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7/15/2015 7:37 pm  #1

Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Bill Craig argues that, given theism, Christian particularism can be established from the historical evidence for Christ's resurrection. Basically, he argues that the best explanation for Jesus's burial, his empty tomb's discovery, his alleged post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples' belief in his resurrection is that God really raised Christ from the dead. But I'm not sure we should accept this argument so easily. It's clearly abductive and probabilistic in reasoning, and I think this leads to a slippery slope.

People committed to the veracity of a paranormal[1] event because of a probability ought to also be committed to the veracity of all paranormal events equally or more likely to have occurred. The resurrection of Christ was a paranormal event. Hence, people committed to the veracity of the Resurrection because of a probability ought to be committed to the veracity of all paranormal events equally or more likely to have occurred than it. 

If—based on secular, historical investigations—at least one paranormal event equally confirmatory of a non-Christian religion is equally or more likely to have occurred than the Resurrection, we ought not affirm Christianity on the back of secular, historical investigations into the Resurrection. At least one paranormal event equally confirmatory of a non-Christian religion is just as likely as the Resurrection to have occurred. Therefore, we ought not affirm Christianity on the back of secular, historical investigations into the Resurrection.

All most of the premises say is that we ought to be intellectually consistent, and it's at least plausible that resurrections by God are "outside the norm." The premise that "At least one paranormal event equally confirmatory of a non-Christian religion is just as likely as the Resurrection to have occurred", however, is obviously contentious.

There are three possible responses. The first response is to deny that there are any paranormal events equally confirmatory of a non-Christian religion that are just as likely as the Resurrection to have occurred. But even if it turns out this response is presently correct, depending on the times and available evidence, it seems at least possible that some event confirmatory of Islam or Hindu we haven't yet found evidence for could have occurred. And given this uncertainty, I still wouldn't be sure I should be telling people they can base their Christian faith on historical investigations[2].

The second response is to affirm that more than one religion is in some sense correct. For instance, some Platonists believe the great religions are all symbols or ways of interpreting higher, more fundamental truths. These Platonists might accept the argument and argue that there could even be further religions which are in some sense correct that we currently lack the evidence for.

My worry is that they may also affirm that many of these same religions are in some sense false. Christianity, for example, has strictures about worshipping false idols. If one of the other religions state that people ought to worship statues of six-armed elephant goddesses, then there is a prima facie conflict between the strictures of the two allegedly true religions that the Platonists need to resolve. This is probably undamaging for the Platonists, but it should make Christians at least uneasy about giving this response.

The third response is to put aside probabilistic, historical evidence when weighing the truth of Christian particularism. This is my own response. It may just be that, for Christians, there is a point at which one must accept certain truths de fide[3]. Maybe this isn't a bad thing. Maybe the mystics were on to something. Hopefully not.

[1]Where paranormal is used strictly in the sense of “outside the norm”, and not the colloquial use.
[2]A response that I've left out would be to say Christianity is false, and affirm events confirmatory of some other one religion. This response is susceptible to the same reply I gave the first.
[3]Though, perhaps it can be argued through other means that one ought to accept those truths.


7/15/2015 8:19 pm  #2

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Heh, the link in footnote 3 reminds me a bit of this:

“After considerable study, and with some admitted regret as a Protestant, I must confess that I consider the Roman Catholic Church to be of divine origin because no mere human institution run with such knavish imbecility could have survived two weeks.” -Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay


7/15/2015 8:31 pm  #3

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

I think the second point is very important. If one accepts the resurrection occurred, it doesn't seem to me to bind one to exclusivist Christianity. 

I don't know if it will take us too far off-topic (let me know if you think so, John, and I will move or delete this section), but there are at least three (related) arguments the Platonist you describe can, and has summoned against such exclusivism.

1. Is that a genuine religious tradition is a revelation of God, ultimately. It is a distillation of his truth and a guide to him. It is highly questionable whether, to the Platonist, a single corporeal form (an en-formed corporeal entity) can universally express such truth. That is, can one religious tradition, with its rituals and sacraments, imaginal world, doctrines, authorities, and so on, truly express this truth exhaustively for all men and all times and cultures. Prima Facie it is hard to see how it could.

2. Is basically just an a posteriori version of number one: the great religions of the world seem to express a lot of spiritual truths (to the Platonist at least), so how do we conclude one is the true one.

3. Is, again, closely related to the above two, and is basically the question about the limited spatial and temporal reach of Christ's message. Would the divine not provide for all men and cultures? (this latter point is in many ways just another way of expressing, or any extension of number one).

You are certainly correct that such a Platonist has to face the question of the conflicting forms of the religious traditions. Certainly, some traditons he can more or less dismiss (Mormonism, Scientology, Ba'hai, etc). He shouldn't airily dismiss this question. I don't think it is though, a self-evident refutation of his position though. I do think that he can make a good go of arguing for some ultimate unity.

Sometimes the criticisms on this score seem to me to misfire significantly. For example I read one scholarly critique that questioned whether this perspective could integrate properly the differing spiritual approach offered by Pascal and Kierkegaard (who the author quite questionably links together) compared to more Platonic and Aristotelian Christianity. The author seemed to assume that such Platonic universalism or perennialism had to accord largely equal weight and dignity to all such perspectives, rather than considering the strong fideism that he was attributing to Pascal (which is not beyond question) and the existentialist Christianity of Kierkegaard as either inferior or even illegitimate. Certainly, such a Platonist will have to avoid butchering the rich religious traditions of the world, but I don't see why it is self-evidently the case he must do this if does make claims about one fundamental metaphysics to judge others, interpret conflicts in the light of this, claim certain doctrines or positions represent important truths but not all that can said on the matter (the prohibition on idols may well fit in here), and so on.


7/16/2015 10:31 am  #4

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Hi Jeremy, 

Your post isn't off-topic at all[1]. I agree Platonists' response shouldn't be simply dismissed. 

Consider a scenario where we have five ideal scholars of five great religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, and Shinto respectively. They are all completely rational and have perfect knowledge of their respective religions. They are tasked with trying to find one real, unresovable conflict between any two of their religions. Are we really to believe the scholars wouldn't find even one real conflict? 

As you write, I think Platonists want to argue that all conflicts between true religions are only apparent conflicts[2], not real conflicts. For instance, the conflict between the second commandment and alleged elephant idol might be escaped by arguing the latter is really a symbol of God. Even if not, I suspect our council of scholars would find at least some merely apparent conflicts between the great religions. 

My own view is that some conflict is both apparent and real. For instance, I understand Islam is very strict that God is not triune. In contrast, for Catholics, it is de fide that God is a Trinity. God cannot be both non-triune and triune. Hence, the teachings of Islam and Catholicism cannot both be true. 

People with greater knowledge of the various religions are welcome to chime in with other examples. 

A final option is for Platonist universalists to abandon attempts at proving the great religions are compatible, and affirm that they are their own religion. I suppose, in its own way, that would be fine.  

[1]Anyway, I only care about threadjacking. Conversations don't happen in straight lines.
[2]I wrote this as prima facie conflict in my original post.
[3]As to your concerns about spatial and temporal reach, the short answer is that the Church teaches that the invincibly ignorant don't go to Hell. The longer answer will require a reply of its own.

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7/16/2015 10:53 am  #5

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Hi Alexander,

If you reread my essay, I think you'll find that you're repeating something I already wrote. I included it as the first possible response.

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7/16/2015 11:12 am  #6

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Alexander wrote:

Unless you have a specific example, I'm not sure we have any reason to accept your argument.

Well, John has already acknowledged that his first premise is contentious, but he does explicitly and directly address the possibility that no such "alternative" miracle has happened yet. Are you ruling out the possibility that any such miracle may eventually occur or otherwise be discovered? If so, on what basis? (The possibility that you don't yet know of any such occurrences is already accounted for, so that doesn't suffice.)

The premise is, after all, that other such paranormal events are as likely as Christianity's. Think of each religion as rolling a billion-sided die, and a "confirming paranormal event" as rolling a one. Christianity has (or at least claims to have) rolled a one. But on the premise actually under discussion, how do we know Islam won't ever do so, even if it hasn't done so yet?

Last edited by Scott (7/16/2015 11:17 am)


7/16/2015 11:19 am  #7

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Alexander wrote:

So what? We can still use existing historical evidence as evidence even if we can't know that it won't be superseded one day.

Alexander wrote:

I do not believe that the historical evidence is powerful enough to base a faith upon it but this is due more to the nature of historical investigation and of faith than any severe defect in the evidence itself.

Exactly. In the future, I ask that you address what I actually write.

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7/16/2015 11:22 am  #8

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Alexander wrote:

 would argue that the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Christianity cannot be held with certainty based on historical evidence, but we all knew that already.

Yes, and for the reasons above, we ought not found our faith on such uncertain reasoning. Bill Craig claims that we can.

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7/16/2015 11:26 am  #9

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

It's clear that the Platonist can't maintain a simple universalism- the Trinity is not Allah and baptism is not Zazen. You would have to maintain that all the religious traditions, or at least the Abrahamic ones, have as their core object (whether they recognize this thematically or not) the truth of Being or the Platonic One. If Platonism is not simply false metaphysically, and religion is always concerned with the ultimate and highest things, this must be so in some respect.

The question for the Platonist then would likely be about degree of metaphysical compatibility. Just prima facie it seems to me that the three Abrahamic traditions are not only compatible with Platonism but they lend themselves to it (hence their core agreements in philosophical theological method in the middle ages). Some other religions seem compatible with Platonism but not straightforwardly: Confucianism and many polytheistic traditions, especially the Greco-Roman tradition Platonism grew up in response to, seem to be of this character insofar as they will admit that the plurality of gods isn't the ultimate truth of things and that there might be something more fundamental than these. Hinduism (which was actually subject to some Hellenic influence in its development as were many of the religious traditions that grew out of India) actually seems to outright suggest as much.

The remaining categories would be faiths straightforwardly hostile to Platonism (Mormonism seems to be like this because, amongst other reasons, nothing like the 5 ways could be compatible with Mormonism as I understand it) and those which seem contrary to Platonism in their theological tenor (Buddhism and Taoism inhabit a vague space and tribal religions are often of such a merely mythical character that it would be hard to say where they are metaphysically).

After that, the Platonist can simply remain philosophically to the side about the ultimate truth of each tradition's particular revelation/mythical/liturgical practices remarking merely on the effectiveness of these in bringing one to the right philosophical place about something like the Platonic One. Thus I might, for instance, give traditional Catholic theology and practice an A-, Protestantism as a whole a C+, and Wiccanism a D-.

Fighting to the death "the noonday demon" of Acedia.
My Books
It is precisely “values” that are the powerless and threadbare mask of the objectification of beings, an objectification that has become flat and devoid of background. No one dies for mere values.
~Martin Heidegger

7/16/2015 11:29 am  #10

Re: Particularist Arguments from the Resurrection

Alexander wrote:

There is a difference between founding your faith on probabilistic reasoning and believing that a doctrine is plausible on the basis on probabilistic reasoning. I don't think Craig has ever claimed to found his faith on historical evidence: in fact, I've read work of his in which he explicity rejects basing faith on evidence. I get the impression he sees evidence as a way to persuade people to take faith seriously as an option.

He doesn't himself, no. He does, however, claim (and has claimed) that, given theism, the evidence of the Resurrection is sufficient to hold Christian particularism (even if you don't hold his Reformed epistemology).

So, on his view, one can hold Christian particularism as properly basic or due to evidence—either disjunct is sufficient.

Last edited by John West (7/16/2015 11:31 am)

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