Saturday, June 03, 2006

More on Ehrman-Craig Debate

The Resurrection Hypothesis passes all of the standard criteria for being the best explanation, such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and so forth.-William Lane Craig

I must confess I find this statement quite baffling. While the "Resurrection Hypothesis," might account for the rise of Christianity admirably (indeed, I can think of few things that could more surely give rise to such a movement), it doesn't do so realistically. More importantly, it gives rise to more questions than it answers. The suggestion that it has greater "plausibility" isn't just wrong, it's wrongheaded.

The dictionary is our friend on this one:

2 entries found for plausibility.
plau·si·ble Pronunciation Key (plôz-bl)

1. Seemingly or apparently valid, likely, or acceptable; credible: a plausible excuse.
2. Giving a deceptive impression of truth or reliability.
3. Disingenuously smooth; fast-talking: “Ambitious, unscrupulous, energetic,... and plausible,a political gladiator, ready for a ‘set-to’ in any crowd” (Frederick Douglass).

Resurrection isn't simply not "apparently valid" or "likely," it's impossible. Dead people do not come back to life, that is, for all intents and purposes, a fact. I certainly respect the choice of people to accept the existence of forces--God or otherwise--that can defy natural law, but that doesn't mean that I need to accept their existence. It doesn't mean that I need to accord such possibilities an equal footing with more tangible, empirical phenomena.

All the fancy mathematics and formal logic Bill Craig puts out fails to account for one fundamental fact: The probability of an impossible event occurring is zero.

Ehrman summed this up aptly:

For that reason, Bill’s four pieces of evidence are completely irrelevant. There cannot be historical probability for an event that defies probability, even if the event did happen. The resurrection has to be taken on faith, not on the basis of proof.

Lee Edgar Tyler also gave this memorable quote on X-Talk:

If it happened it was a miracle (and if on the weird off-shot it happened by natural means unknown to present-day science then there's no point in being a Christian, at least in the conventional sense). ...The impossibility of resurrection *is* proven, and there are quite sound methodological reasons for dismissing its historicity if one wants to undertake a study of the origin and transmission of the Resurrection tales. And the metaphysical arguments as to why a historian ought to take the possibility of the miraculous into consideration in this case are in reality the irrelevancies.

Dead people do not come back to life; were this ongoing discussion linked to any other figure, ancient or contemporary, it would be met with gales of laughter should it ever try and make its way into the academy.

Also of note, regarding the discussion of the empty tomb, is Peter Kirby's excellent response to Craig on the historicity of the empty tomb.


Anonymous said...

You write: "Resurrection isn't simply not 'apparently valid' or 'likely,' it's impossible."

1. This is not the position that Ehrman takes in the debate. Ehrman says that it is possible but "improbable" that the resurrection occurred, then he fails to show that he understands anything about probability theory--rendering his opinion very suspect.

2. But you maintain that the resurrection is "impossible." Please blog (or reply) as to how the resurrection is "impossible." Impossible means that something cannot occur because there is some logical contradiction that results from the known data and the hypothesis. Here is an example of an impossibility: Logically, it is impossible for a thing to both exist and not exist at the same time.

I know of no logician in the universe who would say that the resurrection is logically "impossible." On the contrary, it is logically possible that, if God exists then Jesus could have been raised from the dead by God, so the question is, did this happen? It is reasonable for the skeptic to maintain that it is vastly improbable that it happened, but for someone to say that the resurrection is "impossible" is an assertion that is highly contentious and presumptuous and irrational. You would have to prove it by showing some kind of logical contradiction. Ehrman realizes this, and so he does not make the more radical claim that you do.

Rick Sumner said...

I had anticipated some response along these lines. I am aware, of course, that Ehrman does not describe it as "impossible" (I, in fact, quoted a passage to that effect). Resurrection is not logically impossible (though your example of the quality of existence, is debatable--at least depending on how existence is defined. Time, for example, could be taken to have both existence and non-existence). It is, for all intents and purposes, scientifically impossible.

The definition of impossible you suggest, while perhaps pertinent to Ehrman's millieu in the debate, is not pertinent to mine here on this blog, where I am not encumbered by the rules of philosophical engagement. Impossible is rarely used in the exacting sense you suggest. Look, for example, at legal impossibility. My usage of it, while not as exacting as yours, is nonetheless still correct.

Stephen Jay Gould once famously quipped that while he supposed it was possible that rocks would begin to rise tomorrow, he did not think that warranted equal time in the physics classroom. Resurrection is analogous: I suppose it is ultimately possible that Jesus resurrected, it's just incredibly unlikely, to such a degree that it defies all assembled knowledge and observations of the changes that occur upon death.

Of course, if there is a god able to preform such a feat, that ultimately renders scientific possibility meaningless--he would be able to change the rules at any time. Since I don't see a lot of reason to think the rules change as such, I'm hard-pressed to consider the resurrection as even a serious idea, worthy of discussion outside of the pulpit. Discussion of how the resurrection belief developed is one thing, discussion of it occurred is quite another.

Kelly said...

Silly, God has created the world with physical constants that go on and on in cycles for billion of years. It is only on occasions when he wants reveal himself in some way that he uses miracles means to do this.

You see in the Bible, even, that thousands of years pass between miracles. And when they happen, they are clustered.

The entire conception of God is that he uses miracles for a specific purpose - NOT just for any reason. It's a pretty poor excuse to disbelieve in the possibility of miracles because you think that they would invalidate science? That's pretty much saying that God invalidates science, since God would by His nature has powers to interfere with nature.

And this conclusion does not even remotely follow.

If God exists, he can perform miracles as he wills, but it has to be a pretty special occasion given the Abrahamic conception of God.

Really, if you believe in God, you can believe that God did this. Otherwise you're just outright dismissing it because you do not leave room for the supernatural.

To that, I'd say

Craig's site. Read/listen to some of his debates for the existence of God.