Posts Tagged ‘SWAT Seminar’

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Minimal Facts Argument

An atheist that came on this blog recently “challenged” me to present the case for the resurrection of Jesus based on this post I put up a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, this very topic was also a part of our SWAT Seminar that took place about a month ago, and Craig Hazen presented what we call a “minimal facts” argument that the best explanation of the knowledge we have is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

It’s called a “minimal facts” argument because the facts used don’t say very much (in length), but the argument uses only statements that both religious and secular scholars will agree are true. Believing and unbelieving (perhaps also termed “skeptical”) historical scientists will stipulate to the veracity of each of these statements, so we don’t need to debate their merits. When put together, they actually say a great deal. The debate centers around which hypothesis best fits the historical information we all agree on.

Before I give these statements (of which there are 12), it’s important to note the method for discovery and explanation. The scientific method is not the preferred method when discussing history. Rather, the method of inference to the best explanation is more commonly used. To steal from another blog post of mine, let me explain.

…We must use the evidentiary method, which is rooted in abductive reasoning. The problem is that in abductive reasoning, the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent is possible. For example, no one doubts the existence of Napoleon. Yet we use abductive reasoning to infer Napoleon’s existence. That is, we must infer his past existence from present effects. But despite our dependence on abductive reasoning to make this inference, no sane or educated person would doubt that Napoleon Bonaparte actually lived. How could this be if the problem of affirming the consequent bedevils our attempts to reason abductively? Philosopher and logician C.S. Peirce: “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without” the hypothesis of his existence. Peirce’s words imply that a particular abductive hypothesis can be strengthened if it can be shown to explain a result in a way that other hypotheses do not, and that it can be reasonably believed (in practice) if it explains in a way that no other hypotheses do. In other words, an abductive inference can be enhanced if it can be shown that it represents the best or the only adequate explanation of the “manifest effects.”

In modern times, historical scientists have called this the method of inference to the best explanation. That is, when trying to explain the origin of an event in the past, historical scientists compare various hypotheses to see which would, if true, best explain it. They then select the hypothesis that best explains the data as the most likely to be true. But what constitutes the best explanation for the historical scientist? Among historical scientists it’s generally agreed that best doesn’t mean ideologically satisfying or mainstream; instead, best generally has been taken to mean, first and foremost, most causally adequate.

So let me give the 12 statements that historical scholars almost universally agree are true and valid, and then perhaps you can decide for yourself what the best explanation of these truths is. For my money (and soul, consequently) the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus was buried.
3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
7. This resurrection message was the center of preaching in the early church.
8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he believed he also saw the resurrected Jesus.
12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he likewise believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

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You Are Not Your Brain

In going back and reviewing the audio from my church’s SWAT Seminar from a week and a half ago, I have been listening to J.P. Moreland discuss his evidence for the existence of the soul. This was of particular interest to me, because I posted such an argument on my blog last year. I was intrigued to note that my argument was only slightly related to Moreland’s argument, because it means 1) I’m capable of independent thought, and 2) I feel like I might be able to contribute to the overall defense of theistic belief.

However, in listening to Moreland’s talk on the subject, it’s clear to me that his position is on much firmer ground than mine. He gave many different reasons why conscious states differ from brain states, but more importantly why “you are not your brain.” Among these reasons is that a person’s consciousness is not comprised of parts (you can have 80% of a brain, but you can’t have 80% of a person) and that it is possible for self to be disembodied, but not possible for the brain, therefore the person and the brain are not identical.

But the one that struck me as the simplest, yet most powerful, is the idea that if the person and the brain were the same, free will would not be possible. And if free will is not possible, then there is no reasonable concept of responsibility. In essence, if we didn’t have free will, there would be no reason we should logically choose to do good things, because whether or not a good thing is done is directed by the brain, and we as a person have no say in what we choose. In reality, everything would just be an effect of the laws of physics and chemistry, and as a result there would be no moral value or worth placed on any result–it just is what it is.

But because we place moral value on some choices (i.e. some things are really right or really wrong), this means that there is some personal responsibility, and as a result, free will is a real concept. And since free will is a real concept, the resulting conclusion is that a person is not the same as his/her brain. This gives powerful evidence to the existence of something immaterial that is responsible for the movements between conscious states in a person.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more posts from the SWAT stuff, but thought this was worth sharing.

Hanging By a Thread

This past weekend our church hosted our second annual SWAT Seminar. SWAT stands for Spiritual Warfare and Apologetics Training. This year we were fortunate enough to be able to bring out Craig Hazen and JP Moreland to speak to our group. These guys are two heavyweights in the apologetics world. They travel all over the country and the world, going into both hostile and friendly environments giving arguments in favor of the truth of Christianity.

In his introductory talk on Friday night, Hazen laid the foundation for his talk the next day on “Christianity Among the World’s Religions” by making a very interesting point. He said that Christianity is weird. Why? Because it is the only religion that is testable. Think about it. Most religions in the world are about inward experience and a personal journey toward some form of enlightenment. It doesn’t matter about what happens in the external world, because the religion is inward-focused and no one can prove you’re not having the experience you claim to have.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul hangs Christianity by a thread that, if able to be snipped, would cause all of Christianity to come crashing to the ground. What is that thread? 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 tells us:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, Christianity is useless. This makes Christianity testable, because we can look at the evidence to determine whether or not Christ really was raised from the dead. We can create hypotheses that we can weigh against each other. Hazen did so on Saturday, giving 12 minimal facts that even secular historians agree are true by a large majority. We can then pit these hypotheses against each other using the inference to the best explanation and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps I’ll post those later, but it’s easy to see why Christianity is so targeted among the world religions: because it can be objectively tested, and therefore Christians have sufficient belief that it can be defended. No wonder Peter told us to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). We need not have an answer if there isn’t a reasonable one available.

So Christians, we’re a bit strange. I think we already know this, but Paul’s distinction makes that more evident than ever. And yet we have strong reasons to believe that Christianity is true, and that we do not hope in vain. Your faith is hanging by a thread, but I have confidence it is one that can and will never be snipped, until Christ returns and makes plain the truth found in His Word.