Sunday, December 19, 2010

Does the Resurrection Make Sense of the Facts?

I ran across the following statement at Victor Reppert's dangerous idea blog:
If you don't believe in the Resurrection, then I think there are a bunch of inconvenient facts out there that are hard to make sense of.

Reppert doesn't list the "inconvenient" facts in this particular post, but I would guess that they are the usual facts cited by Christian apologists, e.g., the story of the women finding the empty tomb, the apostles belief that Jesus had appeared to them, the conversion of Paul, the willingness of the apostles to die for their beliefs, the rapid spread of Christianity.

Assuming arguendo that these are really facts, it is hard to make sense of them to the extent that they violate the normal patterns of cause and effect that we observe in the world around us.  For example, people normally don't invent stories for propaganda purposes if the stories don't advance their agenda.  Therefore, we should expect the evangelists to invent the story of women finding the empty tomb because making women the primary witnesses would have undercut the story in first century Jewish culture.  It is hard to make sense of the appearance stories because Jesus appeared to multiple individuals at the same time and people don't normally share hallucinations.  It is hard to make sense of the willingness of the apostles to die for their beliefs because people normally are not willing to die for something that they know not to have happened.  In every instance, the reason that it is hard to make sense of these stories is because things happen in them that don't follow the usual patterns. 

The resurrection of course does not follow the usual pattern either and most Christian apologists acknowledge this, however, they insist that we must not dismiss the possibility of a supernatural being who can interfere with those natural patterns of cause and effect that we observe. Once we allow for this possibility, the Christian apologist insists that the resurrection makes sense of all the "inconvenient" facts.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that if we allow for the possibility of supernatural interference with the laws of nature that we observe, then we no longer have any basis to say any ancient story is any harder to make sense of then any other ancient story.  If we don't think that the patterns we observe act consistently at all times and places, then there is nothing that doesn't make sense in a story that undercuts a storyteller's agenda, in shared hallucinations, or in people willing to die for a lie.  We can say that every story makes sense, or perhaps, that the notion of making sense becomes moot. 

Christian apologists demand that every possible explanation for the gospel stories be evaluated according to the normal patterns of cause and effect that we observe in the world.  That is, every possible explanation but one.  They insist that we ignore those patterns when we evaluate the possiblity that Jesus really rose from the dead.  I don't see how this makes sense of anything.


  1. So, this brings up something I've wondered. (And I'm pretty sure Greta Christina has posted about at least once.)

    If somebody argues against seeking a natural explanation, in preference for a supernatural explanation... what the hell does that mean?

    What definition of "explanation" admits "it doesn't follow the patterns of the real world" as a component? The only answer I've seen attempted to this is something I would call an agentive explanation.

    In ordinary life, it's usually a sufficient explanation to attribute an event to the choices of a moral agent, such as a human. To the question "Why did you fall?", "Joe pushed me." is an explanation, insofar as one can predict with some plausibility the result given that as a starting point. But how is it any better an explanation than "There was a pressure on one side of me that I wasn't compensating for with my footing."? Because John is viewed as an agent that makes choices.

    "God sent his son." is a great deal more agentive than "The socialization instincts of a set of humans interacted so as to allow memetic fixation of the damage from some mental distress in one otherwise ordinary person." As such, it would be a pretty decent explanation, for certain purposes, so long as there was actually a god who made choices.

    But do apologists ever bother inviting this god guy to come by and give a presentation on why he's gets off on this crucifixion kink?

  2. God can raise people from the dead, but he cannot create mass hallucinations.

    Some things are just too hard even for a god to do.

    If people were inventing stories, surely they would have invented a story that was plausible rather than a story about a world-wide darkness of 3 hours that nobody recorded?

    Who would believe a story of a world wide darkness of 3 hours that went unrecorded outside the pages of the Gospels?

    Therefore, it must have happened,because nobody would make up a story of a miracle that everybody in the world would know never happened.

  3. It is hard to make sense of the willingness of the apostles to die for their beliefs because people normally are not willing to die for something that they know not to have happened.

    They throw this in the faces of their opponents at every given opportunity. They have absolutely no clue that this isn't how the human mind works.

    Evangelical Christians are the least introspective people on the planet. They really should just change the name of the religion from "Christianity" to "Fucking Clueless-ism" and get it over with.