It is one thing to make a solid case for the claim “Jesus rose from the dead.” (JRD), and another thing entirely to make a solid case for the claim “God raised Jesus from the dead.” (GRJ). Showing that (JRD) is true, would not, by itself, show that (GRJ) is true. The resurrection could have been produced by natural causes, and if there really are supernatural beings (like God), then there might well be MANY (even millions or billions) of supernatural beings (angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, gods, etc) who have the power to raise humans from the dead.
But only if a strong case can be made for (GRJ) can the resurrection be used as an argument for various theological claims about Jesus, such as the claim “Jesus is the divine Son of God.” (JSG). If one cannot show (GRJ) to be true (or probably true), then the resurrection has no theological significance and cannot be used as an argument for (JSG).
In order to show that (GRJ) is true (or probably true), it is essential to show that God had particular motivations and purposes which would be advanced by raising Jesus from the dead. But that means that one must be able to determine some of God’s motivations and purposes PRIOR to making the case for (GRJ).
How can we determine what God’s motivations and purposes are concerning human beings? This is the difficult, and perhaps insurmountable, obstacle that any Christian apologist must face in order to make a serious attempt at building a solid case for (GRJ), in order to use the resurrection as an argument for (JSG).
Because God is an invisible spirit, we cannot simply observe God’s activities and behavior in the way that we observe the activities and behavior of human beings. So, we cannot determine God’s motivations and purposes by empirical observations of God’s activities and behavior, like we can with ordinary people. Thus our ordinary ways of determining the motivations and purposes of a person do not apply to God, at least not in any simple and direct way.
One obvious answer to the question about determining the motivations and purposes of God is to turn to the Bible for “information” about God. But this will not work for the purposes of Christian apologetic arguments, because it would BEG THE QUESTION to assume that the Bible was inspired by God and then use Biblical “data” about God’s activities and messages to arrive at conclusions about the motivations and purposes of God towards humans. Atheists and skeptics doubt that there is any God at all, and even if it could be shown that the existence of God was probable, this would not give us any specific information about the motivations and purposes of God towards humans (other than the very general idea that God is perfectly morally good).
Atheists and skeptics have even more doubts and objections to the idea that the Bible was inspired by God, so a Christian apologist who simply assumes that the Bible is inspired, is assuming that atheists and skeptics are wrong about the Bible and that Christians are right about the Bible, and this assumption is an unfair one to make, at least until after the claim that the Bible is inspired has been shown to be true.
In Classical Christian apologetics, seen clearly in the thinking of Thomas Aquinas, the case for Christianity is made in two phases. First, the apologist argues for the existence of God. Second, the apologist shows that the Bible (as opposed to the Quran or the Vedas or the Book of Mormon, etc.) was inspired by God, and this is done by showing that various miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus) confirm the inspiration of the Bible.
If one is going to use miracles to show that the Bible was inspired by God, then one cannot use the Bible (prior to showing it to be inspired) as a reliable source of information about the activities and messages of God, in order to establish that God performed certain miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus). If the proof of the inspiration of the Bible is primarily from alleged miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus), then it would BEG THE QUESTION to assume the inspiration of the Bible in order to establish that God had performed certain miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus).
So, we must set aside the Bible as a source of information about God that would allow us to determine the motivations and purposes of God concerning humankind. At least, Christian apologists cannot make use of the Bible for that purpose at this point in the game, when they have not yet shown that (GRJ) is true (or probably true). The Bible can, of course, be treated as a potential source of historical information about Jesus, but not as a divinely inspired document.
Michael Martin, in The Case Against Christianity (hereafter: CAC) mentions another possible way of getting at the motivations and purposes of God:
“What sort of evidence would make it probable that God, rather than some other supernatural being, was the cause of the Resurrection? It has been argued that at the very least one would have to show that the Resurrection fitted into a larger pattern of events that revealed God’s purposes. This pattern would perhaps give us reason to suppose that God was the cause of the Resurrection. But what sort of pattern would this be? Presumably it would involve other miraculous events that God brought about. If one had evidence of Miracle1, Miracle2, Miracle3, and so on, and evidence of the Resurrection, one might then be able to discern a pattern and infer from it a divine purpose that would indicate that God was behind the Resurrection.” (CAC, p.98)
One problem with this approach is that the evidence for other miracles related to the Bible and Christianity are even more dubious than the resurrection of Jesus:
However, the implication of this is damaging to Christianity. The historical reliability of reports of the other miraculous events reported in the Scriptures is no better and is often worse than the evidence for the Resurrection…There is then a serious obstacle in concluding that God was the cause of the Resurrection even if one could establish that Jesus was restored to life and that this was a miracle.” (CAC, p.98)
A second problem with this approach to determining the motivations and purposes of God is that it generates an infinite regress. If in order to establish that God performed Miracle1, we have to first establish that God performed Miracle2, Miracle3, and Miracle4, so that we can determine the purposes and motivations of God concerning humans, then we run into the very same problem in trying to establish the prior miracles (Miracle2, Miracle3, and Miracle4). Suppose that Miracle1 is the resurrection of Jesus, and that Miracle2 is Jesus walking on water, and that Miracle3 is Jesus turning water into wine, and that Miracle4 is Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes. We are using Miracle2 as part of the basis for determining the purposes and motivations of God concerning humans.
But in order to establish that Miracle2 was performed by God, we must FIRST determine the purposes and motivations of God; otherwise we will not be able to show that the event “Jesus walked on water” was something that God caused. In order to show that God was involved in the event “Jesus walked on water” we need to show that such an event fits well with the known purposes and motivations of God. But if our method for determining the purposes and motivations of God is to examine a set of miracles in order to figure out a meaningful pattern or significant similarities between these events, then we are going to need another set of miracles to examine PRIOR to determining whether Miracle2 was in fact a miracle performed by God. We will need another set of miracles, say: Miracle5, Miracle6, and Miracle7, in order to establish God’s motivations and purposes, so that Miracle2 can be shown to be a miracle performed by God.
But the same problem arises for Miracle5, Miracle6, and Miracle7, and so we end up with an infinite regress of the need for more and more sets of miracles, never arriving at solid bedrock that will establish the purposes and motivations of God concerning human beings.
Another possible route to determining the purposes and motivations of God is that of examining Nature. According to Aquinas and Natural Law theory, God built moral principles into nature, so that moral values and principles can be discovered by empirical observation of natural phenomena. One argument for the immorality of homosexual sex is that birds and other animals do not engage in homosexual sex. There are at least two problems with this argument. First, it turns out that birds and other animals do engage in homosexual sex, at least some do. Second, the same sort of argument can be made for the immorality of the use of any and all technology:
If God had wanted humans to fly, God would have given humans wings.
Clearly, humans do not have wings, so clearly God did not intend for humans to fly. But then since flying is not part of God’s natural plan and design for humans, it must be immoral for humans to fly in airplanes.
Any and every technological advancement of the human species involves going beyond what was original or natural for human beings. The domestication of plants and animals, for example, is ARTIFICIAL not natural. These practices were invented and developed by human beings over many centuries. Human beings did not always raise animals and grow plants for food and for other purposes. So, if we look to nature as our guide to determining the motivations and purposes of God, then we must oppose farming and ranching; we must oppose any and every technological advance from the beginning of the human species.*
But that is absurd, and virtually nobody (other than perhaps a handful of lunatics) is willing to abandon all human-developed technology, not even the most devout Christian believers. No Christian apologists are advocating that we abandon all human-developed technology, so no Christian apologist is actually willing to use NATURE as our guide to determining the motivations and purposes of God.
So, we cannot simply observe God’s activities and behavior (God is an invisible spirit) to determine God’s purposes and motivations. We cannot use the Bible to determine God’s purposes and motivations (that would Beg the Question). We cannot use other miracles (besides the resurrection) to determine God’s purposes and motivations (other miracles are more dubious, and we get into an infinite regress), and we cannot simply observe nature to determine God’s purposes and motivations concerning human beings (the implications of “natural law” are contrary to Christian values, and to our shared firm moral convictions, and it is human “nature” to be artificial and to transcend nature).
It seems to me that there is no reasonable or plausible way for Christian apologists to provide solid evidence about the motivations and purposes of God concerning human beings. If I am correct about this, then there is no way for Christian apologists to show that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” (GRJ) in order to use this as an argument for the claim that “Jesus is the divine Son of God.” (JSG).
*Looking over the history of humankind, one might well draw the following conclusion:
What is natural for human beings is technology and artifice.
This is actually an idea that is basic to Christian theology. Humans were created in the image of God, and an important aspect of God that is supposedly reflected in human nature is CREATIVITY. God is a designer and a creator, and human beings were made to be like God in that respect, to be designers and creators, to make things and to invent things and make up new ideas and new activities. Technology and artifice are thus what is NATURAL for human beings.
But if creativity, technology, and artifice are fundamental aspects of human nature, and aspects of human nature that were intentionally created by God, then we can reasonably infer the opposite of the traditional anti-technological view. We can replace the old saying:
If God had wanted humans to fly, God would have given humans wings.
with an opposing saying:
If God had wanted humans to stay on the ground, God would not have made humans naturally creative, naturally inclined towards technology and artifice.
And we could conclude that it is immoral to refuse to fly in airplanes, and that it is immoral to try to prevent homosexual sex from occurring. (Is that the sound of Evangelical Christian heads exploding?)
In any case, since it appears that technology and artifice are NATURAL for human beings, this makes it rather difficult to simply “read off” true moral values and principles from observations of nature, because a basic divine purpose of human beings, it would seem, is to transcend nature through technology and artifice.