Paley on the Gospel's authenticity

Historical apologetics in the eighteenth century flourished. Amongst the finest of philosophers and theologians of that era was William Paley (1743–1805), most famous for his design arguments. Before the introduction of biblical critcal-scholarship which initiated a decline in historical arguments, Paley articulated one of the finest arguments for the authenticity of the Gospel narratives as genuine. His eleven point argument is said to be the ‘high-water mark’ of historical apologetics. The following is a summary.

(1) The Gospels and Acts are cited by a series of other early authors, beginning with contemporary sources and continuing in regular and close succession from the Epistle of Barnabus in c. 90-120 A.D to Eusebius in 315 A.D.
(2) The Gospels are cited as authoritative and as one-of-a-kind.
(3) The scriptures were collected very early into a distinct volume. This is refered to by Ignatius, Eusebius, Iranaeus and Melito.
(4) The were given titles of respect, such as Scriptures, and divine writings. See Iranaeus, Dionysius, Justin Martyr, Polycarp and many others.
(5) They were publicly read and expounded. See Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian.
(6) Copies, commentaries and harmonies were written on these books, with only one exception for three hundred years after Christ. Notably Tatian’s Diatessaron .
(7) They were accepted by all heretical groups as well as orthodox.
(8) The Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 John, and 1 Peter were received without doubt as authentic even by those who doubted the authenticity of other books now in the canon.
(9) The opponents of Christianity cite the Gospels as those that contain the accounts upon which the religion was founded. Celsus, Porphyry and Emperor Julian.
(10) Catalogues of authentic scriptures were published, which always contained the Gospels and Acts. Orignen, Athanasius and Cyril are quoted to support the point.
(11) With only a single exception, the so-called apocryphal books of the New Testament were never so treated on all of the above accounts.

Paley concludes that all the external evidence strongly confirms the authenticity of the Gospels, and it should not be denied that they do not contain the story that the original apostles proclaimed and for which they laboured and suffered.

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  1. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ian,

    I’m curious. Lets say you assume that; with some degree of certainty Jesus was resurrected. What is it that impedes you inferring (with a similar level of certainty) that Jesus’ resurrection had divine origins?

  2. Ian
    Ian says:

    Firstly I said that Jesus was apparently ressurected which includes the possibility that people just thought he was ressurected right right through to genuine rising from the dead.

    Exactly what happened is not something we can answer easily. Even someone who directly observed it would not have an answer as to how it happened except for speculation or believing Jesus at his word. If someone at the time most likely couldn’t have figured it out then sure as hell we can’t expect any certainty about it 2000 years after the event.

    There are many possible explanations ranging from the mundane (trickery or misperception) to the improbable (he didn’t actually die) to the supernatural (his ghost returned to his body) through to the specifically divine from the Christian god.

    Of course if you believe in the Christian god already then it is an easier step to take, albeit one that creates a nice big circular argument since Jesus’ ressurection is perhaps the most significant piece of evidence for the Christian god existing in the first place.

  3. Tim
    Tim says:

    Ian,

    Even someone who directly observed it would not have an answer as to how it happened except for speculation or believing Jesus at his word. If someone at the time most likely couldn’t have figured it out then sure as hell we can’t expect any certainty about it 2000 years after the event.

    This is an extraordinary claim. A man appears within first century Judaism and professes to be sent from God, their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He teaches the inauguration of the kingdom of God and specifies that, in attestation of his claims, he will die and rise again the third day.

    Then he does.

    Why do you think this is so hard? Why couldn’t someone who, as you describe it, directly observed it figure it out?

    Even contemporary liberals like Rabbi Peter Levinson know better: “If I believed in Jesus’ Resurrection,” Levinson once remarked, “I would be baptized tomorrow.”

  4. Ian
    Ian says:

    Why do you think this is so hard? Why couldn’t someone who, as you describe it, directly observed it figure it out?

    Consider this scenario:

    You are standing over a grave with a dead person in it that you knew and who had claimed they would be resurrected by god after their death. As you watch the person stands up, says hi, and walks away.

    What do we know about this scenario?

    1. Something strange just happened (he was apparently resurrected)
    2. He claimed this would happen
    3. He claimed it would be divine

    You cannot independently demonstrate this strange event is divine in origin so you have no actual evidence that god had anything to do with it except that he said so. Certainly nothing you observed was explicable but you can’t say much more than that.

    Now compare this example to what you think actually happened. The difference is not huge. His claims were broadcast more loudly (and maybe more specifically?) but no-one actually saw him ressurected so even less data is available about what actually happened.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    No body saw him resurrected? The post-mortem appearances are this very thing. To infer someone was resurrected all you need to know is someone was alive, then that same someone was dead, and then that same someone was alive and healthy again. Presto! You have resurrection.

    Firstly I said that Jesus was apparently ressurected which includes the possibility that people just thought he was ressurected right right through to genuine rising from the dead.

    Ok. You said apparently. But if he was resurrected (its a thought experiment here) what is it that impedes you from inferring the resurrection was of supernatural origin?

    In response to your staunch agnosticism, I guess the argument would be that the theological hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead fits the criteria for the best explanation.

  6. Tim
    Tim says:

    Ian,

    You cannot independently demonstrate this strange event is divine in origin so you have no actual evidence that god had anything to do with it except that he said so. Certainly nothing you observed was explicable but you can’t say much more than that.

    If by “demonstrate” you mean “prove like one would a theorem in logic or mathematics,” then your comment is correct but irrelevant: I cannot “demonstrate” your existence in that way.

    Setting that aside, your manner of argument, applied generally, would bring both history and science to a grinding halt. Einstein tells us that if his theory is right, then the stars in the immediate vicinity of the sun will appear shifted away from the sun during a solar eclipse. We go to check, and lo! they are shifted, just as Einstein said. Who would say, “Yes, that’s inexplicable, but we can’t say much more than that”?

    There is a straightforward Bayesian rationale for taking such confirmations seriously. In science, in history, and in real life, we do it all the time.

  7. Ian
    Ian says:

    If by “demonstrate” you mean “prove like one would a theorem in logic or mathematics,” then your comment is correct but irrelevant: I cannot “demonstrate” your existence in that way.

    Sure you can. You develop a theory that explains my existence including all the characteristics that define me, you check it against existing theories to make sure it is consistent, and then you determine what would falsify my existence and test for that.

    Einstein tells us that if his theory is right, then the stars in the immediate vicinity of the sun will appear shifted away from the sun during a solar eclipse. We go to check, and lo! they are shifted, just as Einstein said.

    Correct, because Einstein has a theory mathematically derived from other well established theories which predicts certain behaviour. The theory is falsifiable by the absence of such behaviour.

    Things are a little different in the resurrection case. Firstly there is no well established theory with predictive power (someone saying it is divine is NOT a scientific prediction). Secondly this idea is not built on a bunch of other well established and tested theories. Thirdly it is not falsifiable since no specific observable behaviour can demonstrate its untruth.

    Who would say, “Yes, that’s inexplicable, but we can’t say much more than that”?

    No-one would say that because you picked an explicable example!

  8. Tim
    Tim says:

    Ian,

    Responding to my comment regarding the definition of “demonstration,” you write:

    Sure you can. You develop a theory that explains my existence including all the characteristics that define me, you check it against existing theories to make sure it is consistent, and then you determine what would falsify my existence and test for that.

    No: that is not a demonstration. You have confused pure logic with an empirical discipline.

    Concerning the Einstein example, you write:

    Correct, because Einstein has a theory mathematically derived from other well established theories which predicts certain behaviour. The theory is falsifiable by the absence of such behaviour.

    Things are a little different in the resurrection case.

    But here, you are wrong. Jesus predicts that he will rise again. The prediction is as falsifiable as Einstein’s: all that has to happen is for him not to rise again.

    Firstly there is no well established theory with predictive power (someone saying it is divine is NOT a scientific prediction).

    Someone’s saying that he will rise again from the dead is an empirically verifiable prediction.

    Secondly this idea is not built on a bunch of other well established and tested theories.

    Einstein’s theory was not well established until after the Eddington expedition — that is the whole point.

    Thirdly it is not falsifiable since no specific observable behaviour can demonstrate its untruth.

    Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection is certainly as falsifiable as Einstein’s prediction of the shifted visible position of the stars. It doesn’t even require special equipment and an eclipse to distinguish between a dead body and a living one.

    So your attempt to show an epistemically relevant disanalogy between the two cases fails. You are applying a principle to the case of the resurrection that you are (understandably!) unwilling to apply to any other case. All that Stuart, Johnson, and I are urging is that there be no double standards in the evaluation of the historical evidence for the truth of Christianity.

  9. Ian
    Ian says:

    You have shifted the goalposts. My point is the divinity/cause of the resurrection is an entirely different matter to the perception that Jesus was resurrected somehow.

    If we accept that Jesus said he’d be resurrected and that after his crucifixion he was then seen alive then we could say that somehow Jesus predicted the future and that somehow he was apparently ressurected. All well and good – what he described would happen happened.

    A question: Is the claim of divinity sufficient evidence to accept the actual divinity of the act?

  10. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    A question: Is the claim of divinity sufficient evidence to accept the actual divinity of the act?

    If you give that only God can raise the dead, then the answer is yes. If you think that men can rise naturally from the dead, then no. The question to really ask is which is the better explanation. It is the historical-cultural context that ruins this natural hypothesis.

    My point is the divinity/cause of the resurrection is an entirely different matter to the perception that Jesus was resurrected somehow.

    I don’t think your justified in holding to your agnosticism if you’re given a wholly plausible explanation, namely the theological hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead. You may hold it lightly, with the view to accept another hypothesis should it prove to have comparative superiority for the best explanation. But so staunch a position is more evidence of a hardened heart than a weak case or flaw in the Christian case.

  11. Tim
    Tim says:

    Ian,

    You say:

    You have shifted the goalposts.

    I think not.

    Let’s recap: you have argued that even if one saw a man rise from the dead with one’s own eyes, one “can’t say much more than” that the event was “inexplicable” and that even an eyewitness “would not have an answer as to how it happened except for speculation or believing Jesus at his word.”

    The credibility of a proposed explanation for a body of data is a function, inter alia, of its ability to render those data more probable than do alternative explanations. Now the proposed explanation for a resurrection — an all-powerful God is working the miracle to attest the teachings of the one resurrected — is certainly adequate to explain both the resurrection and the teachings and ministry of Jesus: if he was who and what he claimed to be, then these things are a matter of course. Suppose, however, that he was not. What alternative hypothesis of even approximately equal plausibility to the one on offer gives comparably high probability both to the resurrection (which, for the sake of argument, you are treating as unproblematic) and to Jesus’ ministry and teachings?

  12. Ian
    Ian says:

    A quick comment: I don’t accept the complete accuracy of the gospel stories, nor do I believe that the events told within are completely accurate. However for the sake of discussion I am assuming they are to try and show that even then you don’t have a solid case for Jesus’ divinity (as implied by the OP).

    @ Stuart

    If you give that only God can raise the dead, then the answer is yes. If you think that men can rise naturally from the dead, then no.

    I don’t grant that first premise. What evidence is there for this? What observations support the claim that “only God” can raise the dead? You can’t use Jesus’s ressurection as evidence here because you are using this premise to demonstrate his ressurection was divine in the first place…

    @ Tim

    Now the proposed explanation for a resurrection — an all-powerful God is working the miracle to attest the teachings of the one resurrected — is certainly adequate to explain both the resurrection and the teachings and ministry of Jesus

    Only if you accept that god exists in the first place, something that this exact event is supposedly prime evidence for.

  13. Tim
    Tim says:

    Ian,

    Responding to Stuart, you write:

    [F]or the sake of discussion I am assuming [the gospel stories] are [completely accurate] to try and show that even then you don’t have a solid case for Jesus’ divinity (as implied by the OP).

    The OP says nothing about the divinity of Jesus — that’s a separate topic that Stuart didn’t bring up until comment 20, above. As Stuart wrote in comment 38,

    The above points of Paley were used historically, prior to the advent of biblical critical scholarship, as a stepping stone for which the next step would be to argue for Christ’s divinity.

    Again, responding to Stuart, you write:

    I don’t grant that first premise. What evidence is there for this? What observations support the claim that “only God” can raise the dead? You can’t use Jesus’s ressurection as evidence here because you are using this premise to demonstrate his ressurection was divine in the first place…

    What is the point of this set of questions?

    1. If you are asking whether, according to Christianity, God can raise the dead, the answer is of course, “Yes.”

    2. If you are asking whether Christianity is true, that is what we are discussing.

    3. If you are tacitly claiming that the resurrection was very much to be expected given the falsehood of Christianity, you have some work to do. We await your argument.

    4. If you are suggesting that, until we already know whether Christianity is true, we cannot use the fact that the truth of Christianity would explain various phenomena better than its falsehood would explain them as a confirmation of Christianity, then you are simply wrong, as a bit of Bayesian probability theory shows:

    P(C|E)/P(~C|E) = P(C)/P(~C) x P(E|C)/P(E|~C) [from Bayes’s Theorem]

    So if P(E|C) > P(E|~C), then P(C|E)/P(~C|E) > P(C)/P(~C).

    But by normalization,

    P(C|E) + P(~C|E) = 1 = P(C) + P(~C)

    It follows at once that

    P(C|E) > P(C)

    … which is to say, the evidence confirms Christianity.

    The only constraints on these formulas are that the probabilities involved be non-zero. But since we are discussing matters of fact, that constraint is trivially satisfied.

    I wrote:

    Now the proposed explanation for a resurrection — an all-powerful God is working the miracle to attest the teachings of the one resurrected — is certainly adequate to explain both the resurrection and the teachings and ministry of Jesus

    To which you responded:

    Only if you accept that god exists in the first place, something that this exact event is supposedly prime evidence for.

    That is like saying, “Einstein’s theory predicts the shifted stars during the eclipse only if you accept the truth of Einstein’s theory, which is what the shift is supposedly prime evidence for.” The mistake is that you are confounding the predictive power of the hypothesis,

    P(E|C),

    with its prior probability,

    P(C).

    In both cases — arguing for the truth of General Relativity and arguing for the truth of Christianity — we naturally and correctly take the predictive success of the hypothesis as evidence in its favor, since on the negation of the hypothesis, the result was not accorded anywhere near so high a probability.

  14. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for taking up the slack on this thread. Its been great reading your style of argumentation. Can’t wait to see what Ian makes of that. :-)

  15. Ian
    Ian says:

    What is the point of this set of questions?

    To find the answers… :)

    1. If you are asking whether, according to Christianity, God can raise the dead, the answer is of course, “Yes.”

    Nope not after that, I assume you think god can do anything. I don’t think you have any reason to actually think that but we can leave that aside.

    2. If you are asking whether Christianity is true, that is what we are discussing.

    Actually I am focused on a single (if rather important) claim of Christianity, nothing more.

    3. If you are tacitly claiming that the resurrection was very much to be expected given the falsehood of Christianity, you have some work to do. We await your argument.

    Could you rephrase that? I don’t follow.

    4. If you are suggesting that, until we already know whether Christianity is true, we cannot use the fact that the truth of Christianity would explain various phenomena better than its falsehood would explain them as a confirmation of Christianity, then you are simply wrong, as a bit of Bayesian probability theory shows:

    How did we suddenly leap from the divinity of the resurrection to the entirety of Christianity? One step at a time :) I don’t know that notation you have used so if you want a sensible response for me you’ll have to translate.

    That is like saying, “Einstein’s theory predicts the shifted stars during the eclipse only if you accept the truth of Einstein’s theory, which is what the shift is supposedly prime evidence for.”

    No because the observation is utterly independent of the theory. I.e. you could observe the phenomenon without having even heard of the theory which brings me back to the real point: what are the observations of the resurrection? Only that he died and was resurrected somehow. The god stuff is tacked on later and is not independent of the explanation you are using.

  16. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ian,

    How did we suddenly leap from the divinity of the resurrection to the entirety of Christianity? One step at a time

    The resurrection of Christ itself is the lynch-pin of all Christianity, so if the resurrection is true then a multitude of theological points follow from that, including Christ’s divinity. In other words, all Christian truth is dependant on whether the resurrection occurred (and as you point out, the resurrection was of divine causation). Therefore, arguing for the truth of all Christianity is arguing for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.

    you could observe the phenomenon without having even heard of the theory which brings me back to the real point: what are the observations of the resurrection? The god stuff is tacked on later and is not independent of the explanation you are using.

    The observations of the resurrection are given as testimony in the gospel accounts. These observations are completely free from the hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead which is still the best explanation.

    Stuart says:If you give that only God can raise the dead, then the answer is yes. If you think that men can rise naturally from the dead, then no.

    Ian says:I don’t grant that first premise. What evidence is there for this? What observations support the claim that “only God” can raise the dead? You can’t use Jesus’s ressurection as evidence here because you are using this premise to demonstrate his ressurection was divine in the first place…

    The idea is pretty simple. Either the resurrection was of divine causation or natural causation. There is no plausible natural explanation. Therefore the more plausible explanation is the super-natural explanation.

    The argument above is this;
    (1) Only God can raise the dead.
    (2) Jesus was raised from the dead.
    (3) Therefore, God raised Jesus from the dead.

    As you’re assuming the second premise, your must disagree with this first so that the third does not follow. But if you do not agree with the first premise, then you are affirming the logical contradictory of that proposition by the law of excluded middle, namely (1`) dead men can be resurrected naturally. Now where is your evidence for that!? What observations do you have support this claim? Is the observation independent of the hypothesis?

    Not only is there empirical evidence to suggest that men are not raised naturally from the dead (in the manner of Jesus resurrection, which it must be remembered was not a revivification from the dead), but it has never been experimentally falsified. The prima facie conclusion supports (1) rather than (1`) and you have provided no reason thus far – to my knowledge at least – beyond your staunch agnosticism and dogmatic anti-supernaturalism to think otherwise.

  17. Ian
    Ian says:

    Either the resurrection was of divine causation or natural causation. There is no plausible natural explanation. Therefore the more plausible explanation is the super-natural explanation.

    False dichotomy (see below).

    As you’re assuming the second premise, your must disagree with this first so that the third does not follow.

    Only for the purposes of this discussion I am granting that premise, not that it seems to be helping us much .

    But if you do not agree with the first premise, then you are affirming the logical contradictory of that proposition by the law of excluded middle, namely (1`) dead men can be resurrected naturally.

    I am becoming more and more convinced that you conflate the inexplicable and the divine… the correct dichotomy is that the ressurection is either explicable or it is inexplicable. Since we don’t have enough information to explain how it happened the very best we can say is that it is inexplicable.

  18. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ian, that is obviously incorrect. To say divine or natural explanation is to say to P or not-P. To say explicable or inexplicable is to say Q or not-Q. I’m quite happy with not-Q if by it you mean naturally inexplicable, for that is totally consistent with P and not-P. But to say dogmatically not-Q no-matter-what is not an explanation, its a refusal to give an explanation, and that is not the best we can say. History doesn’t work like that.

  19. Tim
    Tim says:

    Ian,

    Thanks again for the remarks.

    3. If you are tacitly claiming that the resurrection was very much to be expected given the falsehood of Christianity, you have some work to do. We await your argument.

    Could you rephrase that? I don’t follow.

    Sure. If Christianity’s view of God and the ministry and identity of Jesus were true, the resurrection of Jesus would be very strongly to be expected. I think any reasonable person would have to admit that if Christianity’s view of these things were false, the resurrection of Jesus would be incredibly improbable.

    But if you disagree about this latter statement, then here’s a microphone – feel free to tell us why.

    I don’t know that notation you have used so if you want a sensible response for me you’ll have to translate.

    Glad to. The notation comes from probability theory, and the result is one of the elementary rules of probabilistic confirmation theory, simply applied to the case at hand.

    Let C be the claim “Christianity’s view of God and the ministry and identity of Jesus is true” (which I’ll abbreviate as “Christianity is true” from now on), and let E be the bit of observable evidence “Jesus rose from the dead.” Note that E is secularly described – it makes no reference to God.

    Let P(C) be the probability that Christianity is true without taking E for granted. P(~C) is the probability that Christianity is false, again not taking E for granted. These two probabilities sum to 1 (normalization) since the propositions are contradictories. Both P(C) and P(~C) are called “prior probabilities” because we are evaluating C and ~C prior to taking E into account.

    Let P(C|E) be the probability that Christianity is true, given the truth of E. Similarly, P(~C|E) is the probability that Christianity is false, given the truth of E. Again, these two probabilities sum to 1 since they are contradictories evaluated against the same background information. P(C|E) and P(~C|E) are commonly called “posterior probabilities” because we are evaluating C and ~C subsequent to taking E into account.

    Then P(E|C) is the probability that the Resurrection would occur if Christianity were true (note the subjunctive), and P(E|~C) is the probability that the Resurrection would occur if Christianity were false. These two probabilities are called “likelihoods.”

    With that translation key in mind, here’s the breakdown of the argument above.

    P(C|E)/P(~C|E) = P(C)/P(~C) x P(E|C)/P(E|~C) [from Bayes’s Theorem]

    This equation says that the ratio of the posterior probabilities is the product of the ratio of the priors and the ratio of the likelihoods. If the probabilities in question are non-zero, this equation follows immediately from Bayes’s Theorem.

    So if P(E|C) > P(E|~C), then P(C|E)/P(~C|E) > P(C)/P(~C).

    This line says simply that if the likelihood ratio is top-heavy, then the ratio of the posteriors is greater than the ratio of the priors. You can see this by inspection of the previous line.

    Let’s focus on the antecedent of the conditional above,

    P(E|C) > P(E|~C)

    This is the claim that the resurrection was more strongly to be expected given the truth of Christianity than given the falsehood of Christianity.

    Here’s a key point: it is not question-begging for Christians to define their own position. They aren’t entitled to assume that it is true just because they have defined it, but they have as much of a right to say what their position amounts to as Einstein did to say what General Relativity amounts to. And that includes their take on the probability of E given the truth of their beliefs.

    Now if it were the case that P(E|C) = P(E|~C), then it would follow immediately that P(E|C)/P(E|~C) = 1, which is to say, E was equally to be expected whether Christianity is true or false. In that case, the right hand term in the initial equation is just the identity element for multiplication, so the equation would collapse to this:

    P(C|E)/P(~C|E) = P(C)/P(~C)

    Since the sum of the numerator and the denominator of each of these fractions is 1 (by normalization), it follows that their numerators are equal: P(C) = P(C|E). That is to say, if both C and ~C lead us to have an equal expectation of E, then the observation that E does not provide us with any leverage for or against C – it leaves the probabilities right where they were at the start.

    But by a parallel line of reasoning, if P(E|C) > P(E|~C), then P(C|E)/P(~C|E) > P(C)/P(~C); in fact, the ratio of the likelihoods is the measure of the shift from prior to posterior. So in that case,

    P(C|E) > P(C)

    … which is to say, the evidence confirms Christianity.

    That is like saying, “Einstein’s theory predicts the shifted stars during the eclipse only if you accept the truth of Einstein’s theory, which is what the shift is supposedly prime evidence for.”

    No because the observation is utterly independent of the theory. I.e. you could observe the phenomenon without having even heard of the theory which brings me back to the real point: what are the observations of the resurrection? Only that he died and was resurrected somehow. The god stuff is tacked on later and is not independent of the explanation you are using.

    Someone on the ground in Palestine could have observed the crucifixion and subsequently observed the risen Christ without ever having heard of Jesus before seeing him nailed to the cross.

    I am becoming more and more convinced that you conflate the inexplicable and the divine… the correct dichotomy is that the ressurection is either explicable or it is inexplicable. Since we don’t have enough information to explain how it happened the very best we can say is that it is inexplicable.

    Why should that be the correct dichotomy? It sounds as though you are artificially ruling out theological categories for use in explanations. Why do a thing like that? (Aside from irrational bias against the supernatural, that is.)

  20. Ian
    Ian says:

    @Stuart

    I’m quite happy with not-Q if by it you mean naturally inexplicable, for that is totally consistent with P and not-P

    And that is really my point. Divine causality is a subset of supernatural causality. Not all possible supernatural explanations involve the Christian god, in fact the vast majority don’t. It could be caused by a non-Christian god, or by psychic powers, or by some completely unknown agency. When I use the term inexplicable I am referring to what we actually know (given the premises I am granting for this discussion) which is that the event seems to defy explanation.

    @Tim

    Sure. If Christianity’s view of God and the ministry and identity of Jesus were true, the resurrection of Jesus would be very strongly to be expected. I think any reasonable person would have to admit that if Christianity’s view of these things were false, the resurrection of Jesus would be incredibly improbable.

    Even if you assume the event was genuinely observed, the event is still very improbable (it only happened once). Therefore any unlikely explanation is a reasonable candidate including divine causes. We are not looking for everyday explanations here.

    The notation comes from probability theory, and the result is one of the elementary rules of probabilistic confirmation theory, simply applied to the case at hand.

    Thanks for taking the time to explain that, appreciated :).

    To summarise your analysis though it seems to me you have used this probability theory to demonstrate that if you have evidence for Christianity then it is more likely to be true than if you don’t have evidence for it. Something I of course agree with.

    However this still leaves us with the fundamental problem I have been trying to establish the whole time: With a purely secularly defined resurrection, where does the connection to god appear? Or in other words (let’s have a shot at this notation) how do we find X where X = P(C|E) – P(C).

    Why should that be the correct dichotomy? It sounds as though you are artificially ruling out theological categories for use in explanations. Why do a thing like that? (Aside from irrational bias against the supernatural, that is.)

    Not at all – any supernatural definition must fall into the inexplicable category virtually by definition. Miracles for example are pretty much defined as something that we can’t explain.

  21. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ian,

    Even if you assume the event was genuinely observed, the event is still very improbable (it only happened once). Therefore any unlikely explanation is a reasonable candidate including divine causes. We are not looking for everyday explanations here.

    You conflate improbable with implausible. Its infrequency may be the very thing that distinguishes the Christian hypothesis as more plausible than all other natural and supernatural claims in the pool of live options. Namely, it is reasonable to think that God would choose a highly infrequent event to substantiate the claims to Divinity of Jesus.

    Miracles for example are pretty much defined as something that we can’t explain.

    No. I have, I believe, given you a correct definition of miracles before. If this is your definition then you’re simply arguing from your preconceptions to confirm your own preconceptions.

    And that is really my point. Divine causality is a subset of supernatural causality. Not all possible supernatural explanations involve the Christian god, in fact the vast majority don’t. It could be caused by a non-Christian god, or by psychic powers, or by some completely unknown agency. When I use the term inexplicable I am referring to what we actually know (given the premises I am granting for this discussion) which is that the event seems to defy explanation.

    Natural explanation that is. In which case that’s a knock back for atheism no matter what the explanation is. Like I said before, its the historical-cultural context that belittles your point here. Its not just anyone being raised, but Jesus of Nazareth, who was publicly executed on the basis of the personal and blasphemous claims; to be the absolute revelation of God the Father, to be the God of Israel’s Son in a unique way, to be able to forgive sins, to speak in God’s place, to be the harbinger of the inbreaking the kingdom of God, etc. The resurrection stands as vindication of those claims, and there is no other supernatural alternative being spouted on the disciples (or anyone else’s) lips.

  22. Tim
    Tim says:

    Ian,

    To summarise your analysis though it seems to me you have used this probability theory to demonstrate that if you have evidence for Christianity then it is more likely to be true than if you don’t have evidence for it.

    No. Rather, what it demonstrates is that if

    (1) the truth of the Christian conception of God and the identity and teachings of Jesus leads us to expect the resurrection (which it does),

    and if

    (2) the falsehood of that conception does not lead us to expect the resurrection (and it certainly doesn’t),

    then

    (3) the resurrection — that secularly describable fact — is evidence for the truth of the Christian conception of God.

    The best measure of the strength of that evidence is the likelihood ratio. So the smaller P(E|~C), all else being equal, the bigger the boost C gets from the evidence.

    [H]ow do we find X where X = P(C|E) – P(C) [?]

    We don’t have to. All we need is the inequality P(E|C) > P(E|~C). And that is obviously true.

    The point of this exercise is that you have overstated your case. Attempting to embarrass the Christians, you claimed that even if the resurrection were given, this would not count as evidence in favor of Christianity. This claim is just false, though the fact that you are making it does provide confirmation (I’m sure this was not your intention) of Luke 16:31.

    You would do better to retrench and argue against Paley’s evidence than to continue to defend this indefensible position.

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