Wednesday, 4 July 2012

WLC4: A Pop-Up Refutation of Resurrection

In earlier articles, I looked at William Lane Craig’s debating style (in Debatable Theism) and the logic in his “logical” arguments (in The Logic of an Apologist).  In the latter, I said that I would address the content of Craig’s arguments, please check that article if you are not already familiar with the logical forms.  This article addresses what I have numbered as Craig’s Fourth Argument.  First a quick recap:

Craig’s Fourth Argument – Argument from Resurrection
(a form was argued during Craig-Ehrman – wording taken from Craig-Krauss)
  1. There are three established facts about Jesus: his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
  2. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
  3. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that God exists.
  4. Therefore, God exists.
This is a mind bending argument, involving a syllogism followed by a modus ponens.

Part 1
  1. Premise – There is a set of special facts (All M) for which the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation (P)
  2. Assertion – There are three established facts about Jesus: his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection (S) which fall into the category of special facts (M).
  3. Conclusion – The three established facts about Jesus for which the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation (P).
Part 2
  1. Premise – The hypothesis “X raised someone from the dead” is the best explanation for anything (A, from P) then X exists (B).
  2. Assertion – The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation for the three established facts about Jesus (A).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (B).
There’s an assumption here (shown as a modus ponens):
  1. Premise – If an explanation is the best explanation one currently has to hand (A2) then that argument is true (B2).
  2. Assertion – The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation one currently has to hand (A2).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is true (B2).

If there were established and widely accepted facts which prove that there was a historical figure called Jesus who was crucified, who fully died and who was raised from the dead by a God who created the whole universe then Craig would not be having his debates.  Instead Craig, and anyone presenting this argument, is obliged to provide some reasonable explanation as to why, if there is a God who did everything that he is supposed to have done, there are people like myself who doubt it.

Think about this for a moment.  If God did in fact create the universe (even more so if he created this world and universe around it) and at least some elements of the Old Testament and true, and Jesus actually did perform all the miracles described in the Bible - how did it come about that there are so many people who don't believe in it?  Surely this is a weakness that Craig should be addressing?

Instead, what Craig does is call on New Testament "scholars" as experts.  Well, excuse me, but someone devoting their life to studying one book is unlikely to be an unbiased witness.  If there are any atheist New Testament "scholars" out there who can confirm that the New Testament is in any way reliable, I'd love to hear from them.

Due to the overwhelming lack of corroborating evidence, Christians tend to be keen to point out a single non-Christian source who wrote a single passage that indicated that someone called Christus existed.  Publius (Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus was writing about the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE and mentions that there was a hated, abominable group called Chrestianos (which means ‘useful ones’) who were persecuted for being guilty “not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”.  Tacitus mentions, almost in passing and according to Robert Van Voorst possibly to show off, that the “hideous and shameful” evil that was Chrestianity had its source in Judaea where “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus”.

That's it.  That's the independent verification.

There is another possible non-Christian source in the Jewish/Roman historian Flavius Josephus.  Josephus presents some problems though, which is probably why Tacitus is usually preferred as a non-Christian source.  If Josephus was reporting about truly miraculous events that he believed to have occurred, like the resurrection of Christ, which had occurred only shortly before his birth, why was he not a Christian?  At the time, he surely had access to eye-witnesses to these events, or at least fresh second hand accounts.  Additionally, the story of the crucifixion per Josephus is considered by some New Testament "scholars" to be tainted (or more accurately “made up” by someone later in history).

What these reports are, rather than being evidence of Christ's resurrection, are quite possibly reliable references to the beliefs held by the adherents of what was, at the time, a new and fervent religion.  The fact that neither of these historians considered the Jesus stories worthy of more attention than given indicates that they did not consider that anything significant happened, let alone a resurrection.  They almost certainly would have heard the myth, and discounted it as untrue.  It is plainly ridiculous to use the testimony of someone who did not believe a thing was true as evidence that, in fact, that thing was true.  

It is granted that the words of Tacitus and Josephus could be considered as evidence that there was an actual (although historically insignificant) person called Jesus, but this isn’t particularly controversial.  It’s entirely likely that there was an insane (Gospel of Mark Chapter 3) but charismatic Jewish chap called Jesus who upset the local authorities, so much so that they executed him.  This isn't controversial either.  Even in modern times, there are mad but charismatic people who convince their loyal followers to believe all manner of things.  This is despite our having the benefit of centuries of scientific advance which should minimise the chances of people being fooled in this way.  First century shepherd folk would have been much easier to fool.
What is missing, and should be expected if something as amazing as a resurrection took place, is any contemporary reporting of the events.  Not even the Gospels were written contemporaneously with the supposed existence of Jesus – they are all written quite some time afterwards.  This is possibly because the Biblical Jesus claims that the end would come in the lifetime of his audience, so there was not much point writing it all down.  Only when it became clear that (at least on that point) Jesus was mistaken did they start jotting down their recollections.  (One is left wondering why Jesus was mistaken on this key point, and curious about the similarity between his claims and many other doomsday cult "prophets" who have come since.)

The events described in the Bible were not written down even close to the time that they were supposed to have occurred.  New Testament "scholars" generally consider that the first of the Gospels was Matthew, written in about 65CE (as opposed to Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, written in about 55CE). New Testament "scholars", quoted by wikipedia, believe that Jesus died somewhere between 30-36CE (assumed to have been born somewhere between 6 and 4 BCE).  Compare this what proper scholars have for, say, Marc Antony - born 14 January 83 BC – died 1 August 30 BC.  You get nice accurate dates with real people.

But let's assume that Jesus was real and performed his ministries as thought, in the late 20's, early 30's.  That means the first of the Gospels were written 25 to 35 years later (or more).  As soon as you put decades between an event and the recording of detail about that event, especially if you do it when there is very little (if any) source material to ensure that your recollections are accurate, even in the best of circumstances you have a possibility that your recollections will be shaded.  If you view the past through the lens of fanatically held faith, your recollections will be coloured.  In other words, much of what is recorded in the New Testament is very likely to be no more than the original wishful thinking on which current wishful thinking is based.

Even if you grant that people actually reported witnessing Jesus up and about a few days after apparently dying on the cross, there are mundane explanations: he was removed prior to dying and recovered, his corpse was removed from the crypt and people were mistaken about seeing him (Elvis still gets seen from time to time), or the whole story was simply made up to align with pre-existing resurrection myths.

Craig totally ignores any possible mundane explanation for a pivotal, apparently miraculous event which probably didn't happen and for which there is effectively no independent corroboration.

For anyone who doesn’t already believe, this non-argument is inane.  In a book about God, it says that God exists.  Um, yeah.

For anyone who does believe, an argument from resurrection is not necessary.  Such a person's faith is not based on evidence.  Even the "rational" and "reasonable" Craig, when asked what effect evidence against the existence of a historical Jesus would have, confirmed that it would not affect his faith at all (because he has "other arguments").

So the resurrection argument is, in fact, a bit like the idea of God – inane and unnecessary.  (Please note that this is not ad hominem, this is ad deinem – if you are one of the believers, don’t react with mindless anger.  Try pitying my poor soul, reading carefully all the words above and the words in other posts and then responding rationally to the arguments presented.)

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