I think the best way to make a case for my skeptical view of the resurrection, is to develop a dilemma, following the lead of the great Enlightenment skeptic David Hume.
The main question at issue is: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? But at the crux of my skeptical argument will be the following claim:
(JAW) Jesus of Nazareth was alive and walking around unassisted on the first Easter Sunday.
By ‘the first Easter Sunday’ I mean the Sunday immediately following the Friday of the Passover week when Jesus was allegedly crucified (approximately 30 CE).
There are two possibilities that need to be considered:
1. (JAW) is true.
2. (JAW) is not true.
If we suppose (1) to be the case, then building an argument for skepticism about the resurrection will be tough, like pushing a boulder uphill. If we suppose (2) to be the case, then building an argument for skepticism will be easier, like rolling a boulder downhill. I believe a good argument for skepticism about the resurrection can be made on either supposition, and if so, then an overall case for skepticism can be based on the following either/or statement:
3. Either (JAW) is true or it is not true.
To get started, I will take on the apparently easier task of building an argument for skepticism about the resurrection based on the supposition that (JAW) is not true. If I am successful in rolling the big rock down the hill, then I will take on the more challenging task of making an argument for skepticism based on the supposition that (JAW) is true.
There is no immediately obvious problem with the meaningfulness or coherence of (JAW) or the negation of (JAW), so if we suppose (2), the claim that (JAW) is not true, it appears that we can infer that (JAW) is false:
4. (JAW) is false.
However, if there were no such person as Jesus of Nazareth, if Jesus was just a legend, then there would be a problem with (JAW) being a proposition. In that case we could say that (2) was correct, but that (4) would not be correct, since (JAW) would not make a statement that is either true or false. If Jesus was just a legend, then there would be no referent for the name ‘Jesus’ in (JAW).
So, one of the ways in which (2) might be true, is if there were no actual historical person who was Jesus of Nazareth. But if Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical person, then the only way that (2) could be correct, would be for (4) to be correct, that is to say, (JAW) would have to be false.
I’m not a big supporter of the theory that Jesus is a legend. But given that our earliest writings about Jesus are by Paul, and given that Paul probably never set eyes on the historical Jesus, on Jesus prior to Easter Sunday, and given that the earliest of the four Gospels is Mark, composed about four decades after the alleged ministry and crucifixion of Jesus, and given that Mark was probably not an eyewitness of the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus, I don’t think one can rule out the theory that Jesus is just a legend.
I believe it is very probable that Jesus was an historical person, but the idea that there is a small but significant chance that Jesus was a legend seems correct to me. I suggest that, based on the questionable nature of our earliest historical sources, there is about a 1 in 10 chance that Jesus was a legend, and about 9 chances in 10 that Jesus was an actual historical person.
But if there is a probability of about .9 that Jesus was an actual historical person, then the most likely way that (2) would be true, would be for (4) to be true, that is, for (JAW) to be false.
What are the different ways that (JAW) could be false? There are three logical possibilities:
A. Jesus was not alive on the first Easter Sunday.
B. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but did not walk at all that day.
C. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but was walking only with assistance from others.
We need to think about the relative likelihood of each of these possibilities, and also about the implications of each possibility in relation to skepticism about the resurrection.