From Bare Theism to Xn Theism: Suggested Readings
June 30, 2010 — 15:33

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Books of Interest Christian Theology Concept of God  Comments: 37

A reader wrote in to ask for advice on material relevant from the move from Bare Theism to Xn Theism. I’m sympathetic with that request, because I think it’s a neglected point. I think that might be because there is much historical material which must come into the discussion then, and many philosophers aren’t as comfortable/knowledgeable about that.
Swinburne is both comfortable and knowledgeable in that area, and has written a fair amount about it across several books. An outline of suggested readings follows.


1. _Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy_,
Part II
“The Need for a Revelation”
“The four tests for a Revelation”
Part III.
Origin, Church, Theology, Bible.
Gives an overview for what a revelation would look like and why it might be expected, along with an overview of the relevant loci classici of Christian revelation.
2. _The Christian God_
Chapter 9 “The Possibility of Incarnation”
and 10. “The Evidence of Incarnation”
3. Perhaps _Was Jesus God?_ *just* for an overview of the case he’ll be making in
4. _The Resurrection of God Incarnate_.
A very nicely set out case for the resurrection of Jesus.
He even gives an estimate of the probability! Some have scoffed at this, but A. They miss the point of it, and B. They’re free to defend their own values of the variables. I’ll take on that debate.

Comments:
  • Menssen and Sullivan’s _The Agnostic Inquirer_ is also helpful, but they think they can do it without first establishing the existence of God.

    July 1, 2010 — 9:56
  • Andrew Moon

    There are, of course, the works of William Lane Craig. His popular but still philosophically rigorous defense of the resurrection can be found here:
    http://www.amazon.com/Reasonable-Faith-Christian-Truth-Apologetics/dp/1433501155/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278001201&sr=1-1
    Craig’s one of the very few who is both a philosopher and a New Testament scholar. He’s gotten double PH.Ds and published scholarly articles in both disciplines. He’s also defended his arguments from other New Testament scholars like Bart Ehrman, Gerd Ludemann, and John Dominic Crossan. His debates with Ludemann and Crossan have been turned into book form and also have commentary from other NT scholars.
    While we’re at it,
    http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question-Vol/dp/0800626796/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278001290&sr=1-6
    N.T. Wright’s very well respected among NT scholars. I’ll have to admit that I’ve never read this book, but I know that Wright is very well respected for his work, so it’s worth citing.

    July 1, 2010 — 11:24
  • Trent, thanks for the recommendation of Swinburne. I’ve never read his work on the resurrection, though I’ve heard he comes to the conclusion that it’s 97% probable that Jesus rose from the dead. Just on that basis I would at least want to question his ability to do fair, objective history. But I’d obviously have to read the book to find out how he does and see if I have any specific criticisms.
    Andrew, Craig’s debates are good. I enjoyed the Craig-Ehrman debate. Craig hammered him hard on the issue of establishing a miracle in history, but Ehrman did pretty well other than that. I’d also recommend the Craig-Carrier debate, which I organized last March at my university in Missouri.
    To be fair, we should mention some skeptical readings on this issue for people who might want to read up on both sides. Richard Carrier’s chapter on the resurrection in the recent anthology “The Christian Delusion” is a good read, summing up the basic argument against belief in the resurrection in about twenty pages or so. Also, there is a volume titled “The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave” edited by Robert Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder, which contains arguments against recent resurrection apologists like Craig.

    July 1, 2010 — 23:43
  • Like I said, you’re free to defend different values to the basic variables. Several people have pointed out you can change some of them quite a bit before the final probability goes down much. To get it to go down enough to disbelieve, you have to make crazypants assignments to the variables.
    I’d love it if Xns would read Carrier! He’s just the kind of guy to drive an honest doubter back to orthodoxy. I reply to these comments from my inbox, so I don’t know if anyone has mentioned the Haberbas-Flew debate on the resurrection or the Craig-Ludemann debate. Craig also has one or two fat volumes from Mellon Press.

    July 1, 2010 — 23:50
  • Trent, I understand that I’d have to actually read Swinburne’s book and raise specific concerns with his argument. My point was simply that such a high number strikes me as a prima facie reason to be suspicious of his ability to do fair history.
    Have you, by chance, read the essay by Carrier that I mentioned? You apparently have a low regard for him; maybe you could explain why that is. In any case, that chapter from “The Christian Delusion” was pretty good as far as I could tell.

    July 2, 2010 — 0:30
  • Dan

    Excellent. I find this to be a neglected point as well. And it’s the quickest dialectical move on the part of an interlocutor who will grant the existence of some kind of theistic God. Once you finish arguing for the “omni-god”, you must be prepared to furnish evidence for the God of Christianity.

    July 2, 2010 — 18:30
  • It is not uncommon for the posterior probabilities to be surprising once you calculate them. They often diverge from what you’d think. That’s one reason why it’s worth doing the math.
    Re: Carrier. I’m sorry, the chapter from what, again?

    July 2, 2010 — 19:58
  • Robert Gressis

    I think Landon Hendrick is referring to Carrier’s “Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable”, The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, ed. John Loftus (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2010), 291-315. I haven’t read that chapter, but I would be surprised if at least some of what he says there couldn’t be found here:
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/

    July 2, 2010 — 21:07
  • Robert,
    You’re right, that’s the chapter I’m talking about. And you’re also probably right that some of the stuff in the chapter is covered in his old work on the topic. But that chapter in particular is his updated and recent argument, and it’s pretty good.
    Trent, yes I see your point. What’s interesting is that Carrier will be using the same basic methodology, I think, to argue that Jesus was a mythical figure instead of an historical one. (I’m referring to his forthcoming book titled “On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.”) I do wonder, though, how Swinburne gets it all the way up to 97%. Does he start with a high prior probability? Or does he just consider a cascade of various lines of evidence, each of which bumps the probability up until it’s a virtual certainty that the resurrection occurred? At this point, not having read Swinburne, and having read Carrier’s chapter that I mentioned, I suspect that the case for the resurrection that Swinburne makes must have some over-the-top probabilities plugged in. Or in your words, I suspect Swinburne is making some crazypants assignments to the variables himself.

    July 2, 2010 — 22:07
  • “mythical” wouldn’t be the right word, it would be “legendary.” And the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t exist lacks any shred of credibility. The thesis is so implausible it shouldn’t even be discussed on a blog of this quality. It is ridiculous in the literal sense. It is not worth two minutes investigation. It’s like the thesis that we didn’t really land on the moon. It is not worthy of attention. People who advocate such a thesis utterly discredit themselves as capable of paying attention to serious, reasoned discussion. The same goes for people who write books called _The Christian Delusion_. Such things are the proper object of derision. Like Beaty says in the NYT article I just posted, atheists would be better of reading some real philosophy (or real history). I spend too much time reading quality challenges to my beliefs and trying to think of others to waste my time on puerile screeds and half-baked conspiracy theories. Not everyone is welcome at the grown-ups table.
    It’s Swinburne, so there’s definitely a cascade of evidence. I don’t think he gets the figures far off. It’s actually a good case study in the common phenomenon that confirmation grows faster than we tend to realize. Still, nobody’s going to force you to read the book. Frankly, if you like Carrier you probably shouldn’t read the book.

    July 3, 2010 — 8:56
  • M.

    Out of curiosity, who are some of the folks you consider the real challenges to Christian belief?

    July 3, 2010 — 10:53
  • Trent,
    I used the word “myth” rather than “legend” simply because those who argue that Jesus didn’t exist call themselves (and are called by virtually everybody else) Jesus myth theorists or “mythicists.” If you are concerned that this is a misnomer, it’s at least one that scholars and (in your opinion) pseudo-scholars both use. I’m just following the crowd.
    In any case, whatever we call the position, I’m amazed by your comment. On the one hand you want to maintain that Swinburne does a great job of arguing that it’s 97% probable that Jesus died for a weekend before coming back to life in an indestructible body and walking out of the tomb, yet on the other hand you want to maintain that those mythicists are so deluded (and their theories are so crazy) that it deserves no serious discussion at all (in fact, it’s “not worth two minutes investigation”). The reason this strikes me as odd is because we know that sometimes people who never existed can become “historical” figures (e.g. King Arthur), yet it’s far less obvious that anybody can come back to life in an indestructible body after being dead for more than twenty-four hours. Clearly, those who believe the one thesis will think that the other one is so ridiculous as to not even be worthy of discussion. Perhaps to be balanced it would be best to say that neither hypothesis is very credible.
    But I still do find it interesting that you can recommend that people read an entire book on the resurrection yet not give more than two minutes consideration to the other crackpot view that Jesus never existed.
    But that issue aside, I agree that “The Christian Delusion” is not on a par with Graham Oppy or Michael Martin (though both endorse the book, I think). Some of the chapters in the book aren’t that great. The resurrection chapter, however, was pretty good for it’s length, because it sums up in a short amount of space why it wouldn’t be reasonable to believe that Jesus was resurrected. But since that short chapter obviously had to leave some stuff out, maybe it would be better to just recommend the anthology “The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave” that I mentioned in a previous comment. As for the title “The Christian Delusion,” the editor wanted to attract the readers of Dawkins. His next book, “The End of Christianity” is aimed to similarly attract Sam Harris’ readership.
    You write: “Frankly, if you like Carrier you probably shouldn’t read the book.”
    I still don’t quite know what your issue is with Carrier. I will say this though: the book you’re recommending (which I hope to read sometime) is a book arguing for a rather unbelievable historical thesis written by a philosopher. Richard Carrier will be arguing for a rather unbelievable historical thesis, yet at least he’s trained in ancient history (he has a doctorate from Columbia). He at least has that going for him, even if his book ends up being a major embarrassment.
    But as you said yourself, once you start plugging in the numbers and doing the math you’d be surprised what conclusion you might come to. So you should at least leave open the possibility that Carrier’s number-crunching will plausibly lead to an uncomfortable, surprising conclusion.

    July 3, 2010 — 11:30
  • Robert Gressis

    Landon,
    About the “Jesus never existed” (aka mythicist) hypothesis: I haven’t ever taken it seriously, so I don’t know what’s to be said in its favor, but James F. McGrath has dealt with the thesis at length (if you’re worried about taking McGrath seriously because he self-identifies as a Christian, don’t worry: from what I can tell, he’s an atheist who doesn’t believe in miracles or an afterlife. Instead, he continues to use Christian language because that’s the tradition he grew up in and he finds it useful to talk about things like infinity). Here are his criticisms:
    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/search/label/mythicism
    That said, I disagree with Trent in that I don’t think Carrier should be dismissed out of hand for endorsing that thesis. For one thing, not all of his work begins with that premise and then just goes from there. For another, much of his work in the past was written from the perspective of someone who in fact strongly disagreed with that hypothesis until fairly recently (therefore if you like early Carrier it doesn’t follow that you wouldn’t get anything out of Swinburne, because even if you assume Carrier is off the reservation now, there was at least a time when Carrier was not). Third, even if we take it to be a serious lapse of judgment that Carrier defends the mythicist hypothesis, I don’t think it shows him to be completely unreliable. I know of an excellent philosopher of science who is a young-earth creationist, and I don’t think that means I shouldn’t listen to anything else he says, especially when he writes peer-reviewed work in journals like Philosophy of Science.

    July 3, 2010 — 13:27
  • I posted on this once before, but I’ll go over some of it again. I actually think Mackie is still one of the best in terms of quality of argument, though I find some of his premises coming out of the air (the 1920’s air). Sobel is (was, RIP) super-smart and makes all kinds of good objections, though the writing is so frenetic you have to connect a lot of the dots yourself. Oppy raises good objections, though I also think his breadth compromises his depth, so I think the articles present more of a challenge than the book. I don’t do much Phil Physics–though I started as a physics major–so I think Bradley Monton’s stuff is a MUST and he’s very fair, calm, and argues very carefully. Draper is very good, very challenging, raises the right objections and is very careful and thorough. The virtue of good philosophy is to be *careful*. The old “New Atheists” are intellectually reckless and terribly uninformed about most of what matters to the debate. At the summit is Rowe. The _Can God be Free_ book can be forgiven in light of his lifetime of careful, patient, constant pressing on the evidential problem of evil.
    Aquinas listed two threats to theism in the Summa in the 13th century: Naturalism and Evil. Now I think naturalism has got a lot less plausible than it was in the 13th century. I think it’s always been based on a pretty superficial epistemology and silly arguments. I’m almost inclined to think that one day naturalism will be classified as a disorder. But evil, that’s different. On first look, and second, and third, the world is not what one would expect from an all-good, all-powerful God. It takes a lot of reflection to see how it could all make sense.

    July 3, 2010 — 14:56
  • You’ve got your priors the wrong way round. You’ve calibrated by the wrong crowd.
    I recommend you read Chesterton’s _The Ball and the Cross_.
    http://amzn.to/cGSiIK

    July 3, 2010 — 15:01
  • One brief comment, though, for other readers.
    There’s a fact so basic that, remarkably, people overlook it all the time:
    If there’s a God, then the Resurrection is “no big deal.” So the issues aren’t unrelated. To the extent that it is likely that there is a God, to nearly that extent it is likely that God will perform some kind of sign.
    Swinburne’s greatest accomplishment, really, is just walking the reader through what, upon reflection, we ought to expect. The way things work out probabilistically, as soon as you get the possibility of a miracle on the map, converging lines of evidence raise the probability really fast. Tim and Lydia McGrew have a good piece on this, probably the best in print. http://bit.ly/cWgfpz

    July 3, 2010 — 15:07
  • Robert Gressis

    Trent, I take it that when you say that if there is a God then the Resurrection is no big deal then you mean something like: if there is a God then God can easily intervene in the way like the Resurrection.
    However, I assume you’re often quite skeptical of alleged supernatural interventions reported by people, at least alleged supernatural interventions of a certain stripe, e.g., ones involving levitation, turning invisible, flying through the air, etc. My point is, most of us who think both that God exists and that there are miracles tend to think such events are pretty rare, and are usually skeptical when someone reports them to us. So, even though I think God exists, and even though I think there have been miracles, I start out skeptical of any given miracle-account. So in at least that sense, any plausible report of a miracle is a big deal, right?

    July 3, 2010 — 16:30
  • Robert Gressis

    Landon,
    You wrote, “I’m amazed by your comment. On the one hand you want to maintain that Swinburne does a great job of arguing that it’s 97% probable that Jesus died for a weekend before coming back to life in an indestructible body and walking out of the tomb, yet on the other hand you want to maintain that those mythicists are so deluded (and their theories are so crazy) that it deserves no serious discussion at all (in fact, it’s “not worth two minutes investigation”). … Clearly, those who believe the one thesis will think that the other one is so ridiculous as to not even be worthy of discussion. Perhaps to be balanced it would be best to say that neither hypothesis is very credible.”
    Three things: one, I don’t think that, historically, any truly great mind has endorsed the mythicist thesis (if you know of any, let me know!), whereas many great minds have endorsed the resurrection hypothesis. Second, there appears to be no serious scholarly work done defending the mythicist hypothesis whereas there is a lot defending the resurrection hypothesis. Third, Swinburne has established himself as a very good philosopher, so that itself gives us prima facie evidence to take seriously what he writes, even if his conclusion sounds massively implausible to you. Admittedly, he goes outside of philosophy when he writes about the historical evidence for the resurrection, but the issues he considers intersect with epistemology, and this is an area that historians don’t seem to be very good at; also, there are lots of serious historians who arrive at the same conclusion that Swinburne arrives at, so this gives his verdict a bit more plausibility than the verdict Carrier arrives at.

    July 3, 2010 — 16:43
  • Robert:
    I don’t know what Trent thinks on this, but I can’t help jumping in. I don’t actually think miracles are quite as rare as you think. My unscientific estimate is that the average number of miracles witnessed per person (not counting each person’s resurrection, that is), or at least per theist (who are more likely to pray to God, etc.), is somewhere in the range 0.1-5, and probably more like 0.2-2. If that’s right, then miracles are rare, but not all that rare. Yes, “any plausible report of a miracle is a big deal”, just as marrying is a big deal. The number of marriages entered into per lifetime is of the same order of magnitude as the number of miracles witnessed. πŸ™‚
    A 2000 opinion poll seems to have found that 48% of Americans claim to have witnessed a miracle. Probably some of those who think they have witnessed miracles didn’t–let’s say half, and we still have the order of magnitude I claimed. But some may have witnessed more than one. And some are more cautious with their ascriptions and may have witnessed a miracle without having the kind of certainty that would enable them to claim to have witnessed it. Moreover, if God exists, it is pretty plausible that there are quite a number of miracles that are never witnessed.

    July 3, 2010 — 16:55
  • A.P. Taylor

    A 2000 opinion poll seems to have found that 48% of Americans claim to have witnessed a miracle. Probably some of those who think they have witnessed miracles didn’t–let’s say half, and we still have the order of magnitude I claimed.
    A few things to point out:
    (1) I think we’d have to look into how the pollsters analyzed the concept “miracle” for the people being polled. In ordinary American parlance the birth of one’s child, medically induced recovery from illness, even the observance of a shooting star or lovely sunset, are candidate “miracles”. On such an analysis, a 48% rate of claim to having seen a miracle is not surprising. However, that same 48% rate, if the pollsters gave the polled to analyze the concept “miracle” in terms of an event or set of events that violated the laws of nature in a clearly teleological fashion, would be an unfathomably high rate of claim. Surely it would invite skepticism.
    2) Setting all of that aside. Why a assign a .5 value to the veracity of the 48% rate of claims of observed miracles? That seems quite high. It results in 24% of the population having a seen a miracle. I would bet 24% of the population saw at least one film in the Star Wars series. Have as many people seen miracles as have seen Star Wars? That seems quite unlikely to me.
    3) Finally, generally, I question the argumentative strategy of citing such self reports of phenomena. After all, I would bet that, if polled, nearly 100% of Americans would agree that they have personally seen the Sun set in the West and rise in the East. But we know the Sun neither sets nor rises at all, except metaphorically or poetically.

    July 3, 2010 — 17:33
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Alex,
    I’m certainly open to the possibility that miracles are more common than I might think. (And just for the record, although I claim that my attitude towards miracle reports is generally quite skeptical, I’ve only ever had one person directly report to me a case of a miracle, and this person was such a reliable witness in general that I believed him.) That said, I’d want to know a little more about the content of the miracle claims. Are these claims of miracles things like a miraculous recovery from cancer or the miraculous recovery of a leg that had been gone for years? For some reason, if someone miraculously recovers from cancer, it’s easier to discount this as a miracle than if someone miraculously recovers a lost limb. But I wonder why I think that. Maybe it’s because miraculous recoveries from cancer happen too often for me to count them as miracles? I’m not sure that would be very good reasoning. My guess for why I don’t take ‘recovery-from-cancer’ miracles to constitute strong evidence for supernatural interventions is that I think we don’t understand cancer well enough to know what is and isn’t miraculous. But now that I actually put word to page, it’s a rather funny reason, because I don’t know very much of anything about how cancer works.

    July 3, 2010 — 18:27
  • M.

    Right (and thanks sincerely for the recommendations!), but those are people arguing against theism, not specifically Christian theism. I was wondering more about the latter. I was curious because you write that you spend too much time on quality challenges to your belief to read Carrier on the resurrection, and the like. So I wanted to know which challengers to Christian belief you do read, if not Carrier.

    July 4, 2010 — 0:57
  • ~T –> ~(T&X), so arguments against theism are arguments against Xn theism.
    The best direct argument against Xn theism I’ve read is Alvin Plantinga’s “dwindling probabilities” argument, but Tim McGrew has answered that to my satisfaction (in fact, Tim’s paper bumped one of mine arguing for a similar thesis. His was so much better it simply made my obsolete). Other than that, I don’t think there are any good arguments directly against Xnty. The closest I could come would be Russell’s arguments that Jesus was not a moral person. Maybe Grant’s perspective that Jesus was delusional gets some kind of honorable mention. But that doesn’t account for the resurrection narratives. You’d have to argue for a theory that conjoins delusional Jesus with naturalistic account of resurrection narrative and here most of what I’ve read recently have been the debate books probably mentioned above (again, I have no idea which posts come to my inbox and which don’t, and I almost never check).
    Because of arguments like Swinburne’s, for me, Pr(C/T) = very high. I.e, if there’s a God, then I think Jesus is God incarnate. Now maybe there’s not a God, so he isn’t, but there’s almost no gap in logical space there for me.

    July 4, 2010 — 19:05
  • I think there is still much to be explored in the area of a priori arguments that go from generic theism to Christian theism. For example, I think there is an argument worth serious thought that suggests that if God has meaning or value as essential properties, then God cannot be a single person–sort of a Swinburnian argument from the nature of love but with analytic teeth. I’ve tried to explore this line of thought on my blog and in
    http://www.doxazotheos.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/theism-and-the-metaphysics-of-meaning-and-value.pdf

    July 5, 2010 — 0:04
  • Mike Almeida

    ~T –> ~(T&X), so arguments against theism are arguments against Xn theism.
    I think this is an oversight. ~T also entails ~(T & ~T), but arguments that confirm ~T do not confirm T v ~T. To offer one other simple example, let P be the proposition that there exists pointless evil. T entails T v P, but P(T | P) is less than P(T), and P(T v P| P) is greater than P(T v P). P is evidence against T, but evidence for T v P. And that’s what we should expect.

    July 5, 2010 — 9:23
  • Robert,
    Thanks for the recommendation of McGrath. I noticed some time ago that he was critiquing mythicism, but I never bothered to really read what he has to say on the issue.
    As for Carrier, I agree with you there. Even if we do take this view to be a lapse in judgment, that does not entail that he’s to be dismissed out of hand.
    As for your other comment to me marking the difference between the resurrection hypothesis and the mythicist hypothesis, I guess I generally agree with you. No truly great mind has endorsed mythicism, yet many have endorsed the resurrection. I’m not sure this point is all that relevant, though, because many of the great minds who endorsed the resurrection probably did not do so because of a careful investigation of the historical evidence. There are other reasons that lead people to believe religious propositions. Your second point was that there is no serious scholarly work defending mythicism, yet there is serious scholarly work defending the resurrection. I can probably grant that as well. I suspect Carrier’s forthcoming book will be a serious scholarly work, so that (and the further development of the debate) will change the fact that no serious scholarly work defends mythicism. But I can agree that serious scholarly work has been done to defend the resurrection. Some people have already mentioned N.T. Wright, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne, and the McGrews. I guess I’d lump that in with serious scholarly work. The last point you mentioned was that Swinburne has proven to be a careful scholar in the past, so that gives him an edge of plausibility over Carrier. I agree, Swinburne is good. My concern here is that I know Swinburne to be a good philosopher; I don’t know him to be a good historian. On the other hand, I know Carrier to be at least a well-educated and trained historian; I don’t know him to be a good philosopher. When it comes to doing history, I’m not convinced that Swinburne’s good philosophy should give him the edge of plausibility over Carrier’s expertise in ancient history. That said, though, I will refrain from making any definite claims about the issue until I have a chance to read Swinburne’s book and Carrier’s book. I don’t want to judge the matter before giving both sides a fair hearing.

    July 6, 2010 — 13:03
  • Trent,
    Well now it looks like I have to add Chesterton to my reading list too. Would you even consider adding “On The Historicity of Jesus Christ” to yours, once it’s published? Or is that granting the mythicists too much of your time? (In any case, this discussion was never supposed to be about mythicism; that only came up because I noted that Carrier uses the same basic methodology as Swinburne to come to a far different conclusion, and that he is actually an historian.)
    As for your claim that if there is a God, then the resurrection is no big deal, I’m not quite sure I follow. Surely the resurrection would be a big deal in the sense that it’s something that never seems to happen to people when they die. Maybe it’s not a big deal in the sense that, if there is a God, then it’s possible that something like the resurrection could occur.

    July 6, 2010 — 13:13
  • If God exists, then the probability of any event is not just a function of its past frequency but how likely it would be that God would bring something like it about. Swinburne discusses the latter in some detail.
    Historians are philosophers that only look at past, mostly political events.

    July 6, 2010 — 22:24
  • I must say that I was introduced to Hugh of St. Victor’s argument by Swinburne and found it remarkably compelling.

    July 6, 2010 — 23:30
  • Trent,
    I agree, given the existence of God, the question of the prior probability of an event occurring has to take into account God’s intentions, which are probably inscrutable. I don’t quite know what to do about that issue, though it does seem to me that it could lead to skepticism about historical events. (Consider: Given the existence of God, what is the probability that Caesar was assassinated? Well, the prior probability would have to take into account God’s (inscrutable) intentions, but you might say that the overall probability factors in the direct historical evidence available. But then what is the probability that God might have fabricated that evidence? Again, inscrutable. So what is the overall probability? Inscrutable.)
    Perhaps I just haven’t given the issue enough thought, but that sort of strikes me as a worry for historical knowledge once we grant that God’s intentions have to be factored into our probabilistic calculations.
    By the way, I wrote a comment a few days ago in response to Robert. Is it still awaiting moderation?

    July 7, 2010 — 23:12
  • Joseph Jedwab

    I think you mean Richard of St Victor. With so many Victorines, it’s hard to keep them straight! πŸ™‚

    July 8, 2010 — 10:47
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Landon,
    I think a substantial number of at least very good minds, and at least two great minds, William Paley and Joseph Butler, were Christians because of the historical evidence for the Resurrection. See Tim McGrew’s annotated bibliography here:
    http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Historicalapologeticsreadinglist.htm
    As for the superiority of Swinburne over Carrier, I’ll present this none-too-far-fetched thought-experiment:
    Imagine that biologist Michael Behe claims that contemporary evolutionary theory can’t account for the development of the cell because it’s irreducibly complex. Imagine that philosopher of biology Elliot Sober challenges that view. Sober probably doesn’t know close to as much biology as Behe, but that doesn’t mean that Sober isn’t the more reliable thinker on this issue. And this is partly because there are philosophical issues, not just historical/biological ones, in play here.

    July 8, 2010 — 12:59
  • Robert,
    I think Gary Habermas became a Christian for the same reason, if I’m accurately remembering his conversion story. (Not sure if you’d consider him a great mind, but he’s at least a very intelligent and well read guy.) My point was simply that many of the great intellects who were Christians probably weren’t Christians because of a careful investigation of the historical evidence. I guess, perhaps, many of them were Christians for that reason too. (By the way, thanks for the additional references. I started reading the McGrews’ chapter on the resurrection, which looks pretty good, but is objectionable right out the gate by accepting questionable historical positions regarding the NT documents. But I’ll read on.)
    As for Swinburne-Carrier, your thought experiment strikes me as a pretty good one, and it does convey your point quite well. I’ve not been swept off my feet by Carrier’s philosophical work; on the other hand, Swinburne is up there with the best of them in my opinion.

    July 8, 2010 — 22:28
  • The existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful being affects probabilities of events (or really of event-types from our perspective) insofar as we think God would be interested in them. Thus, they are neither wholly inscrutable, nor wholly relevant in all cases. Whether Caesar’s crossing is one of them is actually a fun question in a way, but the *point* is simply that *insofar* as God could be expected to give a revelation confirmed by a miracle–and that’s the substance of Swinburne’s argument–then the prior probability of that type of event is not so low that ordinary historical evidence can confirm it to the degree required to make it the best good explanation of the data surrounding the resurrection.

    July 10, 2010 — 17:03
  • Yeah, I had a strong feeling I was getting the wrong Victorine, but that’s what happens when you have about 15 min a day for blogging! Glad there are good people out there to get the details straight! πŸ™‚

    July 10, 2010 — 17:05
  • I’m going to jump in here because Hab is a good friend of mine and a mentor of sorts. He’s extremely honest and a dedicated student of resurrection studies. He is to be trusted.
    And that leads me to my other jump-in comment: OF COURSE most Xns don’t come to believe Xnty b/c of some arguments! Neither do people believe most of the science they know because of arguments! They trust people who they have reason to believe are trustworthy. My credence is Special Relativity is largely like this, and certainly it is for most people. The vast vast VAST majority of people who believe in Common Ancestry do so because of some vague recolection of the cover of a National Geographic for crying out loud!! 99.9% of all knowledge comes via testimony.

    July 10, 2010 — 17:17
  • Robert Gressis

    Just for the record, when I said that Bishop Butler and Archdeacon Paley were both Christians because of evidence for the resurrection, I didn’t mean to suggest (though this is clearly what is suggested, whether I like it or not) that Butler and Paley became Christians in virtue of an argument for the historicity of the resurrection; rather, I meant to say that they were rationally justified in being Christians on the basis of their arguments, which is of course compatible with their having become Christians because of the testimony of experts, the promptings of the Holy Spirit, etc.

    July 10, 2010 — 20:30