Tag Archives: Resurrection

A Few Notes and Questions About Eddy and Boyd’s The Jesus Legend (Part 2)

Readers of my last post will know that I am concerned that Christian apologists – a term that probably accurately describes Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory Boyd, authors of The Jesus Legend – may not give naturalism enough credit. Readers may remember that Eddy and Boyd believe that biblical historical criticism is not critical enough, that, in short, it takes its naturalistic assumptions for granted, and these, in turn, arbitrarily eliminate supernatural hypotheses and explanations as potential answers.  I will eventually write more about naturalism’s relation to Christian apologetics. Today, I will focus on a second question raised by my reading of The Jesus Legend and the argument made in the book, one that relates to supernatural explanations. The question, to get straight to the point, is this:

  • What informs the content of our supernatural explanations?

This might seem like a strange question, since questions about supernatural explanations usually involve the possibility of the supernatural or their explanatory power. This question was prompted by a specific example used by Eddy and Boyd in their book, and which I mentioned in my last post, “demonization” or “demon possession”. Eddy and Boyd write:

“To the thinking of most who witness phenomena like these – and the authors of this work count themselves among them – attempts to explain some of these phenomena in strictly natural terms are implausible, to say the least. The same could be said about a host of other supernatural phenomena that ‘present human experience’ includes – if we step outside the shallow pool of experience represented by the naturalistic Western worldview.” (Kindle Location, 1103)

I pointed out in my last post that, despite these events seeming supernatural to “most” people who witness them, Eddy and Boyd do not dispute that “some, if not the majority” of these reports of the supernatural can be explained in naturalistic terms. (Kindle Location, 1108). Indeed, they are careful to write only of “reports” and “claims” of the supernatural, rather than point to a specific example of the supernatural which refutes ontological naturalism as a true metaphysical description of reality. Nor do they disavow a preference for naturalistic explanations. They do, however, appear to believe that demon possession actually occurs.

I initially was only interested in why “demon possession”, (as in, a person becomes possessed by a malevolent spirit) is thought to be the best explanation for certain kinds of behavior. My interest became somewhat more nuanced as I read more of The Jesus Legend, seeing that Eddy and Boyd weren’t directly arguing that the resurrection was the best explanation for the evidence, but that the explanations used by legendary Jesus theorists didn’t adequately explain their presentations of the evidence, leaving only the explanation preferred by the Christian apologist to fill the gap. But that doesn’t mean that particular supernatural explanation is a good explanation, nor that it is better than other supernatural explanations one can think of.

There is no indication in The Jesus Legend that Eddy and Boyd have considered alternative supernatural theories that explain what they call demon possession (and the same applies to the resurrection, if am I remembering correctly), which leaves me wondering whether these explanations are dependent for their content on readily available examples of the supernatural. If reports of demon possession are as widespread as Eddy and Boyd claim they are, and if most of these reports can be explained in naturalistic way (as Eddy and Boyd also suggest), why should not one think that existing superstition is influencing the kinds of supernatural explanations we give for events that are difficult to explain? Would any of the symptoms of demon possession lead us to infer that a malevolent spirit had entered the victim’s body if there was not already an association between demon possession and those symptoms in our culture? What if those symptoms are equally well explained by the existence of a supernatural bacterium?

I don’t know, and I don’t expect I’ll have the answers soon. It’s not something The Jesus Legend covers, despite being a book that purportedly concerns itself with methodology. Perhaps, eventually, I’ll come across a work of apologetics that doesn’t take for granted the possibility of other supernatural explanations.

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Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

In my last post, I said I would look at William Lane Craig’s consideration of a common skeptical slogan, which is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (henceforth, ‘ECREE’). I suspect Craig has frequently encountered skeptics who misuse it, and given that in Reasonable Faith he is arming Christians with apologetic arguments, it makes sense for him to deal with these misunderstandings. In Chapter 6, he deals with some interpretations of ECREE, finally writing:

“What the skeptic seems to be saying by his slogan is that in order to believe rationally in a miraculous event, you must have an enormous amount of evidence.” (p. 273)

I agree with Craig that this interpretation of ECREE is incorrect, but there is still a correct interpretation of it, which I think remains useful. Note, I am not saying that Craig does not point this out. Before dealing with incorrect understandings of it, he writes:

“The only plausible sense in which the slogan is true is that in order to establish the occurrence of an event which has a very low intrinsic probability, then the evidence would also have to have a very low intrinsic probability…” (p. 273)

But he does sometimes give the impression that he rejects the slogan wholesale. Consider what he writes about an argument made by Stephen Law:

“This sounds so commonsensical, doesn’t it? But in fact it is demonstrably false. Probability theorists studying what sort of evidence it would take to establish a highly improbable event came to realize that if you just weigh the improbability of the event against the reliability of the testimony, we’d have to be sceptical of many commonly accepted claims. Rather what’s crucial is the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred. This can easily offset any improbability of the event itself. In the case of the resurrection of Jesus, for example, this means that we must also ask, “What is the probability of the facts of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, if the resurrection had not occurred?” It is highly, highly, highly, improbable that we should have that evidence if the resurrection had not occurred.” (LINK)

In a 2008 debate with Keith Parsons, Craig also said, regarding ECREE:

“This is a watchword of the free thought movement today that I always hear repeated. But when I think about it, I can think of almost no justification for that principle. I do not think it is true that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” (My transcript, approximately 40 minutes into the debate, during Craig’s first rebuttal)

He also points out that it doesn’t take extraordinary evidence to show that someone is alive or dead, and that to demonstrate that Jesus resurrected, all it would take is evidence that he was dead, and evidence that he was alive (after he was dead). This is, in a way, correct, but at the same time, I don’t see how this isn’t the sort of extraordinary evidence a more viable interpretation of ECREE demands (if that evidence is too improbable on our background evidence if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead). So, while I can say that Craig treated ECREE charitably in Reasonable Faith by pointing out its strongest interpretation, he, at the very least, does not seem to think skeptics generally mean it this way (which could easily be true).