Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Argument from Special Revelation: Jesus Christ (Part 2)

So I've obviously taken something of a hiatus from the Arguments For God series that I was working on a while back. I managed to get through most of the major ones that I find compelling, including two versions of the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, and the ontological argument. The last one we covered was Part 1 of the final argument in the series, the Argument from Special Revelation. All of these arguments can be found here. I encourage you to have another look at them, including the comments sections.

In that last post I explained what I mean by "Special Revelation." Basically, this is the argument for Jesus' resurrection. It is the last argument in my series, and it is the most important. It is far less cerebral than some of the others, and many find it more relevant. It is certainly more easily used in conversation. And more important than all this, it reveals the most to us about who God is. It is the very basis and reason for everything that Christianity teaches and everything that Christians are supposed to do. For this reason, it is far more personal than the other arguments (even the Moral). If the conclusion that I am going to draw here is correct, then I have a meaningful and joyous reason for existence, and death has truly been defeated. If it is incorrect, then "we are of all people most to be pitied,"1 and I see no hope whatsoever for the meaningfulness of our most beloved ideals: love, goodness, beauty, transcendence, justice, hope itself.

That said, the argument:

The way we establish the authenticity of a historical event like the resurrection of Jesus occurs in two stages: first, we see what evidence is available to us. This is the raw data, and in this case, it comes primarily in the form of certain claims recorded in the documents now assembled into the New Testament.

The second stage is what I will call the explanatory stage. This is where we evaluate the data from stage one. This works in much the same way as the scientific method we all learned in middle school: form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis. We then use certain established criteria to determine the success of the hypothesis (e.g. repeatability, controls, etc.). In evaluating the authenticity of a historical event, we do the same thing: we lay out the competing explanations for the event (the 'hypotheses'), and we evaluate those explanations using criteria that historians have established for just that purpose.

In the end, the explanation that makes the most sense of the most data, and follows all of the criteria the most effectively, is the explanation that is most likely to be true.

Here, I'll just lay out what these criteria are. In the next few posts, we'll examine what the historical data is concerning Jesus' resurrection, look at the most influential explanations for it, and evaluate these competing explanations with the following criteria. In the end, I think you will agree that the hypothesis that "God raised Jesus from the dead," as the church has always held, fares far better than any other explanation.

The criteria:

1. The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data.
2. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope (that is, imply a greater variety of observable data) than rival hypotheses.
3. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power (that is, make the observable data more probable) than rival hypotheses.
4. The hypothesis must be more plausible (that is, be implied by a greater variety of accepted truths, and its negation implied by fewer accepted truths) than rival hypotheses.
5. The hypothesis must be less ad hoc (that is, include fewer new suppositions about the past not already implied by existing knowledge) than rival hypotheses.
6. The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs (that is, when conjoined with accepted truths, imply fewer false statements) than rival hypotheses.
7. The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions 2-6 that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis, after further investigation, exceeding it in meeting these conditions.2

2 From C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 19. Quoted in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 233.

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