Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Three Pieces to the Resurrection Puzzle

I am trying to mentally assemble the most persuasive/coherent argument for the resurrection I can come up with. Granted, by "most persuasive" it may only appear as such to me. 

This post will be a rehash of the last one, but will have some new material too.

I am going to speak straightforwardly for sake of clarity. 

The Bedrock Evidence

The resurrection of Jesus has more documentary support than many other ancient historical events we take for granted. 

This may sound controversial, but its very true. We certainly have more evidence for resurrection than other historical events in antiquity. The real controversial question is if that is enough evidence for a miracle. 

Nevertheless, the documentary evidence does, indeed, exceed the evidence for many other ancient events. 

There are about 4 primary sources for the assassination of Julius Caesar. All of them are written over 100 years after the event. 

However, there are about 4 primary sources for the resurrection, all of which are written within 70 years of the event. (70 years being an estimate made by most non-Christian scholars). 

Some attempt to rebut this by saying that the documents used for the resurrection are inherently less reliable than other Roman histories, because of the following reasons:

1) They contain contradictions between the sources
2) They contain miracle claims
3) They are written by a biased party

The problem with these rebuttals is that many Roman histories have exactly the same "problems." Different accounts of Roman events have contradictions between them. Some Roman histories contain miracle claims associated with Caesar. Furthermore, they are written by someone interested enough in the person (or Rome) to actually spend the money to write the history (it was very expensive back then).

It's pretty easy to show that the evidence is "better" than other events. This is demonstrated quite simply with a thought experiment. Just ask yourself:

"If we had the same amount of evidence for Jesus doing something not miraculous, would we believe it?" 

For most people, the answer is very much a "yes." The thing about the resurrection is that we have (more or less) the same amount of evidence for Jesus' death as we have for his resurrection. This is the case because you obviously have to die in order to resurrect. The following parties accept the death of Jesus:

  1. Almost every single New Testament historian (based on a comprehensive survey of historical Jesus publications)
  2. Encyclopedias accept the death of Jesus without controversy
  3. Non-Christian ancient sources accept the death of Jesus 
The real question is not so much "is there evidence for the resurrection?" The real question is "is the evidence we have enough for a miracle?" 

I will address the miracle question in a moment. But we must first to alternative theories for resurrection. 

Alternative Theories: A Cure Worse Than The "Disease"

Sometimes, people propose alternative theories in place of the resurrection. Here are some of those theories:
  1. Twin theory: Jesus twin brother came to Jerusalem to fake his brothers resurrection right after Jesus died
  2. Hallucination theory: the disciples had grief hallucinations which made them think they saw Jesus alive after he was dead, when in reality he was still dead
  3. Metaphor theory: The stories of Jesus' resurrection are not intended to be literal stories, but metaphors about the spiritual significance of Jesus to the hearts of the first Christians
  4. Deception theory: the disciples lied about the resurrection 
  5. Wrong Tomb Theory: The disciples went to the wrong tomb and mistakenly believed it to be empty
  6. Stolen Body Theory: The disciples stole the body from the tomb to perpetuate rumors of his resurrection
  7. Apparent Death Theory: Jesus didn't really die, but survived the cross and returned, claiming to be resurrected. 
These theories were created by very smart people and are very clever on the surface. Nevertheless, they are absolutely and thoroughly unbelievable when applied to almost anything in history. They are especially unbelievable when applied to events in our daily lives. 

....Now, you may say: "Yes, but isn't the resurrection just as absurdly crazy?" More on this question in the next section, but bear with me for a moment.....

It's easy to show that these theories, taken independently, make very bad explanations. Here's a few of them:

1) Hallucinations: Visual grief hallucinations happen among 7% of grieving adults. This amounts to literally millions of people. How many of them have claimed their loved one had a "resurrection" because of it?Furthermore, hallucinations do not serve as a good alternative theory for most things. Can I tell witnesses in a court of law that they merely hallucinated me shooting the victim?

2) Twin theory: using the twin theory, you could say that Julius Caesar wasn't really assassinated, but had a long lost brother who jumped in last minute to die in his brother's place. Furthermore, you could excuse yourself from almost all crimes if this was an acceptable theory. All you would have to do is postulate a twin brother/sister who committed the crime for you.

3) Metaphor theory: you could say that the accounts of other Roman biographies are mythological metaphors as well. In fact, you can turn almost any literal story into a mythology or metaphor about something.

4) Stolen body and wrong tomb theory: these only account for the empty tomb and none of the appearances, so they are bad theories to begin with

...and on and on it goes... Just sort of fill in that same type of reasoning with the other alternative theories...

What I'm basically saying, is this:

I understand the apprehension with choosing the resurrection instead of these theories. I am just saying that, by themselves, these make for very bad theories.

But back to the problem....

You may say: "Yes, but isn't the resurrection just as absurdly crazy?" Now we will actually get to this question:

How Crazy Is A Miracle?

The above ideas are rather straightforward. The resurrection has more evidence than many other events in ancient history. Furthermore, the alternative theories to the resurrection are extremely unlikely from a practical standpoint, especially when taken by themselves. These are two of the three pieces to the "resurrection puzzle."

Now to the third piece: 

The next idea is not as straightforward to understand, but I will do my best to make it clear. 

Some argue that the resurrection theory itself an unbelievable explanation. It would be, but only if Christians claimed Jesus rose from the dead all by himself without any help. Christians claim God raised Jesus, not that he just naturally rose on his own. On the contrary, skeptics of the resurrection postulate near impossible events (i.e. multiple group hallucination) as happening all by themselves.

Naturalistic theories suggest that extremely unlikely events took place without the intervention of a capable third party. I don't know of any non-believer who wants to claim that God caused the disciples to have mass group hallucinations. Or that God caused the disciples to go to the wrong tomb... 

This metaphor should help illustrate why the resurrection does not violate the laws of nature, and is thus not as "impossible" as it seems. 

The Deserted Island Metaphor 
  1. Imagine I live in a house on a deserted island. A pile of books is laying on the floor next to a bookshelf inside my house. I leave my house at 9 AM. I return home at 2 PM, only to discover that all of the books that were on the floor are now in the bookshelf. 
  2. It is impossible for books to pick themselves up and arrange themselves in a bookshelf. That would violate the laws of nature. Nevertheless, when this situation occurs, I do not simply refuse to believe that the books are really on the shelf. It's easy enough to know if books are on a shelf.
  3. This situation is called an "agent gap." It requires that an agent with the 1) power and 2) knowledge of how to assemble books on a bookshelf, entered my house and did that when I was gone.
  4. I do not need to first prove that someone came to the deserted island in order for me to prove that the books are really on the shelf. The very fact that the books are on the shelf in the first place, proves that I am not alone on the island. 
  5. We don't know if God exists. However, if we find our friend who is dead, then we talk to them the next day, a very serious "agent gap" is created. This is impossible through natural means. It requires that an agent 1) powerful enough and 2) smart enough to reassemble and reactivate the cells in a persons body, has actually done so in this case. 
  6. Like the bookshelf example, we do not need to prove the existence of God to prove the existence of a resurrected man. It's easy enough to tell if your friend is dead or alive. The very fact there is a resurrected man in the first place proves we are not alone in the universe. 
An Extension of the Deserted Island Metaphor

On this method, the initial probability of God's existence doesn't matter, as long as its not too close to zero. 

Here's why:

Imagine if I had a visitor on the island only 1 day out of 365 days. This means that the chances that someone is on the island with me is as low as 0.27% on any given day. However, if I come back to my house and discover books that had been on the floor are now assembled in a bookshelf, it simply proves that TODAY is the day that I have a visitor! 

I don't have to prove that the visitor is both on the island AND wants to assemble books in my bookshelf before proving that the books are "really" on the shelf. 

 Just seeing the books on the bookshelf makes the chances of a visitor who wants to put books on my shelf at 100%. 

This metaphor applies to God. We don't know if God exists, but as long as the probability of his existence isn't too extremely low, a well supported miracle brings the probability of his existence up to 100% (or close to it).

The Three Pieces to the Puzzle

So now we have the three pieces to the resurrection puzzle.

First, the resurrection has more evidence than many other events in ancient history. Second, the alternative theories to the resurrection are basically impossible from a practical standpoint, especially when taken by themselves. Third, the resurrection theory is much better than the alternative theories, because even the possible existence of a capable external agent massively raises the probability of it happening the way it seemed to (i.e. he really rose from the dead). 

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