The Historical Argument Against Christianity

In discussions on the existence of God, particularly the Christian God, it is common to hear the argument from the resurrection. The argument, in a common form, states that the hypothesis that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of some historical facts.

There are many ways one can attack this argument. A common objection is to call into question how the theist limited her set of facts to just a few facts. In other words, might there be other facts which don’t support the resurrection hypothesis? Might there be a set of other facts that support, for example, the hypothesis of metaphysical naturalism? I think one can make a case for this. So, what are those facts?

Here is just one fact (but not the only fact*) that is surprising on the resurrection hypothesis:

1. Jesus hasn’t been seen preaching his message on earth for over 2,000 years

This exactly what we would expect on naturalism or the no-resurrection hypothesis. Jesus could have returned during the lifetime of his disciples, which is one interpretation of Jesus’ prophecy about his second coming. On naturalism, of course, Jesus hasn’t been seen, because if naturalism is true, then Jesus stayed dead; however, on theism, Jesus could have stayed on earth after his resurrection to preach, or he could have returned at any point to, for instance, prove to each individual that Christianity is true.

Broadening our View 

But, even if we grant the resurrection hypothesis that “God raised Jesus from the Dead” is the best explanation of some facts, and even if we grant that this hypothesis is also probable, the Christian isn’t off the hook yet. That’s because probabilities are relative to background information. Perhaps, there is also evidence against Christianity. Besides generic arguments against traditional/classical theism, which in turn effect Christian theism, there are also arguments against Christian theism in particular. For example, there are arguments against the Trinity and arguments against the Incarnation. And what about what we would predict? Would we predict that the Bible wouldn’t tell us about germs? Would we predict that Jesus wouldn’t have said anything about certain moral issues? None of this is the least bit surprising on naturalism.

Conclusion

The lesson here is that we shouldn’t cherry pick evidence for our hypothesis and ignore evidence to the contrary; that’s dishonest. Rather, when examining competing hypotheses, we need to sincerely ask what we would expect (and not expect) to see if true and if false.

Notes:

*For example, Jesus didn’t appear to millions of people, which is exactly what we’d expect on naturalism.

Tags: #Christian theism, #Resurrection argument against God, #anti-resurrection argument, #evidence against Christianity, #Evidence against resurrection #Argument from non-resurrection, #Christological Argument for naturalism #Historical Argument against God, # Historical Argument against Resurrection, #Historical Argument against Christianity, Historical Argument against Christian theism.

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5 thoughts on “The Historical Argument Against Christianity

  1. It’s all well and good to say “you have to include all the facts!” But you haven’t actually made the case that these additional facts tip the balance back in favor of naturalism. Most of the specific facts you give as examples are really just instances of divine hiddenness, so to the extent that the Christian theist has a response to that problem, he can include it in his explanation for the facts, and that explanation may very well still come out to be the best one. (After all, none of the additional facts make it any easier to explain the empty tomb and resurrection appearances on naturalism.)

    1. I wasn’t trying to argue that the scales tip in favor of naturalism. If anything, I was arguing for skepticism towards theism, specifically Christian theism. Even if one can’t demonstrate that naturalism is a better hypothesis with respect to these facts, it doesn’t follow that theism is a better explanation. And even if theism was a better explanation than naturalism, it doesn’t follow that it is the best explanation overall. That’s because theism and naturalism aren’t the only options. There is also otherism (see Paul Draper)

      The problem of divine hiddenness is not an easy problem, even if my specific examples are reducible to that (and not all the facts have to relate to the PODH). You’re free to try and come up with explanations, but that won’t necessarily help you when it comes to looking at the posterior probabilities. In other words, ad hoc excuses don’t help. For all we know, Jesus went into space, okay. And for all we know, Jesus is just really good at hiding on earth.

      I don’t think the empty tomb is a fact. For history and biblical scholarship, there’s a large minority who don’t accept it. A decade ago, it was only 75% of scholars who accepted it which isn’t that high for the discipline. Not to mention, Habermas doesn’t include it in his minimal facts. Also, last time I checked, that number is now in the 60’s.

      And, by the way, according to Christian philosopher Tim McGrew, the resurrection hypothesis might be better than any individual naturalistic hypothesis, but that doesn’t entail that the conjunction of naturalistic hypotheses isn’t more believable than the resurrection hypothesis.

      Even if the resurrection hypothesis is the current best explanation of some facts, that doesn’t mean it’s probably true. Even if it’s more probable than not, that’s not enough for outright belief.

      1. “Even if one can’t demonstrate that naturalism is a better hypothesis with respect to these facts, it doesn’t follow that theism is a better explanation.” Agreed. But is also doesn’t follow that it isn’t a better explanation. Especially if the theist can accommodate said facts into their explanation.

        “And even if theism was a better explanation than naturalism, it doesn’t follow that it is the best explanation overall.”
        Again, it also doesn’t follow that it isn’t the best explanation overall. Especially if the theist has also compared their explanation with other options besides naturalism. [“Otherism” is pretty non-specific, but as far as I can tell the only options aside from naturalism and theism are either pantheistic or panentheistic, or are just like naturalism but with added non-classical-theistic supernatural entities. Am I missing any?]

        “The resurrection hypothesis might be better than any individual naturalistic hypothesis, but that doesn’t entail that the conjunction of naturalistic hypotheses isn’t more believable than the resurrection hypothesis.”
        I think you mean the disjunction of the naturalistic hypotheses, in which case you’re correct. But if the resurrection hypothesis is quite a bit more probable than each naturalistic hypothesis, adding the naturalistic probabilities together is not going to significantly change the picture.

        I didn’t say the problem of divine hiddenness was easy – I think it is the most difficult problem that theism faces. But there are responses to it, and they are more than ad-hoc excuses. As for your claim that not all of the facts that are supposedly being glossed over in the resurrection argument are reducible to that problem, well, that may be so. But all of the ones I can think of either reduce to that problem, or they reduce to another problem that already has theistic responses (like the problem of evil or the problem of exclusivity).

        “Even if the resurrection hypothesis is the current best explanation of some facts, that doesn’t mean it’s probably true.”
        Let’s say that, rather than just being the current best explanation, the resurrection is just the best explanation – you’ve considered _all_ the options, and the resurrection hypothesis is the best one. (If you look up a paper by Andrew Ter Ern Loke, “The Resurrection of the Son of God: a Reduction of the Naturalistic Alternatives”, he shows that we can syllogistically reduce all the alternatives down to a few known ones, so we can know we’ve covered them all.) Then I would say it absolutely does imply that the resurrection hypothesis is probably true – if the probability we are talking about is epistemic, which it is in the context of this kind of abductive inference. If you disagree, it looks like your problem is with inference to the best explanation in general, rather than with the resurrection argument in particular.

        “Even if it’s more probable than not, that’s not enough for outright belief.”
        You seem to have a high threshold for belief. If I think something is more probable than not, why shouldn’t I believe it?

  2. “You seem to have a high threshold for belief. If I think something is more probable than not, why shouldn’t I believe it?”

    I’d recommend catching up on contemporary epistemology. I have a 51% confidence level, for example, that Jones is related to me. Is that enough for outright belief? Obviously not. And one of the main reasons is because confidence levels are constantly fluctuating. At best, belief comes into play once we are at least in the 60’s. 51% is just not high enough to reliably say that I believe p; that’s a coin toss. I can think p is true, I can think that p is more likely than not p…but that’s not enough for belief. But whether you put the threshold at 60 or 70%, it certainly is NOT 51%

  3. Loy

    The Trinity, the Incarnation and the Resurrection are theological doctrines that have no bearing on the philosophical question of God’s existence, as evidenced, for instance, by the fact that God appears in Judaism and Islam without benefit of these doctrines.

    As for probabilities, the world we observe seems to me to be in exactly the state I would expect it to be in at this point in time if God were exactly as he is.

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