In this post I respond to a question raised by Michael Gantt about my previous post on the resurrection of Jesus.
Factual/historical points made by Michael Gantt (blogforthelordjesus):
1. The writers of the New Testament…do not make concurrent claims about His having been God incarnate.
2. If you go back to the witnesses of the resurrection, you will see that the issue of Jesus being God incarnate was not part of their argument.
3. …contemporaries of Jesus – both the witnesses of His resurrection and those who accepted the testimony – were not concerned with something you’ve made a premise of your argument.
Q1: Is it a ‘red herring’ to bring the incarnation into the question “Did God raise Jesus from the dead?” in view of historical points (1), (2), and (3)?
I’m uncertain about the truth of the historical points made by Michael. They seem dubious to me. However, I would have to get out my NT and do a fair amount of reading to fairly evaluate those claims, and I don’t think that is necessary, because I suspect that there is a problem of logic in Michael’s thinking.
So, I would prefer to set aside my historical doubts and simply assume, for the sake of argument, that points (1), (2), and (3) are all historically true and accurate. Given those assumptions, does it follow logically that it is a ‘red herring’ to bring in the incarnation into discussion/evaluation of the question “Did God raise Jesus from the dead?”
First of all, we need to be clear about the meaning of the phrase ‘red herring’. The term ‘red herring’ is the designation of a fallacy of informal logic.
I obtained my MA in Philosophy from the University of Windsor, in Windsor, Ontario. The reason I went to Ontario Canada to study philosophy, is that there were two professors there who are leading experts in the field of informal logic: Ralph Johnson and Tony Blair. They started the Journal of Informal Logic. I helped them teach a course in critical thinking at the University of Windsor. They have co-authored a very useful and readable textbook in this area, called Logical Self-Defense, which includes careful definitions of informal fallacies, including “Red Herring”.
So, it is with pleasure that I quote the following analysis of the term “Red Herring” from Ralph and Tony, my former professors:
1. In an adversary context, N has made a claim Q, that is or implies criticism of a position that M holds or identifies with.
2. M responds to Q by asserting R, which introduces an issue that is not relevant to the acceptability of Q, and thereby instigates in the exchange a shift of focus away from the question of Q‘s acceptability.(Logical Self Defense, 2nd ed., p.89)
If I have committed the fallacy of Red Herring, then I am M in this analysis, and I would have been responding to N who has “made a claim Q“. Claim Q, in this case would be: ‘God raised Jesus from the dead.’ The first phrase of the second necessary condition in the analysis above reads: “M responds to Q by asserting R…” We can now fill in M and Q:
2. Brad Bowen responds to the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ by asserting R…
The assertion of R is what “introduces an issue that is not relevant to the acceptability of Q“, Q being the claim that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead.’ So, in this case R would be my claim that ‘Jesus was not God incarnate.’ Thus, we can now spell out the second necessary condition for the occurrence of a Red Herring fallacy in this particular case:
2. Brad Bowen responded to the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ by asserting that ‘Jesus was not God incarnate’, which introduced an issue that is not relevant to the acceptability of the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’…
This necessary condition is false, in my view, so no Red Herring fallacy has occurred as far as I can see.
In order to show that a Red Herring fallacy had occurred in this particular case, one would have to show that the claim ‘Jesus was not God incarnate’ was not relevant to the acceptability of the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead.’
What about the specific historical points made by Michael? Do those points show that the claim ‘Jesus was not God incarnate’ is irrelevant to the acceptability of the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’? I don’t see how those points, even if all three points are true and accurate, support the claim of irrelevance. The fact that early Christians did not bring up the alleged divinity of Jesus when they were trying to persuade others to believe that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ does not in any way show that the question of the incarnation is irrelevant to the claim they were making.
Here is an example to help make my point. First century Christians knew nothing about modern medical science. Does that mean that any considerations from modern medical science are irrelevant to the evaluation of the claim that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’? Obviously not. In order to evaluate the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ we must evaluate the claim ‘Jesus died on the cross.’ among other claims. Modern medical science does in fact have data and well-established theories that are relevant to evaluating the claim ‘Jesus died on the cross’ and thus to evaluating the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead.’ So, the fact that first century Christians knew nothing about modern medical science does not imply that modern medical science is irrelevant to the acceptability of the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead.’
Furthermore, relevance is a matter of logic, and cannot be determined by the subjective choices of individuals or groups. If the first generation of Christian believers had, for some odd reason, decided not to say anything in defense of the resurrection of Jesus, would that mean that NOTHING was relevant to determining the acceptability of the claim that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’? Obviously not. The question of whether Jesus died on the cross would still be relevant to determining the acceptability of the claim ‘God raised Jesus from the dead’ even if every single first-generation Christian had chosen to say nothing in defense of their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Human choices don’t determine matters of logic and relevance.
Finally, relevance is a bi-directional logical relationship. If A is relevant to the truth of B, then B is relevant to the truth of A. Sometimes the relationship is stronger in one direction vs. the opposite direction, but if the truth of A makes B more probable than it would otherwise be, then the truth of B makes A more probable than it would otherwise be. That is the principle used by Richard Swinburne in his case for the existence of God. For example, if the existence of God makes it more likely that there would be a complex physical universe than if there were no God, then the existence of a complex physical universe makes it more likely that God exists than if there were no complex physical universe.
Michael has already agreed that the resurrection of Jesus is relevant to the question of whether Jesus was God incarnate, so that settles the issue. If the truth of the resurrection is relevant to the truth of the incarnation, then the truth of the incarnation must also be relevant to the truth of the resurrection. Case closed.