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.
(The are good articles written by professional philosopher of science John Norton explaining why epistemic ignorance cannot be represented by a probability distribution , , )
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.
I just listened to a talk given by Richard Dawkins.
For those who do not know him, he is the most influential “new atheist” (anti-theist) whose deepest wish would be to rid the world of all religions. Besides that, he is a very gifted evolutionary biologist and writer.
Given his track record and his habit of constantly lumping together all Christians and Muslims and his failure to appreciate the historical and religious contexts in which the Bible and the Koran were written, I expected a highly biased presentation of the facts.
I was pleasantly surprised by his (relatively) moderate tone and even ended up enjoying his show.
The same cannot be said of his followers and the person who titled the video. As we shall see, Dawkins did not “debunk” deism and the “simulation hypothesis”.
At best, he only showed that some arguments for these views are flawed.
In what follows, I want to offer my thoughts about several things he said, albeit not necessarily in a chronological order.
The origin of life and intelligent design
Dawkins recognises that at the moment, we don’t know how life originated. There are several theories out there but they all have their problems and no consensus has been reached.
Of course, our current ignorance cannot be used to argue that no natural phenomena could have been responsible for the appearance of the first self-replicating system.
Dawkins is ready to seriously consider the possibility that life has been seeded on earth by space aliens, which shows a certain mind-openness.
But he is adamant that such creatures could only have evolved through a slow process because the probability of their being formed spontaneously is extremely low.
This begs the question against people holding a religious world view who would say that the creator(s) of life are God(s) who always existed.
This also doesn’t fit in with his beliefs about the origin of the universe, as we will see later on.
Extraterrestrial intelligences and Fermi’s paradox
Dawkins endorses the principle of mediocrity which stipulates that we shouldn’t suppose there is anything special about us.
Thus, since we know there is (advanced) life on earth, we should assume it is widespread across the whole universe.
While being still popular among mainstream scientists, the Principle Of Mediocrity (POM= has grown more controversial over the last years.
Basically, the principle of mediocrity is justified through the principle of indifference (POI), according to which if we know nothing about a situation, we should attribute the same probability to each possibility.
I explained what I consider to be fatal objections to the POI here and here.
As Norton demonstrated, the principle of indifference conflates the difference between knowledge and ignorance and very often leads to arbitrary results (depending on the prior probability distribution one uses).
There is a fundamental distinction between
Situation A) We know that life on earth wasn’t the result of a fluke but that of non-random natural processes
Situation B) We know (almost) nothing about this.
Dawkins went into a paradox mentioned by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi.
If advanced life is so common in the cosmos, why don’t we see any trace of it?
Several explanations (such as the near impossibility of interstellar travel, the short duration of technological civilisations or their reluctance to interact with such primitive beings as we) have been offered to solve the paradox.
To my mind, while these may be plausible reasons why ten or even hundred extraterrestrial races never approached the earth, they seem extremely far-fetched when applied to millions (let alone billions) of civilisations.
Therefore, I believe that Fermi’s paradox strongly calls in question the conviction that the universe is teeming with advanced life forms.
The fine-tuning argument and the multiverse
Physicists have long since been puzzled by the fact that the constants of nature must lie in a very narrow domain in order to allow for advanced life to exist.
Many theistic philosophers reason like this
All sets of parameter values must have the same probability of being true (applying the Principle Of Indifference mentioned above)
Therefore, the probability of their belonging to a small region is extremely (if not infinitely) small.
It is very unlikely that we are the products of purely natural processes not involving God.
While mainstream cosmologists agree with steps 1 and 2, they then go on to postulate the existence of a (nearly) infinite number of parallel universes covering all intervals of parameter values. A natural consequence of this is that the appearance of a universe such as ours is bound to happen even if no supernatural creator intervenes.
Dawkins considers this the most plausible explanation of the problem.
I have come to the realisation that the whole concept of a fine-tuning problem is misguided because of its reliance on the principle of difference.
The fallacy of doing so has been demonstrated by Norton.
Miracles in an infinite multiverse
According to Clarke’s law, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Dawkins believes there are probably creatures out there who are so superior to us that we could only regard them as gods if they were to visit us. But he insists that they would have been created through evolutionary processes and would not be supernatural beings.
But this means that in order for him to dismiss out of hand the testimonies of witnesses of paranormal events and miracles, he would have to either show that they violate the laws of physics or give us plausible reasons as to why such creatures would not visit us.
He also faces another problem stemming from his belief in an infinite number of parallel universes.
In an infinite space, any event which is physically possible is bound to happen somewhere.
This has led physicists to consider the possibility of so-called Boltzmann’s brains which would pop into existence because of random fluctuations.
While physicists disagree about the frequency of their appearances in a vast multiverse, they all think they will at least exist somewhere.
Actually, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been able to convincingly demonstrate they would be very rare.
Anti-theists like to mock Christians by comparing their belief in God to the belief in a flying spaghetti monster.
But if we truly live in an infinite multiverse, flying spaghetti monsters too will necessarily exist somewhere.
What is more, physically very improbable events (such as the resurrection of a man from the dead) are also going to happen somewhere through random processes.
As a consequence, the atheist can no longer say “your belief in the miracles of the New Testament is silly because they violate the law of physics”.
The best he could say would be: “While such events really occur somewhere, their relative frequency is so low that it is unreasonable for you to believe they really took place.”
This is no doubt a weaker position which has its own problems.
Finally, I want to go into how Dawkins considers the possibility of being judged by a God he didn’t believe in.
Dawkins says he would react like the late British philosopher Bertrand Russel:
“Confronted with the Almighty, [Russell] would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’“
This assumes that God would be mostly offended by Dawkins’ and Russel’s unbelief.
I have argued elsewhere against the notion (held by fundamentalist Christians) that atheism is immoral and that people dying as atheists will be punished because of their unbelief.
I think it is incompatible with the existence of a supreme being which would necessarily be more loving, just and gracious than any human.
But what if the dialogue between God and Dawkins went like that:
“Dawkins: So, you really exist after all! I did not believe in you because I couldn’t see enough evidence.
God: Fair enough. The universe I created is ambiguous and it leaves people the choice to develop a solid moral character or not. I won’t condemn you because you did not believe in me. Yet, we do have a score to settle.
Dawkins: What do you mean then?
God:I gave you a conscience and the knowledge of good and evil. You knew in your heart that you ought to treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated. But you often disregarded this principle. You and your followers have frequently bullied, mocked and ridiculed respectful opponents. You even loudly proclaimed this was the right thing to do.”
Of course, this conversation is completely fictional. I don’t know the content of Dawkins’ heart and cannot rule out the possibility he will be in heaven.
I find that this video of Dawkins is really intellectually stimulating.
I did not feel challenged in my faith/hope there is a supreme being.
On the contrary, this strengthened my belief that atheists cannot confidently assert that “there are probably no gods and miracles.”
Of course, I must recognise there are many atheistic philosophers who are far more sophisticated than Dawkins out there.
But it is worth noting that Dawkins’ books (especially the God delusion) caused many people to lose their faith.
I think that their conversions to atheism are due to his rhetorical skills and not to the strength of his arguments.
For many people having grown up in post-Christian Europe, this alleged event is nothing more than one of the numerous legends the ancient world was littered with.
In what follows, I had the immense privilege of interviewing Mike Licona, an amazing Biblical scholar and historian who thinks that an intellectual honest man of the twenty-first century can and even should believe that the Son of Man truly rose from the dead.
This cartoon appears to be doing several things. But the point I want to focus on is a particular assumption about the nature of burden of proof. The assumption seems to be this:
Burden of Proof Assumption (BoPA): The person who makes a positive existential claim (i.e. who makes a claim that some thing exists) has a burden of proof to provide evidence to sustain that positive existential claim.
Two Types of Burden of Proof
Admittedly, it isn’t entirely clear how exactly BoPA is to be understood. So far as I can see, there are two immediate interpretations which we can call the strong and weak interpretations. According to the strong interpretation, BoPA claims that assent to a positive existential claim is only rational if it is based on evidence. In other words, for a person to believe rationally that anything at all exists, one must have evidence for that claim. I call this a “strong” interpretation because it proposes a very high evidential demand on rational belief.
The “weak” interpretation of BoPA refrains from extending the evidential demand to every positive existential claim a person accepts. Instead, it restricts it to every positive existential claim a person proposes to another person.
To illustrate the difference, let’s call the stickmen in the cartoon Jones and Chan. Jones claims he has the baseball, and Chan is enquiring into his evidence for believing this. A strong interpretation of BoPA would render the issue like this: for Jones to be rational in believing that he has a baseball (i.e. that a baseball exists in his possession), Jones must have evidence of this claim.
A weak interpretation of BoPA shifts the focus away from Jones’ internal rationality for believing he has a baseball and on to the rationality that Chan has for accepting Jones’ claim. According to this reading, Chan cannot rationally accept Jones’ testimony unless Jones can provide evidence for it, irrespective of whether Jones himself is rational to believe the claim.
So it seems to me that the cartoon is ambiguous between the weak and strong claims. Moreover, it is clear that each claim carries different epistemological issues in its train.
Does a theist have a special burden of proof?
Regardless, let’s set that aside and focus in on the core claim shared by both the weak and strong interpretations which is stated above in BoPA. In the cartoon a leap is made from belief about baseballs to belief about religious doctrines. The assumption is thus that BoPA is a claim that extends to any positive existential claim.
I have two reasons for rejecting BoPA as stated. First, there are innumerable examples where rational people recognize that it is not the acceptance of an existential claim which requires evidence. Indeed, in many cases the opposite is the case: it is the denial of an existential claim which requires evidence.
Consider, for example, belief in a physical world which exists external to and independent of human minds. This view (often called “realism”) makes a positive existential claim above and beyond the alternative of idealism. (Idealism is the view that only minds and their experiences exist.) Regardless, when presented with the two positions of realism and idealism, the vast majority of people will recognize that if there is a burden of proof in this question, it is borne by the idealist who denies a positive existential claim.
Second, BoPA runs afoul of the fact that one person’s existential denial is another person’s existential affirmation. The idealist may deny the existence of a world external to the mind. But by doing so, the idealist affirms the existence of a wholly mental world. So while the idealist may seem at first blush to be making a mere denial, from another perspective she is making a positive existential claim.
With that in mind, think about the famous mid-twentieth century debate between Father Copleston (Christian theist) and Lord Russell (atheist) on the existence of God. Copleston defended a cosmological argument according to which God was invoked to explain the origin of the universe. Russell retorted: “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.” With that claim, Russell is not simply denying a positive existential claim (i.e. “God exists”), but he is also making a positive existential claim not made by Copleston (i.e. “the universe is just there, and that’s all”).
In conclusion, the atheist makes novel positive existential claims as surely as the theist. And so it follows that if the latter has a burden to defend her positive existential claim that God does exist, then the former has an equal burden to defend her positive existential claim that the universe is just there and that’s all.
Here is was my response.
This is another of your excellent posts, Randal!
Unlike most Evangelical apologists, you’re a true philosopher of religion and don’t seem to be ideology driven like John Loftus (for instance) obviously is. This makes it always a delight to read your new insights,
I think that when one is confronted with an uncertain claim, there are three possible attitudes:
1) believing it (beyond any reasonable doubt)
2) believing its negation (without the shadow of a doubt).
3) not knowing what to think.
Most professional Skeptics automatically assume that if your opponent cannot prove his position (1), he or she is automatically wrong (2), thereby utterly disregarding option 3).
All these stances can be moderated by probabilities, but since I believe that only events have probabilities, I don’t think one can apply a probabilistic reasoning to God’s existence and to the reality of moral values.
While assessing a worldview, my method consists of comparing its predictions with the data of the real world. And if it makes no prediction at all (such as Deism), agnosticism is the most reasonable position unless you can develop cogent reasons for favoring another worldview.
Anyway, the complexity of reality and the tremendous influence of one’s cultural and personal presuppositions on reality make it very unlikely to know the truth with a rational warrant, and should force us to adopt a profound intellectual humility.
This is why I define faith as HOPE in the face of insufficient evidence.
I believe we have normal, decent (albeit not extraordinarily) evidence for the existence of transcendent beings. These clues would be deemed conclusive in mundane domain of inquiries such as drug trafficking or military espionage.
But many people consider the existence of a realm (or beings) out of the ordinary to be extremely unlikely to begin with.
This is why debates between true believers and hardcore deniers tend to be extraordinarily counter-productive and loveless.
The evidence are the same but Skeptics consider a coincidence of hallucinations, illusions and radar deficits to be astronomical more plausible than visitors from another planet, universe, realm, or something else completely unknown.
In the future, I’ll argue that there are really a SMALL number of UFOs out there (if you stick to the definition “UNKNOWN Flying Objects” instead of a starship populated by gray aliens)
Of course, the same thing can be said about (a little number of) miraculous miracles.
Die Beantwortung dieser Frage erweist sich als viel schwieriger, als was viele Leute gern denken.
Der berühmte Skeptiker der Parapsychologie Richard Wiseman aus dem vereinigten Königreich wurde einmal gefragt, warum er außerkörperliche Wahrnehmungen (ESP) und Fernwahrnehmung ablehnt. Seine Antwort war aufschlussreich:
„Ich stimme zu, dass nach den Normen jedes anderen wissenschaftlichen Themenfeldes Fernwahrnehmung bewiesen ist. Es stellt sich jedoch die Frage: Brauchen wir höhere Standards von Beweisen, wenn wir das Übernatürliche erforschen? Ich glaube schon. Wenn ich behaupten würde, dass sich ein rotes Auto außerhalb meines Hauses befinden würde, würden Sie mir mit Sicherheit glauben. Wenn ich Ihnen jedoch sagen würde, dass dort soeben ein UFO gelandet ist, würden sie wahrscheinlich mehr Beweise dafür wollen. Da Fernwahrnehmung eine solch sonderbare Behauptung ist, die die Welt revolutionieren würde, benötigen wir überwältigende Beweise, bevor wir irgendwelche Schlüsse ziehen. Im Augenblick haben wir keine solche Beweise “
Eine solche Herangehensweise bezüglich anormalen Phänomenen wird häufig durch das legendäre Theorem von Baye bestützt, das besagt, dass man die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Wahrheit einer Theorie durch die Berücksichtigung der aus neuen Tatsachen stammenden Informationen aktualisieren kann.
Ich werde einer kritischen Unterschung der verwandeten Philosophie Bayesianismus zukünftige Konversationen widmen.
Im Zweiten Buch der Chroniken von Narnia “der König von Narnia” verwarf der berühmte Schriftsteller C.S. Lewis völlig diese Methode.
Die junge Lucy kamm in Narnia, eine paralellen Welt, nachdem sie sich in einer Garderobe versteckt hatte. Zurück im Haus rannte sie auf ihre Geschwister zu, die die Realität ihrer Erfahrung völlig verleugneten.
Besorgt, weil ihre kleine Schwester an der Wahrheit ihrer unglaublichen Geschichte festhielt, suchten sie den Professoren Kirke, der sie zurecht wies, Lucy nicht vertraut zu haben.
Nachdem sie erwidert hatten, dass ihre Behauptung außergewöhnlich war, antwortete er:
“Logik!” sagte der Professor, halb zu ihm selber. “Warum lehren sie keine Logik in diesen Schulen? Es gibt nur drei Möglichkeiten. Entweder erzählt euch eure Schwester Lügen, oder sie ist verrückt, oder sie sagt euch die Wahrheit. Ihr wisst, dass sie keine Lügen erzählt und es ist offensichtlich, dass sie nicht verrückt ist. Für den Moment müssen wir dann davon ausgehen, dass sie die Wahrheit erzählt, es sei denn, neue Beweise auftauchen.”
Das heißt, für den alten weisen Professoren waren normale Beweise oder Evidenzen ausreichend, um die seltsame Behauptung des kleinen Mädchens für wahr zu halten.
Hier bin ich irgendwie über die Gültigkeit der beiden Prinzipien verwirrt.
Einerseits ist es klar, dass wir immer unser Hintergrundswissen in Betracht ziehen sollten, bevor wir eine neue Hypothese oder Theorie einschätzen.
Andererseits, wenn ein Satz von Tatsachen ausreicht, um eine gewöhnliche Behauptung zu beweisen, dann sehe ich nicht ein, warum ein ähnlicher Satz von Tatsachen daran scheitern würde, eine außergewöhnliche Behauptung zu belegen.
Lasst uns nun manche konkrete Beispiele von gut bekannten Phänomenen uns anschauen, die in der Vergangenheit aufgrund ihrer vermeintlichen Außergewöhnlichkeit verleugnet wurden.
Im Nachhinein zu sagen, dass sie doch nicht außergewöhnlich waren, wäre allzu einfach denn dies war die Weise, wie sie von Wissenschaftlern zu dieser Zeit wahrgenommen wurden.
Die Existenz von Meteoriten wurde damals als eine haarsträubende Behauptung angesehen und die normalen vorliegenden Beweisen wurden als irdische Phänomene oder Halluzinationen der Zeugen wegerklärt.
In 1923 fand der deutsche Geologer Alfred Wegener normale Beweise für die Kontinentaldrift, aber da er nicht fähig war, einen sinnvollen Mechanismus darzustellen, wurde seine Theorie während Jahrzehnten ignoriert oder sogar verlächerlicht.
Dasselbe könnte über die Blitzkugel gesagt werden, die oft als das Produkt der Sinntäuschungen und Halluzinationen der Zeugen abgelehnt worden war.
Heutzutage kann ein ähnliches Phänomen in Bezug auf den kleinen Anteilvon wirklich unidentifizierten fliegenden Objekten beobachtet werden.
Wenn außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise erfordern, dann existieren UFOs (in der Gegenwart) nicht und die Kontinentaldrift, Meteoriten, und Blitzkugel existierten in der Vergangenheit nicht.
Aber wenn man nur nach normalen Beweisen sucht, kann eine feste Argumentation dafür aufgebaut werden, dass manche UFOs (gemäß der ursprünglichen Definition “unidentifiziert”) wirklich existieren. Ich werde dies in zukünftigen Posten erläutern.
Wir werden auch zusammen die Möglichkeit berücksichtigen, dass es wirklich normale Beweise für die Auferstehung von Jesus von Nazareth gibt.
First of all I want to make clear where I am coming from.
I believe that everyone ought to treat a fellow human being as he would like to be himself treated. Therefore I think that all kinds of discrimination should be equally combated regardless of the identity of the perpretators and victims.
Now few self proclaimed anti-racists would reject this principle, at least in public.
But they would say that racism almost always stems from white people and that acts of racism against white persons are extremely rare and can be neglected in comparison with the reverse phenomenon.
Yet the daily experience of many white folks living in French suburbs shows that nothing could be further from the truth.
If a group of skinheads besieged the house of a black family and told to the husband: „We will fuck your black whore!“, I have no doubt that the story would be included on the first page of mainstream newspapers.
This is only one among countless cases of anti-white racism on the French territory. The perpretators are most often young arabs of the second and third generation along a smaller number of blacks who believe that their justified anger against the past and current abuses and discriminations of the French society gives them the right to hate all white people.
Psychologically this is a gruesome form of collective punishment, the idea that the misdeeds of an individual justify the punishment of his whole family, clan, ethnic group, religion and even race.
Western liberals seem completely unable to recognize that people of European descent can also be victims of the same wicked logic. Interestingly enough, when Jews are the victims of cruel acts of violence commited by ethnic gangs with a Muslim background, politicians and intellectuals will immediately speak out against the crimes.
But when non-Jewish white people report of the same horrible experiences they went through, these are most often ignored, explained away or minimized.
For Western liberals, the assertion that anti-white racism is as much a problem as racism from white people is truly an extraordinary claim.
Therefore normal evidence cannot be accepted for proving the reality of the phenomenon.
Thus it should not be reported by serious journalists.
And if it is not found in the mainstream medias, it can be most likely neglected.
For surely mainstream medias describe reality in an almost objective way, and those denying this are crackpot conspiracy theorists and white supremacists.
Sadly, this has led many white folks suffering under the situation to put all their hopes in far right groups. This is the main reason why 20% of the French electors vote for the fachist leader of the national Front, Marine Le Pen. They are ignored and defeamed by all other political parties but welcome by right extremists who seriously take into consideration their problems.
It goes without saying this is an explosive situation which fosters a vicious circle of hatred.
William Lane Craig is undoubtedly the most popular defender of the Evangelical faith and for both believers and unbelievers, he represents the very best Christianity has to offer.
While trying to prove the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, William Lane Craig often presupposes the existence of God as background information. I think this is a very clever move for the way probabilities are assessed in that case can largely vary according to the truth of atheism or theism.
But there is a problem here: William Lane Craig also uses the resurrection as independent evidence for demonstrating God’s existence.
Jason, the questioner asked:
“So for the first argument stated, you contend that the resurrection of Jesus serves in itself as evidence for God’s existence. In your Resurrection Hypothesis, you appeal to the evidence for the existence of God as a part of the specific evidence used to show that the Resurrection Hypothesis is more probable than not.Are these arguments not then circular reasoning?”
Let us see what Craig’s answer was.
“My studied view, then, is that one first establishes theism on the basis of the arguments of Natural Theology like the cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments, so that when one comes to explaining the facts pertinent to Jesus of Nazareth, one may include as part of one’s background information the existence of the God of Natural Theology. You misunderstood the Defenders lectures. There I challenge the assumption that the probability of the resurrection on our background information Pr (R|B) is very low precisely because we can include God’s existence as part of our background information. We’ve already completed our Natural Theology before we come to an examination of Christian evidences.
So why do I frequently present the resurrection as part of a cumulative case for God’s existence in debates? Well, the reason, frankly, is evangelistic. I don’t want to leave students with just a generic God common to all monotheists but with some warrant for believing in the Christian God, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth.
Now if one includes the resurrection itself as part of the evidence for theism, as I often do in debates, one cannot include God’s existence as part of the background information (though one could still include evidence like the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the reality of objective moral values, etc.). What one will say in this case is just that we’ve got no reason to think that Pr (R|B) << 0.5.
So I hope you’ll find that I’ve been consistent in including God’s existence in the background information only in cases in which I am not using the resurrection as part of a case for theism. When using the resurrection as part of a theistic case, one should simply say that the resurrection has not been shown to be improbable on the background information because we’ve not heard any good arguments for atheism.”
The problem is that in such debates Craig leaves to most of his listeners and readers the misleading impression that one can, on a neutral agnostic ground, prove the resurrection and use this as evidence for God, even tough he seems to recognize at other places that you need to consider God’s existence as granted before doing this.
Is this a real inconsistency? Is that perhaps even a true deception?
Answering such a question proves much more difficult than many people like to think.
The famous Skeptic of parapsychology Richard Wiseman from Britain was once asked why he rejected Extrasensory Perceptions (ESP) and specifically remote viewing. His answer was very revealing:
“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.
“If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.
“But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.
“Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.”
Such an approach to anomalous phenomena is often backed up by the legendary Bayes’ theorem, according to which one can actualize the likelihood of the truth of a theory by incorporating the information conveyed by new facts.
I’m going to keep a critical examination of the related philosophy Bayesianism to future conversations.
In the second book of the Narnia series “The King Of Narnia“, the famous writer C.S. Lewis completely rejected this method. The young Lucy came into Narnia, a parallel world, after having hidden within a wardrobe. Back in the house, she ran to her siblings who utterly denied the reality of her experience.
Worried that their small sister kept holding fast on the truth of her incredible story, they searched Professor Kirke who rebuked them for not trusting Lucy. After they retorted that her claim was extraordinary, he replied:
“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”
That is to say, for the old wise professor, normal evidence was sufficient for vindicating the wild claim of the little girl.
At this point, I am kind of confused about both principles.
On the one hand, it is clear one should always take our background knowledge into account before evaluating a new hypothesis or theory.
On the other hand, if a set of facts is sufficient to prove an ordinary claim, I don’t see why a similar set of facts should fail to prove an extraordinary conclusion.
Let us now see some concrete examples of well-known phenomena which were rejected in the past due to their alleged extraordinariness. Saying in hindsight they weren’t extraordinary after all would be all too easy for this was the way they were perceived by scientists at that time.
The existence of meteorites was once thought to be an outlandish claim and the normal evidence was explained away in terms of purely terrestrial phenomena or witness hallucinations.
In 1923 the German geologist Alfred Wegener found normal evidence for continental drift, but failing to present a mechanism which worked, his theory was ignored and even ridiculed during decades.
The same thing could be said about ball lightnings which were often dismissed as stemming from illusions or hallucinations experienced by the witnesses.
Nowadays a similar phenomenon can be observed for the small proportion of flying objects which are truly unidentified.
If extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence, then UFOs (in the present) does not and continental drift, meteorites and ball lightnings did not (in the past) exist.
But if one only seeks for normal evidence, a strong case can be made that some UFOs (according to the original definition as “unidentified”) really exist. I am going to explain this in future posts.
We will also explore together the possibility that there really exists normal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Let us consider the problem of the existence of God.
There are basically three possibilities which might be nuanced by probabilities:
I know God exists (Theism)
I know God does not exist (Atheism)
I don’t know if God exists or not (Agnosticism)
For many people today, if we have neither evidence for nor against God’s existence, we should not only reject 1), but also 3) and be atheists.
Quite a few folks would justify that by saying that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence (a principle which will be referred to as PA).
Flying spaghetti monsters and invisible pink unicorns
They often illustrate that by quoting the infamous pink invisible unicorn (which might be lying on the ground besides you!)
Although it is very seldom well articulated, the reasoning seems to look as follows:
it is certain that the pink invisible unicorn doesn’t exist
if it is certain, it has to have a justification
PA is the only possible justification
therefore PA must be true.
This is the only way I can make sense of the manner Skeptics use such kinds of prowling monsters in public debates.
The first thing which strikes me is that it is completely absurd and hopelessly circular.
We don’t know if PA is true and want to prove it. Now we want to base our proof of PA on our certainty that there is no pink invisible unicorn. But we can only know there is no such beast if PA is true!
But PA faces a far more serious problem: in many situations it leads to quite absurd results…
Let us consider for example that I’ve invented a time-travel machine and fly with it to the ancient Greece.
I meet there an Epicurean philosopher who fervently believes in PA. During the course of our discussion, I explain to him in great details how a kangaroo looks like.
Amused, he glances at me and tells me: “since I have no evidence such a creature exists, I can be almost certain it is not real.“
Would he be justified to hold this belief?
Back to the present time: I have no evidence there is a bear-like intelligent being scratching his head at the boundary of the milky way, can I conclude there is no such being?
The absence of evidence is only evidence of absence if one would expect such evidence to be out there.
But once we’ve rejected PA, what are we to do with our best invisible friend and her single pink horn?
The ground for our disbelief shouldn’t be PA, but the self-contradictory nature of the proposition.
I’m completely open to the existence of a pink unicorn somewhere in the multiverse, or of a creature invisible for our eyes, but not of a being having both features.