The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth after his unjust death stands at the very heart of the Christian faith.
If materialism is true, it goes without saying that the prior plausibility of a corpse coming back to life through random physical processes is extremely small.
However, some atheist apologists go farther than that and argue that even if God existed, the probability of His raising Jesus from the dead would be incredibly low.
Atheistic philosopher Jeffery Jay Lowder (who is a nice, respectful, well-articulated, intelligent and decent man) put it like this:
B3: Approximately 107,702,707,791 humans have ever lived. Approximately half of them have been male.
B4: God, if He exists, has resurrected from the dead at most only one person (Jesus).
B3 and B4 are significant because they summarize the relevant evidence about God’s tendency to resurrect people from the dead (assuming God exists). They show why the resurrection has a low prior probability even for theists. Once we take B3 and B4 into account, the prior probability of the resurrection is less than or equal to 5.0 x 10-12. In symbols, Pr(R | B1 & B3 & B4) <= 5.0 x 10-12.
I shall reformulate his argument in a simpler way while emphasising a most problematic hidden assumption.
- From the 100 000 000 humans who have ever lived under the sun, none has been resurrected by God’s mighty hands.
- Consequently, the probability that a human being chosen at random gets raised from the dead is less than 10-11.
3. God would be as interested in resurrecting Jesus as he would be in resurrecting a random human being.
4. Hence the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection is less than 10-11.
Although premise 1) might be begging the question against claims of miracles, I shall accept it as true.
Premise 2) is totally uncontroversial. So what truly stands in the way of the conclusion is premise 3).
Why on earth should we assume that Jesus was only a random human being to God? This probability seems unknown to me unless one makes assumptions about the divine Being, i.e. one engages in theology.
Lowder seems to be aware of this. A (godless) commenter wrote:
“Your estimate of 5.0 x 10-12. assumes that Jesus is a typical human. But if not, if B1A: Jesus is the second person of the Trinity is true, P(B2) becomes much higher, possibly of order 1. In that case the relevant unknown is P(B1A | B1). While that may be small, I doubt if it’s anywhere near as small as 5.0 x 10-12.”
His response was:
“There are not any reliable statistics for the reference class of men who are the second person of the Trinity. Thus, the reference class that must be used is the broadest one for which we have reliable statistics, viz., men.”
But this is clearly begging the question.
- Why should we assume that Jesus was a random human being to God?
- Because this is the only way we can approximately calculate the prior probability of his resurrection.
- And why should we assume that this value approximates anything if we don’t know whether or not he was just an ordinary man to God?
So I think that unbelievers cannot argue from ignorance here. They should instead give us positive grounds for thinking that Jesus wasn’t special to God.
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