Thanks all for your comments on last week’s post on standards of evidence (extraordinary and otherwise). As always, if you’d like to respond to a Monday Call to Arms in longer form as a guest blogger, please email me at leah (dot) libresco (at) yale (dot) edu. The highlighted comment from last week comes from No Forbidden Questions:
If you asserted to me that you drive a Honda, I’d probably believe you with ultimately very little in the way of supporting evidence — a photo (which could be faked), your registration card (which could also be faked), your car keys (which could be someone else’s). The thing is, I have plenty of evidence from my regular life that people often drive Hondas. If you were to claim that you drive a flying saucer, I would require a whole lot more evidence — because “it is an extraordinary claim,” meaning that I lack other evidence to support this as a possibility in the first place. I think I’d be requiring the same level of total evidence in each case, but it would feel like a lot more to you if you were claiming to own a flying saucer (because more of the burden is on you).
The title from this post comes from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 15 verse 17. Paul writes:
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
Despite Paul’s epistle, some Christians are entirely comfortable reconciling their faith with a non-literal resurrection of Christ. But for other Christians, any definitive disproof of the resurrection would mean the end of their faith. This is the question that drives Martin Gardner’s novel The Flight of Peter Fromm (about which more later).
Christianity (and most other religions) make claims about our world, some of which may be vulnerable to empirical inquiry, but many Christians do not engage in deep investigation of the historicity of the gospels or other types of tests. Is it incumbent on them to research these possible disproofs? Where should they be looking?
Some kinds of claims are firmly within our ability to research. For instance, does praying speed recovery times from illness? (The Mayo Clinic says no).
Some disproofs could come, but are not possible to test through experiment. The Roman Catholic Church’s claim to be the institution referenced in Matthew 16:18 (“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”) would certainly be disproved if a yawning, brimstone-scented gulf opened under St. Peter’s Basilica and swallowed Vatican City whole. It might even be disproved if the Catholic Church voluntarily dissolved itself or dwindled away into nothing. However, none of these outcomes can be tested experimentally.
Other claims could offer proof or disproof but are impossible to study. (Presumably the Christian who finds himself standing in front of Anubis during the ceremonial weighing of the heart will be dismayed, but the disproof comes far too late to make a difference during life).
I’m not so steeped in the truth claims of Christianity, so I’d really like to hear Christian or other religious people’s thoughts on the following questions:
What earthly evidence could cause you to reject your faith (if any)?
Have you researched these possible disproofs yourself/read the work of scholars in the field?
Does your faith make any empirical predictions about the earthly world? What are they?
No worries, theists! Next week’s challenge will be the same basic question, but directed at atheists and agnostics. I’ll provide some of the ways I could be convinced to abandon atheism, and I look forward to hearing other proposed proofs or if anyone has evidence to match my criteria.