bookmark_borderOne Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 6

In Chapter 3 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HOCA), Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli present twenty arguments for the existence of God. The very first argument is one of the Five Ways of Aquinas. This is not surprising, since Kreeft is a Catholic:
The universe is the sum total of all these moving things, however many there are. The whole universe is in the process of change. But we have already seen that change in any being requires an outside force to actualize it. Therefore, there is some force outside (in addition to) the universe, some real being transcendent to the universe. This is one of the things meant by “God”.
Briefly, if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. But it does change. Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe. But the universe is the sum total of all matter, space and time. These three things depend on each other. Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time. It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change. (HOCA, p.50-51)
There may be more than one argument in this passage, but one line of reasoning here goes something like this:
1. If there is nothing outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change, then there is nothing outside the material universe that is causing the material universe to change.
2. If there is nothing outside the material universe that is causing the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.
Thus:
3. If there is nothing outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.
4. But the material universe IS changing.
Thus:
5. There is something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change.
6. The statement “There is something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” means the same thing as “God exists”.
Therefore:
7. God exists.
The intermediate conclusion is premise (5), but (5) does not say anything about God, so another premise is required in order to get the desired conclusion (7) that God exists. Premise (6) provides a logical bridge between (5) and (7) by asserting that two different statements have the same meaning.
But premise (6) is clearly false. The two statements in question are NOT equivalent in meaning. For example, the claim that ‘There is something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” does NOT entail that ‘There is a person who is perfectly morally good’. But ‘God exists’ does entail that ‘There is a person who is perfectly morally good’. (7) entails something that (5) does not entail, so (7) does not have the same meaning as (5).
Premise (6) appears to involve a confusion between sense and reference. It might be the case that the expression ‘something outside of the material universe that can cause the material universe to change’ refers to the same being as the expression ‘God’, but these two expressions don’t have the same meaning or sense. We can improve upon the above argument for the existence of God, by reformulating (6) to be a claim about the reference of the two expressions, rather than about the sense or meaning of the expressions:
(6A) The expression “something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” and the word “God” both refer to the same being.
Kreeft would need to come up with an argument to support premise (6A), but at least it is not obviously false like the original premise (6), and it does the job of providing a logical link between premise (5) and the conclusion (7).
However, premise (6A) in combination with some other assertions made by Kreeft, plus a claim about the logical incompatibility of timelessness and perfect freedom (defended by Richard Swinburne), allows us to build an argument against the existence of God:
(6A) The expression “something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” and the word “God” both refer to the same being.
Therefore:
(8) If God exists, then there is something that has all of the divine attributes and that is outside of the material universe.
(9) If something is outside the material universe, then it is outside of space and time.
Thus:
(10) If God exists, then there is something that has all of the divine attributes and that is outside of space and time.
(11) One of the divine attributes is being a perfectly free person.
Thus:
(12) If God exists, then there is something that is a perfectly free person that is outside of space and time.
(13) It is NOT the case that there is something that is a perfectly free person that is outside of space and time.
Therefore:
(14) It is NOT the case that God exists.
Based on what Kreeft says in spelling out the first argument for the existence of God in Chapter 3 of HOCA, I believe that Kreeft would accept every premise of this argument with the exception of premise (13). But premise (13) is well defended by Richard Swinburne.
According to Swinburne if God is outside of time, then God is totally immutable. But if God is totally immutable, then God is NOT a perfectly free person (The Coherence of Theism, revised ed., p.222) So, if something is outside of time, then it cannot be a perfectly free person. But one of God’s divine attributes is being a perfectly free person, so it is incoherent to assert that ‘God is totally immutable’, or to assert that ‘God is outside of time’.
Swinburne has another argument for the incoherence of the assertion that ‘God is outside of time’, which is based on the trasitivity of simultaneity: If A is simultaneous with B, and B is simultaneous with C, then A is also simultaneous with C. (See The Coherence of Theism, Revised edition, p.228). I won’t spell out this other argument for the incohernce of the assertion ‘God is outside of time’, but Swinburne does make a strong case that this assertion makes a self-contradictory statement, and thus is necessarily false.

bookmark_borderOne Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 5

Here is a creationist argument for the existence of God:
1. If God exists, then it is very likely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.
2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.
3. The basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.
Therefore:

4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.
Here is another creationist argument for God:
5. If God exists, then it is very likely that human beings came into existence very soon after the origin of the earth and life on earth (ie. less than a thousand years later).
6. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that human beings came into existence very soon after the origin of the earth and life on earth (i.e. less than a thousand years later).
7. Human beings came into existence very soon after the origin of the earth and life on earth (i.e. less than a thousand years later).
Therefore:
4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.
These and other arguments can be summed up as follows:

8. If God exists, then it is very unlikely that human beings evolved from simple single-celled organisms over a period of billions of years.

9. If there is no God, then it is somewhat likely that human beings evolved from simple single-celled organisms over a period of billions of years.
10. It is NOT the case that human beings evolved from simple single-celled organisms over a period of billions of years.
Therefore:
4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.
The creationist or anti-evolution premises in these arguments are false, so we can assert the opposite claim, and turn each of the above arguments into an argument against the existence of God. Here is the first argument modified into an argument for atheism:
1. If God exists, then it is very likely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.
2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.
11. It is NOT the case that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.
Therefore:

12. Other things being equal, it is probable that there is no God.
One of the primary reasons or motivations behind creationism is the desire to preserve the belief that the Bible is inerrant, especially the book of Genesis. But the conflict between evolution and religion is NOT limited to a conflict over how to interpret the book of Genesis. All of the arguments for God included in Richard Swinburne’s case for God are based on suppositions about what God would be likely to do (or create) if there were a God. Swinburne’s reasons for what God would be likely to do are independent of the contents of the book of Genesis, as far as I can tell.
Swinburne accepts the theory of evolution as the best explanation for the origin of species, but it seems to me that it is much more likely, a priori, that God would instantaneously create all living things, than that God would create a physical universe that had some tendency to produce living things that would in turn have some tendency to evolve into more complex and more intelligent creatures over a period of billions of years.
In other words, even apart from the book of Genesis, the basic idea of creating all basic kinds of plants and animals at the same time makes more sense as the action of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person, as opposed to the very slow, halting, random, and uncertain process of evolution. If I can make a perfectly good piece of toast in just 30 seconds by using a toaster, why would I spend 50 years making a piece of toast by some other very slow, random, and uncertain process? That would be stupid.
God is the very opposite of stupid. If there is a God, then God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good, and thus we can make reasonable educated guesses about what God would do or not do. God would not use the very slow, random, and uncertain process of evolution to bring humans into existence if he could do so in an instant. God, if God exists, is all-powerful and all-knowing, so God could bring humans into existence in an instant. Therefore, it is very likely that God would NOT use the slow, random, and uncertain process of evolution to bring human beings into existence.
The creationists appear to be correct on that point, even though Genesis does not provide a factually accurate description of the origin of species and of human beings. We do not need the book of Genesis to tell us that it makes more sense for God to create plants, animals, and humans instantly than to use the very slow and random process of evolution to bring about plants, animals, and humans.

bookmark_borderOne Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 4

In A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, there is an article by Jeffrey Jordan on “Pragmatic Arguments”, that covers Pascal’s Wager. According to Jordan, there are at least three versions of Pascal’s Wager. In this post I will examine one of the three versions, which goes something like this:
1. Either God exists or it is NOT the case that God exists.
2. If God exists, then a person who believes in God will be much better off than a nonbeliever.
3. If it is NOT the case that God exists, then a person who believes in God will be no worse off than a nonbeliever.
Therefore:
4. In terms of practical considerations, a person who believes in God will in no case be worse off than a nonbeliever, and there is a chance (if God exists) that a person who believes in God will be much better off than a nonbeliever.
Therefore:
5. In terms of practical considerations, it is better to be a person who believes in God than a nonbeliever.
A similar argument can be made for the opposite conclusion:
1. Either God exists or it is NOT the case that God exists.
6. If it is NOT the case that God exists, then a nonbeliever will be better off than a person who believes in God.
7. If God exists, then a nonbeliever will be no worse off than a person who believes in God.
Therefore:
8. In terms of practical considerations, a nonbeliever will in no case be worse off than a person who believes in God, and there is a chance (if it is NOT the case that God exists) that a nonbeliever will be better off than a person who believes in God
Therefore:
9. In terms of practical considerations, it is better to be a nonbeliever than a person who believes in God.
Premise (6) asserts that nonbelievers have the advantage over people who believe in God, assuming that God does NOT exist. The most obvious point here is that nonbelievers can sleep in on Sunday morning, or as Steve Martin put it, we atheists can watch football in our underpants on Sundays:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wogta8alHiU
Of course being a believer in God does not necessarily mean that one is a devout Christian who goes to church every Sunday, but a person who believes in God is subject to various religious appeals, traditions, and practices, while a nonbeliever has little or no interest in such religious traditions or practices.
A person who believes in God is likely to have various concerns and even anxieties about God:
a. What does God expect of me?
b. Does God care about the happiness and well-being of individual humans?
c. If God does care about the happiness and well-being of individual humans, then why do so many people suffer? Why do so many people die of starvation? Why do so many people die of cancer and other diseases? Why is there so much war and violence in the world?
d. If God does not care about the happiness and well-being of individual humans, then how can we consider God to be a perfectly good person?
e. Has God attempted to communicate to human beings? Is there a book that contains divine revelation, messages of wisdom and guidance from God?
f. If so, which book among alleged divine revelations is truly a message from God?
g. If there is no such book or message from God, then how can we consider God to be a perfectly good person?
h. Is there a religion that is the true religion?
i. If there is a true religion, which of the many existing relgions is the true one?
j. If there is no true religion, then how can we believe that God is a perfectly good person?
k. Does God have a plan or mission for my life? or Does God just have general expectations or requirements for humans?
l. If God does have a specific plan or mission for my life, then how can I find out the contents of that plan?
These are just a few of the obvious questions and concerns that a person who believes in God is likely to take seriously, and ought to take seriously. If someone does not take these and similar questions seriously, then he or she probably does not actually believe in God, but only says so to avoid drawing attention to himself or herself.
A nonbeliever is free of these worries and concerns. If there is no God, then a person who believes in God has taken upon himself/herself a number of issues and concerns that are (assuming there is no God) irrelevant and useless, questions that have no bearing on reality. Belief in God is not strictly a theoretical position; it has practical and psychological implications; it comes with a cost. If there is no God, then one is better off by not taking on the practical and psychological costs involved with belief in God.
Furthermore, as a matter of fact, there is no clear and obvious solution to the problem of evil, and there is no clear and obvious answer to the question ‘Which alleged book of divine revelation is truly a divine revelation?’ nor to the question ‘Which of the many religions in the world is the true religion?’. So, the effort and level of anxiety involved in taking these questions seriously is significant. An authentic and thoughtful believer in God has a whole series of difficult issues to confront and work through, issues that nonbelievers can simply set aside as irrelevant to reality.
Premise (7) asserts that a nonbeliever is no worse off than a believer, even if God does exist. Pascal, and many modern Christians, would object that a believer in God can enjoy eternal life in heaven, while a nonbeliever will (if there is a God) be bound for eternal misery in hell.
But there are some serious problems with this objection. First, Pascal asserts that reason cannot determine whether God exists or not. But ‘heaven’ is understood to be God’s reward to righteous people, and ‘hell’ is understood to be God’s punishment of wicked people. So, if reason cannot determine whether God exists or not, then reason also cannot determine whether there is a heaven or a hell in the next life.
Pascal could reply that we are thinking hypothetically here. We are supposing that God does exist, and trying to figure out the implications of that supposition. If God did exist, then it seems likely that God would reward good people in an afterlife and punish evil people in an afterlife, in order to compensate for the injustices that we see in this life (where evil people sometimes have happy lives and good people sometimes have lives of sorrow and misery).
But being good and being bad is not the same as believing in God or being a nonbeliever. Bad people can believe in God, and good people can be nonbelievers. So, if we are concerned about God giving some people rewards in the afterlife for being good and giving punishments in the afterlife for being bad, then the distinction between believers and nonbelievers is largely beside the point.
Furthermore, Pascal was a Catholic, and Catholic theology does NOT teach that belief in God is what gets a person into heaven. According to Catholic theology, one must die in a state of grace in order to be certain of eternal happiness in heaven. Believing in God might be a necessary condition for dying in a state of grace, but it is clearly NOT a sufficient condition. One must accept other theological and metaphysical doctrines taught by the Catholic church, and one must be baptized, and one must have confessed one’s sins and received absolution, etc.
From a Protestant point of view, salvation is absurdly uncertain in Catholic teaching. One could be a completely devout Catholic every hour of every day for one’s entire life, for 100 years, and then in the last 60 seconds before death, commit a mortal sin and die before confessing or repenting of that sin, and such a person would end up being tortured in hell for all eternity, according to Catholic teaching. Obviously, belief in God accomplishes nothing for such a person.
More importantly, however, the doctrine of eternal punishment is clearly false. God is a perfectly good person, but even imperfect human beings can recognize that torturing a person is morally wrong, even if the person being tortured deserves to be punished for some morally wrong or evil action. It is even more obvious that torturing a person for eternity would be morally wrong, even if the person being tortured deserved some sort of punishment for evil actions. If God is a morally perfect person, then surely God would not stoop to torture, and the idea that God would stoop to torturing a person for an eternity is simply absurd.
So, thinking hypothetically, and supposing that there was a God, I am completely certain that there is no risk that God, who is a perfectly morally good person (based on the meaning of the word ‘God’), would ever consider torturing any human being eternally, not even Adolf Hitler deserves such a horrific fate.
I am also completely certain that a morally perfect person would never torture some people because they did not believe in God in their earthly lifetime, nor would a morally perfect person impose a serious punishment on a person for failing to believe in God. Being mistaken about the issue ‘Does God exist?’ is NOT a moral failing. It is, at worst, an intellectual failing.
A perfectly good and perfectly just deity would not seriously punish a human being for an intellectual failing, particularly if the person in question made a serious effort to figure out the correct and true answer to this question, but made some errors in reasoning, or failed to fully appreciate the force of a certain bit of evidence, and so on.
Yes, Jehovah, the god of the Bible, would send people to hell simply because they held an incorrect metaphysical or theological belief. But Jehovah is clearly a false god, precisely for that reason. I’m not concerned with the question ‘Does Jehovah exist?’, I’m concerned with the question ‘Does God exist?’, and we are NOT considering the hypothesis that Jehovah exists, but rather the supposition that God exists, and that suppostion means that we are thinking about the existence of a morally perfect person, a person who was utterly and completely a good person.
So, do atheist or nonbelievers have anything to fear, if it should turn out that they are mistaken on the metaphysical issue ‘Does God exist?’ No, because God, if God exists, is a perfectly good and just person, and so God, unlike Jehovah, would have absolutely no interest in punishing any human being simply for holding a mistaken metaphysical belief. Thus, atheists have no reason to think there is any chance that God would torture them in hell for being nonbelievers.
Furthermore, since a perfectly good and just deity would judge people in terms of morally relevant considerations (and NOT on basis of philsophical and metaphysical beliefs that were honestly held), nonbelievers have just as much chance of being granted eternal life in heaven as believers.
In fact, nonbelievers might have a better chance, given that God, if God exists, designed the human brain, and presumably wants humans to make good use of the brain he designed. To the extent that nonbelievers are critical thinkers who insist on thinking their own thoughts and arriving at their own conclusions, and refuse to follow religious authorities, refuse to be like sheep following a shepherd, God might well prefer the company of such people over the company of those who are happy to let others do their thinking for them.
If I were God, I would prefer the company of independent-minded critical thinkers to the company of sheeplike people who were credulous and who simply believe what they are told.
Given that God is a perfectly good and just person, we can rule out the doctrine of eternal punishment. Since God is just we cannot rule out punishments or rewards in the afterlife, if it turns out there is a God. But punishments and rewards from a perfectly good and just person would NOT be based on whether someone held particular metaphysical beliefs and theories. Believers in God can be evil people, and nonbelievers can be paragons of virtue, and the reality is that most people are somewhere in the middle, whether they believe in God or not.
Atheists and nonbelievers are therefore not in a worse position than believers concerning happiness in an afterlife, even if we assume that atheists are mistaken and that God does exist. Therefore, since atheists are better off than theists if there is no God, and atheists are not worse off if there is a God, then it is better to be an atheist than to be a theist.

bookmark_borderOne Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 3

Here is a Christian argument for the existence of God:
1. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then God exists.
2. God raised Jesus from the dead.
Therefore:
3. God exists.
There is no need to make this into a modus tollens, because premise (2) clearly begs the question. The claim that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ assumes that there is a God who is available to perform miracles, such as the resurrection of Jesus. But the question at issue is whether God exists, so (2) assumes what needs to be proved.
The above argument can be modified to avoid begging the question:
4. If Jesus rose from the dead, then God exists.
5. Jesus rose from the dead.
Therefore:
3. God exists.
Premise (5) is controversial, but unlike (2) it does not assume that God exists, so (5) does not beg the question, so long as some additional evidence is provided in support of (5). One could make the classic modus tollens skeptical move here:
4. If Jesus rose from the dead, then God exists.
6. It is NOT the case that God exists.
Therefore:
7. It is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead.
In other words, one could argue for atheism as an objection to the resurrection of Jesus. However, premise (4) is questionable. Premise (4) assumes that God alone could raise someone from the dead. But there is no good reason to believe this assumption. If we are willing to entertain the hypothesis that there is a bodiless person with supernatural powers, then we ought to be willing to entertain other supernatural hyptotheses as well, such as the existence of fairies, elves, angels, demons, demi-gods, ghosts, witches, wizards, ESP, telekinesis, pyramid power, magic spells, magic potions, curses, fairy dust, etc.
The Bible itself indicates that God is not the only supernatural being. According to the Bible there are thousands of angels and thousands of demons, and millions of spirits of the dead. So, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, at the most this is evidence that some sort of supernatural being or force exists. It could just be that Jesus was a unique human being that had extraordinary supernatural powers, and that there is no God.
So, the above modus tollens argument only works as an ad hominem argument, as an argument that appeals to a Christian belief which we skeptics do not buy into.
But not only is (4) questionable, I would argue that a good case can be made for the opposite of (4), and thus we have the basis for an argument against the existence of God:
8. If Jesus rose from the dead, then God does NOT exist.
5. Jesus rose from the dead.
Therefore:
9. God does NOT exist.
Premise (8) is controversial, so it needs to be supported:
10. If God exists, then God would not raise a false prophet from the dead, nor would God allow a false prophet to be raised from the dead (because that would be a great deception, and God is a perfectly good person, by definition).
11. Jesus was a false prophet (because he promoted prayer to and worship of a false god: Jehovah).
Therefore:
12. If God exists, then God would not raise Jesus from the dead, nor would God allow Jesus to be raised from the dead.
Therefore:
8. If Jesus rose from the dead, then God does NOT exist.
The problem with my skeptical argument is that premise (5) is highly questionable, and would be rejected by most skeptics. But the skeptical argument could be modified into a dilemma:
13. Either Jesus rose from the dead or it is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead.
14. If it is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is a false religion.
8. If Jesus rose from the dead, then God does NOT exist.
Therefore:
15. Either Christianity is a false religion or else God does NOT exist.

bookmark_borderOne Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 2

Here is another argument for God, based on answered prayers:
1. If God exists, then it is very likely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
2. If it is NOT the case that God exists, then it is very unlikely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
3. Prayers to God for healing from injury or disease are usually immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
Therefore:
4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.
This argument can be reformulated by asserting the negation of premise (3), thus turning the tables and making an argument against the existence of God:
1. If God exists, then it is very likely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
2. If it is NOT the case that God exists, then it is very unlikely that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease would usually be immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
5. It is NOT the case that prayers to God for healing from injury or disease are usually immediately followed by instantaneous and complete healing, except when the injury or disease was the result of self-destructive, foolish, or morally wrong actions on the part of the person who is suffering from the injury or disease.
Therefore:
6. Other things being equal, it is probable that God does NOT exist.

bookmark_borderOne Man’s Modus Ponens…

Here is an argument for the existence of God:
1. If there is a God, then it is very likely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.
2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.
3. There is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.
Therefore:
4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.
I chose to structure this as a probability argument rather than as a modus ponens, but the saying ‘One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.’ (a lovely skeptical principle) can be applied here, in a manner of speaking.
The first two premises seem plausible to me, but premise (3) is clearly false. So, the tables can be turned, and this argument can be reformulated to be used as a reason for rejecting or doubting the existence of God:
1. If there is a God, then it is very likely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.
2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.
5. There is no book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.
Therefore:
6. Other things being equal, it is probable that God does NOT exist.
Obviously, premise (5) is controversial and will require a fair amount of support (including criticism of the Old Testament, the Quran, the Vedas, etc.). But I am quite confident that a strong case can be made for (5), and that a reasonable and open-minded theist could be persuaded by facts and reasons that (5) is true.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 18

When I was a young boy, I enjoyed watching many episodes of Superman on a black-and-white television.  When I was about ten or eleven years old, my family would gather on evenings when the TV show Batman was on; we would eat hot-buttered popcorn while watching the show together.  Later in my life Hollywood began making blockbuster movies about superheroes.  Superman was one of the earlier blockbusters (1978).  For my birthday this year I received a set of Blu-Ray movies called The Dark Knight Trilogy which includes three recent movies with Batman as the central character.  I see that another superhero movie just came out called Man of Steel which is about Superman.
In the USA, people know who Batman is, and who Superman is, and some people know this without ever having read Superman comic books or Batman comic books.  In fact, some people know about Batman and Superman even though they have never read comic books about these heroes and never seen any of the T.V. shows or movies about them either.  These characters are just a part of American culture, and thus people in the USA know about Batman and Superman, even if they have never directly experienced cultural artifacts such as books or movies about these characters.
I know many features or attributes of Superman, and millions of Americans would agree on most of these points, even many Americans who have never read a Superman comic and never seen a Superman movie or TV show:
1. Superman wears a red cape and a special suit with an ‘S’ on his chest, at least when he is fighting crime or rescuing people from danger.
2. Superman can fly, and he can fly very fast, like a jet or a rocket.
3. Superman has X-ray vision.
4. Superman is extremely stong; he has super-human strength.
5. Superman looks like an ordinary human being, at least when he is not in his hero costume.
6. Superman uses his extraordinary powers to fight crime and to rescue people who are in danger.
7. Superman leads a second life, pretending to be an ordinary human being.
8. In his ordinary ‘human’ life, Superman is known as ‘Clark Kent’, a newspaper reporter.
9. Superman loves Lois Lane.
10. Superman can be weakened and even killed by being close to a substance called Kryptonite.
This phenomenon of cultural awareness of specific ‘facts’ about Batman and Superman raises a problem for Bart Ehrman’s ‘Seven Gospels Argument’ (SGA) for the existence of Jesus.  So far in my analysis of SGA, I have granted the key premise that the seven gospel sources are independent sources. What does it mean to say that these sources (which include Mark, Q, M, and L, among others) are independent sources?
First of all, this means that none of these sources made use of one of the other sources.  For example, the author of Mark did not make use of Q as a source for his gospel, nor did Mark use M or L material.  Similarly, Q did not make use of Mark, nor of M or L material, and so on.
Second, this means there was no other written source outside of the seven sources that was made use of by two or more of the seven.  Mark and Q did not, for example draw on a third source, so that some of the corresponding details about Jesus in Mark and Q were based on the use of a common written source.
The idea is that if these seven gospel sources are independent sources, then a plausible explanation of why they each present a Jesus character who is very similar, Jesus characters who have several features in common, is that they are all based on an actual flesh-and-blood human being named ‘Jesus’ (or ‘Yeshua’), as opposed to all being based on a common fictional character in a book.
American awareness of Batman and Superman raises an objection to SGA, namely that a cultural idea can exist and can be transmitted apart from written documents, and even apart from other cultural artifacts (e.g. plays, movies, T.V shows).  Therefore, it is quite possible that a conception of a Jesus-like character existed prior to the time when Jesus was allegedly born, and that this idea existed and was transmitted apart from books or plays about this character (at least for some people, especially for those who could not read or who did not attend plays).
If there was such a cultural idea available, then the Jesus character found in Mark, Q, M, and L could share common features based on this cultural idea, apart from any book or document.  In other words, it is quite possible that there is a common source for the features of the Jesus character in Mark, Q, M, and L even though there was not a common written document used as a source by two or more of the seven gospel sources.
Furthermore, not only is this alternative explanation a real possibility, but we have good reason to believe that at least the core features of Jesus as found in Mark, Q, M, and L are based on a common cultural idea that was present prior to the time of the alleged birth of Jesus, namely the idea of a Messiah.
The idea of a Messiah evolved over a period of centuries, following the reign of King David.  So, there is not simply a single sharply defined concept of ‘Messiah’.  Nevertheless, there are a number of elements or characteristics that were associated with the idea of the Messiah that are reflected in Mark, Q, M, and L’s characterizations of Jesus:
1. The Messiah would be a man (not a woman).
2. The Messiah would be a devout follower of the Jewish faith (not a worshipper of Egyptian gods, not a worshipper of Greek or Roman gods, not a Zoroastrian, not a Hindu, not an animist, etc.)
3. The Messiah would be a descendant of the Hebrew people.
4. The Messiah would live in Palestine.
5. The Messiah would be a very wise person.
6. The Messiah would be a very just person.
7. The Messiah would be a great leader.
8. The Messiah would have appeal not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles.
The idea of the Messiah may not explain all of the corresponding characteristics of Jesus, all of the similarities in how Jesus is portrayed in the seven gospel sources, but it does explain a number of those characteristics; it does provide a plausible explanation for why several of the characteristics of Jesus are common between the seven gospel sources, even if there was no historical Jesus, and even if there was no common written source, or even a common cultural artifact, that was made use of by two or more of the seven gospel sources.

bookmark_borderThe Christian Doctrine of the Resurrection of Jesus

Let’s represent the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus as follows:
(C) The Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is true.
Sometimes the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is summed up this way:
(R) God raised Jesus from the dead.
The Christian doctrine of the resurrection asserts that the resurrection of Jesus was a miracle, and that God caused it to happen:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

(1 Corinthians 15:12-15, NRSV, emphasis added)
The belief that God raised Jesus from the dead is even declared to be a requirement for salvation:
9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

(Romans 10:9-13, NRSV, emphasis added)
Clearly, (R) must be true in order for (C) to be true. (R) is a necessary condition for (C):
C -> R
However, (R) is NOT equivalent to (C). Taken literally, (R) only captures a part of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus. For example, if Jesus had died on a cross in Jerusalem in 30 CE, and remained dead for 1,983 years, and then God brought Jesus back to life yesterday, on November 4th, 2013, then (R) would be true, but the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus would be false, because the Christian doctrine implies that Jesus came back to life early on a Sunday morning less than 48 hours after Jesus was crucified. Or to be a little less precise, the Christian doctrine of the resurrection implies that Jesus was dead for less than one week, and then came back to life.
Similarly, if Jesus had been stoned to death by Jews in Nazareth in 30 CE, and then brought back to life by God a few days later, (R) would be true but the Christian doctrine of the resurrection would be false, because the Christian doctrine implies that Jesus died on a cross in Jerusalem, not by being stoned to death in Nazareth.
Alternatively, suppose that Jesus was stabbed to death in Rome in 30 CE, and then God brought him back to life a couple of days later. Again, (R) would be true, but (C) would be false.
Suppose that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE and he died and God brought him back to life a couple of days later. In this case (R) would be true, but (C) would be false. Note that Pilate would not have been running the show in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and Paul would have already written his letters (about the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus!) and been executed before 70 CE.
So, we see that although the truth of (R) is a necessary condition for the truth of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, it is not a sufficient condition. (R) encompasses other possibilities in which (C) would be false. Therefore, the probability of (R) is greater than the probability of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection:
P(R) > P(C)
The claim that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ assumes or presupposes a couple of basic Christian beliefs:
(G) God exists.
(J) Jesus existed (as a flesh-and-blood human being).
Each of these basic Christian beliefs is a necessary condition for the truth of (R):
R -> G
R -> J
If (R) is true, then both (G) and (J) must also be true:
R -> (G & J)
Let’s summarize the two basic Christian assumptions as a single claim:
(B) God exists AND Jesus existed (as a flesh-and-blood human being).
This conjuctive claim is a necessary condition for the truth of (R):
R -> B
Either (B) is true or it is not (assuming that ‘God exists’ makes a coherent claim). If (B) is not true, then (R) is also not true:
~B -> ~R
We can divide the probability of (R) into two possible cases:
P(R) = [P(R|B) x P(B)] + [P(R|~B) x P(~B)]
In English:
The probability of (R) is equal to the sum of the following two probabilities:
1. The product of the probability of (R) given that (B) is the case and the probability that (B) is the case.
2. The product of the probability of (R) given that (B) is NOT the case and the probability that (B) is not the case.
We already know the probability of (R) given that (B) is NOT the case is ZERO, because (B) is a necessary condition for the truth of (R). So, if (B) is NOT the case, then it follows that (R) is false. This means that we can simply ignore the second case, since (R) has no chance of being true unless (B) is the case:
P(R) = P(R|B) x P(B)
In my opinion the probability of (R) given that (B) is very low, and the probability that (B) is the case is also very low. Based on these assumptions, the probabiity of (R) is very very low, and given that (R) is a necessary condition for (C) and that there are various possibilities in which (R) could be true while (C) is false, the probability of (C) would be something less than the very very low probability of (R).
I’m not going to try to prove that my estimate of the probability of (R) is true, at least not in this post. Richard Swinburne wrote a fairly long and very dense book developing a philosophical argument for the claim that the probabiltiy of the existence of God is (at least) a bit higher than .5, and so I won’t attempt to build a case for a lower probability in just one short blog post. But I do want to illustrate the implications of the above simple probability equation.
In my view, the question of the existence of God is not one about which one can arrive at a conclusion with certainty. So, if knowledge requires certainty, then I would be correctly categorized an ‘agnostic’. However, I don’t believe that knowledge requires certainty, especially when the question at issue is ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘Did Jesus really exist?’ So, I don’t think of myself as an agnostic on either question. I prefer to think of both of these questions in terms of evidence and probability. It is possible that by examining the available relevant evidence one could arrive at a justified true belief about the existence of God, or about the existence of Jesus. But the justification would not be one that makes the belief certain.
Probability is generally measured on a scale from 0 to 1. If the probability of (G) was 0, that means that it is certain that God does NOT exist. If the probability of (G) was 1, that means that it is certain that God does exist. Given my misgivings about certainty on these questions, I like to focus in on nine other possible positions:
P(G) = .9
P(G) = .8
P(G) = .7
P(G) = .6
P(G) = .5
P(G) = .4
P(G) = .3
P(G) = .2
P(G) = .1
If the probability of (G) is estimated as .9, this means that (G) is very probable.
If the probability of (G) is estimaged as .1, this means that (G) is very improbable.
There are various other positions between these extremes. If the probability of (G) is estimated as .5, this means that (G) being true is about as probable as (G) being false.
Currently, I favor the view that Jesus existed as a flesh-and-blood human being, but there are grounds for doubt about this, so I would estimate the probability of (J) to be about .8. I’m much more skeptical about the existence of God, so I would estimate a probability of no more than .1 for (G). Since (B) is simply the conjunction of (G) and (J), the probabity of (B) equals the probability of the conjunction of (G) and (J):
P(B) = P(G & J)
The probability of a conjunction is calculated this way:
P(G & J) = P(G|J) x P(J)
What is the probability that God exists given that Jesus existed (as a flesh-and-blood human being)? I believe that this probability is equal to, or is very close to being equal to, the probability that God exists, period. In other words, the existence (or non-existence) of a flesh-and-blood Jesus is irrelevant to the question of whether God exists. If it could be proven that Jesus performed miracles, or that Jesus was omnipotent or omniscient, then those facts might well be relevant to the issue of the existence of God, but we are not talking about such claims here. What is in view here is the bare-bones claim that Jesus existed as a flesh-and-blood human being, and this claim tells us nothing about whether Jesus performed miracles or demonstrated amazing powers. The mere existence of an historical Jesus does not help decide the question ‘Does God exist?’ Thus, we can simplify the above equation:
P(G & J) = P(G) x P(J)
This equation is not entailed by the more complex equation, but based on our understanding of the relationship between (G) and (J), we are able to substitute ‘P(G)’ for ‘P(G|J)’.
I would estimate the probability of (G) to be very low, and would represent this as follows:
P(G) = .1
I would estimate the probability of (J) to be high, but not very high, so I would represent this as follows:
P(J) = .8
P(G & J) = P(G) x P(J) = .1 x .8 = .08
Since P(B) = P(G & J), we can infer that:
P(B) = .08
In order to calculate the probability of (R), I need to come up with an estimated probability for it being the case that God raised Jesus from the dead given that God exists AND Jesus existed (as a flesh-and-blood human being). I believe that I can assign this scenario a very low probability on the following grounds:
1. God (if God exists) would not raise a false prophet from the dead.
2. Jesus (if Jesus existed) was a false prophet.
Therefore:
3. God (if God exists) would not raise Jesus (if Jesus existed) from the dead.
Based on this argument, and my great confidence in the correctness of the premises, I would estimate the probability that God raised Jesus from the dead given that God exists and that Jesus existed to be very low:
P(R|B) = .1
So, given my judgments, my estimated probabilities, the overall equation goes like this:
P(R) = P(R|B) x P(B) = .1 x .08 = .008
So, the probability that God raised Jesus from the dead would be about .01 (rounding the calculated answer), or one chance in 100, and the probability that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection was true would be something less than that, because P(R) > P(C):
P(C) < .01
OK. Enough about me and my opinions. Let’s consider some other possible viewpoints, and see how the probability equation works in other cases.
Some people might be more skeptical than me concerning the existence of Jesus. Suppose some skeptical person agrees with me that the existence of God is very improbable, but is convinced that it is also very improbable that Jesus existed as a flesh-and-blood human being. The following would be reasonable probability estimates for such a person:
P(G) = .1
P(J) = .1
Given these estimates we could calculate the probability of (B):
P(B) = P(G & J) = P(G) x P(J) = .1 x .1 = .01
Suppose this skeptic agreed with me that Jesus (if Jesus existed) was a false prophet, and that God (if God existed) would never raise a false prophet from the dead. In that case this skeptical person might well agree that it was very improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead given that God exists and the Jesus existed:
P(R|B) = .1
Now we can plug this skeptic’s estimated probabilities into the equation:
P(R) = P(R|B) x P(B) = .1 x .01 = .001
Given that the probability of the truth of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection is lower than the probability of it being the case that God raised Jesus from the dead, this skeptic should conclude that the probability of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection being true is less than one chance in a thousand:
P(C) < .001
Now let’s consider a person who was not as skeptical as I am, and how the probability equation would work for such a person.
Let’s suppose that this person read Swinburne’s case for God in the book The Existence of God and agreed with the conclusion that the probability of the existence of God was greater than .5. Suppose this person agreed with my view that Jesus probably existed but that his existence was less than very probable. In that case, the probability estimates for this person might well be as follows:
P(G) = .6
P(J) = .8
In this case the probability of (B) could be calculated this way:
P(B) = P(G) x P(J) = .6 x .8 = .48
Suppose this person was unconvinced by my argument concerning Jesus being a false prophet, and was inclined to say that given the existence of God and of an historical Jesus, it would be somewhat probable that God raised Jesus from the dead, but not very probable. In that case this person might well agree with this probability estimate:
P(R|B) = .7
Now we can use the equation to calculate a conclusion:
P(R) = P(R|B) x P(B) = .7 x .48 = .336
If we round the conclusion off, the probability of (R) would be .3 or three chances in ten. Given that the truth of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is less probable than (R), this person, would properly draw this conclusion:
P(C) < .3
So, even this person who was much less skeptical than I am, ought not to accept the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.
Let's consider a person who was even more inclined towards Christian faith, and see how the probability equation works for this person. Suppose this person believes that it is very probable that God exists, and believes that it is probable that Jesus existed, but not very probable. In that case this person might well accept the following probability estimates:
P(G) = .9
P(J) = .8
We can now calculate the probability of (B):
P(B) = P(G) x P(J) = .9 x .8 = .72
Suppose this person rejected my argument about Jesus being a false prophet, and agreed with the above view that it was somewhat probable that God raised Jesus from the dead given that God exists and that Jesus existed. This person might well agree with the following probability estimate:
P(R|B) = .7
Now we have the input required to calculate a conclusion:
P(R) = P(R|B) x P(B) = .7 x .72 = .504
So, this person should conclude that the probability of (R) is about .5, and since the probability of the truth of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection is less than the probability of (R), this person, who is much more inclined towards Christian faith than I am, ought to draw the conclusion that the probability of the truth of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection is less than five chances in ten:
P(C) < .5
Clearly, in order to rationally arrive at a positive conclusion about the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, one must believe that each of the three key items are very probable:
P(G) = .9
P(J) = .9
P(B) = P(G) x P(J) = .9 x .9 = .81
P(R|B) = .9
Here is how the calculation would work for such a person with such a strong inclination towards the Christian faith:
P(R) = P(R|B) x P(B) = .9 x .81 = .729
If we round off the calculated probability, we see that even starting with the assumption that each key item was very probable (i.e. probability of .9), the conclusion would be that there were about seven chances in ten that God raised Jesus from the dead, and the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus would be a bit less probable than that:
P(C) < .7
Based on these examples and calculations, it seems to me that nobody has a right to be dogmatic about the truth of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, nor even about the weaker claim that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’. The best case scenario for Christianity is that a reasonable person could justifiably believe that it was somewhat probable that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus was true. Such a conclusion would be based on assumptions that each of three key probability estimates concerning controversial claims were in the ‘very probable’ range.