Quick summary of the points I made on my appearance on Unbelievable

After reading a bit of feedback on my appearance on Unbelievable, I thought it might be worth giving a quick summary of the points I made on the show. Unfortunately, it was not a formal debate with closing statements, so there wasn’t a good time for me to do this during the show.

When you put the question in Bayesian terms, it breaks down into two key sub-issues:

First, what is the prior probability of the resurrection?

On my view, “very low.” Three key points here:

  1. Calum admitted that even if we didn’t have evidence that Joseph Smith is a fraud, he’d still be very skeptical of the claims of Mormonism (assign a low prior probability to them).
  2. Swinburne’s arguments for assigning a high prior probability to Jesus’ resurrection are transparently unconvincing once you ask yourself how they’d sound to a Muslim or Jew.
  3. Calum said that, based on his knowledge of Jesus’ teachings, it makes sense to him that God would want to vindicated Jesus, where as he doesn’t see the same being true of Joseph Smith. But he admitted he doesn’t even know much about the teachings of Mormonism. A Mormon, who was raised to know a lot about Mormonism’s teachings and think those teachings were wonderful, would probably think it would make perfect sense for God to vindicate Joseph Smith. So this doesn’t justify assigning a higher prior to the resurrection, at least not without a lot more work on Calum’s part.

Second, how strongly does the evidence confirm the resurrection?

On my view, “not very.” Again, three key issues:

  1. It’s wrong to call the “facts” used by William Lane Craig or whoever “facts” that need to be explained. All that needs to be explained is the Bible. Calum more or less agreed with this.
  2. With the exception of the (authentic) letters of Paul, the Bible does not represent eyewitness reportage. I don’t know if Calum agrees with this or not, but he didn’t dispute it.
  3. The argument that the disciples must have been sincere because they died for their beliefs doesn’t work because the evidence that the disciples did die for their beliefs is even thinner than the evidence for claims about Jesus’ life. Again, Justin and Calum didn’t respond, except I think for Justin saying maybe he’d have to get Candida Moss (a scholar who’s written about this issue, see my post here) on the show to talk about it.

I can certainly understand people being frustrated that we didn’t talk more about this second issue on the show, though actually, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to talk this even to the limited extent that we did, because Calum admitted in an e-mail beforehand that he was better versed in the philosophical issues involved than the historical ones.

P.S. – One slightly frustrating aspect of a show like this is that when you stray slightly outside the very narrow intended focus of the show, it’s very tempting for the host to punt to past guests or guests he hopes to have on on the future. I understand the reasons for doing that, but still frustrating. I should note, however, that I wasn’t trying to press the historical issues: it was Calum who brought them up by claiming that the “evidence” for the resurrection is very hard to explain and so on.

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