Previous TQQ---

Objections-to disprove is not to prove the opposite

"If reasoning tightly, why not admit that to disprove the objections to an assertion is not any measure of proof of that assertion. Objections which cannot be disproven might exist but not yet be brought to your attention.

And here is how I analyzed it...

The first approach I took was to find out WHERE I AGREED with the position. This was, of course, easy to do--as a skeptically oriented Christian! I can construct easily arguments of the type:
Assertion: The Greek god Zeus was born as a sweet potato in Iceland.
Objection: But sweet potatoes don't grow in Iceland - it's too cold.
Response: But he sprouted INSIDE a heated there, skeptic!
In this argument (that even Humpty Dumpty might be proud of!), the objection IS disposed of successfully, but this BY NO MEANS proves the assertion.

In addition to this trivial case, I am familiar with countless scientific/philosophical arguments that have a related structure, especially along historical axes.

For example, in particle physics you might see such an arg:

Assertion: The 10-15 extra dimensions of space-time necessary for supersymmetry/superstring theories are 'curled up' inside spaces smaller than the proton.
Objection: We cannot conceive of 'curling up' dimensions.
Response: We couldn't conceive of elasticity of space-time (a la relativity) either, but it was true...
And the history of philosophy is replete with examples of positions that overcame all objections of their time, only to be dashed to pieces under powerful objections derived in LATER generations.

So the notion of a position that could disproved LATER by objections unknown today seems entirely reasonable (and well-documented).

So, then I had to figure out why this question was submitted as a candidate for the "Tough Question of the Quarter"...What argument/assertion did I make (in some 200-300 pages of material!) that was the subject of this question?

I can only guess...but my bet (if I were a 'better' man) would be around one of the survey questions that reads like this:

The dead body of Jesus Christ was never recovered--even by the authorities of his day...other attempts to explain the empty tomb and the eyewitness accounts (other than the resurrection) seem shallow, contrived, and contradict known data from psychology or history...
I can see what the visitor is getting at ("just because there are no better explanations TODAY for the missing body/empty tomb, doesn't mean there won't be one SOMEDAY" and the implication that "we do not have to accept the 'best' explanation TODAY--that He rose from the dead--as true"), although I cannot cast it into the form (assertion, objections, response) I have used so far.

It is at this point that I realize that the question might be oversimplifying the nature of argument (esp. historical argument) or might be misunderstanding the argument itself.

A fuller statement of the argument runs something like this:

  1. Every scrap of historical data we have, when interpreted in a non-conspiratorial manner, describes a bizarre individual who claims to be God and who predicts (to his often dull, oppositional, and unimaginative followers!) his death, burial, resurrection, and subsequent appearances to other humans.

  2. Every scrap of historical data we have, when interpreted in a non-conspiratorial manner, affirms that indeed said individual was killed, buried, came back to life, and made subsequent appearances to other humans.

  3. The evidence that this individual 'rose from the dead' consists mainly of:

Now, if you notice, this position argues NOTHING like 'he must have risen from the dead, since we can't think of anything better'...Rather, it gives EVERY possible 'proof' one could give about such a unique event in history (i.e. physical appearances in a wide variety of settings, to a wide variety of people, over a period of a month and half, predictions ahead of time about this).

How much more data could one want?!

Think about this for a the world of first-century Palestine, WHAT MORE COULD HE HAVE DONE to 'prove' his resurrection? What else would it take?

(He didn't 'waste' his appearances, of course, on those with hyper-closed Luke 16.19ff in which some people wouldn't believe EVEN IF someone rose from the dead, and John 12.9ff in which the leaders planned to kill the resurrected Lazarus, because too many people were beginning to take Jesus at his word--they didn't DISBELIEVE the resurrection of Laz--they just didn't like the implications! Acts 9, Jesus appears to one of his enemies, with the result of a massive change of viewpoint...the militant skeptic Saul becomes the zealous apostle Paul.)

Notice that up to this point, there has been no mention of 'objections' let ME try to raise a couple...

To avoid the conclusion that he rose from the dead, I would have to have better evidence than the above, that either:

Notice that this is NOT a simple "that's all the options we can come with SO FAR" argument. This boils down to a simple case of logic...the predication A ('the eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive') or ~A (NOT-'the eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive'). It is a simple matter of which of the two positions has the 'best' historical support...

Now I submit that there is not a scrap of historical data, from the relevant period of history, that can be advanced as data that the eyewitnesses did NOT see Jesus, as they claimed.

The only argument I have consistently heard AGAINST the resurrection is the 'natural law' argument--"that since people do not rise from the dead, Jesus couldn't have risen from the dead" (or its variant anti-miraculous argument). Although I tend to be very skeptical myself of miraculous claims, one cannot dismiss them out of hand in historical settings. Consider the words of the eminent historiographer Robert Jones Shafer in discussing historical probability and plausibility:

"The opposite case is that of the implausible statement, the statement that we find difficult to believe. Statements are implausible if they do not fit with the rest of the evidence. Such statements might be mistaken, yet they cannot be dismissed out of hand. Readers of detective stories will remember the numerous occasions on which the incongruous piece of evidence proves to be not only true but the key to the mystery. In historical investigation this dramatic turn of events occurs less frequently, but it occasionally happens. The careful historian will remember that a piece of evidence may seem implausible only because of a mistaken interpretation of previously known evidence. Even more implausible are statements that run counter to our best scientific knowledge--statements about witchcraft, extrasensory perception, flying saucers, and the like. Certainly the trained investigator will deal with all such stories with a very high degree of skepticism. They are probably false or mistaken. Yet he should temper his skepticism with a bit of humility. The history of science is a history of changing ideas about what is possible and what is impossible, and the evidence of an extremely improbable event just might be confirmed by further investigation." ( A Guide to Historical Method, Dorsey: 1974, pp.41-42.)
So what data can be advanced that he did not rise from the dead, as the preponderance of the data DOES support?...It would take one of four items: 1) a dead body, 2) a confession of lying by the eyewitnesses, 3) public evidence that they were lying (not just a possible motive, but real historical evidence), or 4) compelling psychological evidence that they were crazy. (Again, there are NO OTHER options--these are simply a logical 'unpacking' of ~A.) And remember, the evidence must be as strong, well-attested, widely available as the data FOR the eyewitness accuracy.

Needless to say, none of this counter-evidence exists. They never found the body, there are no confessions of lying on record, there is no public evidence that they were lying (in spite of the myriad of theories that they made it up for status, power, glory etc.), there is no compelling evidence that they were crazy (their lives and writings showed them to be cogent, rational, balanced, and no crazier that mainstream 'religious' people today).

(And the position that they NEVER claimed that he rose, but that the later church 'put these words into their mouths' flies in the face of archeology. We have manuscripts of these claims that date within the lifespans OF THOSE eyewitnesses. There is simply not enough time to create the illusion.)

Now, even given that ALL the data is in favor for the 'theory' that He rose from the dead, and that there is NO meaningful data against the position, why cannot one simply 'suspend judgment' like we do on other things we cannot understand (e.g. the 'nature' of light) or on matters in which we have too little data (e.g. the lifespans of Mesopotamian kings)? After all, life is filled with such things, for skeptics of both Christian and non-Christian persuasions. (And, on the other hand, the VAST MAJORITY of the decisions we DO make fall into this category as well...this argument doesn't stop us in those, why should we fall short here?--especially in light of the extraordinary evidence.)

The fact of the matter is that to not-choose is to choose. For in choosing 'not to choose', we are indeed choosing 'the data is not adequate to create an obligation for me to believe it'. In other words, in our world of personal and social responsibilities, overwhelming evidence creates a moral obligation to decide. (Imagine the comical situation where we are stopped by a police officer for speeding. He has a record from the radar saying we were going 100% over the speed limit. Yet we argue that evidence MIGHT be forthcoming someday that radar guns are totally inaccurate, and that we don't have to choose to believe him or not--we can suspend judgment. The situation could be extended to medical diagnoses, school reports, legal contexts.)

At the same time, we must avoid the criticism of T.S. Elliot, who in the introduction to Pascal's Pensees (Dutton: 1958, p. xv) made this scathing anthropological observation:

The majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith; and when the ordinary man calls himself a skeptic or unbeliever, that is ordinarily a simple pose, cloaking a disinclination to think anything out to conclusion.
We don't have an option as humans who have to live in a world of truth. And, in this case, we don't have an option because of Who the Risen is. The implications of 'suspending judgment' on an event of this magnitude (God came to earth, died for us, rose again, and now challenges us with our position vis-a-vis Him) which was deliberately architected to make it MORE REASONABLE for us to believe(!) are staggering and matters of grave concern (esp. in light of His other claims of or responsibility before God and His truth).




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