Science and the Resurrection Belief are Not Incompatible

A common talking point in the New Atheist community is the assertion that the resurrection of Jesus contradicts science and thus must be wrong. Yet this argument is seriously misguided, as it depends on a faulty understanding of both science and Christianity.

If you want science to have a say on the resurrection, then you need to a) consider what Christians actually believe and b) show how science can address it through experimentation.

As for a), Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate and that his death/resurrection were a miraculous confirmation of the salvation work that took place on the cross. In other words, the theology clearly makes sense of the resurrection as a one-time event that is a promise for our resurrection at the end of history. Nothing in Christian theology would have us predict God would continually incarnate and resurrect throughout human history.

Once we recognize the theological dimension of the resurrection, it becomes clear that science cannot address the actual Christian belief. For how could you possibly test this one-time divine intervention with an experiment?

If science is going to address a claim, science must be able to formulate that claim as a testable hypothesis. If you want science to pass judgment on the Resurrection, you need some type of scientific analysis to determine whether or not this miracle occurred. You need to formulate the resurrection belief as a testable hypothesis. So what is it? If Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, what do you predict that we should be able to find in the lab or in the field?

Or fill in the blank. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we should be able to detect ___________.

Unless someone can answer this question and fill in that blank, any attempt to argue that science contradicts the Resurrection fails.

No testable hypothesis – no science. No science – no scientific judgment.Perhaps that explains why there are no peer reviewed scientific studies that attempt to determine whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. That judgment call is not part of Science.

Since Christians have always believed the resurrection a miracle, there is no need for them to formulate a testable hypothesis. They do not claim science has shown the resurrection to be true. It is those who insist science has shown the resurrection to be false who must shoulder the burden of laying out their hypotheses and research results on the table. If they cannot do this, their claim is nothing more than vacuous rhetoric.

At this point, the New Atheist may attempt to sidestep the need to lay out hypotheses and research results and argue something like this:

“Look, the resurrection beleif about Jesus is incompatible with everything we know about biology. Biology teaches us that once an organism dies, it stays dead. The body has systems for maintainence, repair, adaptation, and reproduction, but not for resurrection. If it had such a mechanism, science would know this by now and the resurrection belief would be scientifically plausible. But it does not.”

Okay, but how would science know about this? Science could only have such knowledge if resurrections were repeatable events, common enough to be studied through experiment. That is, afterall, how science knows about the other systems. In other words, in order for science to have evidence of the resurrection, resurrections would need to be a common event.

Yet the resurrection, as a common event, would be incompatible with Christian theology. For Christians do not believe the Resurrection was some divine magic trick designed to impress, but instead was part of a transformative reality – Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate and that his death/resurrection were a miraculous confirmation of the salvation work that took place on the cross. From the point of Christian theology, the Resurrection is not just some historical fact. It is an event that is tied to massive theological and existential implications. So if one is to pass judgment on the Resurrection (a Christian belief), they must make an effort to come to terms with its Christian theology. And Christian theology fully embraces the common experience of people staying dead after they died. It is precisely that which makes the Resurrection stand out.

Yes, it would be easier to believe the Resurrection occurred if we had such scientific evidence. Surely, if Aunt Ethel and Cousin Steve had risen from the dead, it would not be hard to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, right? All true. But it would also mean the Resurrection becomes another piece of historical trivia. The atheist would argue, “Yes, I think Jesus rose from the dead. So what? Aunt Ethel and Cousin Steve also rose from the dead.”

Thus, the atheist position with regard to science and the Resurrection is a game of “heads I win, tails you lose.” We are given two choices: either there is no scientific evidence for resurrections, thus the Christian belief is false, or, there is scientific evidence for resurrections, thus the Christian belief is insignificant. “Not true” or “Trivia” is “heads I win, tails you lose.” And that is the very strategy the closed-minded would design to maintain their denial of the resurrection.

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91 Responses to Science and the Resurrection Belief are Not Incompatible

  1. Bilbo says:

    I’m wondering if the Shroud of Turin might offer something close to scientific evidence of the resurrection. Here’s how a possible line of reasoning might go:

    (1) New radiocarbon tests determine that the Shroud is from the time of Jesus. (hypothesis)
    (2) The manner of death and wounds on the Shroud match the description of Jesus’s death and wounds precisely. (proven)
    (3) It is reasonable to believe that the Shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus. (from (1) and (2))
    (4) The only means of producing the image on the Shroud was by means of a special burst of light. (a current scientific hypothesis, supported by some experimental data)
    (5) This sort of light was not reproducible by humans until the present day. (a seeming fact of history)
    (6) The burst of light was produced by a resurrection event. (hypothesis)

    The problem, of course, is (6). Since there have been no other resurrection events, we have no way of determining that they produce a burst of light, or that it would be the right kind of burst, or the right kind of light. It seems that we have a singularity. But isn’t that what the Big Bang is? And doesn’t that offer fertile grounds for scientific inquiry? Would the singularity of Jesus’s resurrection offer similar grounds for scientific inquiry, assuming that we have good grounds for believing the Shroud was indeed his burial cloth?

  2. jlafan2001 says:

    Science and the christian religion are not compatible. You either have to twist the texts to metaphors like Biologos does or twist the science to absurdity like Answers In Genesis. Either science or the christian religion has to be shoe horned in order to fit. Since science has tremendous evidence against the texts, that means the texts have to be twisted. Once that is done the christian religion doesn’t make a lick of sense and would not be the word of your god anymore.

    It’s time you people admitted that genesis, exodus, jonah, noah, david, samson, gospels, jesus and all the rest are myths, lies and inaccurate science and history. Leave the world alone and quit trying to fool us. I myself was fooled with this stuff for many years. When I saw the evidence for evolution and how historically inaccurate the bible was (luke’s account of the consensus for example) and scientically untenable (like creation and noah’s flood), I left the faith. I didn’t have the honesty to twist the texts in metaphorical preztels when the authors clearly meant them as literal.

    I rally against this stuff so no one else has to be fooled anymore.

  3. Michael says:

    I rally against this stuff so no one else has to be fooled anymore.

    I think you meant to write, “I rail against this stuff so no one else has to be fooled anymore.”

    Whether you are railing, rallying, or whatever, you are also ignoring every argument I brought to the table. It must suck that your debate handbook has no responses for the arguments I raise. 😉

  4. Kevin says:

    Since atheism is one of the most irrational worldviews that has ever existed, I’m assuming that jlafan is now a deist. Because every non Christian I know who has taken a fair look at atheism finds it to be ridiculous. At least deism is a relatively respectable worldview.

  5. jlafan2001 says:

    Your argument for the resurrection is invalid if the rest of the bible is wrong. This event is linked to the other events for example no adam and eve, no savior. Apologists are always saying how the bible is a collection of 66 books and that they support each other. If that is the case then they fall together too.

    Btw, I don’t find atheism ridiculous since it is just a lack of belief in gods. I find humanism, existentialism and other worldviews stupid but nihilism is closest to reality.

  6. Bilbo says:

    A nihilist? I know about you guys. I watched “The Big Lebowski.” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=b_29yvYpf4w

  7. Kevin says:

    If you’re a nihilist, then I can respect that more than any other atheistic worldview. It is the only rational conclusion one can come to with atheism as the starting point.

  8. Dhay says:

    jlafan2001, posting in 2013 at Uncommon Descent, and explaining nihilism:

    If there is no God and there’s just naturalism, materialism:
    • No objective, absolute, inherent meaning in life or the universe
    • No objective, absolute, inherent purpose … [Long list in similar vein]

    Concluding:

    This is reality if there is no God. I don’t give a rat’s ass what Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens or what other atheist wrote a book says. Nihilism is the truth and atheism is a noble lie just the same as theism would be. Survival and reproduction. THAT”S IT. All other things are made up bullshit for survival and reproduction. The atheists of old knew this. The new atheists are trying to say that you can have your cake and eat it too but there really is no cake.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/barry-concedes-a-point-to-tsz-well-sorta/#comment-456456

    > I rail against this stuff so no one else has to be fooled anymore.

    I have a surprise for you: it is quite possible to be critically aware and “unfooled”, yet remain Christian; “fooled” hyper-literal fundie Christians do not occupy the whole pool — much as those like the ultra-materialistic philosopher, Alex Rosenberg, who would probably agree with much of what you listed, do not occupy the whole pool of philosophy.

  9. Michael says:

    Your argument for the resurrection is invalid if the rest of the bible is wrong.

    I suppose if someone believed the entire Bible must be literally true or it is all false, that argument would apply. I don’t buy into that belief.

    This event is linked to the other events for example no adam and eve, no savior.

    The event is linked to the fact that human beings need a savior. I come from the opposite experience that you did, jla. I was not brought up in any faith. As a young atheist/nihilist, I came to the conclusion that human beings needed a savior prior to becoming a Christian.

    Apologists are always saying how the bible is a collection of 66 books and that they support each other. If that is the case then they fall together too.

    That’s what apologists say? Not important to me – I think for myself.

    Btw, I don’t find atheism ridiculous since it is just a lack of belief in gods. I find humanism, existentialism and other worldviews stupid but nihilism is closest to reality.

    I can respect that. Which do you think is more likely: A. The New Atheists also recognize this, but don’t want to admit it for PR reasons or B. The New Atheists truly buy into their humanism, etc. because they think at such a superficial level?

  10. Luis says:

    “I suppose if someone believed the entire Bible must be literally true or it is all false, that argument would apply. I don’t buy into that belief.”

    The you are wrong about that. The early church fathers and the apostles took the old testament literally because that’s how it was written. It wasn’t until science refuted it that christians started to use metaphors to save the bible rather than letting it go.

    “The event is linked to the fact that human beings need a savior.”

    Humans don’t need saviors. There is nothing to save us from. There is no good or evil, right or wrong. Just predator and prey. Kill or be killed. Survive or die. That’s nature and life. You know that humans carry genes from the lower animals and therefore will give in to those genes. We are animals.

    “That’s what apologists say? Not important to me – I think for myself.”

    And yet you are an aopolgist yourself. Isn’t that what this site is for?

    “I can respect that. Which do you think is more likely: A. The New Atheists also recognize this, but don’t want to admit it for PR reasons or B. The New Atheists truly buy into their humanism, etc. because they think at such a superficial level?”

    I think B is correct because it is a survival mechanism. They evolved to believe the bullshit that they do in order to survive life. We all believe bullshit to live except for nihilists. They except reality as it is. If you want me to be a humanist then show me that humnas have value. If you want me to be existenstialist then show me where meaning resides in life. If you want me to be a moralist then conclusively show me what right and wrong is. If you want me to be a theist then show me where god is. If you want me to be polytheist then show me where these gods are. If this can’t be done thn nihilism is the only relaity there is. All theists and atheists (don’t feel like writing out all the ists here) are wrong and deluded.

  11. Luis says:

    I meant that nihilists accpet reality as it is. I really got to start spell checking before I post.

  12. Bilbo says:

    Luis, what’s the point of saving us from our delusion? Or do you have some sort of values (which makes you as deluded as the rest of us). https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7AEMiz6rcxc

  13. heddle says:

    Louis,

    “The you are wrong about that. The early church fathers and the apostles took the old testament literally because that’s how it was written. It wasn’t until science refuted it that christians started to use metaphors to save the bible rather than letting it go.”

    This is patently and demonstrably false. Take the days of creation. Augustine believed creation was instantaneous. In terms of orders of magnitude, nobody deviated from literality as much as Augustine. Other church fathers (Justin Martyr, Origen, …) took each day of creation to be 1000 years, not 24 hours, This they did because they thought it solved the problem that God told Adam on the day he sinned he would surely day–but on that day he did not stop breathing, but lived another 900+ years.

    I could go on and on, but church history is filled with church fathers and theologians who did not take the OT literally in its entirely and who recognized that the writers used all figures of speech including metaphor and hyperbole. Biblical interpretation has relaxed literality because of science (e.g., heliocentricism) but not only because of science.

  14. Michael says:

    The you are wrong about that. The early church fathers and the apostles took the old testament literally because that’s how it was written. It wasn’t until science refuted it that christians started to use metaphors to save the bible rather than letting it go.

    I don’t find any of that to be relevant. You would need to show logically that we must make a simple binary choice: either all of the Bible must be literally true or none of it is true.

    Humans don’t need saviors. There is nothing to save us from.

    Of course there is – us. Humans need to be saved from themselves. Most of the evil that humans experience comes from other humans. And our own selves.

    There is no good or evil, right or wrong. Just predator and prey. Kill or be killed. Survive or die. That’s nature and life. You know that humans carry genes from the lower animals and therefore will give in to those genes. We are animals.

    Yes, all of this follows from atheism. Of course, even “survive or die” doesn’t matter, as humans will inevitably go extinct.

    And yet you are an aopolgist yourself. Isn’t that what this site is for?

    LOL! I’m no apologist. You should read, not skim, the blog.

    I think B is correct because it is a survival mechanism. They evolved to believe the bullshit that they do in order to survive life.

    So it’s intellectual weakness. Yes, I agree the New Atheists think at a very superficial level. That’s why they traffic in memes, cliches, and talking points.

    We all believe bullshit to live except for nihilists. They except reality as it is.

    Nihilists wanna a cookie? If nihilism is true, it doesn’t matter if someone believes in bullshit. If atheist is true, truth no longer matters.

    Y’know, I suspect many of the members of ISIS are nihilists who don’t truly believe all that religious stuff. It’s just easy to play along with that when the real hunger is power and the ability to sell and buy women. That’s some real “survive or die” shit going on over there.

    If you want me to be a humanist then show me that humnas have value.

    If there is no God, humans have no value.

    If you want me to be existenstialist then show me where meaning resides in life.

    If there is no God, everything is pointless.

    If you want me to be a moralist then conclusively show me what right and wrong is.

    If there is no God, there is no right and wrong.

    If you want me to be a theist then show me where god is.

    Whether you are a theist is your choice. I don’t take the bait with the “show me” game.

    You made your choice. It defines you. Live with it and stop posturing as if others have a responsibility to show you anything.

  15. TFBW says:

    Luis, as a nihilist, you are under no obligation to think rationally (nihilism is blissfully free of obligations like that), but rational argument is kind of a “house rule” on this blog, and you are likely to be called on it if you slip up. I’m about to point out such a slip-up on your part. Pay close attention.

    jlafan2001 asserted, “your argument for the resurrection is invalid if the rest of the bible is wrong.” Michael refuted this assertion with, “I suppose if someone believed the entire Bible must be literally true or it is all false, that argument would apply. I don’t buy into that belief.” You responded, “you are wrong about that. The early church fathers and the apostles took the old testament literally because that’s how it was written. It wasn’t until science refuted it that christians started to use metaphors to save the bible rather than letting it go.”

    The problem with your response, Luis, is that it fails to address the point that Michael was making. Your response seems to have been targeted at a statement like, “there is no reason to take the Old Testament literally.” Had such a statement been made, your response would at least have been relevant. However, that is not what Michael said — it’s not even a loose paraphrase of what he said.

    What he said was that jlafan2001’s assertion is only a relevant objection if one holds the supplemental belief that the Bible is entirely false if it is not all literally true. Michael holds no such belief, so the assertion is irrelevant. It seems that what you wanted to establish was that such a supplemental belief is necessary, or at least common tradition, but it doesn’t even establish that. At best, you’ve asserted that common tradition holds the Old Testament to be literally true, but this falls short of implying that it is entirely false if it is not all literally true.

    So basically, your response (as quoted) was a swing and a miss. I suggest that you line up more carefully, and try again. Or you could just play the nihilism card and say that none of it matters.

  16. vinnyjh57 says:

    I am an agnostic, but I think that you make some valid points.

    Evidence is an effect from which we infer a cause. If we come across a body with a knife sticking out of its back and the knife’s handle is covered with little swirly patterns that match the patterns on a specific person’s finger, we have evidence of who inserted the knife in the back. This is because we understand the natural processes of cause and effect that lead to the appearance of fingerprints on objects other than fingers. If we didn’t understand these processes e.g., if we thought these swirly patterns appeared randomly or by divine fiat, fingerprints wouldn’t be evidence of anything. We could not announce triumphantly “It was Colonel Mustard with the knife in the library!”

    Miracles like the resurrection don’t follow known processes of cause and effect. That’s what makes them miracles. As a result, I agree that they are beyond the scope of scientific verification or refutation. It is not so much that science contradicts miracles, but that science can’t detect any phenomenon that doesn’t follow scientific laws whether that phenomenon is God or miracles or leprechauns. It is like trying to measure radon gas with a ruler, i.e., it’s not the right tool for the job.

    Of course if we have no way to detect a phenomenon, I think we eventually reach a point where we are justified in concluding that it probably doesn’t exist.

  17. Billy Squibs says:

    I think your post has some issues, Vinny.

    Firstly, (and I hope that I’m understanding you correctly) you seem to presume that we can’t detect divine intervention. Why do you think this is this so? And what to you mean by “detect” in this context? Surely you can’t mean “detect by science” as this would undermine your previous words.

    Secondly, how do we know when something is undetectable by us (either currently based upon our limited knowledge or forever beyond us because of some limitations inherent with us or the particular plain of existence we inhabit) as opposed to non-existent? It’s my understanding that certain scientific hypothesis may involve work on subjects that aren’t “detectable” as such. I guess one could look to speculative physics such as the various multi-verse hypothesis. What is the yardstick when it comes to non-natural things?

  18. vinnyjh57 says:

    It’s not that I presume that divine intervention is undetectable. It’s simply that I don’t know of any way to distinguish between an instance of divine intervention and a natural phenomenon whose causes are not yet understood.

    If something is undetectable to us, then it is for all practical purposes non-existent. If it is undetectable, I don’t see how we would even be justified in identifying it as something.

    I’m not really all that well versed on the multi-verse hypothesis, but as far as I know,, it doesn’t constitute anything more than an intriguing thought experiment.

  19. Billy Squibs says:

    Hmmm, you seem to be standing on shifting sands, Vinny.

    “Of course if we have no way to detect a phenomenon, I think we eventually reach a point where we are justified in concluding that it probably doesn’t exist.”

    is not the same as

    It’s not that I presume that divine intervention is undetectable. It’s simply that I don’t know of any way to distinguish between an instance of divine intervention and a natural phenomenon whose causes are not yet understood.”

    “If something is undetectable to us, then it is for all practical purposes non-existent. If it is undetectable, I don’t see how we would even be justified in identifying it as something.”

    Sure! And to say otherwise would be fallacious, I think. It’s much like saying that nothing has detectable properties (see Laurence Krauss’s mutterings for more on this). But you must realise that you are dealing with people who claim that God is detectable in some fashion and we might go on to talk about personal experience or perhaps use less direct arguments from history, morality, design and so on. The problem is that you are starting from the other end and in doing so assuming that which you need to justify. In other words, in the above quote I think you are begging the question.

    This might sound like an aggressive challenge – it really isn’t intended as such – but I would like to know how you have determined that God is undetectable and thereby each counter-claim can be nothing more than a trick of the mind, an honest mistake or an act of mendacity?

  20. vinnyjh57 says:

    In order to reach a scientific conclusion, the evidence must be objective in the sense that it is equally available to all observers. Even if I grant the possible validity of individual personal experience of the divine, they cannot form the basis for a scientific conclusion because they are subjective, i.e., they are not available to all observers.

  21. Kevin says:

    Something can be unscientific yet also true.

  22. Billy Squibs says:

    That’s an interesting response, Vinny, but it doesn’t answer the question I posed. Or perhaps I should say that it doesn’t answer the question without running into difficulties.

    Earlier in the conversation you said, “I agree that they [miracles] are beyond the scope of scientific verification or refutation. It is not so much that science contradicts miracles, but that science can’t detect any phenomenon that doesn’t follow scientific laws whether that phenomenon is God or miracles or leprechauns” and now you are talking about first reaching scientific conclusions.

    It appears as if you are advancing two incompatible epistemologies. Why are you now suggesting that science the yardstick for something [God] that you earlier said is beyond the purview of science?

    BTW, I would suggest that reaching ‘scientific conclusions’ (or at least some of them) can be an inherently subjective business. This is because science is a method (or perhaps a diverse set of methodologies) applied to the natural world in order to gain data. This data is then interpreted. I would think that looking back over the history of science would demonstrate that there is often more going on than a ‘just the facts’ approach.

  23. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57, I’m a little confused as to what claim you’re trying to stake here. Clearly I’m not the only one, but I’ll have a go at stating my difficulty in my own terms.

    You’ve started out with the concession that miracles can lie “beyond the scope of scientific verification or refutation” precisely because science works on the basis of discovering and analysing regularities in nature, and miracles are exceptions to such regularities. So far, so good, but correct me if I’ve misrepresented you.

    Immediately after this, however, you add the curious caveat that, “if we have no way to detect a phenomenon, I think we eventually reach a point where we are justified in concluding that it probably doesn’t exist.” Was this meant to be a conclusion that one could draw in relation to miracles? It seems to contradict your prior statement if that’s the case — but if not, I’m not sure what the point was meant to be.

    Next, you say, “I don’t know of any way to distinguish between an instance of divine intervention and a natural phenomenon whose causes are not yet understood.” Fair enough, although I think it’s still fair to talk about outstandingly exceptional events (like the resurrection) as evidence in support of special intervention, rather than products of not-yet-understood natural phenomena, precisely because of their irregular nature.

    It’s not obvious what point you were trying to make with the previous remark, but you follow it up with, “if something is undetectable to us, then it is for all practical purposes non-existent.” By this stage, I’m wondering if all these caveats leave anything of your original concession that something might lie beyond the scope of scientific verification. What sort of “undetectable” do you have in mind here? The resurrection was detectable at the time, in the sense that the death of Jesus was verified, and his later resurrection was also verified (by many witnesses). The cause of the resurrection wasn’t directly observed, of course — divine intervention was an inference, not an observation. But how much of your original concession are you intending to take back with this caveat?

    Most recently, you add another caveat: “In order to reach a scientific conclusion, the evidence must be objective in the sense that it is equally available to all observers.” Again, I’m not sure what the purpose of this caveat is, because I’m not sure what specific situation it’s supposed to apply to. If you’re saying that private revelations are not a suitable basis for scientific conclusions, then that’s not too controversial, but how was it meant to be relevant? The resurrection — the main subject of discussion here — is not meant to be a scientific theory, and is not based on “individual personal experience of the divine” either.

    Perhaps you could make it clearer as to whether any of your objections apply to the resurrection in particular, or whether they are targeted at issues not under discussion here. Better still, try to avoid issues that aren’t under discussion here, since they dilute the conversation.

  24. Billy Squibs says:

    In fairness to Vinny I believe that I was the first one to mention individual experience – albeit in reference to the suite of evidences that a Christian might bring to the table.

    Anywho, hopefully clarification will be forthcoming.

  25. vinnyjh57 says:

    There are many things that I cannot disprove scientifically including pixies and leprechauns. However, I see no evidence that leprechauns or pixies exist nor can I imagine any circumstance in which the pixie hypothesis or the leprechaun hypothesis would help me to make sense of the world in which I find myself. As a result, I affirm the non-existence of pixies and leprechauns.

    The logic regarding miracles is similar.

    I don’t think it makes any sense to talk about an exceptional event without first examining the evidence for the event. The evidence for the resurrection consists of fantastic stories found in ancient writings of largely uncertain authorship based on indeterminate sources which are removed an unknown number of times from people whose first hand knowledge of the events in question cannot be established. Knowledge and experience suggest that the most likely cause of such stories is some combination of human shortcomings such as ignorance, superstition, wishful thinking, exaggeration, gullibility, and prevarication.

  26. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    I don’t think it makes any sense to talk about an exceptional event without first examining the evidence for the event.

    But you don’t really do that. You start with the specifics of the event, judge it to be on a par with pixies and leprechauns simply on the basis of the claim involved (resurrection), and then summarily dismiss the historical evidence because you’ve already decided that the claim must be false. You show no regard for whether such a dismissal is warranted in terms of the evidence itself: you just glibly assert that, “knowledge and experience suggest the most likely cause of such stories is some combination of human shortcomings such as ignorance, superstition, wishful thinking, exaggeration, gullibility, and prevarication” because you aren’t willing to countenance the idea that a resurrection might have actually happened — at least, not without the kind of proof that simply isn’t available in one-off events that happened two thousand years ago.

    That is how it works, isn’t it? No amount of historical testimony would be sufficient to persuade you that a resurrection occurred, right? It’s always more credible that everyone was ignorant, or deluded, or lying, or any variation on that theme which involves no resurrection occurring.

    And you know what? If that’s your position, then I’m fine with it, so long as you’re not asserting that it’s the only reasonable position to hold. I’m fine with it, so long as you can also respect someone who evaluates the historical evidence, and decides that the most reasonable explanation is that a miraculous resurrection actually occurred, because it makes no sense in the context of the times that those people would make such an outlandish claim unless it really happened.

  27. vinnyjh57 says:

    TFBW,

    I am puzzled that you should accuse me of having no regard for the evidence as I think the concerns I expressed go directly to the question of how much weight the evidence will bear. Moreover, I don’t think that I addressed all the problems with the evidence.

    Imagine trying to figure out what happened at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 if the only sources you had were written by UFO fanatics in the 1980’s. Or imagine trying to figure out what really happened at Fatima in 1917 if your only source was the stories the nuns told me in parochial school in the 1960’s. Or imagine trying to figure out what happened in Palmyra, New York in 1927 based on the stories Mormon leaders told after they reached Utah. What we have in all these cases is stories told by true believers decades after the fact. In each case, the later accounts varied so considerably from contemporaneous reports that it is hard to accord them any more than minimal weight in any historical analysis. Why should I think that the resurrection reports are any more reliable than any of these?

    You have raised the possibility that there might not be any evidence for the resurrection that I would find credible. Whether that is true or not, it doesn’t make the evidence we have any better.

    Since historians reason by analogy, it will unfortunately always be the case that one-off events are more difficult to corroborate. If while standing outside on a pitch black night, I feel water falling on my head, I’m going to have to assess rain as a more likely explanation than a CIA drone armed with squirt guns. The former is a well understood and well documented phenomenon, while the latter would be completely unprecedented. It is possible that some combination of evidence would convince me that the drone was the likeliest explanation, but the evidence would have to be quite compelling. How much more compelling must the evidence to be to establish a resurrection?

    I simply cannot see any basis for concluding that any idea is so outlandish that no one could have invented it. Moreover, the fact that a religion grew and flourished based on the idea of the resurrection is at least some evidence that the idea wasn’t as outlandish as we might otherwise have thought.

  28. TFBW says:

    How much more compelling must the evidence to be to establish a resurrection?

    An interesting rhetorical question. Perhaps you’d care to answer it.

    I simply cannot see any basis for concluding that any idea is so outlandish that no one could have invented it.

    Sure, someone could have invented it. And then persuaded hundreds of people to go along with it. And got those people so invested in it that they all preferred to die horribly than admit the hoax. And somehow get a guy who was heading up a pogrom against them to have a radical conversion on the road to Damascus. And write accounts and letters on the subject which have subsequently been translated into just about every language on Earth, and are among the world’s most popular literature 2000 years later. And establish a religion which has spread around the globe across all cultural boundaries and is still going strong. Et cetera, et cetera.

    If so, however, then that hoax is so huge and so staggeringly successful that it’s every bit as singular as a resurrection. There’s no evidence that anyone could pull off a hoax like that and have such a lasting impact. It’s unprecedented and irreproducible.

    Moreover, the fact that a religion grew and flourished based on the idea of the resurrection is at least some evidence that the idea wasn’t as outlandish as we might otherwise have thought.

    Or that it actually happened.

  29. vinnyjh57 says:

    TFBW,

    There are 15,000,000 Mormons in the world today (if you believe LDS numbers) because one man had an outlandish idea and convinced hundreds of others to buy into it. That people are afraid of death and want their lives to have meaning is a more than adequate explanation for the growth of any religion.

  30. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57,

    Mormonism rides on the coat-tails of Christianity. So do the JWs. So does Islam, to some extent. Co-opting Christianity by adding rules and performance-based merit is a popular approach to making a “new” religion. The fact that these derivative religions exist at all is further testament to how remarkable Christianity is. You say, “that people are afraid of death and want their lives to have meaning is a more than adequate explanation for the growth of any religion,” but the exact same fear of death is what makes the plethora of early Christian martyrs so anomalous if the thing was a hoax. Your rebuttal is glib, and lacks substance.

    In any case, I’m more interested in hearing you answer your own rhetorical question. How compelling must the evidence be to establish a resurrection?

  31. vinnyjh57 says:

    TFBW,

    It is true that Mormonism rode on the coattails of Christianity, but I don’t see how that is relevant to any point I have made. Christianity rode on the coattails of Judaism, which in turn rode on the coattails of belief systems that preceded it. I don’t see how any of that supports an inference of supernatural origins for any of them. Nor does it speak to the propensity of human beings to invent outlandish ideas or to believe them without any evidence.

    I have never claimed that Christianity started with a “hoax.” Although I cannot completely eliminate the possibility, I don’t think that the first proclamation of the resurrection derived from an intent to deceive or trick. Rather, I suspect that the earliest Christians sincerely believed in the resurrection even if I cannot be certain how they came by that belief.

    The martyrdom of early Christians demonstrates the sincerity of their belief that some heavenly reward awaited them, but it does not establish the truth of the claim upon which that belief was based any more than the sincerity of Muslims or the sincerity of Mormons in the face of death does.

    I honestly have no idea what evidence that would be sufficient to establish the resurrection as a historical fact would look like. As you noted above, the kind of evidence needed to prove one-off events in the ancient world is hard to come by. If such an event occurred today, I suppose that there might be some way that it it could be documented well enough that I would conclude that all known natural explanations were unlikely, but we will simply never have that kind of documentation for such an event in the ancient world. There will always be too many unknowns to eliminate all natural explanations.

  32. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    If such an event occurred today, I suppose that there might be some way that it it could be documented well enough that I would conclude that all known natural explanations were unlikely, but we will simply never have that kind of documentation for such an event in the ancient world.

    So I’m wasting my time trying to persuade you of the resurrection with evidence. You’ve decided a priori that evidence sufficient to warrant belief in the resurrection is impossible, assumed that a natural explanation is most likely true, and rationalised the documentary evidence accordingly. Looks like an impervious position to me.

  33. vinnyjh57 says:

    I don’t know what you mean by a priori. I’ve based my conclusions on my knowledge and experience and I’ve tried my best to test my conclusions in discussions with people who will challenge them. I have not judged the odds of persuading you to be very high, but I have nonetheless made my arguments.

  34. TFBW says:

    In case you haven’t noticed, Vinny, there is no actual way to challenge your conclusion. Your conclusion is ultimately secured by a couple of simple premises, as follows, with all the other verbiage being mere window-dressing. (1) In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, the only reasonable belief is that the resurrection did not happen. (2) Compelling evidence to the contrary is not possible: “we will simply never have that kind of documentation for such an event in the ancient world.” Therefore, (3) the only reasonable belief is that the resurrection did not happen.

    If I’ve misrepresented your position (i.e. you disagree with either of the premises), then please clarify. Alternatively, if you think there’s a way to get around the conclusion, given the premises, I’d be interested to hear it.

  35. Dhay says:

    vinnyjh57 > I didn’t have the honesty to twist the texts in metaphorical pretzels when the authors clearly meant them as literal.

    You include the Book of Jonah in that list of texts. While it has an obviously serious message, you should have identified within the first three verses that its author did not mean it as literal, but wrote it in a deliciously humorous over-the-top slapstick style; it continues in that style.

    > That people are afraid of death and want their lives to have meaning is a more than adequate explanation for the growth of any religion.

    I am not sure any part of that applies to my own conversion from atheist to Christian.

  36. Bilbo says:

    Vinny, if you’re really interested in investigating this further, I recommend C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, which provides a good preliminary framework for studying the historical evidence of the miracle of the Incarnation.

  37. vinnyjh57 says:

    That first quote isn’t from me.

    Regarding the second: I obviously cannot comment on your specific reasons for becoming a Christian. I was addressing general reasons for the existence of religion. I would be very surprised if the desire for meaning played no part in your conversion, but I cannot say more than that.

  38. Michael says:

    Miracles like the resurrection don’t follow known processes of cause and effect. That’s what makes them miracles. As a result, I agree that they are beyond the scope of scientific verification or refutation. It is not so much that science contradicts miracles, but that science can’t detect any phenomenon that doesn’t follow scientific laws whether that phenomenon is God or miracles or leprechauns. It is like trying to measure radon gas with a ruler, i.e., it’s not the right tool for the job.

    Indeed. The problem is that we have people using their scientific authority to mislead the public into thinking the opposite.

    Of course if we have no way to detect a phenomenon, I think we eventually reach a point where we are justified in concluding that it probably doesn’t exist.

    If the resurrection was true, science would not be able to detect it. Thus, no conclusion follows from having “no way to detect a phenomenon” unless you have some non-scientific method of “detection” in mind and then you would need to spell it out.

    If you go this route, keep in mind you are making a claim about reality that is nothing more than an expression of our limitations to detect. Since you have no way to rule out a false negative, you would have no way to know whether your conclusion was correct. I’m not sure why you are so quick to abandon your agnositcism.

    The way I see it is that if you think the resurrection did not happen because there is no way to detect if it happened, fine, as long as you acknowledge this belief as it is – a personal opinion. However, the moment you begin to insist I have some rational obligation to deny the resurrection is the moment you’ll run into trouble.

  39. vinnyjh57 says:

    Bilbo,

    If I decline to read Lewis’s book, would you take that as proof that I am not really interested in investigating the issues? Life is too short to read all the things I would like to read, much less all the things Christians think it would be useful for me to read. I think Lewis is a good writer, but so many apologists base their arguments on his writings that I am doubtful that I would gain any new insights by reading more books by him. However, I believe my local library has a copy of Miracles, so I’ll look for it next time I’m there.

  40. Bilbo says:

    Vinny, Lewis’s Miracles (especially the chapters “On Probability” and “The Grand Miracle,” discuss the issues that you raised here. You might find them helpful. I agree that Lewis is a good writer. And I thoughtful one. That is why he has had so much influence on others.

  41. Bilbo says:

    …a thoughtful one…

  42. vinnyjh57 says:

    Michael,

    By your logic, I could affirm neither that the Angel Moroni didn’t show Joseph Smith where the Golden Plates were buried nor that Lord Xenu didn’t kill aliens with a hydrogen bomb after dropping them into a volcano. I couldn’t affirm the non-existence of leprechauns, pixies, thetans, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Nonetheless I do and I think I am reasonable to do so. It is not just that I cannot confirm their occurrence or existence respectively; it is also that they are inconsistent with everything that I can confirm about the way that the world works.

  43. vinnyjh57 says:

    TBFW,

    I don’t think I have any real problem with the way you have characterized my argument, although I think it is more nuanced and I think there is more to my elaboration of my points than window-dressing.

    If my conclusion is unsound, then it should be subject to challenge either because it does not logically follow from my premises or because my premises are invalid. If there is no actual way to challenge it, that would suggest to me that it is a good argument.

  44. vinnyjh57 says:

    Bilbo,

    Because he has had so much influence on others, I suspect that I have probably encountered most of his arguments in one form or another. I have from time to time read books that some Christian has told me would be helpful. In most cases, I find that that they contain arguments that I have already encountered.

  45. Michael says:

    Vinny,

    By your logic, if the resurrection did indeed happen, we’d all have to deny it. Your logic is predisposed to spit out false negatives and there is nothing to stop it from doing it. What’s more, if the resurrection is the issue, as I explained in the blog entry, “the way the world works” is exactly how we would expect it to work if the resurrection was true.

  46. Bilbo says:

    Vinny,

    Almost invariably the one argument from Lewis’s Miracles that is cited is his argument that Naturalism is self-refuting, from the third chapter. Everybody gets stuck there and doesn’t read any further. I suggest skipping it and going to the back of the book and reading the two chapters I mentioned. It will save you time and get to the heart of your objections. And I have rarely heard anybody cite them or use them. I expect it will be new material for you.

  47. vinnyjh57 says:

    Michael,

    Why do you think that my method is predisposed to spit out false negatives? Do you believe in any of the other things that my method leads me to deny? I would guess that you would deny a great many of the things that my method leads me to deny. I suspect that it is only when it comes to the supernatural claims of your particular religious tradition that you find it wanting.

  48. Michael says:

    Why do you think that my method is predisposed to spit out false negatives?

    Because if the resurrection did indeed happen, we’d all have to deny it.

    Do you believe in any of the other things that my method leads me to deny?

    No. But that is not the same as insisting they are not true.

    I would guess that you would deny a great many of the things that my method leads me to deny. I suspect that it is only when it comes to the supernatural claims of your particular religious tradition that you find it wanting.

    Your suspicions seem to be premised on the notion that I have never ever contemplated such issues before. To begin, you are trying to make arguments from analogy here. Do you think these analogies are powerful and strong?

  49. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    If my conclusion is unsound, then it should be subject to challenge either because it does not logically follow from my premises or because my premises are invalid.

    The argument is valid: the conclusion follows from the premises. Persuading someone to give up their premises is always a difficult task, however. I disagree with premise #2: I think that the evidence we have is compelling, and you’re being closed-minded about the possibility that the testimony of the resurrection is straightforwardly true. The idea that God exists and raised Jesus from the dead is far less of a stretch than the idea that all those witnesses were somehow mistaken — including Thomas, who refused to believe unless he see and touch for himself — and then went on to found one of the world’s most influential religions anyhow. If you assume, for the sake of argument, that God exists and Jesus is who he claimed to be, then the resurrection makes perfect sense, don’t you think?

  50. vinnyjh57 says:

    Because if the resurrection did indeed happen, we’d all have to deny it.

    Aren’t you begging the question? If the resurrection really didn’t happen, it isn’t a false negative.

    No. But that is not the same as insisting they are not true.

    I suppose it’s not. Would you be more comfortable if instead of saying “I deny the existence of leprechauns,” I said “I affirm that it is much more reasonable to believe that leprechauns don’t exist than it is to believe that they do exist” or perhaps “I affirm that the leprechaun hypothesis is so lacking in explanatory power that it is perfectly to treat leprechauns as non-existence”?

    Your suspicions seem to be premised on the notion that I have never ever contemplated such issues before.

    On the contrary, I have no doubt that you have thought about these issues a lot. I don’t think I would have bothered to comment on your blog if I didn’t think you were capable of challenging my ideas.

    Do you think these analogies are powerful and strong?

    I don’t think of analogies in terms of being “powerful” or “strong.” I think that arguments can be either powerful or weak, but I think that analogies should be thought of in terms of being useful or not useful. An analogy can always be criticized on the grounds that the analogous phenomenon or situation is different from the one to which it being analogized. It wouldn’t an analogy if they weren’t different. The question is whether the point upon which the analogy is being used is sufficiently similar to make the analogy useful.

  51. vinnyjh57 says:

    The problem is that I don’t have the testimony of witnesses. I have accounts written decades after the fact. I cannot be sure who the authors were. I cannot be sure about their sources. I have no way to know how many times the authors were removed from the originators of the stories and I know nothing about the people who passed on the stories. I can’t find anything in such stories that meets the definition of testimony.

    My choice isn’t limited to (a) God raised Jesus from the dead; or (b) all those witnesses were mistaken. There is also (c) the events as well as the number of witnesses were greatly exaggerated as the stories were told and retold. I can concede the possibility of (a) being true, but given the quality of the evidence and the proven propensity of human beings to engage in (c), I don’t see how I could assess it as probable.

    I have no problem assuming for the sake of argument that God exists. I accept that as a reasonable possibility even though I don’t think the evidence is sufficient to establish it. I’m not sure who Jesus said he was as I don’t think the gospels are consistent or reliable, although I suppose that I could assume that he was who the author of the Gospel of John understood him to be. Even assuming those things, I don’t think that the resurrection makes much sense.

    I don’t get the idea that God needed to kill Jesus in order to satisfy his sense of justice. I don’t get the idea that God eternally rewards people who believe an outlandish idea on faith while condemning to eternal torment those who never hear the idea. I don’t get the idea that God gives me the power of reason with which to make sense of the world in which I find myself, but then punishes me when my use of it doesn’t lead me to embrace ancient stories of supernatural events.

  52. Bilbo says:

    I don’t get the idea that God needed to kill Jesus in order to satisfy his sense of justice. I don’t get the idea that God eternally rewards people who believe an outlandish idea on faith while condemning to eternal torment those who never hear the idea. I don’t get the idea that God gives me the power of reason with which to make sense of the world in which I find myself, but then punishes me when my use of it doesn’t lead me to embrace ancient stories of supernatural events.

    I don’t believe any of this, either.

  53. Bilbo says:

    Here is a link to Lewis’s essay, “The Grand Miracle,” which is sort of a shortened form of the chapter from his book. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2014/05/christianity-is-one-great-miracle-the-grand-miracle-by-c-s-lewis/

  54. Bilbo says:

    There’s more to Lewis’s essay that is missing in that link. I’ll see if there is a complete one.

  55. Bilbo says:

    No luck. Oh well, at least they printed most of the essay. Hopefully your local library will have a copy of Miracles, Vinny.

  56. TFBW says:

    Vinny, your general approach to the available evidence is constructed in such a way that the evidence will inevitably be stripped of all its weight. You place up-front demands on the evidence which the evidence does not meet, then dismiss the evidence on that basis. As such, you are winning your case on technicalities of your own invention. You never assess the evidence on its own terms: you demand terms that it does not meet, then immediately conclude that the whole thing is best explained as human error — not because the data fits the pattern of human error better than it fits the pattern of genuine testimony, but because it is asking you to believe too much if it is genuine testimony.

    That’s one objection. Here’s another one, related but distinct.

    If your argument is a justified approach to history, then it seems that we can be fully justified in doubting the Darwinian doctrine of universal common ancestry (UCA), based on a highly similar argument. (1a) In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, the only reasonable belief is that UCA is false, because our universal law-like experience is that life reproduces after its kind. No amount of selective breeding gets you a bird from a fish or vice versa: experience shows that variation is only possible within limits. (2a) Compelling evidence to the contrary is not possible: we will simply never have that kind of documentation for such an event in the ancient world. Our primary source of evidence, the fossils, are simply the preserved remains of dead animals, which are even less indicative of their ancestry than live animals (data is missing). There’s no compelling way to verify their relatedness. Therefore, (3a) the only reasonable belief is that UCA is false.

    Note that I’m not really interested in defending UCA scepticism here — I’m just picking on something which I suspect you believe in, and showing that your own pattern of argument can be used against it. Assuming you subscribe to UCA, and feel that you are justified in doing so, can you highlight the missing differences between the two cases?

  57. vinnyjh57 says:

    What do think “assess[ing] the evidence on its own terms” would look like? I have given you specific reasons why I think the evidence for the resurrection is problematic.

    Regarding universal common ancestry, I don’t think that the analogy is terribly helpful, but I will try to address it based on what I have read on the topic. It may be reasonable to infer a law that life reproduces after its own kind, however, but I don’t think that we can infer exact limits on range of variation that is possible. In any case, the theory only posits small variations so I don’t see that it violates anything that we know by experience. I think you vastly underestimate what can be gleaned from the fossil. We can see the variety of life forms that have arisen and gone extinct at various times throughout out the history of the world. Since they are clearly coming from somewhere, the inference that different kinds change over long periods of time seems pretty strong to most scientists. The similarities in DNA across various forms of life is also strong evidence. .

    One big difference between the UCA and the resurrection is the absence of a viable alternative hypothesis for the former. As I have pointed out, we have plenty of examples of fantastic stories that grew and spread as a result of some combination of human shortcomings such as ignorance, superstition, wishful thinking, exaggeration, gullibility, and prevarication.

  58. Michael says:

    Aren’t you begging the question? If the resurrection really didn’t happen, it isn’t a false negative.

    No. I’m simply pointing out that your logic is predisposed to false negatives. According to your logic, IF the resurrection occurred, THEN we would still have to deny it. In other words, it is going to give us the same answer (no!) whether or not the resurrection happened.

    I don’t think of analogies in terms of being “powerful” or “strong.” I think that arguments can be either powerful or weak, but I think that analogies should be thought of in terms of being useful or not useful.

    I disagree. A useful analogy that is weak is not very useful. Well, then again, weak analogies are useful for building straw men and propping up preconceptions.

    From what I see, you are expecting me to employ a methodology which would have me deny the resurrection even if it happened. And then you support this line of thinking with a series of weak, strained analogies. And throughout all of this, you come across as someone who confuses their own personal opinions about reality with knowledge.

  59. vinnyjh57 says:

    Michael,

    Unless you think there is some way to know the past perfectly, any method you choose is going to produce some incorrect answers. For example, given the available evidence, it may be most logical to believe that William Shakespeare wrote the plays that are attributed to him. That may be true even if Francis Bacon wrote them. It may be that there is no methodology that could determine that Bacon was the author given the available evidence. That is not sufficient to prove that the methodology is faulty. Rather, it may simply be a function of our inherent inability to know the past perfectly. It may still be that the methodology that produced that incorrect answer is better than any other because it produces more correct answers.

    If you think that my analogies are weak and strained, tell me what methods you use to distinguish between supernatural stories that are the product of ignorance, superstition, wishful thinking, exaggeration, gullibility, and prevarication and those that are the product of actual supernatural events. What are the differences and how do you know that those particular differences are the ones that distinguish true miracle stories from myths and legends?

  60. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    What do think “assess[ing] the evidence on its own terms” would look like?

    Analysis of the testimony to see whether it more closely resembles a mistake, a hoax, or genuine testimony — not on the basis of what is being claimed, as you do, but on the basis of what we know about mistakes, hoaxes, and genuine testimony. This also needs to take into consideration the culture of the time, of course. As such, it’s a cross-disciplinary problem involving knowledge of ancient culture, and expertise in testimony (which is a specialisation of psychology, I suppose).

    I don’t think that we can infer exact limits on range of variation that is possible.

    I disagree. I think that we have ample data to infer important limits, and to say with practical certainty that you can’t breed fish into birds, no matter how long and hard you try. However, if you want to build an argument from ignorance, that is duly noted.

    … the theory only posits small variations so I don’t see that it violates anything that we know by experience.

    The theory posits that small changes accumulate without limit into large changes, which is contrary to experience. Experience tells us that changes accumulate up to a point, and then you start straining at the boundaries of viability — e.g. dog breeds.

    We can see the variety of life forms that have arisen and gone extinct at various times throughout out the history of the world.

    Not relevant: that doesn’t tell us that they are related.

    The similarities in DNA across various forms of life is also strong evidence.

    And what if I claim that the remaining dissimilarity is strong evidence that they are unrelated? Fish and birds can’t be related: they are too dissimilar. Why should I prefer your assertion over mine?

    One big difference between the UCA and the resurrection is the absence of a viable alternative hypothesis for the former.

    This sounds interesting. What do you mean by “viable”? Aren’t you just saying that we can explain the resurrection without resort to divine intervention, but Darwinian UCA is already as God-free as it gets, so there’s no obvious way to improve it? Any by “improve”, I mean remove God from the picture.

    It seems to me, given this A/B comparison here, that it’s not “things which run contrary to experience” which you object to, but “divine intervention”. I can see that you’re willing to be highly imaginative about what might have happened, and entertain a lot of possibilities which are contrary to experience, so long as they don’t involve God.

  61. vinnyjh57 says:

    It seems to me that every month or two, I read a story about a man released from prison because he has been exonerated by DNA evidence that wasn’t available at the time he was convicted. Often the conviction was obtained with eyewitnesses testimony, but when science says that things didn’t happen the way the witness said they did, the court goes with the science.

    I just don’t see any basis for the idea that we can or do evaluate testimony without considering what it is that is being claimed. Whether the thing that is being claimed is consistent with our knowledge and experience is a primary way in which we evaluate its truthfulness.

  62. Bilbo says:

    Vinny,

    Yesterday, you said that you were willing to accept for the sake of argument that God exists, but that even so, the resurrection didn’t make sense. I posted a link to the C.S. Lewis essay (well, 75% of it, plus a cute video, which I guess they think is more important than the remaining 25%), in which he argues that the resurrection would make sense. Just wondering if you had time to read it.

  63. vinnyjh57 says:

    Only a quick glance. I had planned to go by the library today to pick up the whole text, but my wife had a different itinerary in mind.

  64. Bilbo says:

    I hear ya’.

  65. Billy Squibs says:

    “Often the conviction was obtained with eyewitnesses testimony, but when science says that things didn’t happen the way the witness said they did, the court goes with the science.”

    On the contrary, if eye-witness testimony is deemed to be of sufficient quality then it will over-rule any forensic evidence. But you know this already, Vinny. Remember this post? You commented on it after all. http://randalrauser.com/2013/12/rd-miksa-on-the-evidentiary-value-of-eye-witness-testimony/

  66. vinnyjh57 says:

    Yes. I see that I asked for some relevant case citations that were never provided.

  67. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    … when science says that things didn’t happen the way the witness said they did, the court goes with the science.

    That says more about the prestige of science and experts than it does about their reliability, but it’s a side-issue, because this isn’t a question of science vs witnesses. There is no scientific evidence on the table with regards to the resurrection: witness testimony is all we have. All parties concede that resurrection does not happen naturally, and there is no scientific data that can tell us whether the resurrection actually happened or not. Your objection is not a scientific one: it is not based on measurement or experiment. It is a philosophical objection based in a metaphysics which is ultra-sceptical of claims involving divine intervention. This is often mistaken for a scientific position, but it isn’t one.

    I just don’t see any basis for the idea that we can or do evaluate testimony without considering what it is that is being claimed.

    We certainly do consider what is being claimed. A witness can be caught out in a lie by self-contradiction — although the contradiction may be an illusion brought about by shrewd questioning on the part of an adversarial lawyer. That which is claimed must also cohere with whatever facts are known. Those are not the sorts of objections that you are bringing to the table, however. You are appealing against the very possibility of resurrection. Indeed, you ascribe it a sufficient degree of improbability that no reasonably-obtainable evidence could prevail. This produces exactly the same degree of intransigence as certain knowledge, even if it claims to be something weaker.

    In making this claim, you’ve said, “whether the thing that is being claimed is consistent with our knowledge and experience is a primary way in which we evaluate its truthfulness.” As I have pointed out, however, you don’t apply this consistency test consistently. You apply it harshly when the claim is resurrection, and leniently when the claim is universal common ancestry. Why? I submit that it’s because universal common ancestry is making the kind of claim that supports your metaphysical outlook, whereas the resurrection is the kind of thing which threatens it. In other words, it’s fairly blatant confirmation bias.

    No doubt you disagree. Feel free to explain.

  68. Billy Squibs says:

    I think that’s a dodge, Vinny. Indeed, you posted that same objection word for word on Rauser’s blog a year back. It looks suspicious and it makes me wonder if you aren’t locked into the argument and nothing anyone can say will change your mind.

    On this thread you made a claim about the absolute confidence the law places on ‘science’ over against eyewitness testimony that conflicts with this evidence. One doesn’t have to cite specific cases to know that this is false. (And I wonder why your set of circumstances were so damn specific when you asked Miksa for citation?) Miksa offered a scenario whereby seemingly irrefutable scientific evidence could be overturned based upon eyewitness testimony. It is irrelevant if one believes him to be untrustworthy or offering a fanciful story. What is important is that a scenario can be offered that refutes your claim.

    The following comes from the thread I linked to previously and it comes just 3 comments before your comment in the link I provided.

    A man is at a bar. A punk (Punk 1), with a Criminal Record for multiple assaults, is also at the bar. The man and Punk 1—who the man knows well but also with whom he has a problem—start exchanging words. They start pushing and shoving each other. They then take their dispute outside to a back-alley. Once there, the man and Punk 1 start what is called a “Consent Fight.” During this fight, Punk 1 punches the
    man in the nose, which causes the punk’s knuckles to bruise and swell and which also causes the man’s blood to spatter across the punk’s shirt. In addition,
    during this fight, the man scratches Punk 1 and gets the punk’s skin under his (the man’s) nails as well as tearing off some of the punk’s clothing in the process. Also, during the fight, Punk 1 steps in a small amount of mud and leaves his boot impression there at the scene.

    Now, after a few moments, the fight ceases. But suddenly, from deeper in the alley-way, the brother of Punk 1—call him Punk 2—comes out of the darkness. The man spins around. He sees Punk 2, who he also knows. But before the man can react, Punk 2
    hammers the man in the head with a crow bar which he (Punk 2) is holding with gloves on. The man goes down unconscious and in a coma. Punk 1 is in shock at what just happened. Punk 2, however, throws the crow-bar at Punk 1; Punk 1 grabs the crow-bar but then throws it away into the alley-way. However, before he did so, Punk 1 got his fingerprints on the crow-bar. Both punks then run from the scene in separate directions. However, it just happens that Punk 1 is caught on Surveillance Video half a block from the crime scene running away.

    Police come to investigate the crime. They find the man unconscious and in a coma. They investigate the whole crime scene. They discover all the forensic evidence at the scene. Upon processing the evidence, the police determine that literally all the forensic evidence points to Punk 1 and no forensic evidence points to anyone else; from a forensic perspective, this is nearly a perfect case. As such, the police arrest Punk 1 and charge him with aggravated assault. While arresting Punk 1, police discover even more forensic evidence that incriminates Punk 1. But Punk 1, not wishing to rat out his brother (Punk 2), then says nothing to the police except that he did not do the crime.

    Now, in this situation, watch how eye-witness testimony would be able to overpower the forensic evidence of even this forensically powerful case.

    1) Eye-Witness Confession: If the brother, Punk 2, suddenly appeared at the police station and confessed to the crime, providing multiple details of what happened, how it happened, etc., then police would have a very difficult time in forming the reasonable and probable grounds to charge Punk 1 with the assault. This would especially be the case if Punk 1 had also provided an independent statement which matched the narrative provided by Punk 2. So here, a confession by Punk 2 would essentially make it impossible to convict Punk 1 of the crime even given all the forensic evidence that pointed to him.

    2) Multiple Eye-Witnesses: If five people who, say, knew Punk 1 and Punk 2 (but were not friends with them, etc.), had suddenly stepped into the alley-way as Punk 2 had hit the man with the crow-bar, and if these five people provided statements to the police which clearly and distinctly identified the crow-bar attacker as Punk 2 rather than Punk 1, then the eye-witness testimony of these five people would override all the forensic evidence that had been found.

    3) Expert Eye-Witness Testimony: Finally, say that there was only one eye-witness who observed that Punk 2 had been the actual crow-bar attacker rather than Punk 1, but say that this one eye-witness was an undercover police officer of high reliability who was trained in observation and picking up all visual clues during an incident. Well, this one expert eye-witness’s testimony would be enough, in and of itself, to override all the forensic evidence that pointed to Punk 1. Or if the man woke from his coma and told the police that his main attacker was Punk 2 rather than Punk 1, then this eye-witness testimony would also be enough to override all the forensic evidence at the scene.

    So, my whole point is this: I have personally dealt with cases like this and these cases have taught me the clear truth of the three points that I made in my original e-mail.

    But accept that fact or not, it matters little to me, I only wish to provide the knowledge that I have gained from my experiences.

  69. Billy Squibs says:

    “… this isn’t a question of science vs witnesses. There is no scientific evidence on the table with regards to the resurrection: witness testimony is all we have. All parties concede that resurrection does not happen naturally, and there is no scientific data that can tell us whether the resurrection actually happened or not. Your objection is not a scientific one: it is not based on measurement or experiment. It is a philosophical objection based in a metaphysics which is ultra-sceptical of claims involving divine intervention. This is often mistaken for a scientific position, but it isn’t one.”

    Exactly.

  70. vinnyjh57 says:

    It has been several years since I read The Ancestor’s Tale by Dawkins, but I recall finding the evidence and the arguments quite compelling. I think that your question concerning difference in DNA was adequately addressed, but I don’t recall all the specifics. On the other hand, all scientific knowledge is provisional so I certainly acknowledge the possibility that someone could come along and demonstrate that universal common ancestry isn’t consistent with knowledge and experience. No offense, but I doubt that you will be the one to do it.

    When I asked you what assessing the testimony on its own terms, you said we should use what we know of mistakes, hoaxes, and genuine testimony. If I understood you correctly, the inquiry would also embrace archeology, anthropology, and psychology. In other words, you advocate using our knowledge of the way things normally happen in order to evaluate the evidence except when it come to claims of divine intervention. For those, you want to disregard our knowledge and experience.

    The fact of the matter is that we don’t have witness testimony here other than perhaps Paul’s claim that Jesus appeared to him. We have stories of unknown authorship written decades after the facts they purport to record based on sources about which we know nothing.

  71. vinnyjh57 says:

    Billy,

    In that hypothetical case, science doesn’t disagree with anything the witnesses had to say. The fingerprints tell us that Punk 1 handled the crowbar, which is perfectly true. Science has nothing to say about whether the fight between Punk 1 and the man was consensual or not.

    The kind of conflict I am talking about is when the victim identifies a particular man as her rapist, but the DNA says that someone else did it, or where the witness says he saw the defendant fire the shot that killed the victim, but the ballistic evidence says that the bullet came from a different gun and the matching gun powder residue is found on someone else’s hands. In those cases, the courts go with what science says happened.

    I have posted the same argument on other blogs because I think that it is a good argument and I like to test it against thoughtful people. I didn’t follow it up on that particular thread because R.D. Miksa was claiming that he couldn’t talk about his experiences in military intelligence and I didn’t want to get into a discussion with someone who couldn’t discuss the evidence that supported his arguments. So I asked him to cite some relevant case law which I thought would provide a firmer basis for discussion, but he declined to do so and I didn’t think any more about it until you brought it up.

    I think your concerns about me being locked into my argument such that nothing anyone can change my mind are a bit of a dodge, too. If you think you have good responses, make them and I will be happy to discuss them with you. I am happy to test my ideas, but it is perfectly true that I don’t expect you to convince me I am wrong any more than you expect to be convinced by my arguments.

  72. Kevin says:

    Vinny, just a random musing on my part here. Let’s say you became convinced that a creator being was a more plausible explanation for existence than any naturalistic explanation. Once you have established a powerful supernatural presence in your accepted worldview, do the testimonies of the resurrection become more plausible?

  73. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    It has been several years since I read The Ancestor’s Tale by Dawkins, but I recall finding the evidence and the arguments quite compelling. I think that your question concerning difference in DNA was adequately addressed, but I don’t recall all the specifics. On the other hand, all scientific knowledge is provisional so I certainly acknowledge the possibility that someone could come along and demonstrate that universal common ancestry isn’t consistent with knowledge and experience. No offense, but I doubt that you will be the one to do it.

    None taken. It’s your choice as to which authority you defer to in matters beyond your own capacity for judgement. Fortunately, I wasn’t trying to persuade you that UCA is false: I was merely highlighting an inconsistency between your appeal to experience in that matter, versus your appeal to experience in the matter of the resurrection. I think it is noteworthy that when you appeal to experience in the matter of UCA, you are actually appealing to an authority’s interpretation of experience, rather than experience as such.

    In other words, you advocate using our knowledge of the way things normally happen in order to evaluate the evidence except when it come to claims of divine intervention. For those, you want to disregard our knowledge and experience.

    You have experience of divine intervention? Oh, wait — you were appealing to a lack of experience as experience of lack. I’ve been over this with the UCA issue. The claims of UCA lie outside the possibility of direct experience, because, like the resurrection itself, if it happened, it happened in the past and the process can not be reproduced in the present. But you’re not sceptical of UCA, even though it conflicts with “the way things normally happen”. Dawkins tells you in eloquent prose that UCA is consistent with our daily experience even if we don’t recognise it, and it sounds right to you when he says it. Maybe if you read C. S. Lewis on miracles, you will find the corresponding aid that you need to overcome your doubts re divine intervention.

    The fact of the matter is that we don’t have witness testimony here other than perhaps Paul’s claim that Jesus appeared to him. We have stories of unknown authorship written decades after the facts they purport to record based on sources about which we know nothing.

    And I’m suggesting that we approach those records with an open mind, using our knowledge of testimony, myth, hoax, and delusion to form a judgement about which of these categories the records best fit, rather than summarily dismiss them on the grounds that they speak of astounding things which you are disinclined to believe. I think I’ve repeated myself enough on that issue by now, surely. I don’t see the fact that they were written decades later as being particularly important: the early days of the church were based on the continuing testimony of living witnesses — written records came later. Big deal.

    The kind of conflict I am talking about is when the victim identifies a particular man as her rapist, but the DNA says that someone else did it …

    Then, as I said earlier, you are talking about the kind of conflict which does not exist in this case, because there is no forensic evidence available in relation to the resurrection. You are confusing metaphysics with forensics, which is a pretty severe category error.

  74. vinnyjh57 says:

    TBFW,

    I am using my knowledge of testimony, myth, hoax, and delusion, and that knowledge includes Palmyra, Roswell, and Fatima. I haven’t summarily dismissed the stories on the grounds that they report astounding things. I have compared them to other reports of astounding thing and found them similarly wanting.

  75. vinnyjh57 says:

    Kevin,

    I believed in a creator for most of my life without considering the resurrection stories to be historically plausible. There was a brief time that I accepted the Bible as the inspired word of God, but even then, I found evidentiary apologetics unsatisfying.

  76. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    I have compared them to other reports of astounding thing and found them similarly wanting.

    Then you’re misunderstanding me. There are two distinct questions to be answered here.

    First, is the text of the New Testament best understood as testimony, myth, hoax, or delusion, based solely on the characteristics of the text itself? There are certain distinctive characteristics of each category, which is what makes categorisation possible at all. I have some related skills in the area of cybercrime: I can pick a phishing email from the real deal with much greater reliability than most, for example. There are distinctive characteristics which mark the fraud from the real thing, despite the fraud’s attempt to appear legitimate — and despite the highly ill-advised choices of the legitimate parties in some cases.

    Second, to the extent that the New Testament is best understood as a genuine testimony of historical events, does it warrant belief in its claims? This is the question that you seem to be answering, but you do so by answering the first in a manner that renders the second immaterial — by denying the text the status of testimony.

    This conflation of two distinct issues is causing confusion and miscommunication. I ask that you would please try to make a distinction between the two.

    I don’t think you’ve engaged in a serious attempt to answer the first of these questions. Perhaps you aren’t even interested in answering it — I won’t insist that you ought to be. That being so, however, you should stop answering the second question as though you were answering the first. Profess ignorance on the first, and knowledge on the second. Say, “I don’t know whether the authors of the New Testament were giving an honest report of their experience or not, and I don’t need to know that in order to reasonably doubt their claims.”

    This brings the focus back to where it ought to be: your reasons for scepticism. Clearly, if the material in question is a myth, a hoax, or delusional, then there is no need to make a case for scepticism, so a defence of scepticism should start from the working assumption that the testimony is sincere and reasonably accurate in as much as it speaks of observations. In the absence of an answer to question one, you need to be able to say, “if the apostle Paul and his five-hundred-plus witnesses [1 Cor. 15] were each to relay their testimony to me of how they saw Jesus risen again after his execution, and if I couldn’t falsify or explain away any of their accounts, I would still deny that Jesus rose, and feel justified in doing so, because I am sure that no man rises from the dead.”

    If you aren’t willing to make so bold a claim, then perhaps you need to examine question one in more detail. If you are willing to make so bold a claim, then we can revisit your justification for such intransigent scepticism.

  77. Michael says:

    Unless you think there is some way to know the past perfectly, any method you choose is going to produce some incorrect answers.

    We’re not talking about some need for an infallible method. We’re talking about a method that is guarenteed to generate a false negative when it comes to the resurrection. According to your logic, IF the resurrection occurred, THEN we would still have to deny it. In other words, it is going to give us the same answer (no!) whether or not the resurrection happened. This tells me your method is useless for determining whether or not the resurrection occurred, which explains why you are in the following position: “I honestly have no idea what evidence that would be sufficient to establish the resurrection as a historical fact would look like.”

    If you think that my analogies are weak and strained, tell me what methods you use to distinguish between supernatural stories that are the product of ignorance, superstition, wishful thinking, exaggeration, gullibility, and prevarication and those that are the product of actual supernatural events.

    If the analogies are weak and strained, there is no need for such a method. If the analogy is false, there is no extra demand required to reject it.

    Look, I have already shown that science and the resurrection are not incompatible and that science cannot determine whether or not the resurrection occurred. Any “method” outside of science is going to boil down to a subjective judgment call. So before we go down that road, and get further and further from my blog entry, it would help if you let me know if there is anything in my blog entry that you disagree with.

  78. vinnyjh57 says:

    Michael,

    If I follow your logic correctly, any historical method that reached a negative conclusion about the resurrection would be invalid by simple virtue of the fact that it reached a negative conclusion. After all, if it is consistent, it will always reach that conclusion given the available evidence.

  79. Michael says:

    If I follow your logic correctly, any historical method that reached a negative conclusion about the resurrection would be invalid by simple virtue of the fact that it reached a negative conclusion.

    No, the problem with your “method” is not that it generates a negative conclusion, but that it can’t generate anything other than a negative conclusion. When it comes to determining whether the resurrection happened or not, it is worthless.

    After all, if it is consistent, it will always reach that conclusion given the available evidence.

    What is available are the data. The mind is what converts the data into “evidence.” And we know how your mind works -“I honestly have no idea what evidence that would be sufficient to establish the resurrection as a historical fact would look like.”

    You have a “method” that is guaranteed to declare the resurrection is false (even if was true) and you have no idea what evidence for the resurrection would even look like. Am I supposed to feel challenged by this type of posturing?

  80. vinnyjh57 says:

    Any method that produces a particular conclusion when applied to a particular set of data should produce that same conclusion every time it is applied to that same set of data. So any method that comes to a negative conclusion about the resurrection is guaranteed to produce a negative conclusion in the same way that mine is. If it is applied consistently, it should never come up with any other conclusion.

    If you have some method for determining what evidence that would be sufficient to establish the resurrection as a historical fact looks like, I would be happy for you to tell me.

  81. TFBW says:

    Any method that produces a particular conclusion when applied to a particular set of data should produce that same conclusion every time it is applied to that same set of data.

    Yes, but the objection is that your method produces the same conclusion about the resurrection with any set of data. It’s the equivalent of multiplying by zero.

  82. vinnyjh57 says:

    TBFW,

    That may be your objection, but that doesn’t appear to be what Michael was claiming.

  83. TFBW says:

    I think you’re misunderstanding. Michael said, “the problem with your “method” is not that it generates a negative conclusion, but that it can’t generate anything other than a negative conclusion.” In the same way that multiplying by zero always produces zero, no matter what the multiplicand, your “method” always concludes that the resurrection did not happen, no matter what the evidence.

  84. Michael says:

    Any method that produces a particular conclusion when applied to a particular set of data should produce that same conclusion every time it is applied to that same set of data.

    Yes, and if the resurrection was true, your “method’ would reliably tell us it was untrue. Reliability is not the same as validity.

  85. TFBW says:

    Producing the same conclusion from the same data is better described as “consistency”. Reliability should refer to how often the method produces correct answers. Of course, there’s also a difference between “consistency” and something which produces the same result for all data (like multiplying by zero). I think the right term for that is “constancy”, on the grounds that the outcome is a constant for all inputs.

    I have a method similar to Vinny’s which tells me whether I’m going to win the lottery next week. It consists of the word “NO” written in permanent marker on a piece of paper. If it ever says “YES”, I’ll buy a lottery ticket.

  86. vinnyjh57 says:

    Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine with which to check to see whether a method is giving us the right answers in disputed cases so we need some other basis to assess its validity.

  87. Bilbo says:

    I agree with you Vinny. That is why Lewis offers “some other basis to assess its validity.”

  88. TFBW says:

    vinnyjh57 said:

    … we don’t have a time machine … we need some other basis …

    Nobody is disputing this. The dispute is over which other basis.

    The problem with your basis is that it can not recognise the existence of a miracle. Your major objection to the resurrection is that it goes against everything that you know about how the world operates on a day-to-day basis. Only if resurrection were the sort of thing that happened from time to time could the resurrection of Jesus could be accepted as a historical possibility, but there would be no need to consider it miraculous under those conditions. So the method allows that either it didn’t happen, or it wasn’t a miracle: that it happened and was a miracle is not a possible conclusion, whether it is true or not.

    Is there really any point in trying to determine whether a miracle occurred using a method which can not possibly recognise the existence of a miracle?

  89. Michael says:

    Nice summary. In fact…..

    Only if resurrection were the sort of thing that happened from time to time could the resurrection of Jesus could be accepted as a historical possibility, but there would be no need to consider it miraculous under those conditions.

    …it’s even stronger than that. If resurrections were the sort of thing that happened from time to time, that would undermine core Christian theology.

    Vinny’s “method” was defeated in the original blog entry. He just doesn’t realize it (or did not read it).

  90. TFBW says:

    It looks like Jerry Coyne is adopting a lame formulation of science for the purposes of “Faith Versus Fact”. In it, he quotes the physicist Ian Hutchinson as saying, “science is powerless to bring unique events to the empirical bar,” but disagrees, saying, “this can’t be true, for historians have ways of confirming whether unique events are likely to have occurred.” In other words, history is a branch of science for Coyne’s anti-religious purposes.

    So what “scientific” evidence is Coyne after for unique historical events? He wants “multiple and independent corroboration of those events using details that coincide among different reporters, reliable documents that attest to those events, and accounts that are contemporaneous with the event.” Unsurprisingly, the evidence that we do have doesn’t meet his requirements. “As has been pointed out many times,” he says, without citation, “the biblical account of the Crucifixion and Resurrection fails these elementary tests because the sources are not independent, none are by eyewitnesses, all contemporary writers outside of scripture fail to mention the event, and the details of the Resurrection and empty tomb — even among the Gospels and the letters of Paul — show serious discrepancies. Nor, despite ardent searching, have biblical archaeologists found such a tomb.”

    So there you have it. Science has Spoken.

  91. Isaac says:

    “Humans don’t need saviors. There is nothing to save us from. There is no good or evil, right or wrong. Just predator and prey. Kill or be killed. Survive or die. That’s nature and life. You know that humans carry genes from the lower animals and therefore will give in to those genes. We are animals.”

    Sure. We all give in to those lower genes. Except when we don’t. Which is frequently.

    I’m beginning to understand why it’s so important to some of these atheists to deny that free will exists.

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