Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bad Arguments Against the Resurrection, Part 5

Bad Argument #5: Arguments based on prior probability.

Hume is dead and should stay dead, but some people think the very fact that most people in the world who have died and stayed dead is a relevant argument against the Resurrection. It isn’t. Thankfully, historians are starting to turn the tables on this point of view (Mike Licona discussed this in great depth in his latest book, and I discussed it much less in my own), but what it boils down to is, “prior probability” is a bad argument.

The Resurrection involves the acting on of a person, by a person, for a specific purpose. Jesus was raised for the purpose of validating his honor as God’s covenant broker. The “prior probability” argument places Jesus in the broader category of ALL dead persons when it should be using a far narrower category: Persons who brokered on behalf of God who were killed shamefully and required being raised to reverse that shame. There weren’t that many such people to begin with, so raising “prior probability” is statistically without basis.

Or even, covenant brokers who were vindicated by God by itself. In that category setting, the OT offers several examples of God vindicating people – everything from appearing to Moses at the burning bush to defending Elijah from the prophets of Baal. Add those in, and "prior probability" becomes much higher that God would do it again for Jesus, even if in a different way.

Of course, critics will have their own arguments on other aspects of those events. But the “prior probability” argument is a bit of a sham because it gets to define the category as broadly (or as narrowly) as one wishes and establishes probability on that basis.


  1. But if you're doing a Bayesian assessment of the probability of Jesus' resurrection, shouldn't factors such as "Jesus was brokering for God" and "Jesus was shamefully executed," etc., count as evidence? If so, then it shouldn't be included in "background information" or "prior probability."

  2. I don't know enough about Bayesian probability to say; but I have a general statistics background, and from the way the atheist was using this argument, it amounts to arbitrary selection of categories to establish probability the way they needed it to be.