The Doctrine of Christ (part 16)

June 29, 2008     Time: 00:51:14


Craig continues on the Doctrine of Christ (Christology). Resurrection body numerical vs qualitative change. Interpretation theory. Literal interpretation. The problem of miracles. Hume's Abject Failure. Probabilities.

Today, of course, is the fourth anniversary of the terrible attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon and on that plane that was destined to fly into the Capital or White House. It is hard to believe that it has been four years since September 11, 2001. To me the memory is so fresh. It just seems like yesterday. The aftermath of that is so real that it doesn’t seem like that has been four years ago now. But is has, and I think that we can be tremendously grateful that we have not experienced another terrorist attack on the United States in those four years. That is testimony to the vigilance of those who are in charge of protecting this country and keeping the terrorists on the defensive that we’ve not experienced another similar attack since 2001.

The event of September 11, 2001 certainly marked a change in the world. Everything seemed to shift after that, didn’t it? I think that what happened on September 11, 2001 was really just a manifestation of what George Bush Sr. had already seen in his presidency with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Soviet Empire. He said it is a new world order, and that really is truly what has emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It is a new world order. But I don’t think anybody dreamt at that time what form this new world order was going to take. What we saw on September 11 was just one manifestation of what has been called the clash of civilizations. What we are seeing on an ever-broadening front throughout the world is that titanic clash of two civilizations – the democratic Western societies with the nations of Islam. We are seeing this tremendous ideological and cultural clash between Islam and the democratic West in our day. It has manifested itself in things like 9/11.

Those who don’t see this, I think, in its ideological perspective are really missing the true depths of what is happening here. I remember Colin Powell, then the Secretary of State, once remarking that we shouldn’t refer to these terrorists as Islamic fundamentalists because they are murderers and no great world religion sanctions or believes in murder. I thought to myself, how naïve. The Secretary simply didn’t understand the theology of Islam. Anyone who has studied Islam, as I have for example in my doctoral work in theology, realizes that Islam is an ideology which enjoins violence and which historically has used violence in the propagation of its theology. It is part of the theology of Islam. We in the West have such a naïve tendency to think that everybody in the world believes the same as us. That if you just scratch beneath the surface of the various world’s religions, they are really all the same. They are really all saying the same thing. It seems inconceivable to many of us that there could be religions which actually promote and endorse violence in the name of God. Yet, Islam is one such theology. When you read the Qur’an and you study the life of Muhammad, you realize that violence is one of the ways in which the reign of Islam is to be spread throughout the world.

So in this clash of civilizations that we are experiencing we are experiencing not just a cultural struggle but a tremendous theological contest as well. The most important factor, I think, in sustaining the democratic West in the face of this tremendous clash and challenge of Islam in this 21st century is a robust Christian culture. A robust theology that sustains and undergirds a Christian culture. This was brought home to me during the past week in a new way by reading a book that was loaned to me which is tremendously interesting called The Cube and the Cathedral. The subtitle tells you what the book is about: “Europe, America, and Politics Without God.” Having lived in Europe for thirteen years in England, Germany, France, and in Brussels, this was of interest to me[1] because of the different attitudes in Europe toward this clash of civilizations that we are experiencing. What the author, George Weigel, asks at the beginning of the book is a number of provocative questions about what is happening in Europe with the tremendous secularization there and its inability as a result to stand in the face of the challenge of Islam. I want to just read a few selections out of this book because they were so thought-provoking. These are just some of the questions he says.

What accounts for disturbing currents of irrationality in contemporary European politics? Why did one out of every five Germans (and one-third of those under 30) believe that the United States was responsible for 9/11, while some 300,000 French men and women made a best-seller out of L’Effroyable imposture (The Appalling Fraud), in which the author, Thierry Meyssan, argued that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by the U. S. military using remote-controlled airliners? Why did a rock concert crowd in Dublin in June 2004 applaud when Morrissey, an aging pop singer, announced the death of Ronald Reagan? Why did he receive an even larger ovation when he said that he only wished it had been George W. Bush who had died? Why did 25 percent of the French (and 30 percent of those under 35) tell pollsters that they wanted Saddam Hussein, an acknowledged mass murderer, to win the Iraq War?

. . .

Why are so many European public intellectuals “Christophobic,” as international legal scholar J. H. H. Weiler (himself an observant Jew) puts it? Why are crude caricatures of Christianity . . . tolerated in European popular culture in a way that similar defamations of Judaism and Islam would never be? Why did so many of Europe’s political leaders insist that the new constitution for Europe include a deliberate act of historical amnesia in which a millennium and a half of Christianity’s contributions to European understandings of human rights and democracy were deliberately ignored – indeed, denied?

. . .

Why do certain parts of Europe exhibit a curious, even bizarre, approach to death? Why did so many of the French prefer to continue their summer vacations during the European heat wave during 2003, leaving their parents unburied and warehoused in refrigerated lockers (which were soon overflowing)? Why is death increasingly anonymous in Germany, with no death notices in the newspaper, no church funeral ceremony, no secular memorial service – “as though,” Richard John Neuhaus observed, “the deceased did not exist?” What are we to make of the Swedish company Promessa, which advertises a service in which cremation is replaced with human composting, the dead being immersed and frozen in liquid nitrogen before being smashed to smithereens by ultrasound waves and then freeze-dried and used for fertilizer?

Above all, and most urgently of all, why is Europe committing demographic suicide, systematically depopulating itself in what British historian Niall Ferguson calls the greatest “sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death of the 14th century?”

* Why do eighteen European countries report “negative natural increase” (i.e., more deaths than births)?

* Why does no Western European country have a replacement-level birthrate? (The replacement level . . . is 2.1 children per woman; as of 2004, Germany’s birthrate was 1.3, Italy’s 1.2, Spain’s 1.1, France’s 1.7).[2]

Europe is literally extinguishing itself. It is committing suicide demographically. The reason Weigel argues is not just political or cultural. He says it is essentially religious.[3] We are seeing here the fruits of the secularization of modern Europe and its abandonment of its Christian heritage. As a result it has no basis for moral values, no future to live for, and nothing to stand in the face of the challenge of the increasing Islamic populations that are minorities in many of these countries.

He ends the book with four possible scenarios of what could happen in Europe. I just wanted to share these four with you. The first one he called is “Paradise Works.” He says,

The first possibility is that the Europe embodied in the current E.U. practice and envisioned in the new European constitution actually works: Europe continues to prosper economically, successfully integrates its new member states and its expanding immigrant populations, expands even farther into the former Yugoslavia and perhaps into several former Soviet Republics, solves the problem of Turkey’s controversial request for admission, demonstrates the possibilities of “soft power “in world politics, and is free from destructive, destabilizing terrorist attacks.[4]

His verdict is, it ain’t gonna happen. He says the challenge of Islam is so great that appeasement politics just won’t work. The rosy scenario is unrealistic.

The second possibility he calls “The Muddle.” He says,

The second possibility is that Europe muddles through, with different European countries adopting different solutions to what may well be Europe’s most urgent problem: the population meltdown in Western Europe and the filling of the consequent demographic vacuum by Islamic immigration. British historian Niall Ferguson correctly notes that “most European Muslims are, of course, law-abiding citizens with little sympathy for terrorist attacks on European cities.” Still, he continues, there is no question that Europe is “experiencing fundamental demographic and cultural changes whose long-term consequences no one can foresee . . . A youthful Muslim society to the south [that is North Africa] and east of the Mediterranean [that is, Turkey] is poised to colonize – the term is not too strong – a senescent Europe [that is to say, a Europe that is asleep and is poised to be colonized by these other countries].[5]

Despite Europe’s increasing economic and political integration the European response to this colonization could well vary from country to country. To quote Ferguson again, “A creeping Islamicization of a decadent Christendom is one conceivable result: While the old Europeans get even older and their religious faith weaker, the Muslim colonies within their cities get larger and more overt in their religious observance.”

A backlash against immigration by the economically Neanderthal right is another possibility. Aging electorates turn to demagogues who offer sealed borders without explaining exactly who is to pay for the pensions and the health care. Nor can we rule out the possibility of a happy fusion between rapidly secularized second-generation Muslims and their post-Christian neighbors. Indeed, we may conceivably end up with all three. The first situation in France [that is, the colonization option], situation two in Austria [the demagogue sealed border option], and situation three in Britain [with secularized Muslims and post-Christian Britons living together]. It could be a muddle that might emerge.

The third option he calls “Europe Reconverted.” What he talks about here are the hopeful signs in Europe of a re-Christianization, a revitalized church. He particularly holds out hope here for Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope and a movement among Roman Catholics in Europe perhaps of revival to come back to faith. One can only hope, of course, that that scenario could come about. That is certainly the scenario that we are working for and praying for.

The last scenario he calls “1683 Reversed.” He says,

Then there is the nightmare scenario – nightmarish, at least, for those who cherish the unique contributions of European civilization to world civilization and affirm the noble aspirations in the preamble to the European constitution. In this scenario, Western Europe fails to reverse its demographic decline, its finances become evermore perilous, its native populations evermore demoralized, and its more recent arrivals evermore assertively Islamic. A tipping point is finally reached – through a combination of demographic financial, social, cultural, and political factors – and the grand project of Europe collapses.[6] Some states of east-central Europe retain their Christian culture and their democracy. Most of Western Europe becomes Islamicized, not in the sense as suggested under the above “muddle-through” scenario, but in the sense of being drawn into the civilizational orbit of the Arab-Islamic world, which has from its point of view, finally reversed the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1683 at the gates of Vienna. Non-Muslim, Western Europeans become second-class citizens with no effective role in public life.[7]

When you think about these options, I am just terrified frankly. It is so sobering to think about the reality of what could come about. Lest any of you take the isolationist line that what happens in Europe doesn’t matter to us here in the United States, think again of what it would mean to have a Europe that is brought under the significant sway of Islam and especially think about Canada which has a kind of mid-Atlantic culture that is following right in the train of Europe with almost, it seems, irresistible force. The slide in Canadian culture – just to give you one statistic, in 1900, 25% of Canadians were evangelicals, were born-again Christians. By 1989 that had shrunk to about 8%. Christianity in Canada, as in Europe, has been in free-fall.

What George Weigel argues for in this book is that the best thing that we can hope for is a robust Christianity as a basis for culture, for values, for politics because a secular vacuum will simply be incapable of withstanding the Islamicization of these cultures that is being propounded by the Islamic powers-that-be today.

This is just a really sobering reminder of the fact that what we saw on 9/11 and what we remember today is just the tip of a much larger iceberg of much, much more significant cultural and ideological movements that are afoot in the world today and it emphasizes as never before the importance of maintaining a strong Christian presence in our culture, encouraging this in European culture wherever we can through efforts such as the European Apologetics Network that I participated in and other sorts of outreaches, and then also, of course, of missionary activity to these Islamic nations themselves – to share with them the Gospel of Christ and to let them know that there is a different God who exists: the God of the Bible rather than the God of the Qur’an; a God of love, a God of mercy and grace rather than a God of violence and of partiality.

Those are some thoughts that I wanted to share with you on the anniversary of 9/11. These are serious times in which we live. 9/11 is simply a reminder of that.

[Opening prayer][8]

You will remember we have been talking about different theories of the resurrection of Jesus. We talked last time about the Objective Vision theory. All I want to say about that is that, in response to someone’s question after the class (the question was: are you saying that the body of Jesus that was raised is not the same body as the body that was crucified and interred?), I want to make it very clear that when one talks about the same body one can be using these words in different ways. On the one hand, you could mean, Is it qualitatively the same? There I want to say, no, it is not qualitatively the same. The body that was interred was mortal. It was corruptible. It was not a glorified resurrection body. It was a natural body. But the body that was raised as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 is glorious, powerful, supernatural, and incorruptible. The body undergoes a qualitative change. But I want to say, and I hope was clear, that it is numerically the same body. It is the body that was crucified and interred that was raised. That is why an empty tomb was left behind. So that body undergoes a qualitative change, but it is the same body. It is numerically the same. Just as I am very different from the grade school kid that went to Hawthorne Grade School in Keokuk, Iowa named Bill Craig, qualitatively we are very different, but numerically that was me! I am that same person. I’ve undergone qualitative changes since my boyhood, but numerically I am the same person. We want to say that the resurrection body is numerically the same body, but it undergoes a dramatic qualitative change in being raised from the dead and glorified and fitted for eternal life and the Kingdom of God.

We finally come to the last theory that I wanted to talk about. That was the so-called Interpretation theory. Those of you who saw the debate with Bishop Spong on Palm Sunday evening remember that this is his view of the resurrection. Peter had an experience of the meaning of the cross; he had a deep profound moving experience of the meaning of the death of Jesus. And in order to express this experience he called it Jesus’ being raised from the dead. Peter lacked the words to express what he had experienced, and so for a lack of better words he latched upon this Jewish language of resurrection and said Jesus was risen from the dead. The other disciples sharing this insight adopted his manner of speaking, and hence belief in the resurrection of Jesus was born.

I think that the problem with this theory is that it is completely un-Jewish.[9] It is un-Jewish to say such a thing. For a Jew, resurrection always meant the raising up of the dead person, or the remains of the dead person (particularly the bones in the tomb) to new life. It was not a metaphorical word for some kind of disembodied or unembodied existence. It was a resurrection of the body. No Jew would have acquiesced in such a misleading use of language as to say that Jesus of Nazareth was risen from the dead when everybody knew that his carcass still lay rotting away in the tomb there in Jerusalem.

Moreover, other categories were available in Jewish thinking to express this insight of the meaning of the cross. For example, in his letters, Paul talks a lot about the presence of the Holy Spirit being among us. He says the Spirit of Christ is with you. Certainly the disciples could have adopted language like that. They could have said that the Spirit of Jesus Christ lives on and is with us today. But they didn’t. They were not content to simply assert that the Spirit of Jesus is with us, but they asserted that he was risen from the dead.

In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright has some really good things to say about this theory that I wanted to quote to you. Here is what Wright says about the idea of resurrection. He says,

Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion-experience would have generated such ideas; nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. To suggest otherwise is to stop doing history and to enter into a fantasy world of our own.[10]

For a first century Jew, resurrection meant the raising of the dead man in the tomb and they would not have adopted this kind of language to express something else.

Moreover Wright goes on to say,

Judaism had plenty of categories for talking about divine forgiveness, but that declaring one’s recently executed leader to be Messiah . . . or that he had in any sense been raised from the dead, was not one of them.[11]

He then goes on to say, “the idea that there was originally no difference for the earliest Christians between resurrection and exaltation/ascension is a twentieth-century fiction.”[12]

He says,

what he [he is thinking of one of these adherents to the Interpretation theory] means is that there was no early belief in ‘resurrection’ at all, since . . . the word ‘resurrection’ . . . was not used to denote a non-bodily extension of life in a heavenly realm, however glorious. Plenty of words existed to denote heavenly exaltation; ‘resurrection’ is never one of them. . . . [These critics] has to postulate . . . that at some point . . . someone . . . began to use, to denote this belief, language which had never meant that before and continued not to mean it in either paganism, Judaism or Christianity . . . and that . . . other people who knew . . . that resurrection meant bodies [nevertheless acquiesced in this usage].[13]

I think that this theory is really quite un-Jewish and extremely implausible given the meaning of the words at that time.


Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That was N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pages 626 and 705 and 707.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: You saw the debate. How did he reply? He quit debating at that point. He said, I am tired debating about these things.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: He didn’t really have a good answer for this. What you need to understand about some of these folks on the left-end of Christian theology is they don’t read people like N. T. Wright or us. They don’t read us. So they rarely have the experience of having their views challenged. They rarely have to interact with people who say, “I disagree. What are your arguments in favor of your view?” As a result, I have found over and over again in debates when I have a chance to actually say, “I don’t see any evidence for that. Give me your argument.” that they are like a deer caught in the headlights.[14] They don’t know what to say. I don’t know what Spong would say. He didn’t have anything to say in the debate other than I don’t want to debate these things anymore. He then began to tell anecdotes about Carl Sagan as you recall.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: This is right. I think so often in the Christian church we are so used to thinking of Jesus’ messiahship in terms of his spiritual reign over the Kingdom of God and over the church. But for these Jewish people they were expecting a Davidic king – a deliverer. That meant for first century, the Romans were going to get thrown out. This person was going to deliver Israel from the Roman Empire and set up like a new Kingdom of David in Jerusalem. He wasn’t going to be executed as a criminal by his enemies. The idea that this person was still a Messiah would have been absurd. N. T. Wright is very good on emphasizing this point to help get us back to the consciousness of a first century Jew and how he would have looked at these events rather than the way we look at them through the rear view mirror of Christian history.


Let me say something about the literal interpretation. This is, as we saw, was the earliest view and was the view that has traditionally been propounded down through the ages. The most significant challenge or objection that the literal view takes is the so-called problem of miracles. This has been expressed well by David Hume, who was an 18th century Scottish skeptic, in his essay on miracles which was written around 1738 or so. Surprisingly, it continues to have strong influence today.

What Hume basically argued is this. All of the evidence that we have goes to establish the laws of nature. The laws of nature have the overwhelming testimony of all people at all times in their favor. One of these would be that dead men do not rise. People don’t come back to life again. In fact, he would say the very nature of a miracle implies that the overwhelming evidence is in favor of the regularity of the laws of nature; otherwise, you couldn’t identify the event as a miracle. By its very nature, a miracle is something that is contrary to the laws of nature, Hume would say. So by the very nature of the case, the evidence in favor of a miracle will be highly unusual. It will be very particular. Whereas the overwhelming experience of mankind will be in favor of the law of nature, which is contradicted by the miracle as a violation of that law. Therefore, Hume says, anybody who goes with the evidence will always believe the laws of nature rather than somebody’s claim that a law of nature has been violated and a miracle has occurred. Hume will say something like this: which is more miraculous? That somebody should rise again from the dead or that the witnesses should be either lying or mistaken? Well, one would obviously say it is more miraculous that somebody would be raised from the dead. That is more miraculous. Therefore, you ought to believe that the witnesses to this event were either lying or mistaken. That is more probable. That is less miraculous. Therefore, you will never believe in a miracle. Hume doesn’t deny that miracles are possible, but he denies that it can ever be rational to believe in a miracle. Because against any evidence for the miracle will always be the overwhelming testimony of mankind for the law of nature that the miracle violates.

On the popular level, you hear this expressed all the time in this slogan: extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence.[15] It wouldn’t take much evidence for someone to believe that, say, he saw Bryant Wright walking across the parking lot to his church. We would accept somebody’s testimony to that. But suppose somebody were to report to you they saw Bryant Wright flapping his arms and flying across the parking lot to the church. You wouldn’t believe that. You would believe either he was lying or he was mistaken or something. Extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. Therefore, you should never believe in miracles because you would never be able to have enough evidence to overcome the laws of nature contradicted by the miracle. You should always choose to believe that there has been some mistake made.

This is the argument that Hume basically offered against believing in miracles. The remarkable thing is that as common-sensical as this sounds it is demonstrably false. Hume’s argument is today recognized by philosophers as a fallacious argument. For example, John Earman is a very prominent philosopher of science at the University at Pittsburgh. He is not a Christian. He is not even a theist. He is an agnostic. But he published a book a couple of years ago called Hume’s Abject Failure. That was his description of Hume’s argument against miracles. He says there are arguments in the history of philosophy which are failures; we expect those. But he says in this case it is an abject failure. The argument is so fallacious that it is an abject failure. Why is that? Probability theorists from the time of Condorcet to John Stuart Mill following Hume wrestled with the question of what it would take to establish the fact of highly improbable events. What kind of evidence is required to establish a highly improbable event? What these probability theorists soon realized is that you cannot say that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. That is too simplistic because if you say that what that would mean is you should never believe the broadcast on the evening news of the pick in last night’s lottery. Because when you think about it the report of just that pick in the lottery is an event of extraordinary improbability. The chances are millions and millions to one that that would be the event. So even if the evening news has a reliability of 99.99% the improbability of that event occurring is so great it will swamp the reliability of the evening news and you should not believe in it. If you simply weigh the improbability of the event against the reliability of the witness you would be barred from believing many ordinary natural events like the pick in last night’s lottery.

So probability theorists realized that you can’t say, in Hume’s simplistic way, that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. Rather, what they saw was that you have to not only consider the improbability of the event and the reliability of the witness, but you also have to consider the probability that if the reported event had not occurred then the testimony or the evidence would be exactly as it is. What is the probability that if the event had not occurred that we would have the testimony or the evidence that we do.

In the case of the resurrection, this would be the question: what is the probability that if Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead we would have the evidence of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection? If Jesus had not risen then I think you can argue it is highly improbable that you would have the evidence for the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. So when you consider the full probability calculus it turns out that it could very well be the case that an extraordinary event would not require extraordinary evidence if that evidence is highly unlikely to have been given if the event had not taken place.[16]

We can put this in a very mathematical form by considering what is called the probability calculus. This is the way in which probability theorists estimate the probability of certain events. Let’s let R stand for the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead.” Let’s let E be the specific evidence for that hypothesis – namely, the evidence for the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the changed lives of the disciples. Let’s let B be our background evidence. This would be just our basic background knowledge of the world, ancient history, and all the rest. Anything that is not part of the specific evidence for the hypothesis of the resurrection of Jesus. Finally, we’ll let A be alternative theories like the ones that we’ve been surveying, such as the Wrong Tomb theory, or the Theft of the Body theory, or Apparent Death theory. A will be the alternative theories. Let Pr mean probability.

We want to ask ourselves: what is the probability of the resurrection of Jesus given the specific evidence and the background information? That is what we want to calculate. What is the probability that God raised Jesus from the dead given our background information and the specific evidence? This is how you figure this out.

First, you say: what is the probability of the resurrection itself on the background information? That is multiplied by the probability of the evidence given the fact of the resurrection and the background information. If you give the resurrection and the background information, what is the probability that the evidence will be there? In a sense, this is the explanatory power of your hypothesis. How well does it explain the evidence? Given your hypothesis and the background information, how probable is your evidence? Then this is divided by this long equation at the bottom – the probability of the resurrection on the background information times the probability of the evidence on the resurrection and background information. In other words, exactly the same factor plus – then you plug in alternative theories for the resurrection – plus the probability of some alternative theory on the background information times the probability of the evidence on that alternative theory and the background information.

Hume failed to appreciate this whole probability calculus. That is why his argument was an abject failure. He didn’t take into account all of the factors. [Someone makes a comment in the class.] Yeah, right, because a lot of people still use this today when they say extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. And that is simply wrong. When you plug in these values . . . if, for example, these alternative theories are very improbable, or the evidence on these alternative theories is very improbable, the resurrection might come out having a pretty high probability value. In fact, Richard Swinburne who is a Christian philosopher at Oxford University, using this probability calculus calculates a probability for the resurrection of Jesus as 97%. Now, we shouldn’t place any high credibility in that specific number. That is sort of silly in a way. But it just illustrates how fallacious Hume’s argument is because once you consider the full probability calculus it may turn out that some extraordinary event is quite probable, and that therefore you don’t need to have extraordinary evidence to establish an extraordinary event.[17]

Therefore, Hume’s question – “Which is more miraculous – that a resurrection should occur or that the witnesses should be lying or mistaken?” – is really a trick question. It certainly is true that the resurrection is more miraculous in the sense that it is more supernatural. It requires an external cause to bring about the resurrection of Jesus. In that sense, yeah, it is more miraculous. But it is not more improbable. If you were to say which is more improbable that the witnesses should be lying or mistaken or that Jesus rose from the dead, I would say it is more improbable that the witnesses were lying or mistaken given the specific evidence that we have. So don’t confuse miraculousness with probability.

Therefore, Hume’s argument is recognized today really to be simply fallacious.

Let me mention one more factor that Hume failed to consider. That is, Hume failed to consider how probability is augmented when you have multiple witnesses to the same event. If you have multiple witnesses to the same event, then you add the probabilities together. Here is an example. Suppose you have two witnesses who are each 99% reliable. You would say that means they have 1 chance out of 100 that they are mistaken. But if you have two of them, it is not 2 chances out of a 100. Rather, if you have two witnesses each 99% reliable, the chances of their being mistaken are only 1 out of 10,000. If you have three such witnesses, the chances of their being wrong is one chance out of a million. When you have multiple witnesses you add the probabilities together and they quickly overcome any intrinsic improbability that you think might be involved in the resurrection itself.

Let me just say one final thing about this. Hume’s argument simply assumes the idea that the resurrection is an inherently improbable event. I would want to question that. I would say, “Why think that the hypothesis ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ is inherently improbable?” Especially given the existence of God. If we have good arguments to believe that God exists, why think that the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is highly improbable? It seems to me that we have no basis at all for saying that this is improbable. Typically what the skeptic will say here is that the event is very rare. That it rarely occurs. But, you see, that doesn’t mean it is improbable. You can’t equate improbability with frequency because it may be that it is precisely because the resurrection is so rare, so singular, so infrequent, that God chose it to vindicate the claims of his Son. God wanted to pick a highly unusual singular event to vindicate his Son, Jesus. It is the very infrequency, it is the very rarity, of the resurrection that would make it highly probable that God would raise Jesus from the dead as a demonstration that Jesus was in fact his Son and that his claims were true. So you can’t make this simplistic equation between infrequency and improbability.

So I don’t see any grounds for thinking that the probability of the resurrection on our background information is low at all. As for the probability of the evidence on the background information and the resurrection, I would say (and I think most people would say) that is very high. Given the resurrection, it is highly probable that there would be the evidence for the empty tomb, the transformed lives of the disciples, and the post-mortem appearances. That seems very high. So I don’t think we can say this is low. That seems pretty high. The probability of the alternative theories – those are really low. Theft of the body. Apparent death. Hallucinations. That is really low. How well do these other theories explain the evidence? Again, I think we can argue that given these theories, you don’t really explain the evidence very well. For example, hallucinations doesn’t explain the empty tomb. It doesn’t have great explanatory power.

So I am convinced that when you plug in these various values, it is not at all improbable that this hypothesis is the best hypothesis. In fact, I think that it is the best hypothesis when you compare it to all the alternatives that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Let me just say in conclusion, I appreciate that all this stuff about the probability calculus is not something you are going to master and be able to do from memory.[18] But I hope you just see that when somebody comes along and gives you this simplistic slogan “Extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence” you should be able to blow that out of the water by now by simply saying “You don’t understand the probability theory behind this. Hume’s argument is fallacious. When you take into account the full scope of the evidence, it can be very highly probable that such an event has occurred as the resurrection of Jesus.”

What I want to do next time is look at one more wrinkle on the skeptical argument from Hume to attempt to bar the door to any kind of historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus. That will then bring us to the conclusion of the defense of the literal resurrection view. I will take any questions then at that time since we are out of time this morning.[19]

[1] 5:18

[2] George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (New York: Basic Books, 2005) pp. 17-21.

[3] 9:50

[4] Ibid., pp. 138-9.

[5] Ibid., p. 144.

[6] 15:06

[7] Ibid., p. 154.

[8] 21:33

[9] 25:01

[10] N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, III: The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 707.

[11] Ibid., p. 705.

[12] Ibid., p. 625.

[13] Ibid., pp. 625-26.

[14] 30:10

[15] 34:58

[16] 40:00

[17] 45:08

[18] 50:08

[19] Total Running Time: 51:14 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)