Why you shouldn’t believe the Resurrection happened

The 12th (and final) part in “20 Atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t.”

  1. What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?

Short answer: We shouldn’t be that confident of these facts, but in any case the base rate fallacy and selection bias nixes the confirmatory power.

Longer answer: The argument implied in the question is that the historical record of Jesus provides strong evidence to believe he actually died and rose again, which provides evidence that Christianity’s central claims (e.g. God exists, Jesus is the son of god) are true. The question neatly summarizes the three main ‘planks’ of evidence usually offered:

  1. The Empty Tomb. When Jesus died, his body was placed in a tomb. Not only was a stone rolled in front of it, but also the authorities posted sentries outside the tomb to stop anyone stealing the body. Despite this, the stone was discovered to be rolled away, and the body had gone. (e.g. Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2-3)
  2. Resurrection appearances. Several different groups of people (the disciples, some women, etc.) are reported to have seen Jesus after he died. (e.g. Luke 24:15-31, 36-48; Matthew 28:9-10)
  3. The growth of the church. After Jesus died, his apostles (and figures like Paul) were committed to the message of Jesus, and helped the church spread rapidly. (cf. Acts, but also the historical record re. the Holy Roman empire, etc.)

The idea is this data is very hard to explain via purely atheistic means. Maybe Jesus didn’t really die, but is it plausible he could have got up and escaped the guarded tomb after being crucified and speared for good measure? Maybe the disciples managed to steal the body, but how did they manage to get that past the guards? (And what was in it for them? Why would many of them go on to die for a belief they knew to be false?) Maybe the appearances of the resurrection were just hallucinations, but how could there have been so many hallucinations, of so many different people, and why didn’t the authorities just squash the story by presenting the public with Jesus’s corpse?

So, it’s argued, the best explanation for the historical data is the Christian one: Jesus rose from the dead and left the tomb miraculously, and then appeared to people like the apostles and women who visited the tomb, and these people, convinced by the truth, to go on and grow the church.

Parodies

Something seems to be going wrong with this sort of argument. We could imagine a ‘Magicianist’ making a similar sort of case in defence of the claim they  could perform supernatural feats of magic:

“You saw me pull that rabbit out of the hat! How do you explain that naturalistically? I showed you it wasn’t in there already, I showed you the table didn’t have a hidden compartment, I showed you there was nothing up my sleeves. So what other explanation can you offer that explains what happened better than me really making the bunny appear by magic?”

However, offering parodies doesn’t really get to grips with what (if anything) is going wrong with the historical argument from the resurrection. So let’s pick firstly at the fact pattern, and secondly at the pattern of inference we are making.

Minimal facts?

For many of the events surrounding the resurrection depicted in the bible, we only have the Bible’s word for it. Extrabiblical attestation (e.g. Tacitus, Josephus) note the beliefs of Christians rather than substantiating their content, and archeological finds support only peripheral details (e.g. that there was a guy called Pilate alive and in the right position of power). For example, there is no support besides the gospel’s say so that the tomb was guarded, or even that it was empty.

So a lot hinges on how credible the resurrection accounts are, and there are some factors that count against their credibility:

One: the authorship of both Matthew and Luke is disputed, with the balance of scholarly opinion is that they were not written by the disciples they were claimed to be, and only one (Mark), does the balance of scholarly opinion agree with the ‘canonical’ claim of who wrote it. 1 Pseudoepigraphy is not a problem per se (the writer could still be correct even if he is not who we thought he was), but it does throw into doubt what information the author (whoever they were) had access to when compiling their account: were they recording eyewitness testimony, or second or third hand accounts? If they were to write something mistaken, were they near any original eyewitnesses who would correct them? How exactly did the oral traditions percolate for the 20-60ish years until the synoptic gospels were written?

Two: the authors of the synoptic gospels are not impartial observers. These are members of (at the time) a new religious movement, and the gospels were written, at least in part, to persuade others. So the chances of them omitting or distorting or briefing against adverse evidence is substantial. (And that is arguably what we observe, e.g. Matt 28:11-15)

Three: The synoptic gospels show signs of being copied from one another, and yet still have resurrection accounts that significantly contradict. The considerable textual similarity between the three synoptic gospels suggests that there was copying going on, with the best bet that Matthew and Luke used Mark and a lost ‘Q’ document in their formation.  So the synoptic gospels are not ‘independent witnesses’ giving the same story.

In any case (and despite this) they disagree with respect about what happened at the resurrection. Different groups of people visit the tomb at different times to be told different things by different angels. As Ehrman surmises:

The way to see differences in the Gospels is to read them horizontally. Read one story in Matthew, then the same story in Mark, and compare your two stories and see what you come up with. You come up with major differences. Just take the death of Jesus. What day did Jesus die on and what time of day? Did he die on the day before the Passover meal was eaten, as John explicitly says, or did he die after it was eaten, as Mark explicitly says? Did he die at noon, as in John, or at 9 a.m., as in Mark? Did Jesus carry his cross the entire way himself or did Simon of Cyrene carry his cross? It depends which Gospel you read. Did both robbers mock Jesus on the cross or did only one of them mock him and the other come to his defense? It depends which Gospel you read. Did the curtain in the temple rip in half before Jesus died or after he died? It depends which Gospel you read.

Or take the accounts of the resurrection. Who went to the tomb on the third day? Was it Mary alone or was it Mary with other women? If it was Mary with other women, how many other women were there, which ones were they, and what were their names? Was the stone rolled away before they got there or not? What did they see in the tomb? Did they see a man, did they see two men, or did they see an angel? It depends which account you read. What were they told to tell the disciples? Were the disciples supposed to stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus there or were they to go to Galilee and see Jesus there? Did the women tell anyone or not? It depends which Gospel you read. Did the disciples never leave Jerusalem or did they immediately leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee? All of these depend on which account you read.

One can offer ‘harmonisations’ of these accounts, but these tend to be a bit implausible: why believe there were several groups of people all doing these things, and each gospel bizarrely reported the goings on of one group but no others, as opposed to one sequence of events they disagree upon? 2

Those presenting these reasons are sensitive to these sorts of concerns, and hence the focus on minimal facts. Even if the textual evidence is a bit ropey by some lights, it still lends pretty strong support to the main planks of the minimal fact account: that there was an empty tomb, that people reported seeing Jesus after he died, and the church grew after his death. How can atheism explain that?

Particular and general explanations

It may not be so hard to come up with a plausible atheistic account for the ‘minimal facts’ after all. Take this one from Ehrman’s debate with Craig:

Jesus gets buried by Joseph of Arimathea. Two of Jesus’ family members are upset that an unknown Jewish leader has buried the body. In the dead of night, these two family members raid the tomb, taking the body off to bury it for themselves. But Roman soldiers on the lookout see them carrying the shrouded corpse through the streets, they confront them, and they kill them on the spot. They throw all three bodies into a common burial plot, where within three days these bodies are decomposed beyond recognition. The tomb then is empty. People go to the tomb, they find it empty, they come to think that Jesus was raised from the dead, and they start thinking they’ve seen him because they know he’s been raised because his tomb is empty.

This account has problems: if there was a failed tomb robbery, why didn’t the Jewish authorities make a big deal of it to crush this nascent cult? Wouldn’t Jesus’s death be a ‘big enough’ event for Roman soldiers to do more than kill the robbers and throw Jesus’s body away too? But it doesn’t seem too hard to patch this account up to vague plausibility (maybe the soldiers were incompetent, maybe they wanted a cover up, etc.)

To return to our parody, though, it seems mistaken to demand atheist give a particular plausible account for the resurrection on pain of conceding it was the work of god. Rather we should consider the collection of possible naturalistic counter-explanations. So if for the bunny rabbit sleight-of-hand explanations seem not too implausible (despite the ability of magician to knock down particular sleight-of-hand explanations offered), perhaps, so long as candidate naturalistic explanations are not too implausible (even if they do not match the facts as well as divine resurrection), the ‘not-god’ explanations do not collectively fare worse than the Christian one.

Priors and Miracles

One elephant in the room is that resurrection (or magic) is not another mundane explanation of a fact pattern. Like magic, or teleportation, an act like the resurrection violates all sorts of strongly supported beliefs we hold about the world (people don’t come back to life after being killed). In short, it would be a miracle.

It is hard to see how we should consider miraculous explanations. Hume’s famous statement that – for any miracle – it is always more plausible the account is mistaken than the miracle occurred seems to go too far: if God appeared to everyone at once in an inter-subjective way, that would seem excellent reason to think God existed, even if it broke our then-understanding of how nature worked. 3

Yet it seems fair to give miraculous explanations a pretty low prior probability – given what we know about the world around us, someone rising from the dead seems extremely unlikely, so we would need very powerful evidence to persuade us it really having happened.

Picking the right reference class is hard, though. One could say (as Craig occasionally does), that although it is really unlikely that Jesus rose naturalistically from the dead, the Christian case is that Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead, and so saying supernatural occurrences are improbable just begs the question against Christianity. This doesn’t seem right – the same words transposed into the Magician’s mouth doesn’t seem plausible; in the same way we shouldn’t describe certain objects (like God) as supernatural, and thus impossible to substantiate, we shouldn’t ring fence them and demand different rules apply. Although naturalism being false should not have a really low prior probability (and asserting it does probably approaches question-begging), it seems fair to say the particular sort of supernaturalism that involves bodily resurrection is strongly disconfirmed by our inductive experience of the dead staying dead.

Given our experience of the world around us, resurrection (divine or not) is not a common occurrence, so it is under a big prior penalty – we would want really compelling evidence against a possible naturalistic explanation of a resurrection before believing the dead might not always stay dead, in the same way we would want really compelling evidence Magicians tricks have no naturalistic explanation before suggesting magic. So perhaps Hume’s dictum applies in this case: it is more probable the resurrection accounts are mistaken, than there really was a resurrection, and the ancient texts and scholarly opinion do not provide convincing enough evidence to overturn this presumption. 4 Hume also cites in his discussion of miracles the roman saying that “I would not believe it even if were told to me by Tacitus”. A similar principle should apply here: bodily resurrection is so outlandish a claim that, even if a panel of historians of antiquity went to Judea and verified the resurrection accounts in person, we should still favour some mistake being made.

Base rates and prediction

Even if naturalism was true, and there were no supernatural events, that does not mean that it would always seem to be true. There might be occasions where it really does look like supernatural things occurred, and that the naturalistic explanations seeminadequate. True theories may have inclement observations. An example from Stephen Law:

Let me tell you a story from 1967. It’s a UFO story. There were reports of a strange object appearing nightly over a nuclear power site in Wake County. The police investigated; a police officer confirmed it was about half the size of the moon, and it just hung there over the plant. The next night the same thing happened. The deputy sheriff described a large lighted object; the county magistrate saw—and I quote—:

A rectangular object, looked like it was on fire, we figured it about the size of a football field; it was huge and very bright.

There was, in addition, hard data, a curious radar blip reported by local air traffic control.

Now what’s the best explanation of these reports? We have multiple attestation, we have trained eyewitnesses, police officers’ putting their reputations on the line by reporting a UFO. We have hard, independent confirmation, that blip on the radar scope. Surely, then, it’s highly unlikely these witnesses were, say, all hallucinating, or lying, or just saw a planet. Clearly, by far the best explanation, you might think, is that they really did see a large lighted object hovering close to the plant.

But here’s the thing: we know pretty much for sure that what was seen by those police officers was the planet Venus! Journalists arrived upon the scene, were shown the object, and chased it in a car. They found they couldn’t approach it. Finally, they looked at it through a long lens and saw it was the planet Venus. That radar blip was just a coincidence.

What does this show? Every year there are countless amazing reports of religious miracles, alien abductions, ghosts, and so on. In most cases it’s not easy to come up with plausible, mundane explanations for them. Sorry, it is easy to come up with plausible, mundane explanations for them! But not all, right? Some remain deeply baffling. So should we believe in such things, then? No, for as my UFO illustrates… story illustrates, we all know that some hard to explain reports of miracles, flying saucers, and so on are likely to crop up anyway, whether or not there is truth to these claims. That 1967 case could easily have been such a baffling case.

Even if we did not have the later explanation of what the officers saw, we should still not have believed UFOs existed based on that account. So in a similar way the occasional baffling account of a UFO does not lead us to believe UFOs (or that one in particular), a baffling resurrection account, if that is what the gospels are, should not lead us to believe resurrections (or that one in particular).

Abandoning a theory in light of a single (or a few) bizarre observations may not be the best approach. However, most of us suffer from the opposite problem – being too eager to ‘stick to our guns’ as counter-veiling evidence mounts against our view. If we kept having accounts of UFOs, which were generally baffling, it seems after a while we should be inclined to dumping the ‘no UFO’ theory. Most scientific progress is heralded by baffling observations; we would not get very far if we discounted observations we could not explain with our current theories.

There’s a happy medium to be struck as to when to dump the theory, and when to dump the observations, and it is likely governed by the relative strengths of the theory and observations in question. If the theory has proven itself to have general explanatory power, and usually does a good job explaining the sort of inclement observations, and the inclement observations themselves are sporadic, not repeated, and dubious, it is probably better to dump the observations – and vice versa. It seems the former account better matches the resurrection, however.

Summing up

We can formalize all of the foregoing concerns into bayes rule:

P(Resurrection|E&k)   = P(E|Resurrection&k)  * P(Resurrection|k)
P(¬Resurrection|E&k)    P(E|¬Resurrection&k)   P(¬Resurrection|k)

In english, the ratio to the left is our posterior odds: given our general background knowledge (k); once we add in the evidence (E) of the gospels, the growth of the early church, and whatever else, what are the odds of there being a resurrection? By probability, this is the product of two quotients: the one on the far right is the prior probability: given our background knowledge, how likely is a resurrection to have taken place? The middle quotient is the likelihood ratio, how likely is likely is the evidence to have occured if there was a resurrection, rather than there not being a resurrection. The mathematical mechanics imitate common-sense reasoning well: if an evident is really improbable (so the prior probability is low), we need really good evidence (so a very high likelihood ratio) to persuade us it happened. 5

So we have already shown that the prior probability for the resurrection should be set pretty low. Even if we are not born again atheists or naturalists, the sort of supernaturalism/divinity picked out by ‘Jesus, son of God, died and rose again for our salvation at c. 30CE in Judea’ is extremely specific, and so the sheer weight of counterpossibles necessitate the prior being low. Our background knowledge lowers it still further: our experience of life and death, as well as our knowledge of science, suggest bodily resurrection never happens – so our confidence in this induction counts against the prior probability. In short, the evidentiary bar is set pretty high.

So what about the likelihood ratio? It seems clear that the likelihood ratio should be greater than 1. The evidence of gospels surely makes the resurrection more plausible than if it was not there (consider the hypothetical where there was no account of Jesus’s life or death or resurrection – would that make you assign a higher probability to ‘Jesus, son of God, died and rose again for our salvation at c.30CE in Judea’?) The question is how much more plausible: given the prior is small (1 in 10000? 1 in a million? worse?), we need a really powerful likelihood ratio to make the resurrection plausible.

We can see the evidence is going to fall comfortably short of this mark. Although it is hard to explain how the resurrection accounts would occur without a resurrection, it is not that hard: good sensible people deluding themselves is not that uncommon, and seems a safer bet that bodily resurrection, even if a particular account of how that occurred is not easy to find. Further, although the likelihood of this particular resurrection account is very unlikely on resurrection, the likelihood of some account similarly baffling is not so surprising, as one would expect hard-to-explain events to occur once-in-a-while. 6 So the likelihood ratio is not that high, and combined with the prior being very low, the resulting posterior is not that high (certainly <0.5).

Frustratingly, there is no clear way of vindicating any of these assignments: Christians will have the same sign for all of their assignments in this formula, but just of different degrees, and without clear numerical measures, it is hard to put a bound on ‘reasonableness’ – plausible offers for the prior probability likely range over many orders of magnitude. Despite this, the above shows one need not have inhospitable or question-begging prior convictions to find the resurrection uncompelling proof of God.

Further reading

The Ehrman-Craig debate is a good start on the general discussion about whether the resurrection is good evidence for Christianity.

For a different probabilistic gloss supportive of the argument, see this paper by the McGrews. For another sceptical take, see here.

Besides Wikipedia, Early Christian Writings is a good intro for those interested in the early textual data.

 

  1. Aside: I’m neglecting for current discussion the Gospel of John, a later ‘non-synoptic’ gospel. For what it is worth, no one really knows who wrote that either.
  2. This also undermines how much we can trust the traditions that formed the gospels to be error correcting, as obviously some of these accounts must be erroneous, and yet they persisted, despite the gospel writers (allegedly) having access to eyewitness accounts.
  3. There’s a discussion to be had about whether – if God existed – his action in the world would be truly supernatural, instead of just ‘facts about nature we are not well aware of’, but bracket that.
  4. Of course, you may hold much more hospitable priors about bodily resurrection – religious experiences of a christian nature might make you think it is quite likely Jesus was resurrected before encountering the historical case. But this sort of historical argument is generally made to convince people whose priors aren’t slanted in a Christian-friendly direction.
  5. Aside: This – and only this – is how the ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence‘ canard should be read, although a more accurate phrase would be ‘Really unlikely events should only be believed due to really hard-to-explain-away evidence’.
  6. This move is not open if one has free-standing reasons to suppose the resurrection must have occurred at a particular place and time. Yet there’s no particularly compelling story why Jesus had to arrive at 30CE in Judea – indeed, there are at least a few counterveiling reasons not to, given modern society’s superior ability in recording and transmitting information.

2013/02/13

4 responses to Why you shouldn’t believe the Resurrection happened

  1. Pingback: The Polemical Medic on Why You Shouldn’t Believe the Resurrection Happened

  2. Tyler said:

    I applaud your post. While I disagree with the majority of your points, I think you communicate them rather well. I might go so far as to say that I liked your post. That being aside I see three problematic points in your post.
    First, you say, “For example, there is no support besides the gospel’s say so that the tomb was guarded, or even that it was empty.” This simply isn’t true. Acts chapter 2 (implies it) and Acts 13:28-31 (almost explicitly states it). Also, a number of scholars argue that 1 Cor. 15 also implies it. My feeling is that the case for 1 Cor. 15 implying an empty tomb is very strong considering Acts 13 is from Paul, who clearly believes in an empty tomb. Acts 2 is Peter speaking, WITH the eleven, so its pretty clear that the disciples themselves clearly believe in an empty tomb. And the speech in Acts 2 is probably from a mere 7 weeks after the events they discuss! Now as to whether the gospels are written by the apostles Mark, Mathew, Luke or John, isn’t all that important, the fact that they use a variety of early sources is. Mark’s passion narrative, in particular, is important here. Some scholars suggest that it dates to within 10 years of the death of Christ. This is merely for the empty tomb which is the “least” attested to fact of the early Christian period. We can turn from there to the witnesses including skeptical Thomas, James and Paul, which are much more attested to. We have a good deal of the “appearances” attested to in 1 Cor. 15. Now 1 Cor. 15 is almost universally accepted as an incredibly early creedal formula (dated 3 months-3 years after the death of Christ) created by the early disciples. As is the case with a good portion of the NT there are a multiplicity of sources behind the documents.
    Second, assuming the standard used in the article, that is of scholarly agreement, as studies have shown 75% of scholars on the issue accept at least one of the reasons supported for the empty tomb. With almost total agreement that the appearances were not made up, but were real events. (By real I mean they had actual experiences, whether veridical or not.)
    Third, I thought you made a compelling case for the first of Hume’s argument. Sadly, the argument is vicious to anyone who applies it to all circumstances. As Hajek (“Are miracles chimerical?” 2008) points out the conclusion that Hume comes to ultimately means that natural events that have never been experienced before and have little analogy to prior experiences are also thus suspect. Also, as it’s being used here it becomes circular.
    But as I mentioned I enjoyed the post. Would love to hear your thoughts in response to these differences.

    • Thrasymachus said:

      Hello Tyler,

      Thanks for your reply, and your kind words. By way of response:

      1) My reading of the texts in Acts (and of 1 Cor 15) is that they underdetermine whether Jesus was bodily resurrected or the tomb left empty: they talk about being ‘raised from the dead’ and ‘being seen’ after being laid in a tomb, and that does fit with a bodily resurrection account, but it could also fit with a spiritual resurrection or other things. That said, I generally buy the speakers in Acts were implying a bodily resurrection, primarily because Luke and Acts are thought to be written by the same person, and Luke obviously talks about bodily resurrection.

      But bracket all that – if we widen our ‘testimony’ from the ‘synoptic gospels’ to ‘the synoptic gospels & Acts & Pauline writings’, this does not seem to greatly improve the evidential weight of the testimony in question. Granting what you’ve said, we have a few sources that confirm the disciples believed/found the tomb empty – and (correct me if I am wrong) the multiplicity of sources are going to be sources from this early cultic period of the Christian faith. This is not great evidentially – it would be better if there was extra-biblical (or extra christian) attestation.

      2) I am surprised that the proportion of scholars convinced by the empty tomb is 75% – I would have thought it was higher (don’t suppose you have a link?) If it is that low, that would seem to fatally undermine the argument from the resurrection. If the evidence for the empty tomb cannot convince more than 75% of experts, then a generous upper bound on the likelihood the tomb really was empty would be 99%. Assuming no empty tomb means no resurrection, than an upper bound for odds ratio you get for the resurrection considering the evidence is 99 (99 to 1 odds the tomb was empty, assuming the only explanation for the empty tomb is a resurrection). Yet our prior for the resurrection should be way lower than 1 in a 1000, so even after the evidence of the resurrection, we should still think the chances are of the order of 1% or so.

      The consensus might be better on other things (like post mortem experiences), but this only stops the estimate being driven down even further.

      3) My argument is Bayesian, not Humean. I don’t buy Hume’s dictum that it is a matter of necessity that it will always be the case miraculous testimony being false is more plausible than the miracle testified occured – as noted, we can’t really know in advance what would be a miracle versus a bit of the natural world we have not understood, so ruling out the former whilst being open to the latter is silly. But his insight that we should weigh the plausibility of the testimony against the plausibility of the testified is sound, and precedes the Bayesian gloss.

      I don’t see how my sceptical moves re. the resurrection lead to unacceptable scepticism with science or general experiences, or lead to circularity, but I look forward t obeing corrected. :)

      Best wishes, Thras.

  3. Tyler said:

    Sorry, but I never got anything that said you responded! Good thing I checked back. I’ll break this down into the sub-topics that they need to be broken into.

    1) Sources

    A) Physical Resurrection.

    I don’t buy the idea that the disciples would have used a “spiritual” resurrection. You have to understand that for the Jews the idea of a spiritual resurrection wasn’t really popular, even in the milieu, in the first century. They held that if there was a resurrection it would likely be at the end of time. This would be more along the lines with the Greek idea of resurrection, though they also, didn’t believe in a resurrection. They held more to the idea of vindication of certain hero figures. While the first century Jews may have been hellenized to a degree, they likely would have held their ideas pertaining to the messiah very close.

    Also, it’s inexplicable, if they believed in a spiritual resurrection why they would claim that there was an empty tomb at any point. Since both the statements in Acts talk about a “grave” it does appear likely that they had a physical idea of death and resurrection in mind. Also, since Luke uses these sources, they probably agree with him that a physical resurrection took place.

    B) Eyewitnesses Testimony

    Granted it would be better to have independent attestation of the empty tomb. But we do have independent attestation from a different source. You probably don’t believe the “gaurds” story, but this presupposes an empty tomb. The Jews themselves believed that the tomb was empty because the disciples stole the body. We can see this in attacks on Christianity as well later on (specifically in the case of Trypho).

    A second problem is that we do have sources that say that there was an empty tomb and there were appearances. You cannot just toss out all of the testimony without coming up with a more plausible account. Checkout on my blog why the disciples had nothing to gain by making it all up.
    http://www.beardedphilosophy.com/2013/03/uncategorized/cross-examined-an-unpromising-product/

    2) The source is Habermas (http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm). You are incorrectly assessing probabilities here. There are a vast array of different hypothesis that go into each one of the above situations. Some, including some skeptics, include within this the prior probability others may not. One also cannot suggest that there is a 75% chance that the empty tomb happened–only that 75% of scholars believe that it did occur. They may hold to it with a certainty of 99%, one cannot just suggest that it is 75%. I only gave the statistic to suggest that 75% of scholars find the arguments persuasive, which means that the probability is that the evidence is good for an empty tomb. Since even a number of hyper-skeptics (Lowder) suggest that the tomb was empty that works as a strong evidence in it’s historical likelihood.

    Also, you’re not processing in the P(E|H’) in here. At least not that I can figure. Which would necessarily be extremely low. All of the other theories to explain the empty tomb are horrible, which even skeptics admit.

    3) Hume.

    Whence comes your skepticism? You suggest that there is a probability of 1 to 1000 (or greater) that the resurrection didn’t happen. Where does this come from? Possibly, re-Carrier, you’re suggesting that if there were 1000 claimed resurrection, none of which have been proven, gives the above probability? Or possibly you are referring to any miracle claim.

    I don’t buy this logic, since it implies that all miracle claims are equal. They are not. You must admit that the resurrection has more evidence then almost every other miracle claim. Even atheists like Antony Flew admit this. I mean suggesting that we put into the same category as some other miracles is like saying we should put the scientific claims of phrenologists on the same level as those of biologists. They both claim to be science, so they should be equal right? Not so.

    So what would be a more acceptable probability? Lets suggest that we include claims like those of the Mormons, JW’s, Muslim’s, Sai Baban’s and some Pagans. Being liberal we could suggest this has a 1 in 200 (and that’s being extreme, there are no empty tombs out there). If we do this (with a starting prior probability of 0.005), even with the 0.75 probability for the E and a starting probability for the the `E at 0.001, we come back with 0.7903055848261328 which means that the empty tomb is probable. That’s not including the vast probability that comes from the appearances and the unique nature of Christianity (the argument in my post above).

    But this also assumes that miracles don’t happen very often. But one must assume this. I’ve pointed out that there are 18 million NDE’s in America alone. Some of these experiences lack any scientific explanation. We add in that the majority of Americans claim a religious experiences, which also lack some scientific explanations, and we all of a sudden have miracles. That just drives the probability way up.

    Thanks. This is turning into a decent conversation.

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