Doctrine of Creation (Part 19)January 06, 2013 Time: 00:37:30
We have been talking about David Hume’s argument against the identification of a miracle. You will remember Hume argued that a miracle is so intrinsically improbable given the laws of nature that no amount of evidence could ever serve to establish the historicity of a miracle. Therefore, the wise man will never believe in miracles.
We saw that, as probability theory developed during the centuries after Hume, probability theorists explored what it would take to establish a highly improbable event. As a result of this, probability calculus (or Bayes Theorem) was formulated which allows us to assess the total probability of an event given the specific evidence for it and the background information. We saw that when you apply Bayes Theorem to an event like Jesus’ resurrection, which is symbolized by R, that in fact even if R is highly, intrinsically improbable on our background information, that can be outweighed by the superior explanatory power of the hypothesis over its negation:
So what Hume focused on entirely was this factor in Bayes Theorem:
He only looked at the intrinsic probability of a miracle and said, for example, the resurrection is so highly, highly improbable on the background information that it follows that the probability of the resurrection on the evidence and background information must also be very low. But that is mathematically, demonstrably incorrect. Hume simply neglected the other factor which is that if the event had not occurred, what is the probability that we should have the evidence for it that we do?
That improbability may well balance out any improbability in the event itself. So we saw that, in fact, Hume’s in principle argument against identifying a miracle is just demonstrably incorrect. It only focuses on the intrinsic probability of the event and it neglects the explanatory power of the event or hypothesis. That is by way of review.
What I want to do now is look at the question of the intrinsic probability of, say, the Resurrection Hypothesis, on our background information. Is Hume, in fact, correct in saying that the intrinsic probability of the resurrection on our background information is incomprehensible low – that it is extremely low? Well, I think that will depend upon what you include in the background information and how you characterize the hypothesis R.
You see, the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead is susceptible to two very different interpretations. One would be that Jesus rose naturally from the dead – that somehow the cells in Jesus’ body all spontaneously came back to life again and he resumed living. Jesus rose naturally from the dead. Or there is the hypothesis that Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead. In other words, that God raised Jesus from the dead. Those are two very different hypotheses, aren’t they? The hypothesis that Jesus rose naturally from the dead is by all accounts incomprehensibly improbable. Any theory – Conspiracy Theory, Apparent Death Theory, Twin Brother Theory, Hallucination Theory – would be more probable than the hypothesis that all of the cells in Jesus’ body spontaneously came back to life and Jesus rose from the dead. This hypothesis – that Jesus rose naturally from the dead – is admittedly incomprehensibly improbable. But the hypothesis that Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead or that God raised Jesus from the dead isn’t rendered improbable in light of those facts. The admitted improbability of Jesus coming back to life naturally, given the laws of nature, doesn’t affect the probability that Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead. And since the hypothesis “Jesus rose from the dead” comprises both of these, the improbability of Jesus rising naturally from the dead will drag down the probability of R because it will need to be factored in along with a supernatural resurrection. But of course that is not what the Christian believes. So what we can do is simply focus in on the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead and ask, “What is the probability of that hypothesis given our background information?” So when I refer to the Resurrection Hypothesis, this is what I am talking about – that God raised Jesus from the dead. How improbable is that given our background information?
How we assess the probability of R, so stated, on B [Pr(R|B)] will depend upon what information is included in B. You will remember that the classical Christian apologists who were arguing for the historicity of miracles weren’t using miracles to prove the existence of God. They had already given arguments for the existence of God – like the Cosmological Argument, the Ontological Argument, the Teleological Argument and so forth. Miracles were simply used to show God’s action in the world in some specific way, not to prove God’s existence. So, if we include in B (our background information about the world) all of the evidence that goes to establish God’s existence, like the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, the existence of objective moral values and duties and so forth, then the probability that God would raise Jesus from the dead is not so obviously unlikely given that we have all of this information that God exists.
So, what we can do is calculate the probability of R on B by focusing on the question of the probability of God’s existence and God raising Jesus from the dead:
Pr(R|B) = Pr(G|B) x Pr(R|G&B) + Pr(not-G|B) x Pr(R|not-G&B)
The probability of R on B [Pr(R|B)] will be the probability that God exists given our background information (here we are going to use G as the symbol for God exists – [Pr(G|B)]) times the probability of R given God and the background information [Pr(R|G&B)]. That is to say, it will be the probability of God’s existence given the background information times the explanatory power of the God Hypothesis – how probable is the resurrection of Jesus given the existence of God and the background information. Given that God exists and our background information, how probable is it that God raised Jesus from the dead? That will be the first factor that will need to be considered. Now, what you add to this, then, would be the negation of that – what is the probability that God does not exist given the background information [Pr(not-G|B)] and the probability of the resurrection given that God does not exist and the background information [Pr(R|not-G&B)]? That is essentially the atheistic view. So we are asking, given the background information, what’s the probability that God does not exist and given that God does not exist what is the probability of the resurrection of Jesus.
Now, think about this second factor. What is R here? R is the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead.” What is the probability that God raised Jesus from the dead given that God does not exist? Zero! If God does not exist, then R is impossible! It has no probability whatsoever that God raised Jesus from the dead if there is no God. So this factor here [Pr(R|not-G&B)] is zero and since zero times anything is zero this right side of the equation just cancels out [Pr(not-G|B) x Pr(R|not-G&B)]. This side of the equation can just be eliminated because it is zero. What that does is considerably simplify matters. It means that all we need to consider to calculate the probability of R on B is the probability that God exists given the background information and the probability that if God exists he would raise Jesus from the dead:
Pr(R|B) = Pr(G|B) x Pr(R|G&B)
Well, what are those probabilities? If the arguments of natural theology are good then it seems to me that we are in no position to say that this first probability [Pr(G|B)] is low. On the contrary, my own view is that this is a pretty good probability. Given the fine tuning of the universe, the origin of the universe, objective moral values and duties in the world and so on and so forth, I think the probability of God’s existence on the background information is pretty good. But minimally we could say it is not low. It is not a low probability. So that would not make the probability of the resurrection on the background information low, would it? If Pr(G|B) is not low, that won’t make Pr(R|B) low. So that would mean then that this [Pr(R|G&B)] is going to be the important factor – how probable is it, given the existence of God and our background information, that God would raise Jesus from the dead? Well, how probable or improbable is that? God has never done this before to anybody else. There would be other ways, if he wanted to vindicate Jesus, that he could. So how do we know what God would be likely to do if God existed given our background information? Would he raise Jesus from the dead? How probable is that? It is difficult to say but if we include in B all of the information that we have about the historical Jesus – like his own unprecedented claims to be the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Son of God in a unique sense, his claim to do miracles to usher in the kingdom of God and so forth – then I think we have to say that, given that religio-historical context, we are in no position at all to say that it is improbable that God would want to raise Jesus from the dead. On the contrary, it would seem to fit very naturally that God would want to raise Jesus. So while I am not claiming that we can show this probability is high, I think minimally we can say there is no reason to think that this probability is low. And that is what Hume or the skeptic would have to show.
It seems to me that the skeptic is in no position at all to say that the probability of R on B is very low. He has got no reason to think that the probability that God’s existence is low, given the background information we have. And there is no reason to think it improbable that God would raise Jesus from the dead, given the existence of God and the background information. So it seems to me that we have got no grounds for saying that the probability of R on B is very low. But in that case, we have got no grounds for saying that it is so low that it can’t be outbalanced by the superior explanatory power of the Resurrection Hypothesis.
So, in short, it seems to me that Hume’s skeptical argument fails on both counts. He completely neglects the explanatory power of the Resurrection Hypothesis compared to its alternative and his assumption that the Resurrection Hypothesis is low on the background information seems to me simply unjustified in light of the arguments for the existence of God and the historical background information we have about Jesus of Nazareth. So it seems to me that Hume’s in principle argument is simply a failure. The skeptic has not shown that miracles cannot be established by evidence. They haven’t shown that the probability of an event like the resurrection given the evidence and background information is so unacceptable low that it cannot be believed.
Having said that, when I present a positive case for the resurrection of Jesus, I don’t use Bayes Theorem simply because some of these elements are probably inscrutable. How do we know what the probability of R on G and B is [Pr(R|G&B)]? How can you guess what would God do prior to his doing it? It seems to me that we really don’t know these probabilities. But again, what we can show using Bayes Theorem is that we have no basis for thinking these probabilities are low. That is all you need to do in order to defuse the argument. The Humean or skeptic has to show that these probabilities are low and not just low but so unacceptable low that they can’t be overcome by the specific evidence. He certainly hasn’t been able to do that. So when I present a positive case for the resurrection – if you think back to the section on the Doctrine of Christ when we discussed this – my positive case is not to use Bayes Theorem. This is merely a negative, defensive move to show that the Humean or the skeptic has not shown it to be improbable. Rather, when we present a positive case for Jesus’ resurrection, I do so in the way historians normally reason – and that is called inference to the best explanation. Historians generally don’t use Bayes Theorem because it is very difficult to give values to these various ratios. It is hard to find numbers to plug into them with any confidence. But in inference to the best explanation, what you do (as you may recall) is you assemble a pool of live explanatory options to explain a given body of empirical data. Then you pick which option, if true, would best explain that data. You will weigh these options against each other to determine which is the best by applying to them various criteria like explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and degree of being ad hoc or contrived or artificial. What you can show is that when you apply these criteria to our live options that the Resurrection Hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of the evidence and therefore the explanation to be preferred.
Question: Doesn’t the R on the left (“God raised Jesus from the dead”) have to be different than the R on the right (like “God could have raised Jesus from the dead”)?
Answer: No, the R is the same. We want to take our hypothesis, “God raised Jesus from the dead” and we want to ask “How probable is that, given that God does exist?” So it is the same hypothesis just as the other letters are the same all the way through the equation. This represents, if you will, the degree of rational expectation a person might have of the resurrection given that God exists on our background information. I think you can see that, given that God exists and given the background information about the historical Jesus, I don’t think it is all improbable that God would raise Jesus from the dead. Do you? I mean, given that as your information relative to which you are calculating the probability of your hypothesis, it seems to me you can’t at all say that it is improbable “God raised Jesus from the dead” given that God exists and that background information.
Followup: So there is no distinction between “would he do it” and “did he do it?”
Answer: No, in this case we are just stating the hypothesis “God raised Jesus.” Now, when you assess the probability that God raised Jesus given his existence and the background information, the way you might put that in English is to say, “What is the probability that God would raise Jesus from the dead given the background information and his existence?” So, yes, colloquially that is how you would express this. Or you could express this as the explanatory power of the God Hypothesis – how much should we expect R to be true given the God Hypothesis? Does it explain R well? That would be another way of putting it. So don’t get hung up on these ways of putting it colloquially. The statement of the hypothesis or the evidence is always the same, but you can just express these ratios in English words by saying things like “how probable is it that God exists given our background information?” or “how probable is it that God would raise Jesus from the dead given that he exists and the background information we have?”
Question: How would the evidence be evaluated for the fact that Jesus rose three people from the dead? A young girl – you could say she was really unconscious. Or the widow’s son – well, they had to bury within 24 hours so he could have not really been dead. When you come down to Lazarus, he had been in the grave four days and his body was rotting and he was all wrapped up in grave clothes. How would they evaluate those three things?
Answer: I agree with you. You are focusing on what we know about the life of the historical Jesus as part of B. New Testament scholars generally recognize that it does belong to the portrait of the historical Jesus that we can reconstruct as ordinary historians, not as bible believing historians but as ordinary historians, that Jesus of Nazareth carried out a ministry of miracle working and exorcisms and according to at least some New Testament scholars that there were claims that he had raised people from the dead and you mentioned the three that are mentioned in the Gospels. Well, that is a historical context that is pregnant with significance, I think. If this is a man who claims to have power over death and to raise people from the dead, I think that that would make his resurrection from the dead all the more plausible. It fits in beautifully with what we know of the religio-historical context. So, absolutely, that would be very relevant I think. Also, the whole idea of the Jewish hope of resurrection from the dead. We are not talking here about an event like Hume’s illustration of Queen Elizabeth who supposedly died and then resumed the throne sometime later, which occurs as just a bald anomaly without any sort of religio-historical context. Here we are dealing with a Jewish context in which resurrection from the dead is the form of immortality. They didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul, they believed in the resurrection of the dead. So, once again, the idea that God would raise Jesus from the dead fits in beautifully with this context and this background information.
All of this has been said in respect to Hume’s in principle argument. Remember, his in principle argument was that even if the evidence for a miracle were a full proof, no one could ever in principle believe in the historicity of a miracle. That argument, I think we’ve seen, is simply invalid because it is based upon an incomplete understanding of the probability calculus and also because I don’t think Hume has been able to show that the probability of a miracle on the background information is intrinsically, highly improbable. So his in principle argument fails.
What that means is that there is simply no way around looking at the specific evidence in the case to see if in fact Jesus rose from the dead. You can’t try to bar belief in the resurrection of Jesus by some sort of in principle argument – you have got to look at the evidence in fact. Therefore, Hume’s in fact arguments that he gives just become irrelevant. Even if, in fact, there has never been other miracles attested by highly educated men and people of great social standing and even if it is true that people crave the miraculous or that miracles occur among barbarous peoples – all of that is simply irrelevant to the specific evidence of this case – the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, the postmortem appearances to various individuals and groups of people, the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection from the dead. These in fact arguments are interesting, they might make us cautious in our investigation of the evidence, but they cannot bar an investigation of the evidence. You have no way around getting your fingers dirty and actually looking at the evidence for the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances and so forth and then asking what is the best explanation of this evidence. So once the in principle argument fails, the in fact argument just becomes trivial. It doesn’t carry any weight because it doesn’t look at the specific evidence in this case.
Question: This is sort of an aside but about those three people that Jesus raised – they all died because they are not still living today. But Jesus’ resurrection was a completely different kind of resurrection.
Answer: It is completely different. I like to speak in the case of these other raisings as being what I call revivifications. Jesus revivifies these people. He brings them back to life. They were genuinely dead and then they are brought back to mortal life. But as you say, eventually they will die again of disease or sickness or accident or whatever. So these are technically revivifications – they are not resurrections in the Jewish sense of the word which involved a transformation to glory and immortality that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15. Still, I think that the previous question is a good one – given that Jesus revivified people (that he brought them back from the dead), that does provide a very charged religio-historical context in which claims of his own resurrection seem quite appropriate. So if you include these revivifications as part of your background information, I think that that does help to generate credibility of the idea that if God exists that he would raise Jesus from the dead.
We looked at the collapse of the belief in miracles during the 19th century in biblical studies and traced its roots to the Newtonian World Machine and the arguments of Spinoza and Hume. We have now examined each one of those. We have redefined the notion of a miracle, not as a violation of the laws of nature, but rather as a naturally impossible event and argued that what would make miracles possible is the God of classical theism. If there is a creator and designer of the world who is distinct from the world then obviously he can produce effects in the world that purely natural causes would not be able to produce if left to themselves. Moreover, we have argued against both Spinoza and Hume that we can, on the basis of the evidence, argue that some event is plausibly a miracle and that it can be rational to believe in that event on the basis of historical considerations – specifically with respect to the resurrection of Jesus, I see no reason to think that that could not be the best explanation of the evidence in this specific case.
Question: Do you think it is more logical to believe that the laws of nature and the terms of resurrection were altered in that one specific case or that the laws of nature were embedded to make the resurrection possible in that one given point of time?
Answer: This is a good question and I don’t think those are the only alternatives. Remember when we talked about the laws of nature – what I said is that the laws of nature represent idealizations. They talk about what will happen under ideal conditions. But they have implicit in them these ceteris paribus clauses – that is to say, this is what will happen all things being equal. But, if there are interfering natural or supernatural factors, then the law isn’t broken; the law just doesn’t apply because all things are not equal. So I would say in the case of a miracle God doesn’t alter the laws of nature. The laws of nature remain inviolate. The law of nature states what it has always stated – namely, this is what you can predict what will happen under these ideal conditions ceteris paribus. That isn’t altered by God. Nor do I accept the alternative that somehow God has built into nature the capacity to bring a person back from the dead. I think everything we know about biology and medical science suggests that an event like the resurrection of Jesus is naturally impossible and that is why I said this hypothesis that Jesus rose naturally from the dead doesn’t even need to occupy us. So, again, my view would be that when God raises Jesus from the dead he doesn’t do anything to the laws of nature; rather, he directly brings about an event through his causal power that the natural causes at the time and place in question don’t have the ability to produce.
Question: I find a bit of irony in the objections of Spinoza and Hume. Spinoza’s objection is based on this idea of fatalism – the idea that everything that happens happens necessary. It may be impossible for Jesus to rise from the dead, but it is equally impossible for me to not have asked this question to you.
Answer: Yes, he is a determinist; that is true. And given the laws of nature, just everything is slated to occur.
Followup: And Hume was an empiricist who believed there is nothing in the mind or language that isn’t first in the sense experience. And he argued from that, then, that you can’t even have inductive reasoning. You can’t draw generalizations. And now he makes this objection which is, itself, a generalization which he said is impossible on his own view.
Answer: Yes, it is in tension with his own empiricism, isn’t it? And particularly, his lack of rational justification for the causal principle – for the causal order. He says “I believe in that but I don’t have any sort of way of knowing that it is true.” And yet he is prepared to rule out, a priori, a belief in a miraculous event.
Followup: And yet he mocks people who believe in Jesus and don’t have any reason for it even though he does the same thing with causality.
Answer: Yes, that is true. I suppose Hume would say that the belief in causality is something that is forced upon us by needing to go to the grocery store and fill up your gas tank and so forth whereas belief in God or in Jesus isn’t forced upon you by the necessities of everyday life. That would be his justification, I suppose, for his believing certain things despite his skepticism. He recognizes skepticism as unlivable and therefore you are forced to believe in certain things without justification.
Question: Would you apply your definition of miracle – an event outside of the causal power of nature at a particular time and place – to creation itself? At the point where God exists without creation, any physical event would, in fact, fit that definition.
Answer: I actually did mention this in an earlier session. An argument for God’s existence based upon the origin of the universe is really a sort of argument from miracles writ large for the existence of God because the creation, or origin, of the universe would be a grand miracle on a cosmic scale. It would be an event which the productive capacity of nature wouldn’t have in it to produce – indeed, there is no nature when you talk about the origin of nature. So this is an event that is literally miraculous given the definition of miracle that I have given.
Question: People like Hume and others today say they are hard headed and logical and reject miracles but don’t you think that they really can’t escape from miracles because on their account of the universe without a God the existence of the universe itself in fact would be an event that they cannot explain. The appearance of the universe from nothing spontaneously without a first cause and the appearance of the first cell with genetic material transmittable through reproduction would also be an event that happens spontaneously without any cause. And the whole chain of events in Neo-Darwinian evolution by which biological complexity is produced – each of those would be what I would argue are beyond the causal power of nature at a particular time and place.
Answer: I haven’t taken a position on that but that certainly is a respected position with respect to all of the events that you mentioned. These are events which nature, left to its own devices, would never in all probability have encompassed. Therefore, we need to appeal to miraculous supernatural activity to explain things like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the evolution of biological complexity and so forth. So this could be again an application of this sort of argument for miracles in effect outside of your normal context where we think of Jesus. You are thinking of it in terms of God’s action in nature and that this may well be attended with miracles all the way back to the beginning. I think that that is not an implausible point of view.
That brings us to a conclusion of our discussion of God’s acts of extraordinary providence. We will now move to a different section of the Doctrine of Creation which will focus upon non-human creatures whom God has created, namely, higher orders of spiritual beings – angels and demons.
 The form this equation is in is derived from the Total Probability Theorem. The Total Probability Theorem is stated mathematically as: Pr(R) = ∑xPr(Ax)Pr(R|Ax). In Dr. Craig’s usage of this formula, A1 is G and A2 is not-G where G is “God's existence.” The background information (B) is inferred.
 Total Running Time: 37:29 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)