The Resurrection vs. History

I consider evidentialist apologetics flawed. My chief reason for thinking so is that evidentialism contradicts the attributes of God. God, as defined in Christian theology, is the creator of the universe. As such, God is believed to be metaphysically necessary. What this means is that God does not require a special explanation for his existence nor can God be reduced to more prime substances, laws, or existants to explain his existence. God is believed to be metaphysically necessary because he is eternal; God has no beginning and, therefore, no need of a cause for his existence. If God was not eternal, then at one point God began to exist, and therefore would need a cause to explain his existence. That cause, and not God would be the creator then. If God needed a cause for his existence, God would be a metaphysically contigent Being. The universe, in Christian theology, is metaphysically contigent; it began to exist and is not eternal. Therefore, it needs a cause for its existence to explain why it exists. Christians believe that God is this Cause.


Metaphysical necessity, therefore, is an attribute of God's existence. Another attribute, closely related to metaphysical necessity, is moral necessity. God is believed to be a morally necessary being. What this implies is that God cannot do anything wrong. God is the ultimate source of all that is moral in Christian theology. Note that moral necessity implies that God cannot do anything wrong, not that he could if he wanted to, but simply chooses not to. Otherwise, God would be a morally contigent being like humans are. This makes perfect biblical sense and explains a number of biblical passages. For instance, in the New Testament epistle of James, it says that God does not tempt nor can he be tempted to sin. If God was a morally necessary being, then God canno be tempted. If God was a morally contigent being, then God could be tempted to sin and would have to resist it like human beings would. It also makes sense of a passage in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. It says that it's impossible for God to lie. This makes perfect sense if God is believed to be a morally necessary being. If God was a morally contigent being, then God could lie but would have to chose not to. Thus, moral necessity is an attribute of God as is metaphysical necessity.

This poses tremendous problems for evidentialist apologetics. Why? Consider the following: If it's impossible for God to lie, then whatever God says is true by definition. If God says something, then what God says cannot be false and must be necessarily true. Thus, if God, speaking through Peter, by the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal Sermon, declares that God has raised Jesus from the dead, then "God raised Jesus from the dead" is necessarily true. There is no way it can be false. Therefore, the resurrection, as an explanation of 1.) the empty tomb, 2.) the postmortem "sightings" of Jesus, and 3.) the origin of the resurrection faith, must be a necessary historical explanation. It cannot be a historically contigent explanation, such as an inference-to-the-best-explanation. To argue that the resurrection is the best explanatory explanation is to say that it's possible that the resurrection didn't happen but in all probability did. To say that it's possible that the resurrection didn't happen but in all probability did, is logically the same as saying that it's possible that God lied but in all probability told the truth about Jesus being raised from the dead. Therefore, in Christian theology, the resurrection is a necessary historical explanation. There is no way out of this!

The problem this creates for evidentialism is twofold. First of all, it shows that the resurrection cannot qualify as an historical explanation proper because the defining hallmark of any historical theory is falsification and testability. Secondly, to say that there is "evidence" and "facts" in favor of the resurrection, is to say that the empty tomb, postmortem "sightings' of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith are historically contigent events, which directly contradicts the divine attribute of moral necessity. Let me elaborate on both of these points and then spell out my conclusion as to what the implication of this argument is for Christians in terms of consequences.

First of all, an historical hypothesis is an explanation that is formulated to explain a given set of facts. Often with a given set of facts there is bound to be more than one possible explanation. The task of the historian is to use the Historical Method to test the explanations and see which one best fits the facts. Thus, in order to be an historical explanation proper, an historical hypothesis must be testable and, hence, vulnerable to falsification. The resurrection doesn't qualify as such because the resurrection is a necessary historical explanation. There is no possible way for it to be false or else God cannot be a morally necessary being. Yet to be an historical explanation proper, a hypothesis or theory must be capable of being testable and vulnerable to falsification. If it's impossible for a theory to be false, then it cannot qualify as an historical explanation. Hypotheses and theories must be capable of being falsifiable and the resurrection isn't testable or else it would be falsifiable and such an epistemic status would directly contradict the divine attribute of moral necessity.

The second reason the resurrection cannot be an historical explanation is because there cannot be, in principle, evidence for the resurrection, or any facts for the resurrection, as an hypothesis or theory, to explain. The reason for this is that "facts" and "evidence" presuppose historical contigency. Historical contigency means that the course of history could've turned out a different way. If Julius Ceasar had not crossed the Rubicon in Roman history, history would've turned out differently and any "facts" and/or "evidence" that he did cross the Rubicon in northern Italy with his army would simply not exist. If history had turned out different, certain "facts" or "evidence" would simply not be available to an historian to test hypotheses or theories against, using the Historical Method. To say that the empty tomb in the synoptic Gospels is a "fact" is to imply that had history turned out differently, and say, Jesus' body was left to rot on the cross and never buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, there would be no "fact" of an empty tomb to serve as "evidence" for the resurrection of Christ. "Facts" and "evidence" presupposes, by it's very nature, historical contigency. Christians have to believe that the empty tomb, postmortem "sightings" of Jesus, and the earliest Christian faith in the resurrection, are historically necessary. There could've been no other way it might have turned out differently! Christians cannot grant that the empty tomb, the postmortem "sightings" of Jesus, and the earliest Christian faith in the risen Jesus, are a matter of historical contigency, because that would directly contradict the divine attribute of moral necessity. Christians have to argue that the empty tomb, postmortem "sightings" of Jesus, and the earliest Christian faith are morally necessary. I'm not sure what they might regard these events as- perhaps "self-evident truths" of history, which is consistent with historical necessity and is not consistent with historical contigency?

In conclusion, I believe that the resurrection cannot qualify as a historical hypothesis/theory proper because to do so would imply testability and vulnerability to falsification; no necessary truth is capable of being proven false or vulernable to being tested. There cannot be any "facts" or "evidence" in favor of the resurrection because such terms presuppose historical contigency which directly contradicts the divine attribute of moral necessity. Where, then, does this leave the Christian? I believe that the Christian must presuppose the resurrection. The resurrection, as a necessary historical truth, would, therefore, transcend all attempts to test, verify, or refute it! It is therefore presuppositional apologetics which has the upper hand. On the contrary, evidentialim in apologetics is self-refuting and hopelessly destructs on further scrutiny. Any questions or comments are very welcome. Fire away!

Matthew

12 comments:

exbeliever said...

Matthew,

You wrote: "It is therefore presuppositional apologetics which has the upper hand."

This is a little bit of a false dichotomy--i.e. either evidentialism or presuppositionalism. What about fideism?

Also, it doesn't seem unreasonable for the Christian to say, "Hey, God said that he raised Jesus from the dead; if, in fact, it can be shown that God didn't raise Jesus from the dead, then God does not exist because he couldn not have lied (this is a metaphysical impossiblity) so proof of the non-occurence of the resurrection would disprove my belief that God exists. I'm willing to play your game, Mr. Skeptic, and submit the resurrection to historical veracity tests, because I know what it will prove."

Evidentialism is simply putting faith on the line. It is nothing more than confidence. It is saying that my faith will be proven to be true by whatever tests you try on it.

Presuppositionalism is a whole different ball of wax. They are not simply presupposing God, they are making epistemological assertions that they test against other worldviews. In that way, they are guilty of exactly what you are accusing evidentialists of.

The only approach that comes close to what you are describing is fideism. That view simply takes the assertions by faith without offering proof or being susceptible to critique.

CalvinDude said...

As a presuppositionalist, I agree with your main point that presuppositionalism has a better foundation than evidentialism. However, one thing that I would point out is this: Christianity teaches that God does act within the created world, and that means that if God did anything--even if it were a necessary action--then it would occur as a historical event, which can be examined as any other historical event. In other words, Christ did most certainly rise from the dead and we know this as true because of the fact that God said it; but that does not alter the fact that it did, indeed, occur in history and thus is a historical event.

I think your problem comes in your application of "falsification." I don't think that "falsification" is applicable to any historical event. To say, "It could have happened otherwise" is a myth. We could imagine that it could happen otherwise, but history only did what history did (even if we suppose alternate universes where different things occur, it is only possible for one state of events to have occured in our universe). Julius Caesar either did or did not cross the Rubicon; it is impossible that he did both. If it is impossible for him to do other than he did, then it is only "falsified" insofar as you ignore reality and speculate that he could have done otherwise. The reality is that he could not have done otherwise.

This is something that I think even as an atheist you would agree with, because our wills are determined by our materialistic make-up, and thus we cannot be other than we are and we cannot think other than we think, so that ultimately we cannot believe other than we believe. (This is not to say someone cannot convince--but the convincing is only possible if your materialistic make-up allows for you to be convinced in the first place.) So, if you do take this view of materialism, then you would probably agree that any historical event in actuality could not have been other than it was, and the future can only be whatever it shall be--it is determined because of the way our material make-up is today, the only difference is that we are ignorant of the shape it will take.

So my question for you would be, I guess, can you actually falsify something that is impossible to be false? Can you falsify any historical event?

John W. Loftus said...

Matthew, you wanted some feedback, so let me start with some. Interesting post, by the way. I'll be interested in what you have to say about the following comments of mine.

To say that it's possible that the resurrection didn't happen but in all probability did, is logically the same as saying that it's possible that God lied but in all probability told the truth about Jesus being raised from the dead. Therefore, in Christian theology, the resurrection is a necessary historical explanation. There is no way out of this!

Matthew, this is sounding to me like some kind of ontological argument for the existence of God. It's like saying that one cannot conclude that it's probable that God exists, because if God exists then he's a necessary being, i.e., a being who cannot not exist, except that now you're applying this argument to anything God says happened in history and claiming probabilities don't apply here either, from the Christian perspective.

You're saying that a Christian cannot conclude that it's probable that Jesus arose from the dead, just like Anselm said a fool cannot conclude that he merely has the idea of God.

Just like probabilities are out of the question when it came to Anselm, so also with Christians who claim Jesus probably arose. If God exists and he said Jesus arose from the dead, there is no probablility to it.

Matthew, what do YOU think of the ontological argument for the existence of God? And where is the epistemological justification for Christians to believe it truly was God who said he raised Jesus from the dead? Just how do Christians come to believe Jesus arose from the dead and that the Bible is God's Word?

Any event in history is subject to doubt based upon the historical method, so if Jesus historically arose from the dead it is subject to all kinds of doubt, even by Christians. Some Christians think Jesus arose "spiritually" you know. How does your argument apply to them?

Matthew said...

Exbeliever writes: This is a little bit of a false dichotomy--i.e. either evidentialism or presuppositionalism. What about fideism?

I was speaking in terms of apologetics. To my knowledge, fideism is the absence of an apology; it's just a blind assertion of faith on the part of a believer with no attempt at or exercise of rational judgement. I doubt that my post has set up a false dichotomy unless one can construct an apologetic using a fideistic approach but I fail to see how fideism would be defended (Personal testimonials?)

"Also, it doesn't seem unreasonable for the Christian to say, "Hey, God said that he raised Jesus from the dead; if, in fact, it can be shown that God didn't raise Jesus from the dead, then God does not exist because he couldn not have lied (this is a metaphysical impossiblity) so proof of the non-occurence of the resurrection would disprove my belief that God exists. I'm willing to play your game, Mr. Skeptic, and submit the resurrection to historical veracity tests, because I know what it will prove."

Well the Christian in this case is being irrational; the hypothetical Christian doesn't understand his/her own theology. On the contrary, it seems horribly unreasonable for the Christian to say this.

"Evidentialism is simply putting faith on the line. It is nothing more than confidence. It is saying that my faith will be proven to be true by whatever tests you try on it."

Evidentialism seems to contradict the divine attribute of moral necessity; it's a confidence booster for Christians who need apologetics to edify their faith because the nonrational route by which they came to faith is whithering away and many of them need an intellectual aspirin.

"Presuppositionalism is a whole different ball of wax. They are not simply presupposing God, they are making epistemological assertions that they test against other worldviews. In that way, they are guilty of exactly what you are accusing evidentialists of."

How are the presuppositionalists making epistemological assertions that they test against other worldviews? If good examples of this can be shown- then their epistemological assertions might, too, contradict the divine attribute of moral necessity.

Matthew

Matthew said...

Calvindude writes: "As a presuppositionalist, I agree with your main point that presuppositionalism has a better foundation than evidentialism."

Good! Then I guess you agree that the attempts of evidentialist or "classical apologists" as some would style themselves, like Bill Craig, are ultimately futile?

"However, one thing that I would point out is this: Christianity teaches that God does act within the created world, and that means that if God did anything--even if it were a necessary action--then it would occur as a historical event, which can be examined as any other historical event. In other words, Christ did most certainly rise from the dead and we know this as true because of the fact that God said it; but that does not alter the fact that it did, indeed, occur in history and thus is a historical event."

Calvin, while I welcome your contributions, I think you misunderstood what I wrote. I wasn't speaking in terms of historical events but rather historical explanations and then "facts" and "evidence" used to justify accepting one explanation over another.

"I think your problem comes in your application of "falsification." I don't think that "falsification" is applicable to any historical event."

Once again, I think you misunderstood what I said. I was speaking in terms of explanations which are falsifiable. It is
"explanations" which are testable against historical evidence and facts, not events themselves.

"This is something that I think even as an atheist you would agree with, because our wills are determined by our materialistic make-up, and thus we cannot be other than we are and we cannot think other than we think, so that ultimately we cannot believe other than we believe. (This is not to say someone cannot convince--but the convincing is only possible if your materialistic make-up allows for you to be convinced in the first place.) So, if you do take this view of materialism, then you would probably agree that any historical event in actuality could not have been other than it was, and the future can only be whatever it shall be--it is determined because of the way our material make-up is today, the only difference is that we are ignorant of the shape it will take."

I am not a materialist. I don't necessarily believe that consciousnes and brain states are reducible to mere brain chemistry and are nothing else. On a materialistic viewpoint (which is necessarily atheistic as far as I know), free will and choice do not exist. I believe that free will and choice do exist and that they do have naturalistic and fully causal explanations. Materialism seems to me to be overly simplistic as a naturalistic worldview.

"So my question for you would be, I guess, can you actually falsify something that is impossible to be false? Can you falsify any historical event?"

I don't believe so. It would depend on our epistemic reasons for holding something to be necessarily true. Again, I wasn't speaking in terms of historical events, but, rather, historical explanations

Matthew

Matthew said...

John Loftus writes: "Matthew, this is sounding to me like some kind of ontological argument for the existence of God. It's like saying that one cannot conclude that it's probable that God exists, because if God exists then he's a necessary being, i.e., a being who cannot not exist, except that now you're applying this argument to anything God says happened in history and claiming probabilities don't apply here either, from the Christian perspective."

I don't know that it would qualify as an ontological argument for the resurrection. The ontological argument, from what I understand, is primarily evidentialist. I am suggesting that Christians will be left with trying to construct a "transcendental" argument for the resurrection.

"You're saying that a Christian cannot conclude that it's probable that Jesus arose from the dead, just like Anselm said a fool cannot conclude that he merely has the idea of God."

If Christians are to be consistent with their theology, then yes. Any informed Christian has to kiss evidentialism goodbye.

"Just like probabilities are out of the question when it came to Anselm, so also with Christians who claim Jesus probably arose. If God exists and he said Jesus arose from the dead, there is no probablility to it."

Precisely! But I tend to be a secular evidentialist and so I deem the resurrection theory to be testable. I believe that if any empty tomb can be shown to have been the result of reburial and that the origin of the Christian faith and any postmortem "sightings" of Jesus are the result of naturally-caused visions, then the resurrection looses any claim to be the best explanatory inference. In fact, I consider the very possibility of explanations such as reburial, necromancy, visions, or even rival supernaturalist theories such as Zoroastrian or Muslim theories on the empty tomb or postmortem "sightings" of Jesus as proving the presuppositionalists wrong and ultimately refuting the resurrection.

"Matthew, what do YOU think of the ontological argument for the existence of God? And where is the epistemological justification for Christians to believe it truly was God who said he raised Jesus from the dead?"

I haven't studied the ontological argument all that much. I have been mostly thinking of ways to refute/explode the cosmological arguments and the design arguments. As for epistemological justifications for believing that it was God who raised Jesus from the dead-good question. I don't know how Christians would justify it.

"Just how do Christians come to believe Jesus arose from the dead and that the Bible is God's Word?"

Or more importantly, why do they come to believe that the Bible is the Word of God to begin with? Why the resurrection to begin with?

"Any event in history is subject to doubt based upon the historical method, so if Jesus historically arose from the dead it is subject to all kinds of doubt, even by Christians. Some Christians think Jesus arose "spiritually" you know. How does your argument apply to them? "

John, I don't know. I want to see how presuppositionalists answer or comment on my argument to begin with.

Matthew

Matthew said...

I wonder what our pals over a Triablogue think of this post that I have made?

Matthew

CalvinDude said...

Matthew, thank you for clarifying. And yes, I do agree that ultimately evidentialist arguments are futile (else I would be one, wouldn't I?) :-)

Anyway, regarding falsification, do you limit it only to explanations of historical events, or do you also apply the concept to philosophical principles?

Zachary Moore said...

Is it possible to divorce presuppositional apologetics completely from evidentialism? Doesn't acceptance of the Bible imply some kind of evidentialist assertion?

Matthew said...

Calvindude said: "Anyway, regarding falsification, do you limit it only to explanations of historical events, or do you also apply the concept to philosophical principles?"

Calvin, I'm not sure I undertand what you're asking here. What do you have in mind when you ask of "philosophical principles"?

Matthew

exbeliever said...

Matthew,

You wrote: "To my knowledge, fideism is the absence of an apology; it's just a blind assertion of faith on the part of a believer with no attempt at or exercise of rational judgement."

Have you read Gordon Clark? He presents a logical case for fideism much like yours here. Plantinga isn't far from a fideistic position either. Fideism occurs when one asserts that reason cannot be used to verify religious claims (which is a Wittgenstinian claim as well).

You will also still find fideism listed as an "apologetic" approach in most apologetic intro books. See the table of contents of this, for example.

You wrote: "On the contrary, it seems horribly unreasonable for the Christian to say [they will allow their faith to be tested historically]."

I couldn't disagree with you more.

Let's say I was making a truth claim about my wife's ability to multiply large numbers in her head. I know for a fact that she can do it. I've see her do it hundreds of times. There is no doubt in my mind that she is capable of multiplying these numbers.

Now, let's say someone else is skeptical of her abilities. Am I irrational if I say, "Go ahead; test her"?

Similarly, the Christian may be 100% confident in the veracity of his god's word that the resurrection was a historical fact. That Christian is not unreasonable when he says to the skeptic, "Go ahead, try to disprove it. Submit the event to historical verification."

At the same time, if that historical verification comes back negative, the Christian isn't unreasonable if he assumes that a god doesn't exist.

You wrote: "How are the presuppositionalists making epistemological assertions that they test against other worldviews?"

This is their whole invitation to perform an "internal critique" on their world view. They set out to perform an internal critique on atheistic world views. They assume that there is no god, show that logic and morality do not fit this presupposition and say that the world view is internally inconsistent.

At the same time, they invite the unbeliever to adopt their presupposition of the existence of god and then test that for internal consistency as well.

In this way, they are just as "guilty" (your idea, not mine) as the evidentalist. They allow for a way of contradiction though they believe one is impossible.

Only fideism holds to what you are suggesting. And fideism is most certainly a defense of the faith. It defends the faith against reasoned critiques.

I think you are way off on this post, but that's just my opinion.

John W. Loftus said...

Matthew, you’re an evidentialist, a secular one. But you’re arguing that Christians cannot be evidentialists based upon the metaphysical and moral necessity of the Christian God. Based upon their own views you question how it’s possible for them to transcendentally justify any historical event that forms the basis of their faith, like the resurrection of Jesus. You claim they cannot do this. In arguing this way you have them coming and going, and you’re the victor on both ends.

Unfortunately for you, Matthew, I agree with ex-believer. This is not an argument that your atheist friends accept, so why would Christians accept it? But I'll say this for the record, it doesn't matter if we disagree over the proper approach to debunking Christianity, nor about our motivations, although those are indeed worthy subjects to discuss. It does matter to me what your case is in debunking Christianity.

There is always a reciprocity and a dialectic between evidence and presuppositions in historical and scientific investigations, so why should it be different in theological investigations?

No matter what methodology one CLAIMS to have when coming to believe a religious or metaphysical set of control beliefs, the case is always going to end up being a cumulative one.

According to William Abraham: “It should be clear that “evaluating world-views will never be based on probabilistic arguments, since one cannot simply isolate one presupposition for evaluation. The case must be cumulative--a case must be built slowly.” It is based upon cumulative case type arguments like “jurisprudence, literary exegesis, history, philosophy, and science.” “One must be well educated in the relevant moral, aesthetic, or spiritual possibilities.” But, “mastering all the relevant data and warrants needed to exercise the required personal judgment seems remote and impractical…This is surely beyond the capabilities of most ordinary mortals.” “One simply has to proceed, often in an ad hoc fashion, and work through the issues as honestly and rigorously as possible.” “The different pieces of evidence taken in isolation are defective, but taken together they reinforce one another and add up to a substantial case. What is vital to realize is that there is no formal calculus into which all the evidence can be fitted and assessed. There is an irreducible element of personal judgment, which weighs up the evidence taken as a whole.” [An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, (Prentice-Hall, 1985, pp. 104-113].

This explains, in part, why there can be no “smoking gun” type of an argument that will convince those who disagree with us about Christianity.