Why I Reject the Resurrection – Part 3: Improbability of the Resurrection

IMPROBABILITY

Some Christians believe that it is certain that God raised Jesus from the dead; other Christians believe that it is very probable but not certain that God raised Jesus from the dead.  Some people believe that it is probable but not very probable that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Some skeptics believe that it is certain that the claim God raised Jesus from the dead is FALSE, but other skeptics believe that it is very improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead but not certain that this claim is FALSE.  Some people believe that it is improbable but not very improbable that God raised Jesus from the dead.

  • A belief that is certain has a probability of:  1.0
  • A belief that is as probable as not has a probability of:  .5
  • A belief that is certainly false has a probability of:  0

We can make probability evaluations more precise by defining numeric values for some common probability expressions:

1. It is certain that X is false:
the probability of X  is 0.

2. It is very improbable that X is true but not certain that X is false:
the probability of X is less than .2 but is greater than 0.

3. It is improbable but not very improbable that X is true:
the probability of X is less than .4 but is at least .2.

4. It is about as probable as not that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .4 but is less than .6.

5. It is probable but not very probable that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .6 but is less than .8.

6. It is very probable but not certain that X is true:
the probability of X is at least .8 but is less than 1.0.

7. It is certain that X is true:
the probability of X is 1.0.

 

RESURRECTION

See comments in the “Resurrection” section of Part 2 of this series.

 

IMPROBABILITY OF THE RESURRECTION

The main claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, (GRJ), assumes or implies various other related Christian beliefs:

(GE) God exists.

(GPM) God has performed miracles.

(JEP) Jesus was a Jewish man who existed in Palestine in the first century.

(JWC) Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 CE.

(DOC) Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.

(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem about 48 hours after he was crucified.

(JRD) Jesus rose from the dead.

If any of these claims are improbable, then (GRJ) is also improbable.  If (GE) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable.  If (GPM) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable.  If (JEP) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable, if (JWC) is improbable, then (GRJ) is improbable, and so on.  Conversely, each of these claims must AT LEAST be probable in order for (GRJ) to be probable.

Furthermore, because we must in general multiply probabilities of individual events to obtain the probability of a complex event, even when each individual event is probable, the complex event (or claim) which consists in the conjunction of those various individual events (or claims) might well be improbable.

The probability of rolling a die and getting an even number (2, 4, or 6) is .5, but the probability of rolling a die twice and getting an even number on both rolls is .5 x .5 or .25.  The probability of rolling a die three times and getting an even number on all three rolls is .5 x .5 x .5 = .125, just a little over one chance in ten.

The multiplication of probability applies to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, (JRD). Suppose that the probability of (JEP) was .8, and that the probability of (JWC) was .8 given that (JEP) is true (and 0 if (JEP) is false), and suppose that the probability of (DOC) was .8 given that (JWC) is true (and 0 if (JWC) is false), and suppose that the probability of (JAW) was .6 given that (DOC) is true, then the probability of (JRD) would be approximately:

.8 x .8 x .8 x .6 = .3072

or about three chances in ten.  Thus, (JRD) could be improbable, even if the various individual claims related to it were ALL either probable or very probable.

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