed to this misinterpretation. First, many skeptics have used ECREE in connection with (or as support for) Hume’s argument against miracles. While I’m inclined to agree with John Earman that Hume’s argument is highly overrated–i.e., it may be the case that BT does not provide Hume with the support many skeptics think it provides–this is not of obvious relevance to ECREE. ECREE, like BT, is not dependent on Hume.
The other factor which may have contributed to the misinterpretation is the definition of “extraordinary claim;” Craig may disagree with the criteria skeptics have used to determine whether a claim is extraordinary. I think it is helpful to use probabilistic notation to clarify the issue. Again, I proposed that an “extraordinary claim” is an explanatory hypothesis which is extremely improbable, conditional upon background information alone, i.e., Pr(H | B) <<<  0.5. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that definition is wrong. Instead, define an “extraordinary claim” as any explanatory hypothesis H which has a prior probability below some number x, i..e., Pr(H | B) < x, where x can be any real number between 0 and 1. Here’s the point. X can be any real number between 0 and 1. It doesn’t matter which value one chooses, since BT can accommodate all probability values. In terms of calculating the final probability of H, Pr(H | E & B), we use the same formula–BT–regardless of whether H is an extraordinary claim. From a mathematical perspective, it makes no difference whatsoever whether we label a claim “extraordinary” or “ordinary.” We can use BT to assess the epistemic probabilities of both types of claims.

bookmark_borderWilliam Craig’s Response to My Objections on the Resurrection

I just found out (purely by accident) that William Craig has read one or more of my posts criticizing his case for the Resurrection and responded to some of my objections:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus
So, now I need to take a look at his responses, and see whether they are clear, relevant, accurate, etc.
Here are the blog posts of mine that Craig addresses:
https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2014/05/23/the-failure-of-william-craigs-case-for-the-resurrection/
https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2014/06/01/an-open-letter-to-dr-william-lane-craig/
Please let me know if you agree with some of Craig’s responses (and explain why you agree),  and if you disagree with some of Craig’s responses (and explain why you disagree).
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Part 7

It is one thing to make a solid case for the claim “Jesus rose from the dead.” (JRD), and another thing entirely to make a solid case for the claim “God raised Jesus from the dead.” (GRJ).  Showing that (JRD) is true, would not, by itself, show that (GRJ) is true.  The resurrection could have been produced by natural causes, and if there really are supernatural beings (like God), then there might well be MANY (even millions or billions) of supernatural beings (angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, gods, etc) who have the power to raise humans from the dead.
But only if a strong case can be made for (GRJ) can the resurrection be used as an argument for various theological claims about Jesus, such as the claim “Jesus is the divine Son of God.” (JSG).  If one cannot show (GRJ) to be true (or probably true), then the resurrection has no theological significance and cannot be used as an argument for (JSG).
In order to show that (GRJ) is true (or probably true), it is essential to show that God had particular motivations and purposes which would be advanced by raising Jesus from the dead.  But that means that one must be able to determine some of God’s motivations and purposes PRIOR to making the case for  (GRJ).
How can we determine what God’s motivations and purposes are concerning human beings?  This is the difficult, and perhaps insurmountable, obstacle that any Christian apologist must face in order to make a serious attempt at building a solid case for (GRJ), in order to use the resurrection as an argument for (JSG).
Because God is an invisible spirit, we cannot simply observe God’s activities and behavior in the way that we observe the activities and behavior of human beings.  So, we cannot determine God’s motivations and purposes by empirical observations of God’s activities and behavior, like we can with ordinary people.  Thus our ordinary ways of determining the motivations and purposes of a person do not apply to God, at least not in any simple and direct way.
One obvious answer to the question about determining the motivations and purposes of God is to turn to the Bible for “information” about God.  But this will not work for the purposes of Christian apologetic arguments, because it would BEG THE QUESTION to assume that the Bible was inspired by God and then use Biblical “data” about God’s activities and messages to arrive at conclusions about the motivations and purposes of God towards humans.  Atheists and skeptics doubt that there is any God at all, and even if it could be shown that the existence of God was probable, this would not give us any specific information about the motivations and purposes of God towards humans (other than the very general idea that God is perfectly morally good).
Atheists and skeptics have even more doubts and objections to the idea that the Bible was inspired by God, so a Christian apologist who simply assumes that the Bible is inspired, is assuming that atheists and skeptics are wrong about the Bible and that Christians are right about the Bible, and this assumption is an unfair one to make, at least until after the claim that the Bible is inspired has been shown to be true.
In Classical Christian apologetics, seen clearly in the thinking of Thomas Aquinas, the case for Christianity is made in two phases.  First, the apologist argues for the existence of God.  Second, the apologist shows that the Bible (as opposed to the Quran or the Vedas or the Book of Mormon, etc.) was inspired by God, and this is done by showing that various miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus) confirm the inspiration of the Bible.
If one is going to use miracles to show that the Bible was inspired by God, then one cannot use the Bible (prior to showing it to be inspired) as a reliable source of information about the activities and messages of God, in order to establish that God performed certain miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus).  If the proof of the inspiration of the Bible is primarily from alleged miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus), then it would BEG THE QUESTION to assume the inspiration of the Bible in order to establish that God had performed certain miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus).
So, we must set aside the Bible as a source of information about God that would allow us to determine the motivations and purposes of God concerning humankind.  At least, Christian apologists cannot make use of the Bible for that purpose at this point in the game, when they have not yet shown that (GRJ) is true (or probably true).  The Bible can, of course, be treated as a potential source of historical information about Jesus, but not as a divinely inspired document.
Michael Martin, in The Case Against Christianity (hereafter: CAC) mentions another possible way of getting at the motivations and purposes of God:
“What sort of evidence would make it probable that God, rather than some other supernatural being, was the cause of the Resurrection? It has been argued that at the very least one would have to show that the Resurrection fitted into a larger pattern of events that revealed God’s purposes. This pattern would perhaps give us reason to suppose that God was the cause of the Resurrection. But what sort of pattern would this be? Presumably it would involve other miraculous events that God brought about. If one had evidence of Miracle1, Miracle2, Miracle3, and so on, and evidence of the Resurrection, one might then be able to discern a pattern and infer from it a divine purpose that would indicate that God was behind the Resurrection.” (CAC, p.98)
One problem with this approach is that the evidence for other miracles related to the Bible and Christianity are even more dubious than the resurrection of Jesus:

However, the implication of this is damaging to Christianity. The historical reliability of reports of the other miraculous events reported in the Scriptures is no better and is often worse than the evidence for the Resurrection…There is then a serious obstacle in concluding that God was the cause of the Resurrection even if one could establish that Jesus was restored to life and that this was a miracle.” (CAC, p.98)

A second problem with this approach to determining the motivations and purposes of God is that it generates an infinite regress.  If in order to establish that God performed Miracle1, we have to first establish that God performed Miracle2, Miracle3, and Miracle4, so that we can determine the purposes and motivations of God concerning humans, then we run into the very same problem in trying to establish the prior miracles (Miracle2, Miracle3, and Miracle4).  Suppose that  Miracle1 is the resurrection of Jesus, and that Miracle2 is Jesus walking on water, and that Miracle3 is Jesus turning water into wine, and that Miracle4 is Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes.  We are using Miracle2 as part of the basis for determining the purposes and motivations of God concerning humans.

But in order to establish that Miracle2 was performed by God, we must FIRST determine the purposes and motivations of God; otherwise we will not be able to show that the event “Jesus walked on water” was something that God caused.   In order to show that God was involved in the event “Jesus walked on water” we need to show that such an event fits well with the known purposes and motivations of God.  But if our method for determining the purposes and motivations of God is to examine a set of miracles in order to figure out a meaningful pattern or significant similarities between these events, then we are going to need another set of miracles to examine PRIOR to determining whether Miracle2 was in fact a miracle performed by God.  We will need another set of miracles, say: Miracle5, Miracle6, and Miracle7, in order to establish God’s motivations and purposes, so that Miracle2 can be shown to be a miracle performed by God.

But the same problem arises for Miracle5, Miracle6, and Miracle7, and so we end up with an infinite regress of the need for more and more sets of miracles, never arriving at solid bedrock that will establish the purposes and motivations of God concerning human beings.

Another possible route to determining the purposes and motivations of God is that of examining Nature.  According to Aquinas and Natural Law theory, God built moral principles into nature, so that moral values and principles can be discovered by empirical observation of natural phenomena.  One argument for the immorality of homosexual sex is that birds and other animals do not engage in homosexual sex.  There are at least two problems with this argument.  First, it turns out that birds and other animals do engage in homosexual sex, at least some do.  Second, the same sort of argument can be made for the immorality of the use of any and all technology:  

If God had wanted humans to fly, God would have given humans wings.  

Clearly, humans do not have wings, so clearly God did not intend for humans to fly.  But then since flying is not part of God’s natural plan and design for humans, it must be immoral for humans to fly in airplanes.

Any and every technological advancement of the human species involves going beyond what was original or natural for human beings.  The domestication of plants and animals, for example, is ARTIFICIAL not natural.  These practices were invented and developed by human beings over many centuries.  Human beings did not always raise animals and grow plants for food and for other purposes.  So, if we look to nature as our guide to determining the motivations and purposes of God, then we must oppose farming and ranching; we must oppose any and every technological advance from the beginning of the human species.*

But that is absurd, and virtually nobody (other than perhaps a handful of lunatics) is willing to abandon all human-developed technology, not even the most devout Christian believers.  No Christian apologists are advocating that we abandon all human-developed technology, so no Christian apologist is actually willing to use NATURE as our guide to determining the motivations and purposes of God.

So, we cannot simply observe God’s activities and behavior (God is an invisible spirit) to determine God’s purposes and motivations.  We cannot use the Bible to determine God’s purposes and motivations (that would Beg the Question).  We cannot use other miracles (besides the resurrection) to determine God’s purposes and motivations (other miracles are more dubious, and we get into an infinite regress), and we cannot simply observe nature to determine God’s purposes and motivations concerning human beings (the implications of “natural law” are contrary to Christian values, and to our shared firm moral convictions, and it is human “nature” to be artificial and to transcend nature).

 It seems to me that there is no reasonable or plausible way for Christian apologists to provide solid evidence about the motivations and purposes of God concerning human beings.  If I am correct about this, then there is no way for Christian apologists to show that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” (GRJ) in order to use this as an argument for the claim that “Jesus is the divine Son of God.” (JSG).

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*Looking over the history of humankind, one might well draw the following conclusion:

What is natural for human beings is technology and artifice.

This is actually an idea that is basic to Christian theology.  Humans were created in the image of God, and an important aspect of God that is supposedly reflected in human nature is CREATIVITY.  God is a designer and a creator, and human beings were made to be like God in that respect, to be designers and creators, to make things and to invent things and make up new ideas and new activities.  Technology and artifice are thus what is NATURAL for human beings.

But if creativity, technology, and artifice are fundamental aspects of human nature, and aspects of human nature that were intentionally created by God, then we can reasonably infer the opposite of the traditional anti-technological view.  We can replace the old saying:

If God had wanted humans to fly, God would have given humans wings. 

with an opposing saying:

If God had wanted humans to stay on the ground, God would not have made humans naturally creative, naturally inclined towards technology and artifice.

And we could conclude that it is immoral to refuse to fly in airplanes, and that it is immoral to try to prevent homosexual sex from occurring.  (Is that the sound of Evangelical Christian heads exploding?)

In any case, since it appears that technology and artifice are NATURAL for human beings, this makes it rather difficult to simply “read off” true moral values and principles from observations of nature, because a basic divine purpose of human beings, it would seem, is to transcend nature through technology and artifice.

bookmark_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Part 1

In thinking about the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, one needs to either determine an answer to this very basic question:
Q1: Does God exist?
Or else one needs to determine some sort of approach to how this question is to be dealt with in relation to the two key questions about the resurrection:
Q2: Did Jesus rise from the dead?
and
Q3: Did God raise Jesus from the dead?
If one determines that there is no God, then the answer to (Q3) is obviously: NO.  Also, if one determines that the answer to (Q3) is NO, then the answer to (Q2) becomes much less interesting or significant.  If God did not raise Jesus from the dead, then who cares whether or how Jesus rose from the dead?  (Q2) would become just a quaint question of interest to perhaps a small handful of ancient historians.
Obviously skeptics cannot simply assume that there is no God when arguing with Christian believers.  That would beg the question against the Christian point of view.  But one skeptical strategy would be to dig in, and argue for atheism, in an effort to answer both (Q1) and (Q3), thus showing (Q2) to be an insignificant and unimportant question.
One could also take the opposite approach, and concede the existence of God from the start, for the sake of argument, and then proceed to argue that these two key Christian claims are probably false:
JRD:  Jesus rose from the dead.
GRJ: God raised Jesus from the dead.
Swinburne suggests a third alternative which is a sort of compromise between the previous two approaches.  He begins his case for the resurrection of Jesus on the assumption that  “given that general background evidence makes it as likely as not that there is a God…” (The Resurrection of God Incarnate; hereafter: ROGI, p.5).
GE: God exists.
B: [general background evidence]
Swinburne’s assumption for his case for the resurrection of Jesus is thus:
P(GE | B) = .5
A skeptic could take a similar approach but make a somewhat less generous assumption (which could be argued for separately, as Swinburne did):
P(GE | B) = .2
or
P(GE | B) = .1
Ideally, I think skeptics should combine two (or more) of these approaches.  If a case can be made against the resurrection while simply conceding, for the sake of argument, that God exists, then that should be done.  If such a case can be made (and I believe it can), then a skeptic could also begin with Swinburne’s assumption, to show that the resurrection of Jesus is unlikely even if we assume that there is a 50/50 chance that God existsStarting out with these generous assumptions and yet showing that the resurrection of Jesus is still improbable is a powerful way to argue against the resurrection and against the truth of the Christian religion.
Although (Q3) cannot be tackled without making some sort of assumption about the existence of God, (Q2) can be considered apart from making such an assumption.  The claim (JRD) can be considered in terms of two relatively straightforward historical and non-theological claims:
(DOC)  Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around (unassisted) on Sunday, only about 48 hours after he was crucified.
If these historical claims about Jesus can be established on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis, then (JRD) can be established on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis.  Furthermore, if one or both of these historical claims can be shown to be false or questionable on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis, then (JRD) can be shown to be false or questionable on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis.
If an estimated probability can be assigned to (DOC) and to (JAW), then we can use those estimated probabilities to determine a probability for (JRD).  Suppose we accomplish this task and have arrived at a probability for (JRD).  The next step in evaluating the Christian doctrine of the resurrection would be to use the probability assigned to (JRD) to determine the probability of the main Christian claim (GRJ).
But even if it could be shown that (JRD) was very probable, it would not follow that (GRJ) was probable.  One reason why this would not follow is that (GRJ), unlike (JRD), presupposes that God exists.  Thus, one must now make some kind of assumption about the probability of the existence of God before one can evaluate (GRJ), even if one is convinced that (JRD) is probably true.  If one determines that there is no God, no significant chance that there is a God, then (JRD) would just become an odd and quirky bit of historical trivia.
Let’s take the hard road here, and simply grant the assumption, for the sake of argument, that God exists.  I believe there are still very serious problems with the case for (GRJ), and good reasons to believe (GRJ) is false, even if we assume (GE) and (JRD) to be true.
There is one simple and straightforward way of attempting to prove (GRJ) on the basis of (JRD):
1. Only God has the power to raise the dead.
Thus:
2. Anyone who rises from the dead, must have been raised from the dead by God.
 3. Jesus rose from the dead. (JRD)
Therefore:
4. God raised Jesus from the dead. (GRJ)
Premise (1) is very questionable.  Clearly, God has the power to raise the dead, assuming that there is no logical contradiction in the idea of the resurrection of a dead person, because God is omnipotent by definition.  To say that ‘God exists’ is to imply that an ‘omnipotent person exists’.  But how could we possibly know that God was the ONLY person (or force) that could cause someone to rise from the dead?  What about angels? Or demons? What about lesser gods or deities?  What about wizards? What about magic elixirs?
How would we come to know that, for example, an angel cannot bring a human back to life from the dead? We cannot talk with angels or observe the actions of angels.  We cannot ask angels to perform a resurrection, or entice an angel with money or gifts to attempt to perform a resurrection.  Isn’t the trumpeting of Michael the Archangel supposed to herald the second coming of Jesus (1 Thess. 4:16)?  If so, perhaps it is Michael who will bring the dead back to life.  In any case, I see no way to objectively determine that God was the ONLY person or being who has the power to raise the dead.  Assuming there is a God, there might well be other supernatural kinds of persons and beings.
One might try to prove that God is the ONLY supernatural being, and that there are no other supernatural persons, that there are no such beings as angels or demons.  But in that case, the theological teachings of Jesus would be filled with falsehoods, because Jesus frequently talked about angels and demons as real beings who are actively involved in the events of this world.  If there are no angels and no demons, then Jesus was a false prophet whose teachings were NOT from God, and it would be unlikely that God would raise a false prophet from the dead.
Finally, since God is omnipotent, God can give virtually any power to any person to whom God wishes to give it.  If God wants to give Moses the power to raise the dead, then God can do so.  If God wants to give Jesus the power to raise the dead, then God can do so.  We don’t know whether God has in fact given such power to other persons or creatures, but he can do so easily and instantly if he so chooses.  Therefore, there is no solid and objective reason or evidence that shows premise (1) to be true, and the above argument thus fails to establish (GRJ) on the basis of (JRD).

bookmark_borderJesus on Faith – Part 5

Stig Martinsen made a plausible objection to my argument for the idea that Jesus viewed giving EVIDENCE and ARGUMENTS as compatible with promoting FAITH:

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I have seen the story of doubting Thomas in John 20 interpreted as an example of Jesus endorsing faith as opposed to belief grounded in evidence. I.e. 20:29:

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.

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I have three counter points to make in response to the reference to John 20:29:

  • The Role of Signs in the Gospel of John in General
  • The Role of Evidence in the Faith of the Disciples in John 20
  • An Alternative Interpretation of John 20:29

In Part 4 of this series, I covered the first point about the role of signs in the Gospel of John.  Basically, the stated purpose of this gospel is to promote faith in Jesus on the basis of the evidence of miracle reports, and this stated purpose is clearly carried out in terms of seven “signs” or miracles of Jesus described in Chapters 2 through 11, and in the fact that these miracles are performed with the expectation of evoking faith (in Jesus) in the people who witness the miracles, and in the fact that the miracles are repeatedly asserted to have produced such faith, at least in some of the people who witnessed them.  Thus, a central theme of the Gospel of John is the production of faith by means of EVIDENCE.  This is an important part of the context of John 20:29, which needs to be taken into account when interpreting that verse.
It is now time to consider my second point.  Since the verse in question is part of Chapter 20, it is especially important to understand this verse in relation to what is going on in that Chapter.  We can summarize this chapter this way:
Jesus presents EVIDENCE of his resurrection from the dead to Mary Magdalene, to his disciples (minus Thomas), and then to his disciples again, and to Thomas.  
If Jesus understood faith to imply belief that is based on NO EVIDENCE or to imply belief that is CONTRARY to the EVIDENCE, then Jesus would have been making it difficult or impossible for Mary, his disciples, and Thomas to have faith by giving them clear evidence of his resurrection from the dead.  Jesus has no such conception of faith.  Rather, Jesus is presented as providing EVIDENCE of his resurrection for the very purpose of bringing his disciples to have faith in him, to get them to firmly believe that Jesus was the divine Son of God.
Furthermore, the resurrection fits in with the general theme of SIGNS (miracles) being the basis for BELIEF (faith).  The resurrection of Jesus is the Grand Finale of the series of miracles reported in the Gospel of John.  Jesus himself implies that his resurrection was a “sign”:
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;
16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then said to Him, “What SIGN do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will RAISE it up.”
20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of HIS BODY.
22 So when He was RAISED FROM THE DEAD, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they BELIEVED the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
John 2:13-22 New American Standard Bible (NASB, EMPHASIS added)
As with the previous seven “signs”, Jesus offers EVIDENCE of his resurrection in hopes of persuading witnesses to BELIEVE in him, to have FAITH in him, to be convinced that Jesus is the divine Son of God:

  • Jesus leaves his tomb open and leaves his burial wrappings in the tomb where Peter and the beloved disciple find the burial wrappings (20:1-10)
  • Jesus appears to and speaks to Mary Magdalene thus showing her that he has risen from the dead (20:11-18)
  • Mary tells the gathered disciples “I have seen the Lord” (20:11-18)
  • Jesus appears to and speaks to his gathered disciples (minus Thomas) and SHOWS them his hands and his side (20:19-21)
  • The disciples who were present when Jesus dropped by on Easter tell Thomas “We have seen the Lord” (20:24-25)
  • Thomas is not convinced by their testimony and demands first-hand EVIDENCE that Jesus is risen (20:24-25)
  • Jesus appears again to the gathered disciples with Thomas present, and immediately offers Thomas the EVIDENCE that he had required:

26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
27 Then He *said to Thomas, “REACH HERE with your finger, and SEE My hands; and REACH HERE your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but BELIEVING.”
28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20:26-28 New American Standard Bible (NASB, EMPHASIS added)
So, just as with the other seven “signs” (miracles), Jesus is providing EVIDENCE with the purpose of getting some people to “believe in him” (to have faith), to believe that he is the Son of God.  Chapter 20 is all about the greatest “sign” that Jesus had to offer, his biggest and most impressive EVIDENCE for his being the savior of mankind, the Son of God.
It does seem a bit obstinate for Thomas to doubt Jesus at this point.  Thomas has presumably already witnessed many amazing miracles performed by Jesus, including some of the seven miracles from the story of Jesus ministry, including the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.  So, the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the testimony of his fellow disciples ought to have been sufficient evidence in this context (in the story as told by the author of the Gospel of John).  Yet Jesus does not hesitate to provide the conclusive first-hand evidence that Thomas has asked for, and Jesus (or at least the author of this Gospel) sees this as the reason why Thomas comes to BELIEVE in Jesus, to have FAITH in Jesus.  There is no opposition here between EVIDENCE and FAITH.  Rather, EVIDENCE is viewed as the appropriate basis for FAITH.
The FAITH of all the disciples of Jesus, their belief in Jesus, rests upon the EVIDENCE of miracles that they have seen, according to the Gospel of John.  Thomas is not the only disciple that required EVIDENCE for his BELIEF;  he was just a bit more skeptical than the other disciples, according to the Gospel of John, especially Chapter 20 of this Gospel.  So, not only is it a key theme of the Gospel of John that miracles are performed to evoke faith, but this very theme is repeated throughout Chapter 20, which is the context for the verse put forward by Stig Martinsen.  Both the context of the Gospel as a whole, and the context of Chapter 20 in particular are focused on the theme of miracles providing EVIDENCE in support of FAITH.
To be continued…
 
 

bookmark_borderJesus on Faith – Part 4

Stig Martinsen made a plausible objection to my argument for the idea that Jesus viewed giving EVIDENCE and ARGUMENTS as compatible with promoting FAITH:
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I have seen the story of doubting Thomas in John 20 interpreted as an example of Jesus endorsing faith as opposed to belief grounded in evidence. I.e. 20:29:
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.
Though other interpretations are possible, this is related to the distinction McCormick is making. Though Jesus here isn’t even content to add faith on top of the evidence; he elevates faith above belief grounded in evidence, and denigrates Thomas for seeking more evidence. I wonder what W.K. Clifford thought of this passage! (Of course John is very likely a later and more theologically elaborated gospel than the synoptics, but modern believers are no less likely to quote from it for all that).
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I have three concessions to make to Stig Martinsen, and then three points in reply to his objection.
First, I admit that the Gospel of John is near and dear to many Christian believers, especially to Evangelical Christians. So, John Chapter 20 is at least as important to sincere Christian believers as is Luke Chapter 24.
Second, since I do not believe the N.T. to be the inspired Word of God, I do NOT assume that there is just one single conception of “faith” that is consistently held and promoted by the various authors of the N.T. So, the Gospel of John might well present a different conception of “faith” than what we find in the Synoptic Gospels. This is probably in fact the case, since (a) the word “faith” is found in a number of the sayings and comments of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, but NEVER occurs in the Gospel of John, except in the NIV translation of John 12:42, where the narrator (not Jesus) uses the word, and (b) In The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, the article on “Faith” is divided into two parts:        1. Faith in the Synoptic Gospels and 2. Faith in the Gospel of John.
Third, some Christians do interpret John 20:29 as portraying Jesus as scolding or chiding Thomas for demanding extra evidence of Jesus’ resurrection and that Jesus is praising others who will believe in the resurrection without such evidence.  This includes the great N.T. scholar, and expert on the Gospel of John, Raymond Brown.
In my view Jesus did not appear to his disciples on Easter Sunday, not even in visions or dreams or hallucinations. The stories of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples in Luke 24 and in John 20 are fiction, and thus neither passage provides factual data about the historical Jesus, assuming that there was such a person. However, what is most important here is NOT what the historical Jesus believed and taught, but the influence of the representations of Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospels on shaping Christian thinking about “faith”.
I have three counter points to make in response to the reference to John 20:29:

  • The Role of Signs in the Gospel of John in General
  • The Role of Evidence in the Faith of the Disciples in John 20
  • An Alternative Interpretation of John 20:29

1. The Role of Signs in the Gospel of John in General
John 20:29 needs to be understood and interpreted in relation to the context of this verse.  The basic context is the whole Gospel of John, and, interestingly enough, the purpose of this Gospel is stated immediately after John 20:29, in verses 30 and 31 at the very end of Chapter 20 (New American Standard Bible, EMPHASIS added):
30 Many other SIGNS therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.
31  but THESE have been written THAT you may BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that BELIEVING you may have life in His name.
As mentioned above, the word “faith” never occurs in the Gospel of John, at least not on the lips of Jesus.  Instead, the central word is “believe”.  The purpose of the Gospel of John is to promote the belief that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”.  In other words, the purpose of this Gospel is to promote FAITH in Jesus.
How does the Gospel of John attempt to bring about this FAITH?  What is the method or strategy used?  Verse 31 tells us that “these have been written that you may believe…”  To what does the pronoun “these” refer?  It clearly refers back to the “signs…Jesus…performed in the presence of the disciples” in verse 30.
What is a “sign”?  The word “sign” like the word “believe” is a key word in this Gospel, and a key theme of this Gospel is the description and presentation of “signs” Jesus performed.  Nearly all of the “signs” described in the Gospel of John are MIRACLES.  Thus the word “signs” appears to be a shortened form of the O.T. expression used of the miracles of Moses:  “signs and wonders” (compare John 4:47-49 with Deuteronomy 4:33-35, 6:21-23, 26:7-9, 29:2-4, and 34:10-12).
There are seven key miracles described in this Gospel in Chapters 2 through 11, which cover Jesus’ ministry.  These miracles are called “signs” by Jesus, by other Jews, and by the author (or narrator) of the Gospel of John:
1.  Turning Water into Wine (2:1-11)
2.  A Nobleman’s Son Healed (4:46-54)
3.  Healing at Bethesda (5:1-20)
4.  Five Thousand Fed (6:1-14)
5.  Jesus Walks on Water (6:16-21)
6. The Blind Man Healed (9:1-17)
7. Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead (11:38-48)
So, let’s summarize the purpose of the Gospel of John, in accordance with the stated purpose in verses 30 and 31 at the end of Chapter 20:
To persuade and encourage readers to have FAITH in Jesus (i.e. to “believe” that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God) by describing and presenting reports of MIRACLES (i.e. “signs”) performed by Jesus in the presence of his disciples.
In other words, the Gospel of John is basically a very early attempt at Christian Apologetics!  It is an attempt to present EVIDENCE in order to create  or encourage FAITH in Jesus.  Thus, the very purpose and strategy of the author of the Gospel of John runs contrary to the definition of “faith” suggested by Russell (firm belief for which one has no evidence) and contrary to the definition suggested by Grayling (belief that is in the face of contrary evidence).
This understanding of the purpose and strategy of the Gospel of John is supported by the way that “signs” (i.e. miracles) performed by Jesus are repeatedly presented as evoking “belief” (i.e. faith in Jesus).  After the story of Jesus turning water into wine, the author/narrator says (EMPHASIS added):
11 This beginning of His SIGNS Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and MANIFESTED His glory, and His disciples BELIEVED in Him.  (John 2:11,  NASB)
The story of the second great miracle by Jesus reported in the Gospel of John ends this way (EMPHASIS added):
53  SO THE FATHER KNEW that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself BELIEVED and his whole household.
54 This is again a second SIGN that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.(John 4:53 & 54, NASB)

Jesus comments on his third miracle (the healing at Bethesda), again indicating a connection between the miracles and belief (EMPHASIS added):
20: For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and GREATER WORKS than these will He show Him, THAT YOU MAY MARVEL. (John 5:20, NASB)
A few verses later, Jesus makes another similar comment (EMPHASIS added):
36 But the TESTIMONY which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the WORKS which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very WORKS that I do—TESTIFY ABOUT ME, that the Father has sent Me.  (John 5:36, NASB)
The story of Jesus feeding five thousand people with a few loaves of bread ends with this comment (EMPHASIS added):
14 Therefore WHEN the people SAW the SIGN which He had performed, they said, “THIS IS TRULY THE PROPHET who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14, NASB)
While the word “belief” is not used here, we are given the expression of belief (or faith) by some of the people who (allegedly) witnessed this miracle.
Later, Jesus is speaking to some of the people who witnessed this miracle and he urges them to believe in him (EMPHASIS added):
26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw SIGNS, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”
28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”
29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you BELIEVE in Him whom He has sent.”
30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a SIGN, so that we may see, and BELIEVE You? What work do You perform?  (John 6:26-30, NASB)
There is no miracle reported in Chapter 7, but we do find another mention of the connection between “signs” (miracles) and “belief” (faith):
31 But many of the crowd BELIEVED in Him; and they were saying, “When the Christ comes, He will not perform more SIGNS than those which this man has, will He?”   (John 7:31, NASB, EMPHASIS added)
In the story of the man who was blind from birth who was healed by Jesus, we are again reminded of the connection between miracles and faith in Jesus:
15 Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such SIGNS?” And there was a DIVISION among them.
17 So they *said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “HE IS A PROPHET.” (John 9:15-17, NASB)
The Pharisees say that Jesus is “not from God” but others, including the healed man, conclude that Jesus is from God, based on the “signs” or miracles Jesus has performed.  The Pharisees later interrogate the healed man a second time, and he re-states the reasoning about why he and others believe that Jesus was from God:
30 The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.
31 We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.
32 Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.
33 If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (John 9:30-33, NASB)
This man is “put out” of the synagogue because of his faith or belief in Jesus, which is clearly based on an alleged miracle.  Jesus hears about the man being kicked out, and returns to clinch the deal (EMPHASIS Added):
35 Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you BELIEVE in the Son of Man?”
36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may BELIEVE in Him?”
37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.”
38 And he said, “Lord, I BELIEVE.” And he worshiped Him. (John 9:35-38, NASB)
So, yet again, the author of the Gospel of John points out a connection between “signs” (miracles) in verse 9:16, and the result that people “believe in” (have faith in) Jesus in verses 9:16-17 and 9:35-38.
The final great miracle of Jesus’ ministry that is reported in the Gospel of John is the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  It is this miracle, according to the Gospel of John, that leads to the decision of Jewish leaders to have Jesus killed. In the midst of performing this miracle, Jesus himself points to the connection between miracles and faith in Jesus (EMPHASIS added):
41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.
42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, SO THAT they may BELIEVE that You sent Me.”
43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:41-43, NASB)
This connection between miracles (“signs”) and faith in Jesus (“believe in Him”) is reinforced by the discussion of the Jewish leaders in making the decision to seek to have Jesus killed (EMPHASIS added):
45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and SAW what He had done, BELIEVED in Him.
46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many SIGNS.
48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will BELIEVE IN HIM, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:45-48, NASB)
Thus, not only is it the explicitly stated purpose of the Gospel of John to present reports of Jesus’ miracles in order to promote FAITH (belief) in Jesus, but the power of Jesus’ miracles to persuade people to have FAITH in Jesus, to believe in Jesus, to believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, is emphasized over and over again in Chapters 2 through 11, which cover the ministry of Jesus.
In short, the context of Chapter 20 verse 29 is that the bulk of the Gospel of John is basically a presentation of EVIDENCE for the divinity of Jesus, EVIDENCE in the form or miracle reports that are intended and expected to persuade people to believe in Jesus, to have FAITH in Jesus.  Therefore, the idea that there is something wrong or shameful  about asking for EVIDENCE in order to believe in Jesus or have FAITH in Jesus runs contrary to the basic purpose and strategy of the whole Gospel of John, and to the repeated theme emphasizing that the miracles of Jesus were intended to evoke faith, and often succeeded in doing so.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderGod and Massive Deception about the Resurrection – Part2

The key question at issue is whether (S2) is true or false:
(S2) But God would neither perpetrate nor permit grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection.
I have raised two objections against one reason that Cavin and Colombetti give for their conclusion that “(S2) is patently false”. One reason they gave was a passage from the gospel of Mark which they think shows that the author of Mark, and probably Jesus too, had a concept of God which was such that God could (and would) permit a “grand deception” in which many people would be led to believe in or follow false prophets or false messiahs on the basis of “signs and wonders” performed by those prophets/messiahs.
My first objection was simply that the author of Mark may have made a philosophical error in failing to realize that God, who is by definition a perfectly morally good person, could not possibly permit such a “grand deception”.
My second objection was that we should interpret this passage, which is allegedly a quotation from Jesus, in terms of O.T. teachings about false prophets and how to determine whether an alleged prophet is a true prophet or a false prophet.
By placing the passage from Mark in that context, we see that the passage can be reasonably interpreted as being compatible with (S2), because it appears that God could be morally justified in permitting many people to be “deceived” by false prophets or false messiahs who perform “signs and wonders” so long as those people are morally culpable for their own deception in view of their ignoring O.T. teachings (presumably guidance from God) about how to determine whether a prophet was a true prophet or a false prophet.
I suggested that from the point of view of the author of Mark, and probably also Jesus, such deception, though widespread, might not count as a “grand deception” precisely because God would be morally justified in allowing this kind of widespread deception to occur.
Now, there is no need to get into a debate over the meaning of the term “grand deception” (at this point). Suppose that Cavin and Colombetti enhance their argument by providing a clear definition or analysis of the key term “grand deception”. And suppose that under the proposed definition, the kind of case that I have put forward here fits under that definition. In that case, I would accept their proposed definition, but revise my objection to be making an important distinction between different sorts of cases of “grand deception”. I would argue that there are some cases of “grand deception” that God cannot allow, and other cases of “grand deception” that God appears to be morally justified to allow, from the point of view of the author of Mark.
Cavin and Colombetti give a second reason in support of the conclusion that “(S2) is patently false”, and they claim that this reason “establishes…conclusively” that (S2) is false (SOR, p.32). But it seems to me that the argument they give is based on an unstated assumption, and that the unstated assumption is itself “patently false”. So, I will argue that their second argument is unsound.
They point to widespread disagreement about the alleged incarnation of God in Jesus and the alleged resurrection of Jesus:
There is an incontestable item of our background evidence overlooked by Swinburne that shows that his premise that God would neither perpetuate nor permit others to perpetuate a grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection is false. For it is an undeniable fact that massive religious deception exists in the world regarding, specifically, the Incarnation and the Resurrection. There are, currently, some 2.1 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Jews and Muslims, and 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics, and secularists living today. And, while Christians hold tenaciously to the Incarnation and Resurrection as central tenets of their faith, Jews and Muslims with equal vehemence deny these, as do atheists, agnostics, and secularists.(SOR, p.32)
On the basis of the fact of widespread disagreement about the Incarnation and the Resurrection, Cavin and Colombetti infer that “grand deception” already exists concerning these beliefs:
Yet, the opposing beliefs of each of these groups regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection are either true or false. And, thus, accordingly, it is either the 2.1 billion Christians who are the ones who have the truth or it is the 1.5 billion Jews and Muslims and 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics, and secularists who do. But, either way, the adherents of at least one of these groups are deceived and hold their false beliefs on the basis of deceptive reasoning. In some cases this deception is intentional, although in most it is probably unwitting and self-inflicted. And the problem for Swinburne is that the extent of this deception, unwitting or otherwise, is global–indeed, truly grand.(SOR, p.32)
The reasoning above can be summarized as follows:
1. The adherents of at least one of these groups (each containing over a billion people) hold false beliefs about the Incarnation and Resurrection.
Thus:
2. The adherents of at least one of these groups (each containing over a billion people) are deceived concerning the Incarnation and Resurrection and hold false beliefs about the Incarnation and Resurrection on the basis of deceptive reasons.
As it stands the above inference is a non sequitur. In order to properly infer (2) from (1), we need to make an unstated assumption explicit:
(D) IF a person P believes a proposition X, and X is false, THEN
P has been deceived concerning X and P believes X on the basis of a deceptive reason.

As far as I can tell, this is an assumption being made by Cavin and Colombetti in order to correctly infer (2) from the true factual premise (1). But (D) is “patently false”, so the argument for (2) is unsound.
It is not difficult to come up with a counterexample which disproves (D). Suppose that on Tuesday morning I watch a weather forecast on T.V. and the person giving the weather predicts that it very likely to rain in the early afternoon. Based on this forecast, I form the belief that it will rain sometime in the afternoon. But on this particular day, the forecast was wrong, and it does not in fact rain. Thus, the belief I formed, namely that it would rain in the afternoon, is false. Based on (D), we can conclude that I had been “deceived concerning” whether it would rain in the afternoon, and that my belief that it would rain that afternoon was formed “on the basis of a deceptive reason”.
But this is clearly NOT the case. The weather person did NOT deceive me either wittingly or unwittingly. Nor did I deceive myself. Furthermore, my belief that it would rain that afternoon was NOT formed on the basis of a deceptive reason. I had a perfectly good reason for forming the belief that it would rain that afternoon. My belief was a justified belief, a rational belief, and the reason was in no way a deceptive reason. It is simply the case that when one reasons to probable conclusions, the conclusion will sometimes be wrong. That is the whole idea of probable reasoning; it does not produce absolutely certain conclusions.
The unstated assumption (D) is clearly false, and so the argument based on this assumption is unsound, and therefore the argument does NOT “establish…conclusively” that (S2) is false.

bookmark_borderGod and Massive Deception about the Resurrection

Robert Cavin and Carlos Colombetti have written an article raising some significant objections to Richard Swinburne’s case for the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus: “Swinburne on the Resurrection” (Philosophia Christi, Vol. 15, No. 2; hereafter: SOR). LINK
I’m fully on-board with their overall conclusion that “…Swinburne’s argument for the Incarnation and Resurrection…is seriously undermined by the failure to satisfy the requirement of total evidence.” (SOR, p.37) As with other Christian apologists, Swinburne tends to focus on evidence that supports his Christian beliefs while ignoring significant evidence that points in the opposite direction. Swinburne also uncritically accepts certain Christian claims while being much more skeptical about beliefs that run contrary to Christianity. Confirmation bias is a widespread problem in human thinking, and it is particularly a problem when it comes to the philosophy of religion.
While I’m in agreement with the general conclusion of this article, I have my doubts about some of the specific points and objections in it. I will focus on what appears to be the key objection:
Swinburne’s argument for S3, while valid, is unsound. The problem here is that S2 is patently false. (SOR, p.31)
Here is the premise that they reject:
(S2) But God would neither perpetrate nor permit grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection. (SOR, p.30)
I have a couple of general criticisms of this article. First, there is no effort to clearly define the concept of “grand deception” which is a key concept in this argument, and there appears to be a bit of slipperiness and looseness in the article concerning this key concept.
Second, there is no effort in the article to show that it is possible for a perfectly morally good person to knowingly permit a “grand deception” concerning the incarnation or resurrection of Jesus (or of someone who is NOT actually God incarnate). It is implausible on its face that a perfectly morally good person would permit such a “grand deception”, so Cavin and Colombetti have failed to address this key question, which is significant in relation to the overall question at issue.
I plan to reply to the objections that Cavin and Colombetti raise against (S2), but I’m not fully dedicated to defending (S2). I would like (S2) to be true, because it is useful for some skeptical arguments about the resurrection. Consider the following skeptical argument:
1. If Jesus was a false prophet, then God would not permit Jesus to rise from the dead.
2. Jesus was a false prophet.
Therefore:
3. God would not permit Jesus to rise from the dead.
(S2) could be used to support premise (1) of this skeptical argument.
However, I am inclined to think that Christians have an odd and implausible conception of God as a person who is fanatically concerned with human beliefs about the nature and existence of God and various other metaphysical and theological issues. If there is a God, I doubt that God cares very much about these human beliefs. It seems silly to me that an all knowing, all powerful, perfectly good, eternal creator of the universe would care deeply about such human beliefs. So, I’m somewhat skeptical about the truth of (S2), for that reason.
Cavin and Colombetti give two main reasons for the claim that (S2) is “patently false.” The first reason is that in the Gospel of Mark (13:21-23),
…Jesus is presented as saying: “And then if any one says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed: I have told you all things beforehand.” (SOR, p.31)
According to the article, this passage shows that the author of Mark and, perhaps, Jesus himself had,
… a concept of God that was fully compatible with the thesis that God could (and, indeed, would) permit massive deception regarding the true identity of the Messiah–and this, specifically, through the misleading evidence of the signs and wonders of false prophets and messiahs that could even lead the elect astray.(SOR, p.31-32)
I have indicated above one problem with this line of reasoning: Mark’s concept of God might involve a logical or philosophical error. Given the widely accepted view that God is a perfectly morally good person, this might make it logically impossible for God to permit a “grand deception” concerning the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. Mark might simply have held a common misconception about God, and placed that misconception into the mouth of Jesus. While Norman Geisler would not tolerate the idea that the author of a Gospel had a mistaken idea about God and put that idea into the mouth of Jesus, Richard Swinburne might be more accepting of this possibility. Marcus Borg would have no problem with this suggestion.
But there is another problem with this objection that even a Conservative Evangelical like Geisler might point out. The teachings of Jesus are the teachings of a devout Jew, and thus must be interpreted in relation to the Old Testament, which also contains passages about false prophets. If you read O.T. passages about false prophets, you see that there is more than one consideration put forward for determining whether a person is a true prophet or a false prophet. Unless there is strong reason to think otherwise, one should assume that Jesus’ teachings about false prophets were in keeping with the O.T. teachings on this topic, and that the O.T. teachings provide an appropriate background for understanding Jesus’ words in the quoted passage.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 13, it is taught that if an alleged prophet encourages people to worship or obey “other gods” (vs.2 & 6), then that prophet “shall be put to death” (vs. 5), even if some predictions made by that prophet had come true (vs. 1-3). Thus, according to the the O.T. being an alleged prophet who encourages others to worship or obey a false god is a sufficient condition for being a false prophet. It is thus a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT encourage others to worship or obey a false god.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 18, it is taught that if an alleged prophet “speaks in the name of other gods” that prophet “shall die”(vs. 20). So, another sufficient condition for being a false prophet is speaking in the name of a false god. It is thus a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT speak in the name of a false god.
Finally, also in Deuteronomy Chapter 18, it is taught that if an alleged prophet speaks in the name of God, but makes a prediction or assertion that “does not take place or prove true” (vs. 22), then that person is a false prophet (who should be killed). So, it is a sufficient condition of being a false prophet to be an alleged prophet who makes a false prediction or assertion in the name of God. Thus, it is a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT ever make false predictions or assertions in the name of God.
Although miracles are associated with true prophets in the O.T., there is no passage in the O.T. that teaches that performing a miracle is a sufficient condition of being a true prophet.
There is no good reason to believe that Jesus intended to reject or significantly modify these teachings of the O.T. about the differences between false prophets and true prophets. Thus, these teachings from the O.T. should be taken as assumed and accepted by Jesus, and as proper background assumptions for interpretation of the passage about false prophets and false messiahs quoted from the Gospel of Mark.
From the point of view of the author of Mark, and probably also from the point of view of Jesus, the O.T. provides us with appropriate and correct criteria for determining if someone is a false prophet or a true prophet. “Signs and Wonders” or miracles, are NOT sufficient conditions for establishing that an alleged prophet is a true prophet. The O.T. teaches that other necessary conditions must be met:
– Must never (at least as a prophet) encourage others to worship or obey a false god.
– Must never speak in the name of a false god.
– Must never make a false prediction or false assertion when speaking in the name of God.
Since in the view of the author of Mark, and presumably in Jesus’ view, God has provided these criteria for determining whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet, if someone is “deceived” into believing or following a false prophet simply because the false prophet performs some “signs and wonders”, then God cannot be held morally accountable for the foolishness of such people, for they have ignored the clear instructions that God gave on this matter. Even if millions of people were to be fooled by such false prophets, this would not reflect on God’s moral character, because they are morally culpable for their own deception, at least in part.
In the context of the belief that God has provided some clear guidance in the O.T. for how to determine whether a person is a true prophet or a false prophet, the passage from the Gospel of Mark can be made consistent with the view that God would NOT permit a grand deception concerning false prophets and false messiahs. God would permit people who ignore his guidance on this matter to be deceived into believing and following a false prophet, because those people would be morally culpable (in part) for their own deception. But we could then distinguish such a deception, even if it occurs on a “massive” scale, from a deception in which many people are misled into believing and following a false prophet when those people have diligently followed the guidance provided in the O.T. concerning this matter. It is only the latter kind of deception that a believer would likely count as “grand deception”.
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderWhy God did not raise Jesus from the Dead

The evidence for the claim that Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter Sunday is weak. Overall, the evidence indicates that the first post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus probably occurred in Galilee several days after, perhaps several weeks after, the crucifixion of Jesus.
Although there probably were  some sort of ‘resurrection’ experiences or visions or dreams by some of Jesus’ followers, it is difficult to determine what those experiences consisted in based on the skimpy, unreliable, and third or fourth-hand evidence that we possess now.
But we all know that a true resurrection is physically impossible, and thus would require some sort of supernatural intervention into the normal operation of the laws of physics and chemistry.  If God, a being who is omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good, exists, then the resurrection of Jesus would be possible,  for the laws of physics and chemistry can certainly be overruled by an omnipotent and omniscient being.
The evidence for the existence of God, however, is far from compelling.  But, I like to grant as much as I can to the other side, to see whether such generosity will allow for a strong case to be made for a Christian or religious belief.  If we grant, for the sake of argument, that God exists, would that allow the case for the resurrection of Jesus to be strong and compelling?
An important, but often neglected, aspect of the issue of the resurrection of Jesus is the motivation(s) of God.  We can observe the behavior of human persons, and form hypotheses about their tendencies, habits, goals, and motivations, and then test our hypotheses by making further observations of the person.  If we spend enough time with a person, and if we carefully and thoughtfully observe his/her behavior, it is possible to make some predictions about what that person will or would do in certain circumstances with some degree of probability.
But we cannot observe the behavior of God in this way,  and God, although a person, is clearly not very similar to a human person.  God is omniscient and God is perfectly good, and no human being is omniscient or perfectly good, so we have no actual experiences of such a person to use as the basis for formulating hypotheses about what God will or would be likely to do in certain circumstances.
Nevertheless, since God is by definition both omniscient and perfectly good, this gives us some (admittedly thin) basis for drawing conclusions about how God, if he exists, will or would likely behave.   Apart from some such assumptions, the mere existence of God does little to support the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, or the closely associated claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.  One must establish a likely motive for God to raise Jesus from the dead in orderto use God’s existence as part of the case for Jesus’ resurrection.
Furthermore, one must also be able to disprove or discount any alleged motivations that God might have which would make God opposed to the resurrection of Jesus.   That is where a big problem for Christian believers comes into view.
There are many reasons why an omniscient and perfectly good person would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus, and thus even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that God exists,  the existence of God can actually be used as an argument AGAINST the alleged resurrection of Jesus.
If you have read some of my posts on Jesus and Jehovah, you can probably guess one of my favorite reasons why I think that God would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus:
 Jesus was a false prophet because he taught his followers to pray to and worship a false god (i.e. Jehovah).
This one reason, it seems to me, is sufficient to show that the existence of God would be a strong reason for believing that Jesus did NOT rise from the dead.
But there are several other reasons that point in the same direction:

  1. Jesus did not object to the slaughter of men, women, children, and babies by his namesake Joshua.
  2. Jesus did not object to slavery nor to the approval of slavery by Jehovah.
  3. Jesus was a sexist who did not object to the sexist ideas and laws of Jehovah.
  4. Jesus did not advocate logic, critical thinking, careful argumentation, but rather advocated faith over reason.
  5. Jesus was an otherworldly “pie in the sky” thinker, rather than a this-worldly practical-minded thinker.
  6. Jesus believed in and taught that diseases could be healed by faith, and was an advocate of the practice of faith healing.
  7. Jesus believed in and taught the existence of angels and demons and advocated the practice of exorcism.
  8. Jesus believed and taught the doctrine of eternal punishment, and thus he believed that the use of torture can be morally justified and that purely punitive punishment can be morally justified.
  9. Jesus believed and taught that the world was about to end and he discouraged long-range planning.
  10. Jesus believed and taught that the Jews were God’s chosen people, thus putting his stamp of approval on the sociocentric delusions of the Jews.
  11. Jesus was opposed to efforts to violently overthrow or rebel against the Roman oppressors of the Jewish people in Palestine.

In conclusion, an omniscient and perfectly good being would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus, because the resurrection of Jesus would provide a divine stamp of approval upon:  the worship of a false god,  mass murder, slavery, sexism, cruelty, injustice, irrationality, superstition, sociocenrism, pacifism (i.e. tolerance of oppression) and other evils.
Christian believers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  If there is no God, then the resurrection of Jesus would be unlikely because true resurrections are contrary to the laws of nature and thus require a supernatural intervention by God or a god-like being.  If there is a God, then the resurrection of Jesus would be unlikely because God, an omniscient and perfectly good person, would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus.  Either way, the case for the resurrection fails.