Recent Objections to the Resurrection
What are some recent objections to the Resurrection from secular websites?
Recent Objections to the Resurrection
Person on the Street #1: I think it shows, like, hope in a sense, and the fact that he rose shows that there are better things ahead. I guess, like, sometimes you feel like you are at your lowest and it gives a sign of hope.
Person on the Street #2: It’s nothing I really think about that often since it wasn’t something I was brought up with. It’s just not really on my mind too much.
Person on the Street #3: If it weren't for the resurrection we have no hope. The resurrection is a big deal.
Kevin Harris: Hey, welcome. We have been doing a series on Reasonable Faith on what some popular skeptical, secular, atheistic websites are saying these days. We have got an article here, Dr. Craig, on objections to the resurrection of Jesus. You know, I think it’s not only a good way to review the case for Jesus’ resurrection, but also to just to catch up on the latest articles from some of these various websites. Here is an article titled “Why God did not Raise Jesus From the Dead.” One interesting thing, Bill, is that this author seems to recognize that he must deal with the hypothesis, “God raised Jesus from the dead,” in order to evaluate the case.
Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s right. He says that a true resurrection is physically impossible and this would require some sort of supernatural intervention if it is to occur. So, he will not say when confronted with the evidence for the resurrection, “Oh well, I guess dead men do rise after all.” He recognizes that if the resurrection of Jesus occurred, this would be a miracle. It would require a supernatural cause.
Kevin Harris: He continues,
But, I like to grant as much as I can to the other side, to see whether such generosity will allow for a strong case to be made for a Christian or religious belief. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that God exists, would that allow the case for the resurrection of Jesus to be strong and compelling?
Dr. Craig: Alright, so he is willing for the sake of argument to admit that we do have good evidence - the evidence of natural theology - for the existence of God, and then the question will be, how good is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus given the theistic evidence? Now, notice that he is setting the bar rather high, “Is the case strong and compelling.” I don’t think anybody has claimed that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is compelling. In history, you rarely have compelling evidence for something - something that is rationally irresistible. I think the question is simply, is the evidence as such to make the resurrection of Jesus more probable than not? So, I think that would be sufficient for the case to go through for belief in resurrection.
Kevin Harris: He says,
An important, but often neglected, aspect of the issue of the resurrection of Jesus is the motivation(s) of God. We can observe the behavior of human persons, and form hypotheses about their tendencies, habits, goals, and motivations, and then test our hypotheses by making further observations of the person. If we spend enough time with a person, and if we carefully and thoughtfully observe his/her behavior, it is possible to make some predictions about what that person will or would do in certain circumstances with some degree of probability.
But we cannot observe the behavior of God in this way, and God, although a person, is clearly not very similar to a human person. God is omniscient and God is perfectly good, and no human being is omniscient or perfectly good, so we have no actual experiences of such a person to use as the basis for formulating hypotheses about what God will or would be likely to do in certain circumstances.
Dr. Craig: Well, this assumes that we don’t have any good reason, prior to the resurrection, for thinking that the God demonstrated by the arguments of natural theology is the God of the Bible - that we don’t have any grounds for thinking that God has revealed himself in the history of Israel. If you believe that, that would give you some good grounds for what you might expect God to do based upon his behavior in the past. But I think that it’s fair to come to the evidence neutrally. We can also be generous to our interlocutors and say, “Alright, we will just work with the arguments of natural theology and ask what is likely that the God demonstrated by the cosmological, ontological, moral, teleological argument would do.”
Kevin Harris: He says,
Nevertheless, since God is by definition both omniscient and perfectly good, this gives us some (admittedly thin) basis for drawing conclusions about how God, if he exists, will or would likely behave. Apart from some such assumptions, the mere existence of God does little to support the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, or the closely associated claim that God raised Jesus from the dead. One must establish a likely motive for God to raise Jesus from the dead in order to use God’s existence as part of the case for Jesus’ resurrection.
Dr. Craig: Now, that paragraph is significant and needs to be unpacked. In assessing the probability of the hypothesis, God raised Jesus from the dead, one will need to assess the probability of that hypotheses relative to our background information alone. That is to say, abstract away all of the evidence for the empty tomb, the post mortem appearances, the transformation in the earliest disciples. Let’s just consider our background information and ask what is the probability, given that background information, that God would raise Jesus from the dead? Well, this will be the product of two further factors: one will be the probability that God exists given the background information; and then the other will be, what is the probability that God would raise Jesus from the dead given God’s existence?
Now, most non-theist who want to argue that the resurrection hypothesis is improbable on the background information, attack the probability of God’s existence relative to the background information, and this author doesn’t do that. That’s very interesting. He is quite willing to grant that the probability of God’s existence on the background information is somewhere above 50%. What he looks at is that other factor - what is the probability that God would raise Jesus from the dead, and he wants to argue that that is low.
Now, this isn’t a matter of finding a motivation. I think that in that sense he is incorrect in saying we are looking for God’s motive. Rather, it is simply a matter of probability. Given God’s existence, how probable is it that God would raise Jesus from the dead, and here the skeptic of the resurrection has to show that the probability that God would raise Jesus from the dead is terribly, terribly low. If he is to outbalance the very heavy probability that if that resurrection hypotheses is true then the evidence would be just as it is. This is all part of Bayes’ theorem, Kevin, and it is explained in my book, Reasonable Faith, in the chapter on the resurrection. This author doesn’t mention Bayes’ theorem, but knowingly or unknowingly, that’s really what he is talking about . So, what he is arguing is that the probability of the resurrection hypothesis given the God’s existence is really, really low. He has to show that that is terribly low if he is to be a skeptic about the resurrection because I think that the probability is very high that if the resurrection hypothesis is true then the evidence of the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, the origin of the disciples’ belief would also be the case.
Kevin Harris: It would be just as it is.
Dr. Craig: Yes, would be just as it is. So, the question is, is it terribly improbable that if God existed he would raise Jesus from the dead? Well, it seems to me, Kevin, here, what you would have to consider would be, what else is part of your background information,? And if your background information includes the life and teaching and claims of Jesus of Nazareth, then I think that it is not at all improbable that if God exists he would raise Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. This would be God’s way of confirming Jesus’ radical personal claims to divinity by means of which he put himself in the place of God. Jesus was arrested by the Jewish chief priests for blasphemy, sentenced to death for blasphemy, and then delivered over to the Romans to be crucified for setting himself up as the King of the Jews. So, if God raised Jesus from the dead, that would be a public, unequivocal confirmation of those radical personal claims for which Jesus was crucified, showing that he was not blasphemous. So, that provides powerful motivation for God to raise Jesus from the dead, if Jesus was who he claimed to be, and therefore, I think would show it’s not improbable that God would raise Jesus from the dead given God’s existence. As the author says in his last paragraph, the “resurrection of Jesus would provide a divine stamp of approval” upon Jesus’ claims and teaching, and this would give God powerful motivation to raise him. So, what this author wants to show now, is that there are countervailing considerations that would make it improbable that God would raise Jesus from the dead.
Kevin Harris: That an omniscient, perfectly good God may have motivations for not raising Jesus from the dead given God existence, he said. Well he says here,
There are many reasons why an omniscient and perfectly good person would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus, and thus even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that God exists, the existence of God can actually be used as an argument AGAINST the alleged resurrection of Jesus. . . . one of my favorite reasons why I think that God would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus: Jesus was a false prophet because he taught his followers to pray to and worship a false god (i.e. Jehovah).
So, we get to the crux, I think, of the argument: if the God of natural theology exists - all good, all powerful, and so on - he would not raise Jesus from the dead because Jehovah is not the God of natural theology that God exists, and Jesus pointed to the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
Dr. Craig: Right, the God worshiped and proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth as his heavenly Father was the God of Israel, the God revealed in the Old Testament, and this author is persuaded that that is a false God, and therefore, if this is the God worshipped and served by Jesus of Nazareth, then the real God would not raise him from the dead because that would tend to ratify that false deity.
Kevin Harris: And it comes down to, he gives eleven reasons for why God would not raise Jesus from the dead. It’s things like what we often hear, like the atrocities in the Old Testament, and Jesus put a stamp of approval on the Old Testament, on the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus did not object to slavery, nor the approval of slavery by Jehovah. Jesus was a sexist who did not object to the sexist ideals and laws of Jehovah. Number four, Jesus did not advocate logic, critical thinking, careful argumentation, but rather, advocated faith over reason. Do you want to stop at some of these?
Dr. Craig: Well, yes. I think these are worth talking about. He’s assuming here that Jesus believed in the truth of everything that the Old Testament said about Jehovah, and that would need to be established, otherwise one could say that, “Yes, Jehovah is the true God but the Old Testament is not inerrant and it gets some things wrong about him and that what the resurrection vindicates is Jesus’ radical personal claims and his belief that Jehovah exists, but not everything that the Old Testament ascribes to Jehovah.” But, I think, again, we can go ahead and say that, yes, Jesus probably accepted the Old Testament to be the inerrant Word of God and probably believed that it was a correct representation of what Jehovah was like and what he had done.
But then these arguments that this author gives, I think, just show that he has a sort of aversion to many of the things that are found in the Old Testament that I think are defensible. For example, he says, “Jesus didn’t object to the slaughter that was carried out in the conquest of Canaan.” Well, I don’t see any reason to think that because he didn’t attack this that this means Jesus was worshiping a false God. This is a sort of argument from silence, and in any case, in my own work I have defended the consistency of God’s being all good and all powerful with his commands to drive the people of Canaan out of the land and to exterminate any of those who attempted to remain behind and fight. The author here doesn’t say anything about the horrible depravity of these Canaanite tribes that were driven out by the Israelis, nor does he say anything about what ethical theory he embraces. I think on a divine command morality, this makes sense.
Similarly, “Jesus did not object to slavery.” Another argument from silence; but in any case, I think he misunderstands slavery in the Old Testament. Slavery in the Old Testament was not the same thing that we associate with slavery in the Antebellum South. In the Old Testament, they didn’t have a large central government and any sort of welfare program for the help of the poor. If a person found himself incapable of paying his debts there was no welfare safety net that would rescue him. Rather, what was possible in that culture, was that he could sell himself into indentured servant hood and work for seven years to pay off his debts, and this enabled him to keep his family together, to preserve his dignity, to work off his debts, and get himself out of poverty and back on his feet. So, this was not slavery in the sense that we associate with the term. This was really an anti-poverty program that worked, I think, quite well in a system prior to the big government era.
Number four, again, another argument from silence. “Jesus did not advocate logic, critical thinking, and careful argumentation, but advocated faith over reason.” Not only is that an argument from silence, but it is false. Jesus did advocate critical thinking. Careful argumentation; as I read the accounts of Jesus’ debates and interaction with these Old Testament scribes, these experts in Jewish law, Jesus was a brilliant debater. He was undefeatable in debate, and this frustrated his opponents. So, I think this is just a caricature of Jesus, to think that he was not expert in critical thinking and careful argumentation. So, I’m not persuaded that these are at all good reasons.
Kevin Harris: He goes on, “ Jesus was an otherworldly ‘pie in the sky’ thinker, rather than a this-worldly practical-minded thinker.”
Dr. Craig: How could anybody who reads the Sermon on the Mount think that Jesus was not a this-worldly thinker who gave ethical thinking about how life is to be conducted. Unbelievable.
Kevin Harris: Jesus believed in and taught that diseases could be healed by faith and was an advocate of the practice of faith healing.
Dr. Craig: Yes, he was an advocate of faith healing, and that is significant. Earlier generations of scholars attempted to dismiss the miracle healings and the exorcisms of Jesus as legendary accretions that were based upon pagan myths, so called “divine men.” What contemporary scholars have come to see is that the portrait of Jesus of Nazareth as a miracle healer and exorcist belongs to the historical Jesus. This is not the result of legend or myth, this belongs to the historical Jesus. Now, the whole question is then, was Jesus, in fact, a miracle worker and exorcist? I think the resurrection of Jesus gives us good reason to believe that he was - that these are genuine miracles. Certainly, this author has done nothing to show that Jesus was not, in fact, a miracle worker and an exorcist. That is not in any way to endorse every televangelist or faith healer that has come since.
Kevin Harris: Number eight, he says “Jesus believed and taught the doctrine of eternal punishment and thus he believed that the use of torture could be morally justified and that purely punitive punishment can be morally justified.”
Dr. Craig: Here we begin to see the tendentiousness of this author. There is nothing that would justify the use of torture, and he would have to give some reason to think that the doctrine of hell that Jesus believed and taught, is morally defensible. Again my debates and talks that I have given on this, I don’t see any reason to think that that is inconsistent with the existence of an all-loving and all-holy God.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, we are not dealing with external torture when we come to this, anyway.
Dr. Craig: Yes, we are not talking here about medieval torture racks and the inquisition and things like that, which are a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus to love your neighbors as yourself, to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. This is a man who as he was dying the most tortuous death imaginable, prayed for his persecutors and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” This writer has got a totally distorted picture of Jesus of Nazareth, and he is rejecting this caricature rather than the real Jesus.
Kevin Harris: “Jesus believed and taught,” he says, “that the world was about to end, and he discouraged long range planning.”
Dr. Craig: There is nothing in the Gospels that would indicate that Jesus discouraged long range planning. I do think, however, that the question of Jesus’ attitude toward the end of the world is a very significant one, and what we need to ask ourselves here is did Jesus, in fact, believe that the end of the world was imminent and was going to occur within the lifetime of his disciples, or did he think, as he said, that no one knows the day and the hour when the Son of Man will return? And were his prophecies proleptically fulfilled, that is to say, partially fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70? I have in my Defenders class, in the section on Doctrine of the Last Things, addressed this question at some length, and I do think it is a significant and important question. This would be one of the few issues here that I think the author raises that I think is important, and I would refer our listeners to those lectures.
Kevin Harris: Go to the Defenders section at Reasonable Faith and start looking at the files for Doctrine of Last Things.
Dr. Craig: Yes, and this would be in the series one of Defenders.
Kevin Harris: Series one of Defenders. Couple more things. “Jesus believed and taught that the Jews were God’s chosen people, thus putting his stamp of approval on the socio-centric delusions of the Jews.”
Dr. Craig: Of course, these are delusions only if you think that the Jews were not God’s chosen people. So, he is assuming what needs to be proven, that God has not specially selected the nation of Israel in which to reveal himself to humankind in a special way and as a means of reaching out to the entire world.
Kevin Harris: Final one, he says, “Jesus was opposed to efforts to violently overthrow or rebel against the Roman oppressors of the Jewish people in Palestine.”
Dr. Craig: Right, Jesus would not have supported the efforts of the Jewish Zealots to rebel against Rome, and which finally brought down upon the Jews in AD 70 the utter destruction of Jerusalem, and then in AD 135 the extermination of the Jewish nation as a whole, and then their dispersal throughout the whole world. It was a disaster when the Jews rose up and attempted to throw off the yoke of Rome. So, here, Jesus was showing the better part of wisdom, as well as I think, ethical teaching in saying that you should not violently seek to overthrow Rome.
So, Kevin, when I look at these, what I see here is a person who just has a bias against a lot of the things that Jesus of Nazareth stood for, and therefore, simply rejects him. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, well then, many of these things are correct, others are misrepresentations and caricatures that I don’t think give any good reason to think that God would not raise Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. In any case, I don’t think he’s shown that this makes the probability of the resurrection on God’s existence terribly low, which is what he would need to show.