Sunday, April 04, 2021

A quick and dirty argument for the resurrection of Jesus

I think just the survival of Christianity after Jesus' death, combined with the claim Peter, James, and the other apostles made to having seen Jesus alive after his death is pretty good evidence of the resurrection. The reason is because the whole movement centered around the notion that Jesus was the messiah. If you look at all the unambiguous messianic prophecies about the messiah, you see that his coming is always associated with the reunion of Judah and Israel, a full return from exile, the defeat and overthrow of all of Israel's enemies and occupiers (which would include the Romans), national sovereignty, the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, and the beginning of an permanent era of peace and prosperity that eventually extends to all of the nations.

So it was built in to the whole concept of the messiah that his coming would be a big triumph for the Jewish people, and there'd be no more occupation. For Jews living in the first century, that would mean no more Romans. They would live in peace and enjoy national sovereignty. These expectations are even reflected in the gospels. At one point the apostles ask Jesus, "Are you going to redeem Israel now?" At another point, a crowd tried to make Jesus king by force.

With all of these expectations in mind, the last thing you'd expect if you thought Jesus was the messiah was for him to be defeated and put to death by the very people he was supposed to have prevailed against. His death should have proved to any Jew in the first century that he was not the messiah after all.

And that seems to be the case. In Luke, there's a story about a couple of disciples of Jesus walking to Emmaus after Jesus' death, and one of them said, "We thought he was going to redeem Israel." They were disillusioned initially.

Paul said that "Christ crucified" was a stumbling block to Jews, and for good reason. There were several people in the first century who claimed to be the messiah. In each case, they'd gather followers and eventually be killed. Once they were killed, their movement ended. The followers would either find another messiah to follow or else do something else with their lives. During the first Jewish war with Rome, there were three people all claiming to be the messiah who were holed up in Jerusalem during the siege, fighting each other at the same time they were fighting the Romans. But nobody continued to believe in them once they were killed.

In the second century (around 135, I think), the Jews fought a second war against Rome, and practically the whole nation rallied around Simon bar Kosiba who they thought was the messiah. But once he was killed, not a single person continued to believe he was the messiah. His death proved he wasn't.

So there has to be some explanation for why Jesus' movement survived his death, especially since it survived his death as a messianic movement. Why did anybody continue to believe he was the messiah after he had been utterly defeated without having fulfilled all the major messianic prophecies? Keep in mind all of his earliest followers were throughly Jewish.

Well, the explanation they gave themselves was that they saw him alive after his death. There are a lot of scholars (probably a significant majority) who think they saw something they took to be the risen Jesus. There are some, like Gerd Ludemann, who think they had grief hallucinations. There are others, like E.P. Sanders, who just throw up their hands and say they don't know what they saw, only that it was what gave them confidence in Jesus.

I don't think a hallucination is an adequate explanation, though. Grief hallucinations are fairly common after a loved one dies. I had a really lucid dream about my dad after he died. My grandmother said she had an experience of my grandfather after he died. But these experiences never lead people to believe their loved one is raised from the dead.

Try to imagine what you would do if somebody you knew to be dead was standing in front of you right now. Imagine it's some close relative of yours who died. What do you think you would make of that? Well, you'd have multiple options. You might think you were dreaming, hallucinating, seeing a ghost, or that the person hadn't died after all. But probably the very last thing you'd think was that they had risen from the dead.

In one of the gospels, the initial reaction upon seeing Jesus was that they thought they were seeing a ghost. It wasn't until Jesus ate in front of them, and they could touch him, that they believed he was a flesh and blood human being. And there's lots of stuff in the New Testament about them actually touching the risen Jesus.

That makes a lot of sense if you think about it because probably nobody would've thought Jesus had risen from the dead just because they hallucinated him. It would've taken much more than that. So these reports about Jesus eating and them touching Jesus are probably true because nothing short of that really explains why they believed he had risen from the dead.

So, if Jesus really did die on the cross, and the disciples later were able to eat with and touch a living Jesus, then that's pretty good reason to think Jesus had risen from the dead.

That's the skinny of the argument, though. A whole book could be written on this subject.

Friday, April 02, 2021

The god of the philosophers vs. the Abrahamic God

Let's suppose the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument are all sound.

The KCA tells us why the universe exists. It's because a spaceless, timeless, immaterial being brought it into existence. But the KCA doesn't tell us why anything at all exists. Why does the being that brought the universe into existence exist? Well, that is answered by the argument from contingency. It's because it's impossible for nothing to exist. Everything owes its existence to a necessary being, and it's impossible for that being not to exist.

The argument from fine-tuning tells us that there was an engineer who fixed the constants of nature in such a way as to make life possible. But why? What movtive might the engineer have had? Well, we get an inkling of an answer from the moral argument. The moral argument gives us a morally perfect being. It stands to reason that a morally perfect being would want to actualize certain moral goods, like courage, humility, and self-sacrifice, by creating other sentient beings. In the Christian story, God himself was able to have these moral qualities through the incarnation of Jesus. It also stands to reason that the being would want to create sentient beings capable of appreciating beauty and virtue. In fact, as Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World, it would make sense that the being would want to create other beings capable of appreciating the morally perfect being himself since the adoration of that which is most worthy of adoration is, itself, a good we should expect a perfectly good being to want to actualize. And that explains why God wants us to worship him.

The fine-tuning argument also tells us that there was an engineer, but it doesn't tell us how that engineer got its design into the universe. That is answered by the KCA. The design got its way into the universe through the creation of the universe. If the universe hadn't been created, it's hard to see how it could've been designed.

The moral argument tells us there is an absolute moral authority. But what kind of being could possibly have that kind of authority? Well, that is answered by the KCA and the argument from contingency. According to these arguments, there is a being that is the ultimate source of everything else that exists. Everything else owes its existence to a necessary being. Reality revolves around that being. It's hard to think of anything else that would suffice as a ground for objective moral truths that apply to all humans across all cultures, no matter where they travel.

Given how these various arguments compliment each other, it's probable that they each refer to the same being. The creator of the universe is the same person as the moral authority, and that's the same person who designed the universe. If these arguments are sound, then there is a necessary personal being who is the absolute foundational ground of all reality, who is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, sentient, intelligent, and morally perfect with absolute sovereignty, autonomy, and moral authority who designed the universe so that it would be habitible by living creatures capable of moral awareness and agency, and brought that universe into being out of nothing, and who rules and governs the universe by imposing moral obligations on its creation, and by investing creatures with moral knowledge so that they can know what is required of them.

That still doesn't prove it's the Abrahamic God, but considering how well it coheres with the Abrahamic God, it ought to make us suspicious. This suspicion should be heightened when we consider the fact that it was not because of these arguments that the Jewish people came up with YHWH. There are many gods in many religions, and there are many origin stories, but hardly any of them have an ultimate, necessary, absolutely sovereign, and morally perfect being who brought the universe into existence out of absolutely nothing. Most creation accounts involve a god who is not without peers who built the cosmos, or some part of it, out of pre-existing material, and they are almost never morally perfect beings. If the Jewish people came up with a God that resembles the God of the philosophers in so many ways, then it's either a huge coincidence, and they made a lucky guess, or else this God revealed himself to them during their history. So although this may not prove with any certainty that the God of the philosophers is the Abrahamic God, it seems likely that that would be the case. At the very least, it should give us reason to look into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, or any other religion that has a god who coheres as nicely with the conclusion of these arguments.

Here's a couple of other posts I made on this same subject:

"Deism and philosophical arguments for God"

"Natural theology, deism, and theism again"