Saturday, January 8, 2011

could jesus have been raised from the dead?

Just about the central claim of christianity, and probably the most contentious and difficult to believe, is that he was raised to life after he was executed. You'd think this would be a difficult argument to win in a debate, and yet christians have won many debates with atheists on the matter. (Some examples that come to mind: Gary Habermas vs Antony Flew, when he was still an atheist, and William Lane Craig vs many non-believers.)

Some time ago (1995), agnostic Jeff Lowder, summarised the debate and concluded: "On the basis of the available evidence (and the arguments I've seen), I conclude that a rational person may accept or reject the resurrection." But the debate about the resurrection continues. Here are a few recent highlights.

  • Atheist Richard Carrier debated christian William Lane Craig. This YouTube video has some annoying annotations by someone supporting Carrier, perhaps because he was generally judged to have fared rather badly.
  • Philosopher Gary Habermas researched thousands of academic papers on the historical facts about the resurrection, and concluded that the majority of scholars, of all beliefs, concluded that Jesus' tomb was empty and the disciples had experiences which they said were Jesus appearing to them.
  • Richard Carrier has continued his argument against the resurrection, in this 2006 article. More recently, Carrier wrote a chapter on the resurrection for the book "The Christian Delusion" which he talks up in his blog.
  • Meanwhile, the christians haven't been idle. Mike Licona published a 700 page book in 2010, and WL Craig's "Reasonable Faith" has a good chapter on the resurrection. And NT historian NT Wright has written extensively on the historical evidence, summarised here.
  • Philosophers Lydia and Tim McGrew have published a number of internet articles in support of the resurrection.
  • It is perhaps not surprising that Carrier and the McGrews might cross paths and swords on this matter. Carrier has dismissed the McGrews' arguments, and Lydia McGrew has responded. Luke at Commonsense Atheism, while still disbelieving in the resurrection, agrees that Carrier's criticisms of the McGrews were unfortunate and unfounded.
  • Some of the recent argument, including McGrew vs Carrier, has centred on the use of mathematical probability (Bayes Theorem) to present the case of the resurrection. Philosopher John DePoe explains this argument here and here.

Several centuries ago, David Hume presented a case against believing in miracles that many found convincing. But that case has now been largely destroyed (I'll cover that in an upcoming post). So it seems to me that the arguments for the resurrection are now very finely balanced. As Lowder says, a reasonable person can choose to believe it or disbelieve it. One's choice probably depends on whether one is open to belief in Jesus, or not.

PS. Thanks to Victor Reppert at Dangerous Idea for some of these links.

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