bookmark_borderWhy I Reject the Resurrection – Part 3: Improbability of the Resurrection

IMPROBABILITY
Some Christians believe that it is certain that God raised Jesus from the dead; other Christians believe that it is very probable but not certain that God raised Jesus from the dead.  Some people believe that it is probable but not very probable that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Some skeptics believe that it is certain that the claim God raised Jesus from the dead is FALSE, but other skeptics believe that it is very improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead but not certain that this claim is FALSE.  Some people believe that it is improbable but not very improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead.

  • A belief that is certain has a probability of:  1.0
  • A belief that is as probable as not has a probability of:  .5
  • A belief that is certainly false has a probability of:  0

We can make probability evaluations more precise by defining numeric values for some common probability expressions:
1. It is certain that X is false:
the probability of X  is 0.
2. It is very improbable that X is true but not certain that X is false:
the probability of X is less than .2 but is greater than 0.
3. It is improbable but not very improbable that X is true:
the probability of X is less than .4 but is at least .2.
4. It is about as probable as not that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .4 but is less than .6.
5. It is probable but not very probable that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .6 but is less than .8.
6. It is very probable but not certain that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .8 but is less than 1.0.
7. It is certain that X is true:
the probability of X is 1.0.
 
RESURRECTION
See comments in the “Resurrection” section of Part 2 of this series.
 
IMPROBABILITY OF THE RESURRECTION
The main claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, (GRJ), assumes or implies various other related Christian beliefs:

(GE) God exists.

(GPM) God has performed miracles.

(JEP) Jesus was a Jewish man who existed in Palestine in the first century.

(JWC) Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 CE.

(DOC) Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.

(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem about 48 hours after he was crucified.

(JRD) Jesus rose from the dead.

If any of these claims are improbable, then (GRJ) is also improbable.  If (GE) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable.  If (GPM) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable.  If (JEP) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable, if (JWC) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable, and so on.  Conversely, each of these claims must AT LEAST be probable in order for (GRJ) to be probable.
Furthermore, because we must in general multiply probabilities of individual events to obtain the probability of a complex event, even when each individual event is probable, the complex event (or claim) which consists in the conjunction of those various individual events (or claims) might well be improbable.
The probability of rolling a die and getting an even number (2, 4, or 6) is .5, but the probability of rolling a die twice and getting an even number on both rolls is .5 x .5 or .25.  The probability of rolling a die three times and getting an even number on all three rolls is .5 x .5 x .5 = .125, just a little over one chance in ten.
The multiplication of probability applies to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, (JRD). Suppose that the probability of (JEP) was .8, and that the probability of (JWC) was .8 given that (JEP) is true (and 0 if (JEP) is false), and suppose that the probability of (DOC) was .8 given that (JWC) is true (and 0 if (JWC) is false), and suppose that the probability of (JAW) was .6 given that (DOC) is true, then the probability of (JRD) would be approximately:
.8 x .8 x .8 x .6 = .3072
or about three chances in ten.  Thus, (JRD) could be improbable, even if the various individual claims related to it were ALL either probable or very probable.

bookmark_borderHow NOT to Argue for Agnosticism

I recently purchased a couple of introductory books on the philosophy of religion.  One of the books is by a contemporary analytic philosopher of religion, Richard M. Gale, titled: On The Philosophy Of Religion (Thompson Wadsworth, 2007).  The other is by a philosopher named Gary Cox, who is not a specialist in philosophy of religion: The God Confusion (Bloomsbury, 2013; hereafter: TGC)  Gary Cox is a British philosopher who appears to be primarily interested in Sartre and existentialism.
Gale’s book is aimed at undergraduate philosophy students, but it jumps right into contemporary analytic philosophy of religion, so although I find the book very interesting, there are passages that are not exactly “user friendly”,  for example, in the first chapter Gale explores some of the details of contemporary objections and replies about divine omniscience:
There are two other responses that also seem to require too little of God’s omniscience.  That it rains (tenselessly) at t4 reports one and the same event as does that it is raining now; for given that now = t4,  its raining now is one and the same event as its raining at t4.  Therefore, God knows of “its raining now” only under that description but not under the description “its raining at t4.”  But an omniscient being must not just know of the occurrence of every event but know of it under every description that is true of it, that is, he must know every proposition that truly reports the occurrence of the event.  (On The Philosophy of Religion, p.14)
There are many passages even in this first chapter that are as challenging, or more challenging, to read and follow.
Gary Cox’s book is an easier read, and it usually avoids the technical details of contemporary analytic philosophy of religion.  In Chapter 3, “The Existence of God”,  Cox does a good job of laying out the main traditional arguments for the existence of God, and he shows that there are serious problems with each of those arguments.  Cox provides a little bit of history of philosophy, and clearly presents the traditional objections to the traditional arguments for God: Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’ cosmological arguments, teleological arguments by Aquinas and Paley, and Kant’s moral argument.  Chapter 3 presents a readable and informative introduction to philosophy of religion in about 100 pages.
However, Gary Cox also gives one of the lousiest arguments for agnosticism that I  have seen.  He argues that agnosticism is the only reasonable position on the question of the existence of God: “…agnosticism is the only tenable philosophical position…” (TGC, p.3).  Cox claims that his book
…simply explores in an objective and unbiased way what philosophers have said over the centuries about the idea and nature of God, his relationship to the world and his existence or non-existence. (TGC, p.3)
Cox commits a blatant Straw Man fallacy against both theism and atheism in an effort to make agnosticism appear to be the only reasonable point of view:
As for atheism, to be an outright atheist is to assert that one knows for sure there is no God.  But I am pretty sure that nobody knows this for sure.  As I tried to show in How to Be a Philosopher, philosophy reveals that there is very little if anything that we can know for absolute certain…
I have always argued that it is my scepticism that prevents me from being an atheist, from committing myself to such a strong position of certainty. …(TGC, p.5)
In the above passage Cox defines atheism this way:
DEFINITION OF “ATHEIST” (by Gary Cox)
Person P is an atheist IF AND ONLY IF person P claims to know for an absolute certainty that there is no God.
Cox implies that the word “theist” should be understood in a similar way:
Even in our scientific age there are still millions of people who claim to know for certain that God exists. (TGC, p.54)
Although Cox is correct that there are millions of such dogmatic theists, he fails to note that there are ALSO millions of theists who are NOT so dogmatic.  According to a survey by Pew Research Center, 63% of adults in the USA claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists, but 26% of adults in the USA claim to believe in God, but to be less than “absolutely certain” that God exists (20% claim to be only “fairly certain”, 5% claim to be “not too certain” or “not at all certain” that God exists, and 1% claim to believe in God but “don’t know” that God exists).  http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/belief-in-god/
In 2014, when this survey was taken, the U.S. adult population was 244.8 million, so that means that about 154.2 million adults in the U.S. claimed to be “absolutely certain” that God exists, while 63.6 million adults in the U.S. claimed to believe in God, but to be less than “absolutely certain” that God exists.  Therefore, millions of Americans believe in God, but do NOT claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists.
According to a survey by Pew Research Center, 76% of Christians in the USA claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists, but 22% of Christians in the USA claim to believe in God, but to be less than “absolutely certain” that God exists (18% claim to be only “fairly certain”, 3% claim to be “not too certain” or “not at all certain” that God exists, and 1% claim to believe in God but “don’t know” that God exists).  So, even among Christian believers in the U.S., there are millions who believe in God, but do not claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists.   http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/christians/christian/#belief-in-god
Because there are millions of American adults who believe in God, but who are not dogmatic about this belief, it is blatantly unfair for Gary Cox to imply that to be a theist or believer in God MEANS that one is a dogmatic believer in God who claims to be “absolutely certain” that God exists.  This is a blatant and obvious Straw Man fallacy.  Cox dismisses theism by suggesting that in order to believe in God, one must take the extreme position that one knows for an absolute certainty that God exists.
Cox dismisses atheism by the very same unfair and idiotic use the of Straw Man fallacy.  For example, he distorts the viewpoint of Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists”:
A number of high-profile evangelical atheists…are belligerently spreading the New Atheist gospel that God definitely does not exist, and that any suggestion that he might exist is utterly ridiculous. 
The problem with atheism, philosophically speaking, is that it is a very strong belief position, no less strong than theism.  It claims to know beyond all possible doubt that God does not exist.  But as philosophers who understand that there are strict limits to knowledge have long argued, it is not even possible to know beyond all doubt that the external world does or does not exist.  Now, if I cannot even prove or disprove the existence of the desk I seem to clearly see and feel before me, then how on earth can I hope to utterly prove or disprove the existence of a supreme transcendental being?  (TGC, p.56)
Although there is very little of philosophical value in Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion (which was apparently the inspiration for the title of Gary Cox’s book), one important point that Dawkins correctly emphasizes is that both theism and atheism come in different degrees.
There are absolutely certain theists, and absolutely certain atheists, but there are also theists who believe that the existence of God is nearly but not completely certain, and atheists who believe that the non-existence of God is nearly but not absolutely certain, and there are theists who believe that the existence of God is very probable but not nearly certain, and atheists who have a similar belief about the non-existence of God, etc.  If Cox had bothered to read The God Delusion, then he would have learned that his definition of “atheist” and his definition of “theist” are clearly unfair and unreasonable (see pages 50-51 of The God Delusion).
Dawkins himself does NOT claim to be “absolutely certain” that God does not exist:
That you cannot prove God’s non-existence is accepted and trivial, if only in the sense that we can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything.  What matters is not whether God is disprovable, but whether his existence is probable. (The God Delusion, p.54)
So, Gary Cox, if he had bothered to read The God Delusion, would have learned that his extreme definition of “atheist” does NOT apply even to the leading “evangelical atheist”.  That reduces his definition to absurdity.  If not even Dawkins is categorized as an “atheist” according to Cox’s definition, then that definition is clearly a piece of crap (i.e. it is SPODS, a Steaming Pile Of Dog Shit).
But even if Dawkins, contrary to fact, was a dogmatic atheist who claimed to know for an absolute certainty that there is no God, that would still fail to provide anything near sufficient evidence in support of Cox’s idiotic definition of “atheist”.  One can no more define “theist” by the beliefs of Pat Robertson, than one can define “atheist” by the beliefs of Richard Dawkins.  The views of one particularly vocal “evangelical atheist” do not form the basis for an accurate definition of the word “atheist”; this is NOT how to accurately characterize the views of millions of atheists.
Here is Cox’s argument, in summary form:

1. Atheism is the belief that the non-existence of God is known with absolute certainty.

2. Theism is the belief that the existence of God is known with absolute certainty.

3. Agnosticism is the belief that the existence of God is NOT known with absolute certainty and that the non-existence of God is also NOT known with absolute certainty.

4. Atheism, theism, and agnosticism are the only three intellectual options concerning the existence of God.

5. Nothing can be known with absolute certainty.

THEREFORE:

6. Agnosticism is the ONLY reasonable intellectual option concerning the existence of God.

Given Cox’s idiotic definitions of “atheist” and “theist” and his definition of “agnosticism”, he can infer his desired conclusion.  But based on these definitions, there are millions of  American adults who believe in God, but who are NOT theists and who are instead “agnostics”.  And based on Cox’s idiotic definitions,  Richard Dawkins is NOT an atheist, but is just another agnostic.  And based on Cox’s definitions, most people who reject or deny the belief that God exists are NOT atheists but are simply agnostics.
These definitions are obviously false and distorted definitions, adopted merely to portray the alternatives to agnosticism as stupid and obviously false points of view.  But the fact of the matter is that millions of believers in God are NOT dogmatic theists who claim that it is “absolutely certain” that God exists, and there are many people who reject the belief that God exists and who believe that there is no God, who are NOT dogmatic atheists who claim to be absolutely certain that there is no God.  Cox is guilty of an obvious and idiotic use of the Straw Man fallacy in his argument for agnosticism.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 5: The Meaning of “Faith”

The Beating Heart of Unapologetic
The heart of the book Unapologetic is Chapter 5:  “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”, and the heart of Chapter 5 is the Ten Reasons that Loftus gives for this conclusion (in the subsection of Chapter 5  titled “Why Philosophy of Relgion Must End,” on pages 131-135), and the heart of the Ten Reasons is in Reason #9 (on page 135).  And at the heart of the argument given as Reason #9 is this premise:
…faith-based reasoning must end.  (Unapologetic, p.135)
It is not an overstatement to say that Mr. Loftus is a crusader against faith, and that this book is a part of his crusade against faith.  This is made clear from the start of the book, beginning with the Introduction:
Philosophy of religion must end because there is no truth to religion.  Religion must end because it isn’t based on evidence, but rather on faith.  Faith must end because it is the antithesis of an intellectual virtue.  Faith has no objective method and solves no problems.  Faith-based belief processes are unreliable.  Faith cannot tell us anything about matters of fact like the nature of nature, its workings, or even its origins.  If faith is trust then there is no reason to trust faith.  (Unapologetic, p.13, emphasis added)
The dividing line is between atheist philosophers who think faith has some epistemic warrant and those who don’t.  I don’t.  Faith has no method, solves no problems, and is an utterly unreliable guide for knowing anything objective about the nature of nature.  (Unapologetic, p.14-15, emphasis added)
There is further confirmation in Chapter 1 (“My Intellectual Journey”) that the dragon Mr. Loftus wants to slay is “faith”.  In Chapter 1 we learn that Loftus did not invent this crusade himself, but joined in an already existing crusade against faith led by Peter Boghossian:
Boghossian first got my attention a year before I read his provocatively titled book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.  I first heard of him when a talk he gave titled “Faith Based Belief Processes are Unreliable” hit the web in April 2012.  He began by critically examining several paranormal beliefs where faith was shown to be unreliable for gaining knowledge. …he said, “We are forced to conclude that a tremendous number of people are delusional.  There is no other conclusion that one can draw.”  …[and] he said, “The most charitable thing we can say about faith is that it’s likely to be false.”  He had a way of putting things that resonated with me.  Faith itself is the problem.  (Unapologetic, p.32, emphasis added)
Before I, or any person who is a critical thinker (i.e. who “sits at the adult table”) chooses to join Loftus in his crusade against “faith”, we need to have a very clear understanding of what Loftus means by the word “faith”.
Rush Limbaugh’s Crusade Against “Liberalism” 
Rush Limbaugh is undeniably on a crusade against “liberalism”.  But before I, or any person who is a critical thinker (i.e. who “sits at the adult table”) chooses to join Limbaugh in this crusade, we need to understand what Limbaugh means by “liberalism”.
I think that Limbaugh has no clue what the word “liberalism” means.  This word is just an unclear insult that Limbaugh casts upon any person or any law or any policy or any program that Rush Limbaugh happens to dislike.
If Limbaugh dislikes X this week, then X becomes a “liberal” policy or program or person.  If Limbaugh changes his mind, and decides that he likes X next week, then X will cease to be a “liberal” policy or program or person, and it will magically and instananeously become a “conservative” policy or program or person.  So, one ought NOT to join Limbaugh in his crusade against “liberalism” because that would simply mean joining a crusade against whatever it is that Limbaugh happens to dislike this week.
One ought NOT to join a crusade against “liberalism” unless and until one has a reasonable and clear idea of what the word “liberalism” actually means.  Similarly, one ought NOT to join a crusade against “faith” unless and until one has a reasonable and clear idea of what the word “faith” means.  Otherwise, we might well end up on a crusade against whatever it is that Loftus or Boghossian happen to dislike this week.
There is nothing wrong or unreasonable about joining a crusade against something, but there is something highly unreasonable about joining a crusade against “X” when we have no clear idea of what “X” means.  Those of us who “sit at the adult table” do NOT join crusades without first being very clear about the purpose of the crusade.
I Was Wrong
In Part 4 of this series I admitted that I was wrong in making the following criticism (in Part 3 of this series) of Loftus’ book Unapologetic:
His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
This statement is incorrect and unfair to Loftus, especially in relation to the meaning of the key word “faith”.  On closer examination, Loftus makes several statements in Unapologetic which appear to be brief definitions of the word “faith”, and some, though not all, of those definitions are fairly clear.
I have now read the Introduction, and Chapters 1 though 8 of Unapologetic.  I don’t plan on reading Chapter 9, because the title of that Chapter (“On Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire”) indicates that it is not relevant to the main question at issue (and that it assumes one has accepted Loftus’ point of view about faith and is willing to join his anti-faith crusade).
I have found statements that appear to be brief definitions of “faith” in each of the eight chapters that I read, except for Chapter 3.  There is some redundance and overlap between these statements, so the seven definition-like statements do not represent seven different definitions.  My view is that there are two main definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic that are worthy of serious consideration, and these two defintions are both stated more than once in the book.
Loftus NEVER says “Here is my definition of ‘faith’…” or “Here is how I define ‘faith’…” or “This is a good definition of ‘faith’…” or anything that clearly identifies a statement about faith as being a definition of faith.  The closest he ever comes to being clear about the nature of these statements is in Chapter 4, where he begins a statement about faith with these words:
 I consider faith to be…  (Unapologetic, p.92).
So, Loftus has given himself a degree of “plausible deniability” by failing to label any of his statements about faith as recommended definitions of “faith”.
But because it is so obviously idiotic to lead a crusade against “faith” without providing a clear definition of what the word “faith” means (that would be something that an idiot like Rush Limbaugh would do), I think it is fair to assume that the definition-like statements that Loftus makes about “faith” in his book Unapologetic are in fact recommended defintions of the word.  I am going to assume (for now at least) that Loftus belongs “at the adult table” with the rest of us critical thinkers, and thus that he did in fact provide at least one or two recommended defintions of “faith” in his book Unapologetic.
Definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic
Below are the seven passages that appear to contain brief definitions of the word “faith”.  The statements in red font are what I take to be the primary defintions, the definitions worthy of serious consideration.  The phrase “cognitive bias” appears in blue font to show how often it appears in (or near) these apparent definitions:
Chapter 1:  
Faith adds nothing to the probabilities.  It has no method and solves no problems.  If faith is trust we should not trust faith.  It’s a cognitive bias keeping believers away from objectively understanding the truth.  (Unapologetic, p.37, emphasis added)
Chapter 2:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (Unapologetic, p. 55, emphasis added)
Chapter 4:
…faith is always about that which lacks sufficient evidence or even no evidence at all.  I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all… (Unapologetic, p. 92, emphasis added)
Chapter 5:
Just consider what’s wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses….  Faith.  The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.  If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities by proportioning their belief to the evidence (per David Hume), they would not believe at all.  (Unapologetic, p.125, emphasis added)
Chapter 6:
Faith should one day be labeled a cognitive bias.  It keeps one’s cognitive faculties from functioning properly.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.152, emphasis added)
Chapter 7:
 Because faith requires special pleading and so many other informal fallacies, I can say faith itself is a fallacy.  It’s certainly a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the probabilities on behalf of faith. (Unapologetic, p.169, emphasis added)
Chapter 8:
 I take David Hume’s principle as axiomatic, that the wise person should proportion his or her conclusions to the available evidence.  Going beyond the probabilities of the evidence is unreasonable.  That’s what faith does when we embrace it.  Faith takes believers beyond the probabilities.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.194, emphasis added)
The definition of “faith” from Chapter 1 is defective because it is a genus/species defintion, that is incomplete, because it fails to spell out the species part of the definition.  The genus of “faith” is “a cognitive bias”, according to this definition, while the species portion of this defintion states that this particular cognitive bias keeps people “away from objectively understanding the truth”.  Both parts of the definition are fairly clear, but the species part is redundant and adds nothing to the definition.
ALL cognitive biases keep people “away from objectively understanding the truth”–that is simply an implication of what it means to be a “cognitive bias”.  The second part of the definition is true or correct, but uninformative; it fails to specify a particular TYPE of cognitive bias, because it states something that is true of any and every cognitive bias.  So, this definition is not worthy of any further serious consideration.
The defintion of “faith” given in Chapter 2 is also a genus/species defintion, and both genus and species parts of the definition appear to be fairly clear.  Furthermore, the species part of the definition properly distinguishes one TYPE of cognitive bias from other cognitive biases.  So, this definition, unlike the one in Chapter 1, is worthy of further serious consideration.  Furthermore, although Loftus does not repeat this definition verbatum, he does provide a definition in Chapter 7 that is very similar:
It’s certainly a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the probabilities on behalf of faith. (Unapologetic, p.169)
This partial repitition of the definition in Chapter 2 indicates that this is an important definition to Loftus.  The definition in Chapter 7, however, is not as good as the one in Chapter 2, because the defintion in Chapter two  (a) is more specific about HOW “the probabilities” get overestimated, and (b) does not use the word “faith” as part of the definition of the word “faith” (which is a violation of a basic principle of Critical Thinking, and is thus unworthy of consideration by those who are sitting at the adult table).  So, I will focus my attention on the definition in Chapter 2, and ignore the similar definition given in Chapter 7.
The definition in Chapter 4 reinforces the idea that the genus of faith is, for Loftus, a “cognitive bias”, but the rest of this defintion is problematic:
…that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true…
The phrase “giving permission” is metaphorical, and is thus a problematic expression to use in a definition statement, and the whole idea of “pretending what they believe is true” is unclear and problematic.  It might well be the case that people sometimes  “pretend what they believe is true”  but this is, in most cases, a difficult sort of thing to identify and verify, so this seems like a bad criterion to use in a definition of a key concept.  Other definitions provided by Loftus do not involve such tricky and difficult to identify and verify characteristics.  So, I’m going to ignore this definition in Chapter 4.
The definition in Chapter 5 is also problematic because it makes use of metaphorical language: “leap over the probabilities”.  Also, the definition in Chapter 7 already links “faith” to “probabilities” in a clearer way.
Since the definition in Chapter 7 is very similar to the definition in Chapter 2, I can borrow the concept of “overestimates the probabilities” from the definition in Chapter 7, and use it to modify the definition in Chapter 2, so that one definition that I seriously examine will explicitly relate “faith” to estimation of “probabilities”:
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claim in question.
This modified version of the Chapter 2  definition of “faith” combines key elements of that definition with a key element of the definition in Chapter 7, and it also gets at the intention behind the definition of “faith” in Chapter 5, while avoiding the unclear and problematic language used in the Chapter 5 definition.
The definition in Chapter 6 seems to be a significant departure from the definition in Chapter 2, and it seems to be a fairly clear defintion which does not make use of metaphorical or problematic language.  Furthermore,  Loftus repeats this definition verbatim in Chapter 8, so it is clearly an important defintion to Loftus.  For these reasons, I plan to give some serious consideration to the definition of “faith” from Chapter 6:
Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.152)
I have already indicated some problems with the defintion of “faith” given in Chapter 7, and I have already incorporated a key idea from the definition in Chapter 7 into the definition given in Chapter 2, so I will not be giving separate consideration to the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 7.
The brief one-sentence definition of “faith” given in Chapter 8 is identical to the definition given in Chapter 6, so I will only use the passage containing this definition in Chapter 8 for background or context, in order to further clarify the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 6, if there is a need to clarify that definition further.
The Modified Definition of “faith” from Chapter 2
The definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 is fairly clear, as is my modified verion of this definition, which borrows a key element from the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 7.  There are no metaphorical expressions in the Chapter 2 definition, nor in the modified version of that definition:
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claims in question.
Metaphorical language is NOT appropriate for definitions of key words and phrases that are used in philosophical arguments.  Metaphorical language is fine if one is writing a poem, or a song, or a novel, or a speech, but metaphorical language tends to be “rich” and thus vague and/or ambiguous, so one should avoid using metaphorical expressions in definitions of key words and phrases whenever possible. Those of us who sit at the adult table try to avoid using metaphorical expressions when we define key words and phrases that are used in philosophical arguments.
I understand that Loftus did not write Unapologetic only for professional philosophers, so the use of metaphorical expressions here and there can be justified as useful for purposes of persuasion and style, but the use of metaphorical expressions in definitions of key words also provides a good reason for rejecting those defintions, or at least a good reason for preferring other defintions that avoid the use of metaphorical expressions.
The definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 and the modified version of that definition are, in a way, too clear.  I say that because, they are clear enough to make it easy to identify these as being definitions of ANOTHER concept, a very important concept in the theory of critical thinking and in the field of informal logic, namely:  CONFIRMATION BIAS.
CONFIRMATION BIAS is a cognitive bias that causes PEOPLE to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence [for claims that they believe], which in turn results in PEOPLE overestimating the probability of the claims in question.
If we take Loftus definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 seriously (and assume that he belongs at the adult table), or if we take the modified version of that definition (which incorporates a key element from the defintion in Chapter 7) seriously, then a very imporant implication follows:
FAITH simply IS the same thing as CONFIRMATION BIAS
This implication has both positive and negative aspects, from Loftus’ point of view.  Here are some of the positive aspects of this implication:

  • The definition of “faith” proposed in Chapter 2 is not only clear, but it can be made even clearer in view of the scientific study of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • I and many other atheists and skeptics would gladly join a crusade to fight against the evil of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • There is a good deal of existing scientific data, research, and theory that already exists about CONFIRMATION BIAS, so our understanding of this evil can be significantly enhanced by lots of empirical data, scientific studies, and scientific theories.

But from Loftus’ point of view, this implication also has some negative aspects:

  • How is it that a word that has been used for many centuries (i.e. “faith”)* happens to have the very same meaning as a term that was invented by a modern scientific psychologist in the second half of the 20th century  (in about 1960)? This casts doubt on the correctness of Loftus’ definition of “faith” in Chapter 2):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Cathcart_Wason#Early_studies
  • Given that the dragon that Loftus wants to slay is CONFIRMATION BIAS, isn’t it foolish to drag the unclear and controversial word “faith” into the fray?  The use of the word “faith” as the target of attack creates all kinds of political and social and psychological resistance and backlash, which is completely unnecessary if what we are fighting against is simply CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • CONFIRMATION BIAS is a universal human problem;  it is not a problem isolated to Christians, nor to religious believers.  Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, marxists, communists, and your run-of-the-mill “nones” (non-religious people who may not identify themselves as atheists or agnostics or skeptics) ALL suffer from this cognitive bias.  If all of the religious people in the world vanished into thin air tonight at midnight, then tomorrow morning the world would still be populated by people who have serious intellectual deficiencies due to CONFIRMATION BIAS.  Religion is (at most) a symptom of the evil of CONFIRMATION BIAS,  not the primary cause of it.  The problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS is a universal human problem.

To be continued…
===========================================
* The word “faith” (spelled as “feith”) appears in the first English translation of the New Testament, which was a hand-written manuscript created by John Wycliffe in about 1378, more than six centuries ago…
1378 Wycliffe New Testament: First Printed Edition (1731) Facsimile Reproduction
“The very first translation of the scriptures into the English Language was done in the 1380’s by John Wycliffe, who is called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”. Because he lived nearly a century before the 1455 invention of the printing press, his New Testaments and Bibles were of course, hand-written manuscripts. Wycliffe is also credited with being the inventor of bifocal eyeglasses (necessity being the mother of invention), though history tends to more frequently credit Ben Franklin with improving upon Wycliffe’s invention of bifocals.”
“Wycliffe’s hand-written manuscripts of the English scriptures are very challenging to read, but being the very first English scripture translation (albeit a translation from the Latin, and not the original Biblical languages), the Wycliffe translation is extremely historically important. For this reason, in the 1731, a reprint of Wycliffe’s circa 1378 manuscript was produced in modern easier-to-read type. It preserves the original Middle-English spellings and wordings 100% faithfully, but it simply makes the text easier to read by rendering the text as typeface, rather than being hand-written.”
http://greatsite.com/facsimile-reproductions/wycliffe-1731.html
Here is the Wycliffe’s translation of  the opening verses of 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, which includes the word “feith” in verse 9 (click on image below for a clearer view of the text):
The word FAITH in 1 Cor 12
 
 
 
 
 

bookmark_borderCases for God

I’m thinking about which cases for the existence of God to focus in on, for my evaluation of Christianity.  Right now, I’m thinking about examining the cases of four well-known Christian apologists:

  • Norman Geisler
  • William Craig
  • Peter Kreeft
  • Richard Swinburne

I just realized that two of these philosophers are Thomists, and two are not Thomists.
Geisler is a conservative Evangelical Christian, but his favorite argument for God is a Thomist cosmological argument, and his concept of God is clearly shaped by the thinking of Aquinas (see his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics entry “God, Nature of”, especially the sections on “Simplicity” and on “Immutability”).
Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher of religion, and his favorite arguments for God are the “Five Ways” of Aquinas (which reflects a complete misunderstaning of Aquinas, since the “Five Ways” are NOT arguments for the existence of God), and Kreeft has written a commentary on selected sections of Summa Theologica by Aquinas (called Summa of the Summa).  The commentary is an attempt to make the thinking of Aquinas about God and theology more accessible to the general public, because Kreeft admires Aquinas and believes most of what Aquinas has to say about God.  So, Geisler and Kreeft are both Thomists.
Craig, however, rejects the key Thomist notion of God’s “simplicity”:
According to the doctrine of divine simplicity God has no distinct attributes, he stands in no real relations, his essence is not distinct from his existence, he just is the pure act of being subsisting.  All such distinctions exist only in our minds, since we can form no conception of the absolutely simple divine being.  While we can say what God is not like, we cannot say what he is like, except in an analogical sense.  But these predications must in the end fail, since there is no univocal element we assign to God, leaving us in a state of genuine agnosticism about the nature of God.  Indeed on this view, God really has no nature; he is simply the inconceivable act of being.
[…]
The doctine [of divine simplicity] is open, moreover, to powerful objections.  For example, to say that God does not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same property as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other. … (Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Craig, p.524)
It’s wonderful to have Craig’s help to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, since Craig provides some powerful reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God as incoherent and as logically implying “agnosticism about the nature of God”.  I’m starting to like Craig a bit more now.
Swinburne clearly rejects the immutability and timelessness of God, which are key aspects of the Thomist concept of God, so Swinburne also provides some very good reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God, and thus one of the brightest and best modern Christian philosophers will also help me to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft.
My work is already half done, and I have not even begun!
====================
UPDATE on 10/12/16
====================
William Craig made a podcast earlier this year in which he criticized the Thomist concept of God:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-it-possible-god-is-not-personal
“Is it Possible God is Not Personal?”
Dr. Craig takes on two interesting questions on the personhood and nature of God.
[Transcript of a podcast with Kevin Harris and William Craig. Date: 04-09-2016]
Edward Feser replied to Craig’s criticisms (in the above podcast) of the Thomist concept of God :
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/04/craig-on-divine-simplicity-and-theistic.html
FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2016
“Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism”
[blog post by Edward Feser]
 

bookmark_borderSkepticism and Conjunctions

Belief in God and belief in the Christian faith are both vulnerable to skepticism in view of the fact that both beliefs consist in conjuctions.
Some of the key divine attributes are:

  • eternally bodiless
  • eternally omnipotent
  • eternally omniscient
  • eternally perfectly morally good
  • the creator of the universe

In order for God to exist, there must be one and only one person who has all five of these divine attributes.
If there is an omnipotent person who is evil or morally flawed, but no omnipotent person who is perfectly morally good, then there is no God.  If there is an omniscient person who is not omnipotent, but no omniscient person who is omnipotent, then there is no God.  If there is a perfectly morally good person who has a body, but there is no perfectly morally good person who is bodiless, then there is no God.  Each of the above attributes is a necessary condition for something to be God, so if there is no being who has all five of these attributes, then theism (classical western theism) is false.
The probability that there is an eternally bodiless person is LESS THAN the probability that there is an eternally bodiless person who is also eternally omnipotent.  I don’t see any logical or causal connection between being an eternally bodiless person and being an eternally omnipotent person, so it appears that the multiplication rule of probability would apply here.  If there is a one in a million chance that there is an eternally bodiless person, and a one in a million chance that there is an eternally omnipotent person, then the probability that both claims are true is  one millionth times one millionth:
1/1,000,000  x  1/1,000,000 =   1/1,000,000,000,000
Furthermore, not only do we need to have a person who is eternally bodiless and a person who is eternally omnipotent, but we need to have one person who has both of these attributes, which is even less probable because that represents only one particular scenario out of the various possibilities in which there is at least one eternally bodiless person and at least one eternally omnipotent person.
To the extent that the divine attributes are independent of each other, we can multiply the small probabilities and derive even smaller probabilities.
An eternally omnipotent person could eventually decide to cause itself to become bodiless or to become omniscient, but if an omnipotent person caused itself to BECOME bodiless or to BECOME omniscient, then it clearly would not be an eternally bodiless person, nor an eternally omniscient person.  So, the power of an omnipotent person to give itself new attributes is irrelevant to the question of the existence of God.
Similarly, an eternally omniscient person might eventually use it’s knowledge to become an omnipotent person or a bodiless person, but if it caused itself to BECOME omnipotent or to BECOME bodiless, then it would not be eternally omnipotent or eternally bodiless.  So, the ability of an eternally omniscient person to use its knowledge to obtain other divine attributes is irrelevant to the question of the existence of God.
Theism must fight a steep uphill battle against the multiplication of probabilities, because theism implies the assertion that there is a person who possesses MANY (at least five) different divine attributes, each one of which is such that it is improbable that there is any person who has the attribute.
Christianity is also vulnerable to skepticism in view of the fact the Christian faith consists in a CONJUNCTION of SEVERAL beliefs:

  • God exists.
  • Jesus existed.
  • Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 C.E.
  • Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
  • Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours afer he was crucified.
  • Jesus rose from the dead.
  • God caused Jesus to rise from the dead.
  • All human beings have sinned (except for Jesus).
  • All human beings have souls.
  • Any human being who has sinned deserves eternal punishment.
  • Jesus’ death on the cross provided atonement for the sins of all human beings.
  • Any human being can obtain an eternal life of happiness by repenting of his/her sins and believing that Jesus is the divine Son of God and savior of humankind who died for our sins and who was raised from the dead by God.

This is only a partial list of some basic Christian beliefs.  If just one of these beliefs is false, then Christianity is false, at least traditional or orthodox Christianity is false.
Some modern Christians reject the physical resurrection of Jesus, so they don’t accept the belief that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after he was crucified”.  But such Christians still believe in some sort of “resurrection”, and that alternative view is a part of their modern version of Christianity.
Some Christians reject the idea of eternal punishment, but they still believe in some sort of divine judgment, so they have some alternative to eternal hellfire, such as annihilation of a person.  This, again, is an alternative belief that substitutes for the traditional belief that “Any human being who has sinned deserves eternal punishment”.
So, although there are modern and non-traditional versions of Christianity available, those alternative versions usually substitute some alternative belief for a traditional Christian belief that has been rejected. Non-traditional versions of Christianity, like the traditional version of Christianity, consist of several basic beliefs, some of which are modified or revised versions of traditional Christian beliefs.
If somone claims to be a Christian yet rejects most of the above traditional Christian beliefs and does NOT substitute some alternative beliefs in place of the rejected beliefs, then this non-traditional “Christian” might well be nothing more than a theist (or even a pantheist) who is pretending to be a Christian believer, but whose worldview has very little connection to the Christian religion.  Belief in the existence of God is NOT sufficient to make a person a Christian.  There is clearly some flexibility in the concepts of “Christian” and “Christianity”, but there is a limit to that flexibility.  Concepts can be stretched only so far before they break.
Many of the dozen basic traditional Christian beliefs listed above are improbable.  Some of these beliefs are independent of each other.  The existence of God, for example, has little or no impact on the probability of the existence of Jesus.  The non-existence of God has no significant implications as to whether there was an historical Jesus.  The existence of God also has no significant implications as to whether there was an historical Jesus.  We can investigate these two questions independently.
The existence of God does have some relevance to the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead and whether God raised Jesus from the dead.  Obviously, if there is no God, then it is NOT the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.  But Jesus might have risen from the dead even if there were no God.  Perhaps Jesus was simply an extraordinary human being with extraordinary powers.  Or perhaps there were highly advanced space aliens who used advanced medical knowledge and technology to bring Jesus back to life.  So, the resurrection of Jesus is not entirely dependent on the existence of God.
Clearly, it is also possible that God exists but that Jesus did not rise from the dead.  Perhaps the deists are correct that God does not intervene in human affairs, and God refused to intervene in the death of Jesus, just like God refused to intervene in the deaths of millions of innocent people over the past few thousand years.  So, even if the Christian wins the debate on the existence of God, that still leaves the questions about Jesus open to skepticism and doubt.
Because there is a significant number of independent beliefs and a significant degree of independence even with those Christian beliefs that have some logical or causal relationship,  probabilities must generally be multiplied here.  Although Christians often assert these beliefs dogmatically and with great confidence, it seems clear to me that an objective evaluation of these beliefs can at most arrive at the conclusion that the belief is probable or in a few cases, very probable.  But with a dozen beliefs at issue, it is highly probable that at least one of the dozen or so of these beliefs is false.
Let’s suppose that the beliefs were all independent of each other, just to see the skeptical power of multiplying probabilities.  Even if each of the twelve beliefs was evaluated to have a probability of .8,  the probability of the conjunction of all twelve beliefs is low:
.8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 =  .068719476736
= approximately  .07  (less than one chance in ten)
Since an objective evaluation of these beliefs will generally result in a judgment that the probability of a claim is less than .5  (most of these beliefs are improbable), even if we are generous and allow that some of the beliefs could be evaluated as very probable (say .8), the average probability is going to be no more than about .6 (somewhat probable).  This generous evaluation of the probabilities of these dozen beliefs would then result in an even lower probability than the previous calclulation:
.6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 =  .002176782336
= approximately  .002  (two chances in 1,000)
Because the Christian faith involves accepting a conjunction of SEVERAL beliefs (most of which are improbable), even if we skeptics are generous in granting that each of the basic Christian beliefs is somewhat probable (e.g allowing for an average probablility of .6) it is highly probable that at least one of these beliefs is false.  If objectivity and probability play a significant role in a person’s reasoning, then skepticism will win the war, even if skepticism doesn’t win each and every battle.
=================
UPDATE on 9/25/16
=================
I failed to mention one of my favorite examples of skepticism and conjunctions:
(GRJ) God raised Jesus from the dead.
This is an important and basic Christian belief.  Although this is a brief sentence, it packs a lot into just a few words.
The meaning of this sentence, in the context of the Christian faith, can be analyzed in terms of a number of claims that must all be true in order for (GRJ) to be true:

  • God exists.
  • Jesus existed.
  • Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 CE.
  • Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified.
  • Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after being crucified.
  • If Jesus came back to life after he died on the cross, that was because God caused Jesus to come back to life.

Strictly speaking, Jesus could have been burned alive at the stake, or strangled to death, or beheaded, or stoned to death, or drowned, and then came back to life.  But these alternative possibilities would imply that the Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus were purely fictional, and so these alternatives would seriously undermine the credibility of the Gospels and of the Christian faith.  Thus, in the context of the Christian faith (GRJ) is NOT compatible with just any kind of cause of the death of Jesus.  The context eliminates many logical possibilities that a simple and context-free interpretation of (GRJ) would peremit.
None of these claims is certain.  There are very good reasons to doubt the existence of God, even if one is impressed by one or more of the arguments offered in support of the existence of God.  Swinburne, for example, argues that the probability of the existence of God is above .5, but he does not argue that the probability of the existence of God is above .6 (at least, not in his book The Existence of God).
Although I think it is probable that Jesus existed, I have argued that the case for the existence of Jesus is less than compelling, and that an objective evaluation of the probability would be somewhere between .6 and .8.
Christian apologists and many biblical scholars claim that the crucifixion of Jesus is almost certain, but I have argued that even if we ASSUME that Jesus did exist, there are still good reasons to doubt the claim that Jesus was crucified, and that the probability (on the assumption that Jesus did exist) is significantly less than 1.0  (perhaps .8 or .9).
That Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified is a priori improbable, because it usually took a number of days for a victim of crucifixion to die, and there are many legitimate grounds for doubting the accuracy of the details of the Gospel accounts of Jesus crucifixion and death, so this claim is subject to significant doubt.
If we ASSUME that Jesus really existed, that he really was crucified, and that he really did die on the cross on the same day he was crucified, then the claim that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem a couple of days later is a priori extremely improbable, and since the Gospel accounts are filled with contradictions and inconsistencies on this issue, and since we have no eyewitness accounts of the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus in Jerusalem, this claim is subject to very serious doubt.
I have also argued that it is clear that Jesus was a FALSE PROPHET, and so it is highly improbable that God, if God exists, would raise Jesus from the dead, because that would constitute a great deception, but God is, by definition, an eternally perfectly morally good person, and so God would be very ulikely to be involved in such a great deception.
In order for (GRJ) to be true, all of the above six claims must be true.  The issue of the existence of God is, largely, independent from the issue of the existence of Jesus.  These issues can reasonably (for the most part) be evaluated independently of each other.  The existence of Jesus can also (for the most part) be evaluated independently of the question of whether Jesus was crucified, and although the death of Jesus by crucifixion on the same day he was crucified requires that Jesus first be crucified, this further claim has problems or doubts that still hold even on the assumption that Jesus was in fact crucified.
There is an obvious dependency between the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the day he was crucified and the claim that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after being crucified, but the dependence between these claims goes AGAINST the Christian belief that BOTH of these claims are true.  In other words, the truth of one of the claims would make the probability of the other claim very low.
The probability of God being the cause of Jesus coming back to life (assuming that God exists and that Jesus came back to life) is based primarily on considerations about the character and motivations of God, and thus this probability is (for the most part) independent of the probabilities of the various alleged historical events in the life of Jesus.
Because the various claims that constitute (GRJ) have probabilities that are (for the most part) independent of each other, calculating the probabilty of (GRJ) would involve multiplication of the probabilities of the six claims above (with some minor adjustments here and there).  Thus, the skeptical problem of conjunctions arises with this important and central Christian belief.
 

bookmark_borderWhat Does “Supernatural” Mean? Part 2

====================== 

Perhaps in lieu of starting from scratch on this issue, readers might want to consider what others have already said on this issue.  …
======================
I plan to take Keith Augustine’s advice, just not this week.  Maybe next week, or maybe next month.  See his comments on the first post in this series, where he provides various links to web articles on this subject (I have added copies of Augustine’s comments at the end of this current post, because it is difficult to search through all of the comments on the first post).
It is interesting to note that the words “supernatural” and “supernaturalism” don’t appear in dictionaries and encyclopedias of philosophy: not in Flew’s A Dictionary of Philosophy (surprisingly), not in Lacey’s A Dictionary of Philosophy, not in Baggini & Fosl’s Philosopher’s Toolkit, not in Sparkes’ Talking Philosophy: A Wordbook, not in Ward’s Fifty Key Words in Philosophy, not in Gutmann’s Philosophy A to Z, not in Thiselton’s A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion, not in Evans’ Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion, not in Audi’s The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, not in Honderich’s The Oxford Guide to Philosophy, not in Edward’s 1967 The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, not in Borchert’s 2006 (2nd ed.) Encyclopedia of Philosophy, not in Craig’s Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, not in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and not in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
My wife and daughters like to read the book before they see the movie.  This was especially true with the Harry Potter series of books and movies.  They had to finish the book first, before allowing themselves to go see the movie based on that book, or before watching the DVD.
I have a similar habit concerning conceptual/definitional issues in philosophy of religion.   I like to think about the issue for a while on my own, before I go read what other people have to say about it.  I don’t want the ideas of others to prejudice or distort my own thinking, at least not at the start of my investigation.
Also,  since I use the word “supernatural” myself, I have an intellectual obligation to understand what I mean by the word, and what I mean be the word might be different from what somebody else means by the word.  No article or book can reliably spell out what I mean by the word (although, obviously I didn’t invent the word; I learned the word from reading, conversing, listening to others, watching movies, etc.), so my mind is my best resource for understanding the logical structure of my own thoughts, for figuring out what I mean by a particular word or phrase.
I do, however, allow myself one initial external resource: a dictionary.  The definitions in a dictionary are NOT an ultimate authority, and they certainly do not determine what it was that I had in mind when I used a particular word on a particular occasion.  But, dictionary definitions are a good place to start, and since I feel free to disagree with dictionary definitions, they can offer a springboard for working out my own meaning or use or understanding of a word.  If a dictionary definition doesn’t quite fit my own understaning of word,  I can usually tweak or revise the dictionary definition, keeping a significant portion of the definition as-is, and come up with a good initial attempt at an analysis of what I mean by the word.
What does my dictionary have to say about the meaning of the words “supernaturalism” and “supernatural”?
SUPERNATURALISM 

  1.  The quality of being supernatural.
  2. Belief in a supernatural agency that intervenes in the course of natural laws.

(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition, p.1221, emphasis added)
The second definition is the sense in which I and the humanists, atheists, and skeptics that I quoted, use this word.
Note that “supernaturalism” in this second sense is defined in terms of the word “supernatural” and the word “natural”, more specifically in terms of the phrases “supernatural agency” and “natural laws”.
SUPERNATURAL

  1. Of or pertaining to existence outside the natural world.
  2. Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural laws; miraculous.
  3. Of or pertaining to a deity.

(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition, p.1221, emphasis added)
All three definitions seem relevant, at least initially.  However, the third definition is clearly too narrow, taken by itself.  When I use the word “supernatural” I have in mind more than just God and the attributes of God, and more than just dieties in general.  I have in mind, for example: ESP, angels, magic, ghosts, levitation, demons, mind-reading, and souls, in addition to God and the finite gods of polytheistic religions.
Note that “supernatural” in the first and second senses is defined in terms of the word “natural”, specifically in terms of the phrases “the natural world” and “natural laws”.  The third definition of “supernatural” is the only definition that does not use the word “natural” as part of the definition.
NATURAL

  1. Present in or produced by nature.
  2. Of, pertaining to, or concerning nature: natural science.
  3. Conforming to the usual or ordinary course of nature: a natural death.
  4. a. Not aquired; inherent: Love of power is natural to man. b. Having a particular character by nature: a natural leader. 
  5. Free from affectation or artificiality; spontaneous.
  6. Not altered, treated, or disguised: natural coloring.
  7. Faithfully representing nature or life.
  8. Expected and accepted: Marriage seemed the natural and logical sequence to love.

(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition, p.832, emphasis in original)
There are actually fourteen different senses of “natural” as an adjective in my dictionary, but the definitions 9-14 were clearly irrelevant, so I just left those out.  In fact, definitions 5-8 also do not appear to be relevant to clarifying the word “supernatural”.
Definitions 1-3 seem relevant, and possibly also 4a and 4b.  Definitions 1-3 as well as definition 4b define “natural” in terms of the word “nature”.
So, based on the dictionary definitions above, “nature” appears to be the most basic concept from which the other concepts are constructed:
nature–>natural–>supernatural–>supernaturalism
As with the word “natural”, there are several definitions or senses of the word “nature”:
NATURE

  1. The material world and its phenomena.
  2. The forces and processes that produce and control all the phenomena of the material world: the laws of nature.
  3. The world of living things and the outdoors: the beauties of nature.
  4. A primitive state of existence, untouched and uninfluenced by civilization or artificiality.
  5. Theol. Man’s natural state as distinguished from the state of grace.
  6. Kind; type: something of that nature.
  7. The essential characteristics and qualities of a person or a thing: the nature of the problem.
  8. The fundamental character or disposition of an individual; temperament: had a sweet nature.
  9. The natural or real aspect of a person, place, or thing.
  10. The processes and functions of the body: the call of nature.

(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition, p.832-833, emphasis in original)
Definitions 1 and 2 are clearly relevant to attempting to clarify the words “natural” and “supernatural”.  Definitions 3 and 4 might be of some relevance.  Definitions 5-10 seem to be irrelevant for those purposes.
To be continued…
===============
Keith Augustine
Perhaps in lieu of starting from scratch on this issue, readers might want to consider what others have already said on this issue.
The definition of ‘natural’ and ‘naturalism’ was the subject of my master’s thesis a decade-and-a-half ago:
http://infidels.org/library/mo…
Outside of his book Sense and Goodness without God, Richard Carrier has also taken on giving a positive characterization of ‘natural’ and ‘naturalism’ athttp://richardcarrier.blogspot… and http://richardcarrier.blogspot… and
http://richardcarrier.blogspot…
Paul Draper has also taken up this issue on, among other places, The Secular Web:
http://infidels.org/library/mo…
Evan Fales’ chapter in Michael Martin’s The Cambridge Companion to Atheism is on “Naturalism and Physicalism.”
Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro characterize a position they call “broad naturalism” (distinguished from the narrow variety, i.e., materialism/physicalism):http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23844-…
I’m sure there are other discussions, but those are the ones I know about offhand.
=====================
Keith Augustine
Actually, SEP *does* have an entry on naturalism by David Papineau, but he means something different than simply the rejection of the supernatural:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entr…
It’s interesting that Alan Lacey’s dictionary doesn’t have anything on naturalism, as he is the author of the brief naturalism entry in Ted Honderich’s Oxford Companion to Philosophy (quoted in full here:http://www.rationalskepticism…. ).
At the time I wrote my thesis in 2001, I was unaware of any extended discussion of naturalism as an ontology, or any philosophical discussion at all of what constitutes the metaphysical (or “theoretical” as I call it in my thesis) natural/supernatural distinction. (It turned out that Paul Draper had at least already discussed the definition of naturalism in a few places, but I didn’t know this at the time I wrote the thesis.)
In my experience when philosophers talk about naturalism, they almost always use it as a synonym for naturalized epistemology (seehttp://www.iep.utm.edu/con-met… ), not as a label for an ontology that rejects the existence of supernatural events/causes/forces/agents/entities. (Indeed, I think many people misread the PhilPapers survey results on “Metaphilosophy: Naturalism” to be about how many philosophers accept anti-supernaturalism, when in fact the question is aimed at whether epistemology can be entirely “naturalized”–seehttp://commonsenseatheism.com/… )
I suspect that the dearth of discussion of naturalism in the sense that interests us has occurred because “anti-supernaturalism” is so foundational to contemporary philosopher’s views that they don’t bother to defend it, in the same way that very few metaphysicians bother to defend “anti-solipsism.” Similarly, you don’t find much discussion of mind-brain dependence in a general way in the philosophy of mind (outside of God debates, say) rather than narrower conceptions like type identity, token identity, supervenience, constitution, realization, emergence, and so on, because philosophers of mind tend to take general mind-brain dependence itself for granted and are interested in pinning down exactly what metaphysically undergirds such dependence.
======================
Keith Augustine

  1. Gene Witmer’s “Naturalism and Physicalism” (from the The Continuum Companion to Metaphysics, published in 2012) has a good metaphysical discussion of both how to characterize naturalism and physicalism (as a species of naturalism), as well as how to define terms like ‘natural’ and ‘physical’:

Witmer-Naturalism-and-Physicalism.pdf
=====================
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism? – Part 2

Levels of Analysis

I’m going to make a second attempt to clarify and define the word “atheism”.  This time, I will emphasize that the analysis and definitions exist at different levels.  Swinburne’s clarification and analysis of “God exists” makes use of different levels of definition or analysis:
Level 0:  “God exists.”
Level 1:  God exists IF AND ONLY IF exactly one divine person exists.
Level 2:  X is a divine person IF AND ONLY IF X is a spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 3: X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 3:  Person P is a perfectly morally good person IF AND ONLY IF  P is so constituted that P always chooses to do the best action when there is a best action, or one equal best action when there are  two or more equal best actions available, or a good action when there is no best or equal best action, and P never chooses to do a bad action.
Level 3:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
In Level 1, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words or phrases in Level 0.  In Level 2, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definition in Level 1.  In Level 3, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definitions in Level 2, and so on…
I am not saying that this is a good or correct analysis of “God exists” , just that I think it is a good idea or strategy to analyze complex ideas this way, with levels of definition or analysis.  One advantage is that we might be able to arrive at agreement more easily at the lower levels (such as at Level 1 or Level 2) than at the higher levels (such as Level 3 or higher), and that would still be progress worth making.
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Atheism is Opposition to Theism

Etymology does NOT determine the meaning or use of a word.  However, in the case of the word “atheism”, etymology does reflect the basic logic of the word.  Atheism is in opposition to theism.  Roughly speaking, an atheist is someone who REJECTS or DENIES theism.  The concept of atheism is logically dependent on the concpet of theism.  One can know what “atheism” means only if one knows what “theism” means.
Just as theism is an intellectual position, so atheism is an intellectual position.  It is a common mistake to think that “atheism” refers to the lack or absence of theistic belief.  Newborn babies lack theistic belief, but that does not mean that newborn babies are atheists.  Newborn babies are neither thesits nor atheists nor agnostics.  Newborn babies do not have an intellectual position about the existence of “God” or about the existence of “gods”.
Cats and dogs lack theistic belief, but neither cats nor dogs are atheists.  Cats and dogs have no intellectual position on the question “Does God exist?” nor on the question “Do any gods exist?”   Cats and dogs are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.  Rocks and trees lack theistic belief, but rocks and trees are NOT atheists.  Rocks and trees do not have an intellectual position on the question of the existence of God, or gods.  Rocks and trees are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.
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The Ambiguity of the Word “Theism”

But the word “theism” is somewhat unclear and problematic, which in turn makes the word “atheism” somewhat unclear and problematic.   First of all, “theism” is an ambiguous word:

theism

n. Belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.
(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition)
Sometimes “theism” is used in a broader sense that refers to belief in any sort of god or gods.   Sometimes the word “theism” is used in a narrow sense that refers to traditional western theism (the dictionary speaks of belief in “a personal God as creator…”).  To be clear about which of these senses one intends, we can use adjectives to qualify the term “theism”.
traditional western theism – the belief that God exists (where this belief is understood in keeping with the  traditional concept of God found in the three major western religions).
general theism – the belief that one or more gods exist.
Because there are two differnent senses of the word “theism”, there are two different senses of the word “atheism” that correspond to those two senses of “theism”:
weak atheism – the rejection of traditional western theism.
strong atheism – the rejection of general theism.
If one rejects general theism, then this implies that one ought to also reject traditional western theism.  If one rejects the claim that “There is at least one god”, then one ought to also reject the claim “God exists”, because “God exists” logically implies that “There is at least one god.”  Therefore, if one accepts strong atheism, then one ought also to accept weak atheism, because strong atheism logically implies weak atheism.
But one can reject traditional western theism without rejecting general theism.  One could, for example, reject the claim “God exists” because one believes that the concept of “God” contains a contradiction (say, between the divine attribute of omniscience and the divine attribute of perfect goodness), but have no similar objection to the concept of a “god”, and thus not reject general theism.  Thus it is possible to accept weak atheism without accepting strong atheism.
Given the disambiguation of “theism” and the corresponding disambiguation of “atheism”, it follows that one can be both a theist and an atheist without self-contradiction.  One could accept weak atheism (and thus reject traditional western theism) while also accepting general theism, by believing in the existence of one or more (finite) gods.  For example, if a person believes that Zeus exists, then that person believes that “There is at least one god” (namely Zeus), but that person might also REJECT traditional western theism, and thus reject the claim that “God exists”.  Such a person would accept weak atheism and also accept general theism.  Therefore, such a person would be both an atheist (in accepting weak atheism) and also a theist (in accepting general theism).
Here are some general advantages to the above proposed terminology:
1. It  encompasses the insight that  atheism is an intellectual position, and avoids the common mistake of viewing atheism as being merely the lack or absence of a particular belief.
2. It recognizes the ambiguity of the word “theism” and avoids confusion and equivocation by the use of adjectives to clarify which of the two senses of the word is intended.
3. It recognizes the logical dependency of the concept of  “atheism” on the concept of “theism” by creating a set of two categories of “atheism” corresponding to the two categories of “theism”.
4. The use of the word “rejection” (as opposed to “denial” or “negation” or “false”) allows the term “atheism” to include skeptics who deny that the claim “God exists” makes a statement that could be true or false.  Some skeptical philosophers assert that the sentence “God exists” does not express a true statement, and also does not express a false statement.  But such a view can be understood as a “rejection” of traditional western theism.  This also allows for atheists who reject the claim “God exists” not because they are convinced that the claim is false, but because they are not convinced that it is true.  Many atheists assert that the evidence for the claim “God exists” is too weak to justify acceptance of this belief.  Such atheists admit that the claim “God exists” might turn out to be true, but that we ought to reject this claim unless and until someone provides solid evidence for the truth of the claim.
5. Distinguishing different forms of “atheism” would be useful for making the point that everyone, or nearly every sane adult, is an atheist, in the sense that nearly every sane adult rejects belief in one or more gods.  Christians, for example, generally reject belief in Zeus and in the other gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons.  These Greek and Roman gods lack the infinite and unlimited characteristics of the God of traditional western theism.  So, we could define a specific category of theism in which a person believes in one or more finite gods, gods who lack one of more of the following attributes:  (a) eternally omnipotent, (b) eternally omniscient, (c) eternally perfectly morally good, (d) the creator of the universe, (e) a source of moral obligations for human beings.  Let’s call this “finite theism”.  Christians reject finite theism, and thus Christians could be categorized as holding the position of “finite atheism” – the rejection of finite theism.
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Varieties of Unbelief

I have previously focused in on two varieties of unbelief:
1. Belief that “God exists” makes a false statement.
2. Belief that “God exists” does not make a true statement and does not make a false statement (because it does not make any statement at all).
But there are various sorts of unbelief/atheism.  Some atheists say that the belief that “God exists” should be rejected because…

  • it is certainly false
  • it is can be proven to be false
  • it can be proven that it does not make any sort of statement
  • it is probably false
  • it probably does not make any sort of statement
  • it has not been proven to be true
  • it is not provable
  • it is not a scientifically testable belief
  • it is not subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation
  • the evidence for it is too weak to justify belief 
  • the word “God” is too unclear and ambiguous to allow for a rational evaluation of this claim

There are a wide variety of reasons for rejecting the belief that “God exists”, but so long as one is aware of the view or belief that “God exists” and one chooses to not accept that view or belief, then that constitutes REJECTION of the belief and thus is a form of atheism.
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Levels of Analysis of Atheism

Level 0:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism.
Level 0: Person P holds the intellectual position of strong atheism.
 
Level 1:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects traditional western theism.
Level 1: Person P holds the intelletual position of strong atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects general theism.
 
Level 2: Person P rejects view V IF AND ONLY IF person P is aware of veiw V and P has chosen to not accept view V.
Level 2: Person P accepts traditional western theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
Level 2: Person P accepts general theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that one or more gods exist.
 
Level 3:  Person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exactly one divine person.
 
Level 4:  Person P believes that there is exactly one divine person IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exacly one spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 5:  X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 5:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
We do not have to arrive at agreement at Level 4 or Level 5 in order to make intellectual progress on clarification and analysis of “atheism”.
If we can arrive at agreement at Level 2 or Level 3, that will still be some significant intellectual progress.
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Counterexamples to My Previously Proposed Definitions

My previous proposals have run into a couple of powerful counterexamples.  Here are the definitions that I originally proposed:

DEF4A

Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.

DEF4B

Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.

 One counterexample stems from the fact that I am pointing to sentences in the English language.  But there are atheists who do not speak or understand the English language.  Some atheists might only understand French or German or Spanish.  Such a person would presumably have no opinion about whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a true statement, or even whether it expresses any statement at all.
Another counterexample stems from the fact that people can have a mistaken understanding or interpretation of a particular sentence in English, even if that person has a general understanding of the English language.  Suppose that someone who understood English had very limited exposure to western religions and interpreted the sentence “God exists” to mean “there is life after death”.  If this person believed there was no such thing as life after death, then this person would believe that the sentence “God exists” does  NOT express a true statement.  Yet this person might well believe that God exists while denying that there is life after death.  In that case, this person would NOT be correctly categorized as a “weak atheist”.

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism?

I know this is a well-worn topic, but I think it is worth hashing over this old question one more time.
First, some obvious points that many ignorant, bible-thumping, knuckle-dragging bigots are unable to grasp:
1. ATHEISM is not the same as MATERIALISM (not all atheists are materialists).
2. ATHEISM is not the same as MARXISM (not all atheists are Marxists).
3. ATHEISM is not the same as HUMANISM (not all atheists are Humanists).
4. ATHEISM is not the same as AGNOSTICISM (not all atheists are agnostics).
5. ATHEISM is not the same as SKEPTICISM (not all atheists are skeptics).
6. ATHEISM is not the same as NATURALISM (not all atheists are naturalists).
7. ATHEISM is not the same as EXISTENTIALISM (not all atheists are Existentialists).
If you don’t understand these basic and obvious points, then please stop reading this post now, and go back to your cave or to your church’s para-military compound in Arkansas or Alabama.
Now for something a bit more sophisticated.   Consider the following initial, rough definition of “atheism”:
DEF1
Person P accepts ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
There are a couple of problems with this definition.  First of all, (DEF1) is compatible with someone being a polytheist.  One can both believe that “There is no God” and at the same time (without any contradiction) believe that “There are many gods”.  To believe that “There is no God” is to believe that there is no god who is the one-and-only all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal creator of the universe.
But denying that there is a god who has infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite duration is NOT the same as denying that there is any god whatsoever.  One could deny the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal god and yet believe that there are many gods who have finite power, and finite knowledge, and/or who are of finite duration.  In other words, one can reject traditional western theism (the belief in God found in the western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and yet be a polytheist and believe in the existence of many finite gods.
A second problem with (DEF1) is that it does not make room for atheists who claim that the concept of “God” is incoherent.  A.J. Ayer, Antony Flew, and Kai Nielsen were all atheist philosophers, but they all believe that the sentence “God exists” is incoherent.  They believe that the sentence “God exists” is neither true nor false.  So, they also believe that the negation or denial of this sentence is also incoherent.  Thus, none of these atheist philosophers believed that the sentence “There is no God” makes a true statement.  On the basis of (DEF1) none of these atheist philosophers would be categorized as being an “atheist”.
The best solution to the first problem, is to draw a distinction between strong and weak atheism.  Weak atheism is the denial of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is the denial of the existence of any and all gods.
DEF2A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
DEF2B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There are no gods.”
On these definitions, strong atheism implies weak atheism, but weak atheism does not imply strong atheism.  Someone who believes that “There are no gods” must also believe (to be logically consistent) that “There is no God”.  But some one who believes “There is no God” could believe that “There are some gods” (i.e. gods who are finite in power, knowledge, or duration).
These definitions, however, do not get around the second objection, concening atheists who believe that the sentence “God exists” fails to make a coherent statement.  One way to get around the second objection would be to characterize atheism not as a belief, but as the absence of a belief:
DEF3A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “God exists.”
DEF3B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “One or more gods exist.”
But while these definitions might get around both the first and second objections, they are still problematic, because we think of atheism as being an intellectual position or stance.  The lack of a belief, however, is not an intellectual position.  Presumably, ALL BABIES lack the belief that “God exists”, but it is absurd and counterintuitive to say that ALL BABIES are atheists.  Babies simply don’t have any position on the question of the existence of God, and they certainly do not have a position on whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.
I propose an alternative way to deal with the second objection, a way that preserves the view that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, and that avoids the counterintuitive implication that ALL BABIES are atheists:
DEF4A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.
DEF4B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.
As far as I can see, these defintions get around the two main objections that we have been considering, and they do so while preserving the intuition that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, a belief that we cannot ascribe to ALL BABIES.
Some who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” expresses a statement that is false, while others who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” does not express a coherent statement at all.  Both sorts of atheists are encompased by (DEF4A).
Some who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” expresses a coherent statement that is false, while others who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” does not express a coherent statement at all.
One final point, which is probably the most controversial point I have to make on this topic.  Although atheism is an intellectual position or stance, it is NOT a point of view.  At least, it is NOT a worldview, and it is NOT an ideology, and it is NOT a philosophy, and it is NOT a religion.  In short, atheism is the rejection of a specific religious belief or a religious “assertion”.  Weak atheism is basically the rejection of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is basically the rejection of any sort of theism, including belief in one or more finite gods.
That is why the first seven statements at the beginning of this article are true.  Atheism is the rejection of a particular religious belief or religious “assertion”.  Atheism is NOT the assertion of a general point of view or philosophy or worldview.  Furthermore, atheists do not necessarily agree on WHY we ought to reject a particular religious belief or assertion.
Some atheists reject the assertion that “God exists” because they think it is FALSE.  Other atheists reject the assertion “God exists” because they think it is INCOHERENT.  The atheists who think “God exists” makes a FALSE statement have different reasons and arguments for thinking this statement is false.  So, atheists do not necessarily agree with each other about WHY we ought to reject the assertion that “God exists” or that “One or more gods exist”.
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Update (10/5/15):
Angra Mainyu suggested a counterexample to my proposed definition 4A:
c. What if Alice is silent on whether God exists on your definition, but she believes that “there is an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being” is not true …? 
The classification you propose does not cover a case like that.
I also came up with a similar objection to 4A.  What about a person who does not understand English?  A person who speaks French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese but does not understand English will in most cases NOT have an opinion about the truth or the coherence of the sentence “God exists.”  because he/she will not understand the meaning of this sentence.
I can get around my objection and perhaps Angra Mainyu’s objection as well by revising the proposed definition a bit:
5A. Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that a sentence S does NOT express a true statement, and sentence S has the same meaning as the English sentence “God exists.”

There is a difficulty with this defintion, however. It appears to imply that the sentence “God exists” is a meaningful sentence, which begs an important question.

However, it does NOT assume that the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.  The sentence, “This is a four-sided triangle.” is a meaningful sentence, and it can be translated into other languages, but it is an incoherent sentence in that it contains a logical contradiction.  So, 5A leaves open the question as to whether the sentence “God exists” contains a logical contradiction, but does assume that this sentence has a meaning, at least enough meaning for it to be possible to translate the sentence into another language.

Personally, I don’t mind begging the question as to whether “God exists” is a meaningful sentence.  It seems obvious to me that it is a meaningful sentence, and one reason for thinking this is that it is obvious that this sentence can be translated into other languages.  How could a meaningless sentence be translated correctly into another language?  So, I’m OK with begging this particular question.

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Response to Eugene

Before I go on to  Part 4 of this series, I’m going to take time to respond to a defense of Jesus put forward by Eugene (see comments by Eugene on my Part 3 post).
I am arguing that it is very unlikely that God would raise Jesus from the dead, because Jesus was a false prophet.  Some key reasons supporting my claim that Jesus was a false prophet are that Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah, obedience to Jehovah, and prayer to Jehovah, and that Jehovah is a false god.  Jehovah is a false god because Jehovah is NOT a perfectly morally good person.  Jehovah promoted slavery, sexism, wars of aggression, genocide, cruelty, intolerance, and totalitarianism.  Jehovah is a cruel and bloodthirsty deity, so Jehovah is a false god.
I have not yet defended my most controversial claim, which is that Jehovah is a false god.  I have only summarized my thinking (as in the previous paragraph).  But Eugene was impatient with my slowness in getting around to that key question, so Eugene began a defense of Jesus and the “Jehovah-concept” of God, in anticipation of my forthcoming criticism of Jehovah.  Eugene’s objections are thoughtful and clear, and have some initial plausibility; so I view Eugene as a worthy opponent who deserves a response that is as thoughtful and clear as his objections, and that will, hopefully, show that his objections are not as plausible as they initially seem to be.
Knowing Where to Draw the Line
“But how much inaccuracy is too much from God’s perspective?  Do you know?  I certainly don’t.  I don’t know where an utterly perfect Being would draw the line on acceptable imperfection.  Perhaps it is better not to pretend that we know.”
– Eugene
I admit that a perfectly good God might allow some degree of imperfection in how humans conceive of or represent God, and that God might allow some degree of imperfection in the concept of God held and promoted by a “prophet”; that is, by a messenger whom God uses to communicate important truths to groups of humans or to humankind in general.  Eugene is arguing that since I admit that a perfectly morally good God might allow a small degree of imperfection in how one of his prophets conceives of or characterizes God, that a perfectly morally good God might allow a large degree of imperfection in how one of his prophets conceives of or characterizes God.  Thus, even if Jehovah as characterized in the O.T. was cruel, bloodthirsty, and evil, this “imperfect” concept of God might be tolerated by God in the thinking and teaching of one of God’s prophets or messengers, and thus God might tolerate the promotion of the “Jehovah-concept” of God by Jesus, and God might still consider Jesus to be his prophet or messenger.
First, there appears to be a logical fallacy here, used by ancient Greek philosophers in the paradox of the heap.  If you start out with a heap of grains of sand (with say 100,000 grains), and remove just one grain of sand, that will not reduce the remaining sand to something less than a “heap” of sand.  But since removal of just one grain of sand must always leave us with a “heap”, we must still have a “heap” of sand even if we remove one grain of sand at a time until only one single grain of sand remains.  The final one grain of sand, it is concluded, must still be a “heap” of sand.
The fact that it is difficult (or even impossible) to “draw the line” on when a heap of sand becomes something less than a heap does NOT show that a single grain of sand constitutes a “heap” of sand.  Clearly one grain of sand is not a heap of sand.  The assumption is that all concepts must have absolutely clear and precise boundaries.  This assumption is false.  It may represent an ideal of clarity and precision, but this assumption does not represent how words and concepts actually function.  Concepts often have fuzzy boundaries, grey areas, that make it difficult or impossible to KNOW the precise location of the edge of the concept, to know, for example the exact number of grains of sand required to form a “heap” of sand.  The existence of borderline cases does not rule out the existence of clear cut cases.  One grain of sand is NOT a “heap” of sand, and 100,000 grains of sand clearly constitute a “heap” of sand (at least if they are gathered together into a roughly conical pile).
A second and more important problem with this defense of Jesus, is that it fails to take into account a critical distinction, the distinction between important and unimportant theological beliefs.  Inaccuracy in theological beliefs is no big deal, if we are talking about unimportant or insignificant theological beliefs, but inaccuracy in theological beliefs can be a big deal, if we are talking about important or significant theological beliefs.  My admission that God would tolerate a degree of inaccuracy in a person’s theological beliefs is based on the assumption that many (perhaps most) theological beliefs are unimportant or insignificant.
For example,  Christians have slaughtered each other over the theological doctrine of transubstantiation.  This was massive stupidity on the part of Christians because this theological belief is of very little significance.  A perfectly morally good God would never severely punish belief in transubstantiation, even if that belief was false.  Nor would a perfectly good God severely punish doubt or rejection of transubstantiation, even if that belief was true.  Transubstantiation is an insignificant theological belief, and God (if God exists) couldn’t care less whether humans accept or reject that theological belief.
But not all theological beliefs are as trivial and unimportant as transubstantiation.  What sort of theological beliefs would God be concerned about?  What sort of theological beliefs would God strongly desire for humans to get right?  Since God (if God exists) is a perfectly morally good person, we can reasonably infer that God would care most about theological beliefs that had significant implications for how humans treat each other and how humans treat non-human animals.
One theological belief that God would want humans to get right, is that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.  Such theological beliefs have implications for how humans treat each other and how humans treat non-human animals.  If humans got the WRONG IDEA about God, and formed false theological beliefs, such as that God does not care about fostering human happiness and well-being, and that God is pleased when humans are cruel and violent towards each other, and that God is pleased by cruel treatment of non-human animals, then such inaccurate theological beliefs would have serious negative impact on human and animal happiness and well-being.  So, these are the sort of theological beliefs that God would care about, assuming that God exists.
In characterizing the “Jehovah-concept” of God as being “inacurate”, and in insisting that we do not know whether the “Jehovah-concept” of God is “too inaccurate” to be tolerated by God, Eugene is suggesting that God does not care about the accuracy of important and significant theological beliefs, that God does not care about the accuracy or correctness of human theological beliefs that have significant implications for how humans should treat each other or treat non-human animals.   In other words, Eugene is implying that God would tolerate a mistaken conception of God which characterized God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice.   The “Jehovah-concept” of God is a concept of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice, and so such a concept would never be tolerated by God, if God exists.  Any prophet who promotes a concept of God as being a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice, is clearly a false prophet.  Jesus promoted the “Jehovah-concept” of God, so Jesus is a false prophet, and it would be very unlikely that God would raise such a false prophet from the dead.
Finally, this comment by Eugene seems to have some similarity to the view called “skeptical theism”.  Skepticism has sometimes been used as a way of defending religious beliefs.  The problem with this approach is that skepticism is a two-edged sword.  If we really do not know whether a perfectly morally good person (who was also omnipotent and omniscient and eternal) would tolerate a prophet who promoted a false conception of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice (when God is actually opposed to violence, cruelty, and injustice), then that would take the wind out of my argument against Jesus’ resurrection, but it would ALSO have very negative (skeptical) implications for the case for God and for divine revelation.
If proclaiming a concept of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice is something that, for all we know, a perfectly good God might find acceptable in a prophet, then we are in no position to judge whether the creator of the world (assuming such a person exists) is good or evil, and even if we (somehow) decide that the creator is perfectly good, and that the Bible is a message from the creator, we have no reason for any degree of confidence in the messages in the Bible, given that God, on this view, tolerates false theological beliefs EVEN WHEN we are talking about IMPORTANT theological beliefs, theological beliefs that have significant implications for how humans should treat each other and non-human animals. 
Relatively Less Inacurate Theological Beliefs
“And so long as the Jehovah-model (in its various iterations) was still relatively less inaccurate than other models available in the same cultural milieu, my argument can function.” – Eugene
In the Ancient Near East (hereafter: ANE), one could argue, as Eugene does, that the god of the Israelites, Jehovah, was no worse than the gods of other peoples and tribes, and that Jehovah was, in some respects, a better person, morally speaking, than those alternative deities.  Eugene has not actually made the case for this claim, but let’s suppose that a plausible case could be made that Jehovah was a morally better person than his competitors in the ANE.  So what?  One might also argue that Hitler was a morally better person than Stalin, but that could only mean that Hitler was the lesser evil of two very evil men. So what?  That does NOT make Hitler worthy of being worshipped.
I admit that a perfectly good God might well allow humans to worship a deity that was characterized in a way that implies the deity was less than perfect.  But being less than perfect is different than being evil, than being a god who promotes violence, cruelty, and injustice.  God would never give his blessing to worship of Hitler, even if Hitler was the very best human leader that ever existed (i.e. even if all other human leaders did things worse than lead and command the genocidal slaughter of millions of innocent men, women, and children).  God, if God exists, is a perfectly morally good person, and such a person would never approve of the worship of an evil person like Hitler.  Jehovah is very similar to Hitler and Stalin.  Jehovah is an evil person who promoted slavery, sexism, intolerance, war, cruelty, genocide, and totalitarianism.  God would never approve of the worship of such a person.  Being the least evil person among various horribly evil persons does not make a person “good enough” to be worshipped.
Furthermore, Eugene’s view here seems to involve the same sort of implication as the “progressive revelation” apologetic move:  God must be an incompetent fool.  Contrary to Eugene’s view, God would settle for the lesser of evils ONLY IF there was no possibility of a good alternative.  One good alternative to worshipping Hitler (or Jehovah) would be to not worship anyone.  That might not be the most ideal situation (if God existed) but at least it would avoid the absurdity and depravity of worshipping a very evil person.
Not only could God figure out that obviously better alternative, but God could, unless God was an incompetent fool, figure out and communicate alternative conceptions of God that would be much better than Hitler or Jehovah, because the alternative conception would be of a good person rather than an evil person.  God is omnipotent and omniscient, so if God wants to come up with an improved concept of God (one that humans can learn and understand), then God WILL do so (if God exists).  God is omnipotent and omniscient, so if God wants to teach and communicate a new-and-improved concept of God to humans, then God WILL do so (if God exists).
Eugene is assuming that God is somehow limited to only the concepts of God that were available to people in the ANE at a given point in time.  But that assumption implies that either God is unable to come up with a better concept of God than the “Jehovah-concept” or that God would be unable to teach and communicate such a concept to humans who lived in the ANE.  Suppose we could gather together Aristotle, Plato, Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Swinburne into one room, and ask them to come up with three alternative concepts of God besides the “Jehovah-concept”, concepts of a person who was a morally good person who was morally better than Jehovah.  Could they do this?  Of course they could.  Is God less capable, less creative, less intelligent, than these great thinkers?   Of course not.  God could come up with dozens or even thousands of improved concepts of God, without any help from Aquinas, Kant, or Swinburne.
If our gathered philosophers came up with three alternative concepts of God that were concepts of a person who was morally better than Jehovah, could God teach and communicate one of these alternative concepts effectively to Moses or to Joshua or to some other person in the ANE?  Of course God could do so.  So, as with proponents of “progressive revelation” Eugene’s view implies that God is either stupid or incompetent.  Since God is by definition omnipotent and omniscient, Eugene’s view implies something that is a self-contradiction.  A person who is stupid or incompetent cannot be God.  God, therefore, is not, and cannot be, limited to the meager and defective concepts of God that were available to people in the ANE at a particular point in history.
Finally, if for some reason (unknown to us) God was limited to only the concepts of God available to people in the ANE when he (allegedly) revealed himself to Moses, and if the “Jehovah-concept” was the least evil among the available concepts at that point in time, then the instant that God communicated the “Jehovah-concept” of God to Moses, God would begin to work on changing and improving that extremely defective concept of God.  And one of the very top priorities that God would have is to eliminate the violence, cruelty, and injustice contained in the “Jehovah-concept” of God.  Yet, when Jesus appears on the scene more than a thousand years later, we don’t hear any condemnation of slavery, wars of aggression, genocide, or other cruelty and injustice promoted by Jehovah.  Jesus shows no sign of revulsion at the evils of Jehovah.  Jesus fully embraced and worshipped Jehovah, and encouraged his followers to join him in worship of, obedience to, and prayer to Jehovah.
God would not have waited more than a week to begin correcting the perversion of worshipping an evil person.  The idea that God would sit around for over a thousand years and tolerate continued worship of Jehovah, and then send us Jesus as the penultimate revelation of theological truth, and have Jesus perpetuate this perversion of worship and obedience to an evil person, is absurd.
God is no fool.  If God exists, God would not approve of the worship of an evil person as God.  If God was limited to only the existing concepts of God available to people in the ANE at a particular point in history, then God would simply discourage worship of any person, rather than bless the worship of an evil person.  But God was limited to only the existing concepts of God available to people in the ANE only if God was either incompetent or a fool.  Since God, if God exists, is neither incompetent nor a fool, God had plenty of other alternative concepts of God available to communicate to Moses and Joshua, and to any other person in the ANE.
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Update on 7/21/15
In response to the above post, Eugene has put forward an argument (see comments by Eugene).  As a first step to take before evaluating Eugene’s argument, I have attempted to analyze the logical structure of his argument.  Here are the key claims (I have left out the evidence provided in support of the main factual claims about Jesus in order to maintain focus on the basic logical structure):
(1) To say that a thing partakes of “too much inaccuracy” is really just to say that a thing is inaccurate to the point of frustrating a given agent’s purposes for utilizing that thing in the first place.
(2) When we apply that understanding to God and his presumptive purposes for engaging prophets, we can see quite readily that the identification of the Jehovah-model (quite specifically Jesus’s own version of it) as something partaking of too much inaccuracy is simply unwarranted given your already-stated concessions.
[I think that (2) is an overarching summary statement: If (1) is true, then that leads to the conclusion (13).  So, (2) might not play a role as a premise in this argument.]
(3) One of the primary purposes God might have for endorsing prophets is to convey through them correct ideas about God.
(4) One theological belief that God would want humans to get right, is that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.
So, presumably…
(5) As long as a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey this belief (or not to overthrow it), then it doesn’t frustrate God’s purpose for using the prophet in the first place.
and [thus]…
(6) We cannot reasonably then say that the prophet’s God-model is “too inaccurate.” [if the prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey this belief (or not to overthrow it)].
If that’s the case [if (6) is the case], then…
(7) It’s simply a matter of turning to Jesus’s words and investigating them to discover if they communicate that “God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.”
When we do that, though…
(8) Jesus’s understanding of God, his own particular version of the Jehovah-model of God, passes the test.
(9) According to the gospels, Jesus was emphatic that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and animals too.
(10) Moving on, when we consider the extent to which Jesus endorsed the idea that “God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being,” the record is equally positive.
(11) Finally, there is the matter of the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.” While this isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present, at least implicitly.
It seems then that…
(12) Jesus’s model of God, his own particular variant of the Jehovah-model, satisfies your proffered criteria for being sufficiently accurate.
(13) We really have no good grounds for thinking that Jesus’s God-model was inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god.”
(14) And if that’s the case [if (13) is the case], then your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
(A) Your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
 
Here is my interpretation of the logical structure of the argument:
Eugene's Objection
 
 
UPDATE on 7/22/15
In trying to clarify the premises of Eugene’s argument, I have come to see the logical structure a bit differently.  Here are the re-worded statements:
(1)To say that a thing partakes of “too much inaccuracy” is really just to say that a thing is inaccurate to the point of frustrating a given agent’s purposes for utilizing that thing in the first place.
(2)When we apply that understanding to God and his presumptive purposes for engaging prophets, we can see quite readily that the identification of the Jehovah-model (quite specifically Jesus’s own version of it) as something partaking of too much inaccuracy is simply unwarranted given your already-stated concessions.
[I think that (2) is an overarching summary statement: “If (1) is true, then that leads us to the conclusion (13).”  So, (2) probably does not play a role as a premise in this argument.]
(3)One of the primary purposes God might have for endorsing prophets is to convey through them correct ideas about God.
(4a) Three theological beliefs that God would want humans to get right are: (i) God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and (ii) God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and (iii) God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.
So, presumably…
(5a) As long as a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them), then it doesn’t frustrate God’s purpose for using the prophet in the first place.
and [thus]…
(6a) We cannot reasonably say that the prophet’s God-model is “too inaccurate” if the prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(7a) If Jesus’s words communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii), then Jesus model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(8a) Jesus’s words communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii).
(9)According to the gospels, Jesus was emphatic that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and animals too.
(10) Moving on, when we consider the extent to which Jesus endorsed the idea that “God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being,” the record is equally positive.
(11) Finally, there is the matter of the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.” While this isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present, at least implicitly.
It seems then that…
(12a) Jesus’s model of God, his own particular variant of the Jehovah-model, is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(13a) We cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is “too inaccurate” (i.e. inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god.”)
(14a) If we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is “too inaccurate” (i.e. inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god”), then your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
(A) Your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
Here is my revised analysis of the logical structure of Eugene’s argument:
Eugene's Objection Rev1

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.