I posed the following on a Facebook group page. I thought others may find it helpful.
On the probability of the resurrection.
I have two observations about belief in the resurrection.
Based on my recent interactions with Christians, it seems that belief in the resurrection may be simply a problem with a mathematical misunderstanding.
Imagine that, for each of five naturalistic explanations, the resurrection is twice as probable.
- 1: It is twice as probable that a man has come back to life than that the story was intentionally fabricated.
- 2: It is twice as probable that a man has come back to life than that a legend of a resurrection can grow out of the many retellings of a hero’s life among those devoted to him.
- 3: It is twice as probable that a man has come back to life than that a man who had not actually died appeared alive after being thought dead.
- 4: It is twice as probable that a man has come back to life than that that the body of that man was stolen or simply moved to a different place.
- 5: It is twice as probable that a man has come back to life than that those looking for someone’s body went to the wrong sepulcher.
Let’s add a sixth proposition that constitutes a “all others” category necessary to complete our sample space.
- 6: It is twice as probable that a man has come back to life than that one of all remaining unintroduced or unimagined natural explanations is the actual explanation.
Let’s grant these six assumptions for the sake of argument.
Now, based on these assumptions, are we justified in concluding that Jesus resurrected from the dead based on the principle of abduction or “inference to the best explanation”?
I would argue that we are not.
Based on the relative probabilities of the six assumptions we have granted, the probability that someone has come back from the dead is only 25%.
That someone has come back from the dead, granting the assumptions above, is the best explanation. Yet this explanation justifies only a 25% of belief. The complementary doubt must be at 75% for a rational mind.
The problem is that many think that the best explanation is inherently deserving of a high degree of confidence. It is not.
And it is this fundamental error that may lie at the base of the confidence of many that Jesus rose from the dead.
This is my first observation.
Belief in the resurrection may be simply based on a logical blunder.
Many claim that the resurrection is the most probable explanation without providing the probability of a resurrection.
For the rational mind, the following two premises can not be held at the same time.
- P1: X is more probable than Y.
- P2: I don’t know the probability X.
I have encountered not just a few Christians who hold both of these premises.
So these two observation may assist believers in reassessing their belief in the resurrection. If you have already taken both of these observations into consideration, and have come to the conclusion the resurrection of Jesus did actually happen, good on you. But you may want to assist the many other Christians who believe in the resurrection based on a blunder in probability or logic.