Ramified Natural Theology And The Ascension of Christ

I’ve previously brought up an objection to “the” Argument From The Resurrection, specifically as it relates to William Lane Craig’s version of the argument. My objection centered on the fact that Craig cherry-picks or ignores facts that don’t fit his resurrection hypothesis–or don’t fit the resurrection hypothesis better than an alternative hypothesis. One such fact was the fact that Jesus disappeared and hasn’t been seen in thousands of years. Is this really what theism or Christian theism/resurrection predicts? Sure, Christians believe that Christ ascended into heaven and will return someday, so of course, Jesus hasn’t been physically seen in thousands of years (whether or not someone believes that Jesus has made spiritual appearances, has physically appeared to individual people, or something akin to these). But the issue is whether that fact is expected and/or whether it is better accounted for on the resurrection hypothesis or on a non-resurrection hypothesis. 

For a non-resurrection hypothesis, nothing is surprising about Jesus not being seen for thousands of years because dead people stay dead. On naturalism, for example, it’s guaranteed that Jesus didn’t ascend (i.e. stay on Earth for thousands of years). On theism, for example, there’s at least a ‘live’ option that God could have done things differently and kept Jesus on Earth for thousands of years.  To be clear, I’m not saying the objection is original to me (I’m not sure who first raised the objection, however, it seems like a pretty intuitive objection), but I’m starting to see more skeptics talking about the Ascension. As such, I wanted to see if I could nitpick my objection…if I could reply to my objection. As it turns out, philosophers and theologians, such as Aquinas, have addressed this issue. For Aquinas, he thought it was indeed ‘fitting’ or made sense that Christ wouldn’t stay on Earth; Aquinas argues that it makes sense that a resurrected Jesus- with an incorruptible body- would not stay in a corruptible realm. So for Aquinas, Christian theism would lead us to expect what we do see.
As Aquinas says:
The place ought to be in keeping with what is contained therein. Now by His Resurrection Christ entered upon an immortal and incorruptible life. But whereas our dwelling-place is one of generation and corruption, the heavenly place is one of incorruption. And consequently, it was not fitting that Christ should remain upon the earth after the Resurrection, but it was fitting that He should ascend to heaven.
End quote. Of course, this would be retrodiction and not a prediction, and Aquinas doesn’t mean for this argument to be “demonstrative” or rise to the level of knowledge. Whether this argument carries much weight, I’ll let you decide.   

Still, if we grant that the absence of Christ makes sense on the hypothesis of Christian theism, is it more or less (or equally) expected than some other competing hypotheses? Instead of employing a minimal facts approach to the resurrection, Craig could employ a maximal facts approach. Craig hasn’t done this, and he hasn’t even justified why we should only look at his few facts (and exclude the undeniable fact that I listed). All that his argument would show is that, relative to Craig’s few facts, the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead: that is NOT the same thing as the best explanation of all or most (or many) of the relevant facts is that Jesus rose from the dead. How in the world can someone possibly think that the former is somehow life-changing and super-meaningful? Just because a few pieces of data support a hypothesis, that doesn’t mean that the data overall (or the data, all things considered) supports a hypothesis. Craig doesn’t make this explicitly known in his public debates, public writings, and (at least most of) his academic writings. If anything, he might do the opposite and reach a fallacious conclusion (or give the impression that his conclusion is more significant than it is). And, I’ve already brought up an objection to Craig’s approach in terms of bringing up other facts. In other words, the maximal facts approach is the correct approach, instead of Craig’s approach. If Craig does employ a maximal facts approach, he could grant that the ascension is better explained by a non-resurrection hypothesis, but then argue that the resurrection explains other facts better. This is fine as far as it goes, but again, this is not what Craig has done. So far, all Craig has done (so far) is ignore (rather than address) the issue. It would also do no good for Craig to insist that the ascension is not literal. Because even if that’s the case, we still have the basic/underlying fact that Christ hasn’t been seen in thousands of years. And it would also do no good for Craig to say that he is only appealing to the facts supported by history because it IS a historical fact that Jesus hasn’t been seen in thousands of years! It would also do no good to say that the argument Craig gives in popular writings isn’t a “minimal facts argument”; call it whatever you want, whether that be ‘minimalistic’ or something else. Whether one thinks that certain passages are reliable is not what the issue is here: the issue is the number/quantity of facts. 

One need not argue that a resurrected Jesus ascending is unlikely: a resurrected Jesus ascending doesn’t seem unlikely at all. Rather, the objection is that we have a fact that counts against Jesus being resurrected in the first place! But again, Craig can admit that this without it being devastating to his case (but he hasn’t). If we grant the resurrection, then sure, it doesn’t seem unlikely that a resurrected being could ascend into Heaven, but the WHOLE ISSUE is whether Craig’s argument is cogent in the first place. I’m just talking about the general fact of ascension. I suppose someone could try and argue that we would have expected a slightly different ascension. This objection would envision that a resurrected Jesus would have left Earth right away instead of waiting several weeks. I’m not sure we are in a position to give such specifics or know such specifics. Indeed, someone could also argue that we would have expected a resurrected Jesus to stay for a few years before ascending, but that contradicts the previous argument. Indeed, if the story had been that Jesus did ascend right after being resurrected, you could picture many people wondering why he didn’t stick around for at least a day. One might employ a version of skeptical theism and say that we can’t know- generally or specifically-what would happen after Jesus was resurrected. Maybe not before the alleged event, but we NOW know that Jesus hasn’t been seen in thousands of years. So, we can know because we do know. That’s the fact of the matter unless you delusionally believe that Jesus has been physically showing up to stadiums full of people every day for thousands of years. In which case, you are wrong.

There’s also another worry that just popped into my mind. Craig treats ‘the’ facts as if each fact equally supports (or doesn’t support) a hypothesis. But why would you think a thing like that? Don’t some facts “count” for a lot more than other facts?  Don’t some pieces of data support a hypothesis more than other pieces of data? The answer is an obvious ‘yes’. Given this, it could very well be a huge problem that Christ hasn’t been seen in thousands of years. That’s what underlies the intuition of many skeptics when they claim that it seems that a non-resurrection hypothesis is a simpler hypothesis. It’s part of our background knowledge that people don’t stick around for thousands of years, even though a resurrected Jesus could stick around (i.e. I’m not claiming it is logically impossible for a resurrected Jesus to not stick around for thousands of years). But that’s not what occurred. That’s not the data we have with Jesus, whether one thinks Jesus was resurrected or not. I suppose Craig could respond by granting that there’s indeed a huge problem, but add that the other historical facts will cancel out any such improbability of Jesus not sticking around for thousands of years. Perhaps. But I don’t see that being Craig’s case/argument because it’s a “minimal” facts approach. Craig hasn’t even attempted to look at all the relevant facts, including all the facts for AND against the resurrection hypothesis.

As I tried to make clear, I wasn’t intending this post to be a critique of the resurrection itself, nor was I intending to critique arguments for the resurrection full-stop. Instead, I was merely critiquing certain kinds of arguments for the resurrection, which includes William Lane Craig’s argument for a resurrection. I also don’t want people to get the impression that I intend my objection as a knockdown objection, and it certainly isn’t a knockdown objection against a maximal facts approach. Instead, I want Craig to substantially answer the challenge because he hasn’t done so.  

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3 thoughts on “Ramified Natural Theology And The Ascension of Christ

  1. I’m sorry I couldn’t read to the end; my capacity to absorb nonsense has been greatly diminished.

    Re “For Aquinas, he thought it was indeed ‘fitting’ or made sense that Christ wouldn’t stay on Earth; Aquinas argues that it makes sense that a resurrected Jesus- with an incorruptible body- would not stay in a corruptible realm.”

    Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. Only a corruptible body would be in danger in a corruptible realm. An incorruptible body would be like Superman on Earth, in no danger whatsoever from the corruptions of the planet.

    It makes no sense whatsoever for Jesus to be whisked away. He was the perfect witness to the resurrection. Imagine one of his acolytes telling someone that “Jesus was resurrected; I saw him!” That person would respond, “Well, produce him, so that I might see.” And the acolyte has to say, “we can’t; he left.”

    Shit, I would have taken Jesus on tour. If “the Father” can resurrect him, no matter what the Romans do, Yahweh can heal him, spring him from jail, etc. Every time the Romans acted and were thwarted, just makes the story more convincing. Crowds would be drawn from all over the world! The message would be carried far and wide!

    1. Paul D. Van Pelt

      Mr. Ruis makes a good point about nonsense. I assume someone knows what ramified natural theology is. Evidently, there are those who care. The super-abundance of terms dilutes any coherent knowledge, seems to me. Just as re-statement of history begets little more than, uh, history.

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