Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Philosophy on Apologetics (Part II) - The Emergent Double Standard

Once we use a "practical epistemology" as described in Part I, critics of Christianity will almost be immediately forced into a double standard. This may sound bold, but I don't mean this in a mean-spirited way. Here is what I mean. At every point we adjust the evidence for the resurrection, we run into a double standard. Granted, critics should rejoice that they have to use double standards to escape the resurrection, since it means that Christianity's offer of eternal life to them and everyone else is very probably true.

1) The existence and crucifixion of Jesus

It is popular in our culture to challenge certain aspects of Jesus life, such as his very existence, and major events, such as the crucifixion. However, the crucifixion is vastly more evidenced than the death of Julius Caesar.The assassination of Julius Caesar only has 2 primary sources, neither of whom even claim to be an eyewitness. Yet we believe this without even thinking about it. However, the crucifixion of Jesus has 4 biographical sources, some of whom DO claim to be an eyewitness. Other early sources who knew Jesus closest friends (Paul) report he was crucified. Peter also attests to this. So to avoid the crucifixion of Jesus we must employ a double standard.

2) The actual death of Jesus

We assume most historical figures who are deliberately executed usually die. Furthermore, most dead persons who have any friends or family at all are usually buried. We usually don't even consider the fact that an executed and buried person survived, let alone convince anyone that they are raised. Though this theory has initial plausibility because of the resurrection appearances, upon closer examination it becomes a very difficult position to hold. Further information from the Journal of American Medical Association shows that crucifixion is a death by a lack of oxygen. So if the person does not pull up to breathe for an extended period of time, then we can be certain they are dead.

3) The proclamation of the resurrection and appearances by the disciples

We have multiple sources stating that the disciples claimed that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he had appeared to them (from Gary Habermas "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus")

-Gospel of Matthew:
-Gospel of Luke
-Gospel of John
-1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (Creed describing resurrection appearances)
-Sermon summaries in Acts (many of which by Peter)
-Clement (friend of an eyewitness)
-Polycarp (friend of an eyewitness)

If we don't want to believe this, then we shouldn't believe in the core beliefs of the founders of any other religion. There are 8 separate sources above testifying to this. Most of us will risk our lives on testimony that we merely assume is honest testimony. For example, if 5 of my neighbors tell me they heard on the radio that the tornado warning is over, then I can believe them, even though they didn't die to prove the sincerity of their beliefs. So if 8 ancient sources tell me that someone proclaimed something, then I ought to believe it, unless I can find a better explanation for the rise of the religion. On top of all of this, if we disbelieve these sources about the disciples early beliefs, then as we saw before, we may as well give up on believing in Julius Caesar's assassination. Luckily, almost everyone agrees that the disciples proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus.

4) The sincerity of the disciples proclamation.

The disciples underwent serious persecution and risked their lives several times to preach the gospel message. If we deny their sincerity with the resurrection appearances, we have to deny the sincerity of other situations. A necessary condition of being deliberately deceptive includes not believing what you are telling another person. So in order for the disciples to be liars, then they didn't even believe in the resurrection at all.

-do our own Christian friends believe in Christianity? After all they didn't even die for it.
-does the author of this blog post believe in the resurrection? or is he just bluffing?
-do missionaries who sneak into closed countries do it for the women and beer?
-do people who regularly risk their lives and lose their social position become serious candidates for deception?

On this standard, Martin Luther very plausibly didn't even believe in justification by faith, but was only bluffing. After all, he didn't die for his beliefs now did he?

5) The ability of the disciples to accurately assess whether or not they spent time with their friend in an unexpected situation.

If even one of our friends said they ate lunch with their best friend, it ends the discussion as to whether or not they actually did (assuming they are honest). Once you have honest and qualified testimony, the buck stops there. Unless we use a double standard, we have to say that the disciples were both honest eyewitnesses (they suffered for their proclamation) and qualified eyewitnesses (they had known Jesus 3 years). If we want to say that it wasn't really Jesus, we have to apply this standard to situations where friends meeting up is extremely low. For example, if I tell you that I saw and talked with my roommate of 3 years in Northern Russia, as long as I am being honest, you will believe my testimony. However, rejecting the disciples competence in assessing whether or not they actually hung out with their friend Jesus (after his death) would require us to challenge competence of many other persons, especially if there are less witnesses. After all, if even one person sees their friend in an unexpected situation, we ought to challenge their very experiences of their own friends.

6) Hume's Probabilistic Argument

Perhaps all of these are good arguments. Still, one can raise an argument based on probability. It may be horribly and egregiously unlikely that the disciples lied, or that Jesus didn't die, but perhaps any of these are greatly more likely than the ludicrous notion that he rose from the dead. This sounds nice on the surface, but is highly problematic.

David Hume's original argument said that our experiences of the laws of nature are much more reliable than human testimony (where people lie, embellish stories, go insane, etc.). Since miracles are a violation of the laws of nature, according to Hume, we should always believe that its more likely that the testimony was mistaken, than our experiences of the laws of nature.

This solution has numerous practical problems:

-Hume admits that using his methodology, a man from the tropics should not believe in frost the first time he encounters it, since it is contrary to his experience!
-Tornadoes, ball lightning, Northern lights, and black holes are currently or were at one time inconsistent with existing laws of nature and scientific theory. It is fair to say we can anticipate a scientific explanation where it doesn't bear the marks of a personal cause. However, using Hume's principle, no one should believe in these things until science allows for them.
-Miracles are not violations of the laws of nature. They are just evidence that an extremely intelligent and powerful being is present. For example, if aliens came to earth and raised someone from the dead, that would just mean they had the technology to do so, not that they violated a law of nature.
-The biggest problem with Hume's argument is that it's circular. To assume that experience is more reliable than testimony, he has to rely on the testimony of other people when they talk about their experiences. This means Hume is attempting to refute testimony with testimony, which is circular.

7) Argument from Sufficient Ambiguity

Perhaps we say that all of these are good arguments, but if we stack probability upon probability of each one occurring, we can say that the resurrection is sufficiently ambiguous. Reformed epistemologist and Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga attempted this strategy when discussing the historical argument. He argued that if you multiply the chances of each event in the necessary series together, it always comes out with a low probability. (i.e: Jesus was crucified x Jesus actually died x disciples really claimed resurrection x they didn't lie = lower probability than desired).

The problem with this is that it makes other historical events, such as the assassination of Caesar, highly ambiguous as well. Christian philosophers in response to Plantinga note that the truth of supporting pieces of evidence is not dependent on the previous one in the series, but each one has multiple sources evidencing each one. So even Plantinga has backed down from this argument after criticism.


It's easy to see that double standards have to be regularly used to escape the resurrection. However, the resurrection of Jesus is not the only place a double standard is used. Such a double standard is remarkably evident in the field of biology and genetics as well.

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