Observations on belief in the resurrection of Jesus

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.

___________
OBSERVATION #1
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.
_____________
OBSERVATION #2

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.

Problems with Biblical Sin and Redemption

The following questions are provided as a challenge to the Biblical notions of sin and redemption. Feel free to comment.

1. What is it that prevents a loving God from forgiving without bloodshed? (Hebrews 9:22) If you became more God-like, would you also have difficulty forgiving without bloodshed?

2. Is punishing children for the sins of their father ever just? (Numbers 14:18) If a human judge were to punish the sins of a father by punishing his children and grandchildren, is there anyway that could be considered just?

3. How is it just for someone to pay for the sins of someone else? If a judicial system allowed this, would it be just?

4. If Jesus became human to “become sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21) to pay the human price for sin, how could he be resurrected since humans presumably have not paid for their sins after 3 days of death? Is the price of sin eternal damnation or a 3-day damnation?

5. Since Jesus was one man, how was it possible he could pay for everyone’s sins? Could one innocent child somehow pay the penalty for 1,000 criminals?

6. Why is eternal death called “punishment” when any loving being punishes only to rehabilitate those he loves?

7. Is there anyway a human born with a sin nature can avoid sinning? If not, how can sinning be culpable? Do we punish puppies born with a “bark nature” for barking by eternally damning them?

The following chart shows how Evangelical apologetics is becoming less and less about the “Gospel”, and more about a deistic position or simply critiquing other ideologies.

image

 

The Demonization of Doubt

Christianity is flawed at its epistemic foundation. Certainty is applauded, and doubt is disparaged. At best, doubt is treated as a hopefully brief and emotionally distraught excursion away from what must be true, rather than reflecting an epistemically honest mapping of one’s degree of belief to the degree of the evidence.

This was demonstrated very saliently in the latest episode of “Reasonable Faith” (Doubt and Certainty | July 9, 2016) with William Lane Craig (WLC).

“I suppose that you can’t doubt something unless you believe it” WLC begins the episode.

Craig immediately falls into treating the notion of belief and doubt as if they were binary, as if they were ontologically similar to a wife and a girlfriend. Sure, you might have a wife, but that does not keep you from unwisely also having a girlfriend. And this is how he treats doubt, as if it were a natural impulse, but somehow impure, the optimal condition being fidelity to your wife.

This binary notion of belief and doubt does not remotely approximate the actual concepts. Both belief and doubt are intrinsically gradient. And they are simply inverse reflections of each other in the same way “hot” and “cold” are.

Sure, you can ask “Is it hot?” or “Is it cold?” as a binary linguistic shortcut, but we all understand “hot” and “cold” are intrinsically gradient, and inverse reflections of each other. When we want precision, we instead ask “How hot is it?” or “How cold is it?”

So also for the notion of belief. While we can ask as a linguistic shortcut “Do you believe?”, we all understand that we are simply applying an arbitrary threshold, subjectively defined, to split the epistemic gradient into two artificial zones for the sake of convenience. A more precise question would be “How much do you believe?” or the inverse “How much do you doubt?” Answering one of these complimentary questions will supply the answer to the other.

And it is to the advantage of the Christian apologist that he suggest that the binary notion of belief (distorted by linguistic artifacts) is the actual essence of the concept of belief, for that is also how the Bible treats salvific belief. Every instance of salvific belief in the Bible treats belief as if it were binary. Yet we know that the gradient essence of belief will always hold primacy over any linguistic shortcuts since those linguistic shortcuts suppose some subjectively defined arbitrary threshold along the epistemic gradient. The fact that “hot” and “cold” are linguistic opposites does not warrant the notion that heat is somehow binary in its essence. Heat remains gradient in spite of linguistic artifacts. The fact that “belief” and “disbelief” are linguistic opposites does not warrant the notion that belief is binary in its essence. Belief remains gradient in spite of linguistic shortcuts. Linguistic artifacts encouraging a binary notion of belief are not a basis for an actual just and intelligent God to employ when determining alleged eternal fates as found in the Bible.

Worsening this linguistic distortion of the actual gradient essence of belief is the irrational psychological tendency of humans to default to the poles of the disbelief/belief gradient instead of rigorously positioning their degree of belief to map to the actual degree of relevant evidence. This is human, yet this is irrational.

Belief is intrinsically gradient. Belief and doubt (disbelief) are simply complimentary epistemic notions reflecting some nuanced point along the epistemic gradient. Any non-gradient artifacts in language or psychology are distortive.

So WLC, knowingly or unknowingly, distorts belief into some gargoyle of an epistemic switch flipped at some subjective threshold of confidence that warrants a move from “disbelief” to “belief” rather than honestly mapping the degree of epistemic certainty to the degree of evidential certainty as the confirming/disconfirming evidence accrues.

Let’s now examine the disingenuous disposition towards doubt held by Christians. The host of Reasonable Faith asks WLC the following.

“What would be the proper way to do it [doubt] without becoming, well, blasphemous?”

What are you doubting if you are not doubting the existence of a God without which there would be no blasphemy? If your prayers go unanswered, do you limit your doubt to the wisdom of love of your God, and rope off the notion of his existence as sacred? How can this be the disposition of an honest seeker?

WLC confirms this absurd and dishonest disposition by saying…

“Well, I think it’s important to go to God with your doubts, to be honest with Him.”

Doubting God’s existence is off limits. When you don’t understand Him, you go to Him for explanation and assurances, never actually doubting His existence. It’s similar to wondering whether your online romance may actually be with a web-bot, then asking that same potentially imaginary partner whose existence you are questioning whether they are real, never actually willing to doubt their human essence.

WLC also cites Gary Habermas in claiming doubt is “primarily emotional rather than intellectual”. This conveniently allows the apologist to shrug away any honest intellectual doubts the average believer experiences, to invoke the demonic elements in the spiritual warfare in which they perceive themselves as the source of doubts, and to again pronounce the essence their apologetics to be unassailable by “actual” intellectual arguments. You are probably just feeling a bit emotional when you doubt. You’ll get over it and come back to Jesus. Craig recommends you defeat doubt by engaging in activities in which “your emotions will be involved in worshiping and praising God…prayer, fellowship, sharing one’s faith”. It is indeed difficult to emotionally or intellectually doubt the existence of a god you praise and worship. Doubt is here treated as a spiritual illness, and the remedy is to position yourself in an emotional context in which doubt is suppressed, and in which vested interests favoring belief calcify. I suggest WLC wishes to define doubt as primary emotional so that it can be tolerated or disparaged, but not perceived as reflective of the consequence of an honest inquiry. The emotional cure he recommends for doubt, however, he does not disparage as inappropriate for an intellectually honest mind. And this asymmetry highlights the absurdity intrinsic to his position.

To be fair, WLC does admit there could be intellectual doubts. He says…

“I think one of the most exhilarating experiences in the Christian life can be to take one of these questions, and to pursue it into the ground until we come to intellectual peace with that issue.”

Note that, once again, doubt is fine only so long as it is experienced within the Christian life. No species of doubt that would actually lead to a rejection of Christianity is proper in the mind of Craig. Doubt seems to be heathy and legitimate only so long as it does not include an actual disbelief in the core entity in question.

In referencing his past reconciliation of the timeless nature of a Jesus who lived within time, Craig says…

“It [the reconciliation] enables your restless mind to come to peace with this issue, to have confidence in God…”

We are back to the only resolution to doubt that Craig will allow: confidence in God, the very God in question. This is nowhere close to intellectual honesty.

Craig encourages us to “go after” any doubts, not by looking at the arguments on both sides, but by reading the words of “good Christian philosophers, theologians, and Biblical exegetes.” Craig is “shocked at the folly” of Christians who “go to the internet” and listen to the arguments of non-Christians, “…and then they wonder why they are struggling with their faith.” Yes, once you are exposed to the arguments from both sides of the issue, you might find yourself doubting your position. Craig paints this as a bad thing. Once again, doubt is treated as some kind of tolerated, primarily emotional, nuisance or illness in the Christian life that, if only the doubter can refocused again on only the Christian side of the question, the doubt can be effectively suppressed. This is clearly intellectually dishonest.

Craig suggests that the doubter needs to go to the “work of the finest Christian philosophers, theologians, Biblical critics on these questions and see what they have to say, and whether this [the objection] stands up to the critiques and the doubts that are occasioned by the critics of Christianity.” WLC does not recommend a balanced examination of the experts on both sides.

Craig admits to promoting a “selective” approach to questions related to Christianity. He claims “The immature Christian who isn’t intellectually sophisticated ought not to be reading that sort of stuff until he has thoroughly grounded himself in the work of good Christian thinkers.” Would Craig recommend that doubting young Muslims limit their input to Islamic scholars? I think not. Does Craig recommend that young children in Sunday School be first taught intellectually sophistication before they listen to and accept the arguments from one side of the God-question. No. And this exposes the gross inconsistency in his position.

But Craig can hardly be blamed for his disparaging of doubt. The Bible itself treats doubt as a character flaw.

“But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think [a]that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.” [James 1:6-8]

The context here in James is petitioning God. But the reason for James’s disparaging of doubt is universal: a doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways. And you clearly can’t have full certainty that a God whose existence you doubt will answer your prayer.

This notion that doubt is a flaw in character rather than an honest, rational and necessary disposition for any inductively assessed question is an undeniably integral notion within Christianity, and good reason to reject Christianity as logically incoherent and inherently epistemically dishonest.

No unity, no divinity

I just heard an apologist on STR claim that the degree of unity we see among believers is the degree to which we can conclude that Jesus was divine.

He cited John 17:21-23.
…(21) that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (22) I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one — (23) I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.…

I completely agree. Kudos to this apologist for putting a popperian proposition out there.

The non-trivial disunity among believers is, in fact, substantial evidence against the divinity of Jesus, based on its own standards of evidence.

Evidential Certainty = Epistemic Certainty for the rational mind

If you don’t understand epistemology, you have no business assessing ontology.

William Lane Craig absurdly detaches degree of certainty from belief, and in so doing demonstrates his incompetence in assessing what is true.

Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the relevant evidence. Yet WLC states the following, seemingly without embarrassment.

“But if you were to ask me about confidence, I just don’t have any sort of way assessing that. I simply believe that the evidence points to truth, and that the conclusions are therefore true.” (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8KMd_eS2J7o 1:12:30)

That’s right. WLC thinks he does not need to figure in the degree of warranted confidence into a deductive argument for him to conclude the conclusion is true. He offers no nuance nor resolution in his degree of confidence, and the terms “believe” and “conclude” are offered in a binary form. Rational belief is necessarily on an epistemic gradient, an epistemic gradient WLC wholly ignores.

You can not pretend to have anything substantive to say about metaphysics if your epistemology is screwed up, and the epistemology WLC, in abandoning the intrinsic gradient nature of rational belief, is definitely screwed up.

In an assessment of the debate from which the previous quote was taken, WLC says…

“You don’t need to have super-high confidence in order to believe something.” (Reasonable Faith Podcast June 18, 2016)

So absurd! How can a philosopher detach degree of belief from the degree of certainty the evidence justifies?

Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the evidence. Rational belief is not some binary switch which is flipped at some arbitrary level of evidence. No. The rational mind will merely adjust its epistemic stance along the gradient of belief to map to the degree of the evidence.

Craig claims that he can’t assess the degree of confidence well, seeming to imply that we should not worry about whether our degree of belief maps to the degree of the evidence. But he has no problem in his arguments claiming one conclusion is more probable than another, and implying that accepting the one more probable is more rational to accept. So he at least admits that a relative degree of certainty is important. If he can perceive relative degrees of certainty, there should be no reason why he can not perceive general degrees of absolute certainty.

WLC tries to strip rational belief of its gradient essence. He treats belief as if it were binary. It is not, and more critically, this binary approach to belief has no place in a rational mind.

The degree of evidential certainty is inextricably tied to the degree of epistemic certainty for the rational mind. When there is a disparity between evidential certainty and epistemic certainty, you have irrationality. That irrationality can be in the form of irrational doubt, or irrational belief (often called faith). But make no mistake; if you are not consciously tying your degree of belief to the degree of the relevant evidence, you are not a rational thinker, and have no business dabbling in metaphysics.

God is infinitely infinite: end of discussion

“Sometimes I introduce concepts I don’t understand just to make myself sound more infinite.” ~unknown

The word “infinite” is a quantifier. Quantifiers quantify qualities. Quantifiers can quantify a quality explicitly such as in the claim “the universe is 13.7 billion years old”, or can be implicit such as in “Phil is 55” (age is implied instead of IQ…hopefully)

But there is no semantic content in the following statements.

1. The car is quite.
2. My cat is very.
3. Your face is 732.
4. My God is infinite.

Your God is infinitely what? Unless you specify what quality is being quantified, you have said nothing.

Some more-aware Christians do attempt to attach “infinite” to a quality.

Here is one example.

Q: How can the 3-day death of Jesus be a substitute payment for the “deserved” eternal damnation of sinners?
A: Jesus was infinitely holy, so he could be resurrected.
(I’ve actually heard this several times.)

“Infinitely holy”? What can this possibly mean? Holiness is either perfect or imperfect. It’s like saying your lights are “infinitely on” or that your project is “infinitely finished” or that you’ve been “infinitely divorced” or that your house has been “infinitely built”. These phrases have no meaning.

It’s almost as if the term “infinite” is being invoked as a vague insulator to shut down the discussion. If you tell your boss you deserve a pay raise because you have “infinitely finished” your last project, he will likely justifiably laugh at your inability to understand the terms you use, or at your transparent attempt to make a rebuttal impossibly by introducing the logically impossible Escheresque term “infinitely finished”.

Saying some God is “infinitely holy” is either an egregious semantic blunder or an intentional attempt to block further discussion with impossible concepts.

Others have answered the question how the 3-day death of Jesus covers the “deserved” eternal damnation of sinners with the following.

A: God’s love for Jesus is infinite.
(I’ve also heard this on many occasions.)

This is logically incoherent. Love can only be complete, not infinite. Perhaps claiming the love of your God is a “perfect love” is logically coherent since it simply means it is not deficient in any way, but claiming the love of your God is “infinite” is logically absurd. Along what dimension can love extend to be assessed quantitatively?

Yet the term “infinite” is constantly invoked by theists when they find their theology backed into a logical corner.

This blunder (or intentional mendacity) does reflect well on their claims to possess the truth.