Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Was the Resurrection extraordinary?

Jeff Lower and Victor Reppert had an interesting exchange recently:

Jeffery Jay Lowder 
Robert Price nailed it when he asked, "If miracles are possible, are legends impossible?" If the resurrection hypothesis isn't "silly" then it seems rather one-sided to say that denials of the Resurrection are silly.
Sometimes Christian apologists work so hard to deny the intrinsic or prior improbability of the Resurrection that they almost come across as suggesting that the Resurrection wasn't a miracle after all.

Victor Reppert 
Well, you could argue this way.
Was the resurrection an extraordinary event? Not really. Look at the life of Jesus. He feed the five thousand, healed the sick, raised Lazarus, walked on water, etc. Clearly the molecules in Jesus' body didn't operate by the same laws that govern the molecules in mine. The real extraordinary claim would be if, after all that, the guy stayed in his grave. You'd need extraordinary evidence for that, not the resurrection.
I wouldn't rest on such an argument, but it seems a little odd sometimes to find that people discuss the Resurrection as if it were Jesus' only miracle. No one thinks that it is.

Jeffery Jay Lowder 
Sure, someone (not necessarily you) could argue that way, but with who? Christians who already believe in all of the other miracles? Atheists who don't believe any of them? Someone else?
If you're already including in your background information the historicity of Jesus' other miracles, then I agree that the resurrection (or, at the very least, the revivification) of Jesus has a higher intrinsic probability than it would have had otherwise. But that is of very little philosophical interest, since anyone who believes the other miracles probably already believes Jesus rose from the dead, while those who are skeptical of the resurrection are equally likely to be skeptical of those miracles. For such skeptics, what is "clearly" the case is this: the molecules in Jesus' body did operate by the same laws that govern the molecules in ours, and any stories which suggest otherwise are wrong (whether because of legend, myth, fiction, hallucination, etc is almost beside the point).

I think Jeff's response misses the point Victor was making. To say the Resurrect is intrinsically or prior improbable because it's extraordinary (or miraculous) presumes a standard of comparison. But is that extraordinary in relation to Jesus? 

Sure, unbelievers deny the miracles attributed to Jesus, but then they need to clarify that they are arguing against the Resurrection on their own grounds. In philosophy, when you critique a position, one way is to assume the viewpoint of the opposing position for the sake of argument, then try to critique it on its own grounds. Taken by itself, to say the Resurrection is improbable because it's extraordinary begs the question. Is it extraordinary that God intended to raise Jesus from the dead? 

Put another way, are atheists operating on the assumption that there's a neutral definition of extraordinary events that believers and unbelievers agree upon? Or is that, in itself, a concept that's relative to your worldview? 

If so, then both sides have a burden of proof to discharge. Atheists are not entitled to simply presume their concept of what's extraordinary, as if that's a given. For if that implicitly operates within a secular framework concerning how the world works, then that requires a separate argument on their part. They have no philosophical warrant to stipulate that their frame of reference is normative for believers and unbelievers alike. 

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