Friday, January 06, 2017

Common Objection #32- "The hypothesis 'God rose Jesus from the dead' is miraculous. Therefore, it is the least probable."

This objection comes from well-known Bible critic Bart Ehrman and echoes the late philosopher David Hume.

Historian Mike Licona, who has debated Dr. Ehrman, addresses this claim:

“Why must a miracle hypothesis necessarily be the least probable explanation?...Since billions of people have not walked on lukewarm water in a swimming pool, Jesus probably did not. Since billions of people have not risen from the dead, Jesus probably did not. This, of course, is similar to Hume’s objection pertaining to the uniform testimony of history that these sorts of things do not occur, and suffers from fatal problems…investigating every miracle-claim would be a seemingly impossible task, thus rendering Hume’s assertion that the uniform experience of reality supports the nonexistence of miracles equally impossible to support.” [1]

Accordingly, C.S. Lewis notes:

“We know the experience against [miracles] to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.” [2]

Licona continues:

“But we may add that it is a far too simplistic and inadequate manner of determining probability, since it excludes the possibility of an external agent. Let us suppose that when my son was very young I completely supported his weight by holding his hand above his head and walked along side of a swimming pool while he walked on the water. The fact that billions of people have not walked on water does not influence the probability that my son did. What if a god exists who wanted to raise Jesus from the dead? That would be a game changer. In that case, a miracle such as Jesus’ resurrection may actually be the most probable explanation.” [3]

Moreover, as Dr. William Lane Craig demonstrated in his debate with Dr. Ehrman on the resurrection of Jesus, this argument is ultimately self-refuting:

“What, after all, is the resurrection hypothesis? It's the hypothesis that Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead. It is not the hypothesis that Jesus rose naturally from the dead. That Jesus rose naturally from the dead is fantastically improbable. But I see no reason whatsoever to think that it is improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead.

In order to show that hypothesis is improbable, you'd have to show that God's existence is improbable. But Dr. Ehrman says that the historian cannot say anything about God. Therefore, he cannot say that God's existence is improbable. But if he can't say that, neither can he say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable.  So Dr. Ehrman's position is literally self-refuting.” [4]

Finally, as if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Craig also argues that one cannot invoke Bayes' theorem [5] to determine the probability of a miracle claim such as the resurrection because the background information is "inscrutable, given that we're dealing with a free agent."[6]

So, we can conclude that this argument is far to simplistic, self-refuting and mathematically inscrutable.

You can find our other responses to common objections here.

Courage and Godspeed,

2. C.S. Lewis as quoted by Mike Licona, p. 143.
3. Licona, Ibid., p. 175.
4. Debate transcript here.
5. As explained by Mike Licona in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p. 115:

"...there are three major components in calculating the probability of the truth of a hypothesis using Bayes' theorem: the prior probability that the hypothesis is true, the likelihood that we would have the relevant extant evidence given the truth of the hypothesis and the likelihood of the evidence given the falsehood of the hypothesis."

6. William Lane Craig as quoted by Mike Liona in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.  

For more from Dr. Craig on calculating the probability of a miracle, please view the transcript of his debate with Dr. Ehrman above.

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Video: Are Miracles Even Possible?

Do Atheists Believe in Miracles Without a Miracle Worker?

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