Friday, December 30, 2005

Resurrections and Other Singularities

At the NTRMin discussion board, a skeptic [or atheist] makes the following request to others in a certain thread:

Do you have any non-controversial established cases of resurrection from the dead, so that I might stop seeing Jesus' resurrection as impossible and at least grant that it was within the realm of possibility? I am very quick to conclude that apologists have no proof for resurrection from death outside of the special exception of Jesus precisely because such a thing is an impossibility.

This statement might go over well at a Freethinker meeting, but it has several flaws. These flaws are utterly basic.

(1) The point of the resurrection is that it is a singularity --- it is presented as a unique historical event. What gives it its value, importance, etc, is that something like this does not happen "in the natural course of things." This is one of the capstone demonstrations [if true] of Jesus' divinity, of His being the Son of God.

A category error is committed by demanding that an allegedly singular phenomenon conform to that of something that is already established as being possible in the natural order of things.

BTW --- had Jesus made a future claim on something in the natural order of things, that would, even if it had come to pass, hardly have had any sort of evidentiary value relative to the very strong claim He made regarding his deity and sonship.

(2) The atheist's demand effectively excludes being able to consider any sort of titillating historical singularity. Given that history is full of singular events --- some of them fantastic and thrilling --- we would, following the demand, have to suspend judgement on such items because we don't have other "non-controversial, established cases" of such items.

What matters for the evaluation of an event X is the evidence for it, the veracity of the eyewitnesses, the character, etc. Whether such a thing has happened or not before [or happens later] neither adds to nor subtracts from the value [or lack of value] of the testimony.

(3) To call the resurrection an "impossibility" begs the question, of course. Also, what exactly does the atheist here mean by "impossible" ? Is he speaking in terms of modalities: logically impossible? Is he speaking of a relative here: relatively impossible given a set K of background assumptions?

Certainly, there is nothing logically impossible about rising from the dead.

(4) Apologists have no "proof" of the resurrection, but they have good evidence for the resurrection. The basic points go something like this:

(a) It was in the Roman and Jewish authorities' interest to produce the body of Christ, but no body was produced.
(b) There was no immediate advantage to proclaiming the risen Lord. On the contrary, there was great social disadvantage.
(c) The risen Lord spent a good amount of time post-Resurrection with the disciples, who were hardly the credulous bunch. [See: St Thomas.]
(d) The apostles and intimate followers of Jesus often died horrible, grisly deaths, not on account of something that they merely thought was true [but could be possibly mistaken] but on account of something for which they possessed first-hand knowledge.

BTW --- we should talk in probabilities regarding historical evidence. My general experience with village atheists happens to be that they want proof, and anything less than proof is unsatisfactory. In reality, we deal with probabilities. The divines who defended the resurrection during the Deist Controversy a few centuries back handled [historical] things properly by speaking in terms of probabilities, not dogmatic certainties.

Let's change topic somewhat. In the same thread, the skeptic asks:

My first question to you to begin this phase is: What other source of ancient religious propaganda, outside the bible, do you accept as being a report of facts only and containing not the least bit of embellishment or untruth, as you view the New Testament? Your answer will tell me whether your view is based on analysis of the data, or whether you are committing the fallacy of special pleading by asking that we accord the religious propaganda of the NT gospels the special place of "facts-only-reporting" and refusing to grant this huge leap to other non-biblical ancient religious propaganda.

By way of reply:

(1) Referring to the Biblical texts as "ancient religious propaganda" is well-poisoning. The language tacitly assumes the very question of Biblical reliability is answered in the negative. This however, is the larger issue under discussion.

(2) The charge of special pleading only sticks if the pleading is in fact special. If some other claim X was made of a miracle and it had evidence at the level of (a)-(d) mentioned above, it would be special pleading to make a positive statement on the historicity of the resurrection while making a negative statement on X. So, one must say "put up or shut up" on this point: what other alleged miracles out there have the same standard of evidence?

(3) BTW --- let's say there is an alleged non-Christian miracle X out there with the same degree of evidence as, say, the resurrection. How does this advance the atheist thesis? The evidence for Christianity does not receive its impetus from the claim that miracles are exclusively in the Christian province. The whole posturing by the village atheist is just a red herring.

Example: Let's say that the evidence that Emperor Vespasian healed a blind man is on par with (a)-(d) above. I'd have no problem adding this to my list of "probably true" facts for the world. How does this impinge on evidences (a)-(d) of the Resurrection?

(4) There's something a bit darkly humorous about being lectured to regarding fallacies in the middle of a fallacy filled presentation!

The reader should note that I'm not so much as arguing for the resurrection here as I am merely pointing out very basic flaws in the atheist demands. The author of the quoted portions views himself as a voice of capital-R Reason, not given to superstition, a person who sees through religious propaganda, etc. But in the end, he commits elementary blunders that put the lie to these affectations.

I was going to say something particularly pointed here, but then I realized that I too used to make the same sorts of demands, arguments, etc as an undergraduate [and as a grad student too], and I was possibly a bit more obnoxious about making them. As a side personal note [this has no relevance to the thread but I'll say it nonetheless], it is not flattering to my self-image to realize that I used to posture like this too as a late teen and early twenty-something!!


Blogger Ken Abbott said...

Ah, but you were so much older then, Eric. You're younger than that now. ;)

This is a good analysis of skepticdude's "argument." Thanks for posting it.

Friday, December 30, 2005 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

The trick is to be mentally old while biologically young --- if you know the trick, please do tell!

Friday, December 30, 2005 12:03:00 PM  

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