An Outside-the-Box Argument for Jesus’ Resurrection
by Steven Dillon
Filed under The Resurrection
Over the years I’ve come to believe that it is unproductive to debate about the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. There are simply too many details for those outside of the small circles of experts to responsibly juggle in a debate format. This opinion led me to look for non-evidential arguments for or against the resurrection.
My initial findings were that the Christian faces insurmountable odds in having to explain why God would (of all things) resurrect Jesus (of all people). After all, supposing that we have in our possession a sound cosmological argument, a cogent teleological argument, and, let’s say, an outstanding axiological argument, what we know about God is frankly very little, and certainly not nearly enough to make us privy to whether or not he would go and do something like resurrect someone from the dead! Moreover, there really isn’t anything non-question begging about Jesus – even by the most credulous historical standards – that would incline God to resurrect him: it’s not as if God would, in seeking to approve of the truth in Jesus’ message, and the importance of his movement, think “I better show my approval…let’s see…I could miraculously prevent his crucifixion…or if I don’t, I could miraculously resuscitate him afterwards…or if I don’t, I could just assume his body into heaven afterwards…no, no…I got it! I’ll resurrect him!” I hope my Christian friends take the point in good humor: it’s only to illustrate the fact that God could have shown his approval of Jesus in any number of ways, and nothing known about God from reason tells us how, if at all, he would do so.
While I am still of the mind that for reasons such as these, there really isn’t any good evidence to think that it was God who resurrected Jesus, I believe I may have come upon an interesting non-evidential reason to think that Jesus was nevertheless resurrected.
The argument does require an evidential consideration, unfortunately. However, it is one that few dispute: after his death, at least one of Jesus’ disciples took herself to have seen the resurrected Jesus.
To those for whom it is true that Biblical scholars are probably in a better position to know whether this claim is warranted (and I think, if we’re honest, that’s basically anyone that’s not a Biblical scholar), it need only be explained that most Biblical scholars think it is in fact warranted.
For example, on pages 372-73 of his The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Mike Licona cites no less than 20 experts on the matter who say as much, a number of whom are not even Christian and describe the claim as beyond doubt and a matter of fact. This also includes the scores who belong to the Jesus Seminar and two surveys conducted by Gary Habermas, the first of which is better known and ranges over hundreds of English, German and French scholars who’ve written on the matter since 1975 and the other lesser known recording sixty more recent critical scholars. In both cases, the results were the same: those included in the survey overwhelmingly thought the claim is warranted.
Normally, in a debate setting, proponents and opponents of Jesus’ resurrection would compete to explain the experience of this early Christian, but none would start by taking it at face value. But, why not?
Consider that we should believe things are as they are perceived to be unless and until we have good reason not to. Without this so called “principle of credulity”, we could not reasonably take any perceptual experience for granted. But, then we could not verify any given perceptual experience, since such verification will itself involve taking some perceptual experience or other for granted. I’m not sure what else to call this position but crazy.
Insofar as we do endorse the principle of credulity and we do have good evidential or deferential reason to think that at least one of Jesus’ disciples perceived him to be resurrected, it should be believed that Jesus was in fact resurrected unless and until there is good reason not to.
We may simplify the foregoing by condensing it into a premise-conclusion format:
- We should believe that things are as they are perceived to be unless and until we have good reason not to.
- Jesus was perceived to have been resurrected.
- Therefore, we should believe Jesus to have been resurrected unless and until we have good reason not to.
This argument, if cogent, would change the discussion in a couple of interesting ways. First, our initial attitude towards the experience of this early Christian should be one of belief, not of skepticism or agnosticism. It would therefore be inappropriate to compete explanations of this experience before we had any reason to suspect it was not veridical. Second, and as implied, we wouldn’t need any evidence that this experience was veridical in order to believe that it was: we’d only need reason to think the experience in fact occurred.
Now, I have claimed that the foregoing argument is interesting, not that it is sound or cogent. Moreover, I did not so much defend its evidential premise as I deferred to those who are best qualified to do so and have. There are many questions to ask and objections to answer, and hopefully we can delve into some of them here.
To wrap up, let’s consider a few of the benefits this argument would have for those interested in the subject. For starters, the argument makes use of premises that those who are not already convinced of the conclusion accept. Thus, non-Christians can accept it without having to become Christian. In fact, non-theists can accept it without having to become theists! How much further could the discussion advance if that hurdle was no longer a hurdle? Secondly, such an argument could begin a new era of discussion on Jesus’ resurrection, one focused not on whether Jesus was resurrected, but by whom or what and to what end. This could clarify immensely what sort of grounds Christians have for identifying YHWH as the God that the cosmological, teleological and other such arguments conclude with. Perhaps it will prove far easier for them to show that it was YHWH who raised Jesus than that it was God. Whatever the case, I’d be interested to hear what you guys think.
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