Why I Reject the Resurrection – Part 2: Skepticism about the Resurrection

Why I Reject the Resurrection – Part 2: Skepticism about the Resurrection March 23, 2018

SKEPTICISM

Skepticism is the denial of knowledge.  Universal skepticism denies the possibility of any kind of knowledge, or the actual existence of any kind of knowledge.  Qualified forms of skepticism deny the possibility of knowledge in particular areas, or the actual existence of knowledge in particular areas, such as religious knowledge or knowledge of the future.

Knowledge is traditionally understood to be Justified True Belief, because one can have a true belief by accident or luck, but such true beliefs don’t count as knowledge.  ALL known beliefs are true beliefs, but SOME true beliefs are not known beliefs.  Traditionally, the difference between true beliefs that makes some of them known beliefs, is that the person who has the belief is JUSTIFIED in holding that belief.  To be justified in holding a belief means that one has GOOD REASON to be confident that the belief in question is a true belief.

According to foundationalism (a view of the nature of knowledge) some beliefs count as knowledge even though they are not based on or inferred from other beliefs.  Some beliefs are thought to count as knowledge even though those beliefs are not based on or inferred from other beliefs, but are produced naturally by our minds as the result of particular sensory input or experiences.

Because talking about beliefs being “justified” suggests that no belief counts as knowledge unless one can produce a “justification” or good reason for accepting that belief, the term “justified” can be objected to as carrying a bias against the possibility that some beliefs count as knowledge even though no “justification” or good reason can be given for accepting the belief in question.  The term “justified” also suggests that there are intellectual duties that must be satisfied in order for a belief to count as knowledge, but some philosophers object to the idea that intellectual duties must be satisfied in order for a belief to count as knowledge.

The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga suggests the use of the term “warranted” in place of the term “justified” as whatever it is that makes some true beliefs count as knowledge and the lack of which makes other true beliefs fail to count as knowledge.  Whether we use the term “warranted” or “justified”, it is clear that not all true beliefs are known beliefs, and that having a true belief by accident or by good luck falls short of being knowledge.

One can deny knowledge in area X, either by denying that there are any true beliefs in area X, or by denying that there are any justified/warranted beliefs in area X.  Both qualified kinds of skepticism can occur in a stronger or weaker form.

One strong form of qualified skepticism denies the possibility of there being any true beliefs in area X, and the related weak form of qualified skepticism simply denies that there are in fact any true beliefs in area X.  Another strong form of qualified skepticism denies the possibility of there being any justified/warranted beliefs in area X, and the related weak form of qualified skepticism simply denies that there are in fact any justified/warranted beliefs in area X.

 

THE RESURRECTION

By “the resurrection” I mean, the traditional Christian belief that:

(GRJ) God raised Jesus from the dead.

This belief is understood in the context of other traditional 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.

 

In his book The Resurrection of God Incarnate (hereafter: ROGI), Richard Swinburne accurately characterizes the traditional Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus:

…the Resurrection of Jesus understood in the traditional sense–of Jesus being dead for thirty-six hours and then coming to life again in his crucified body (in which he then had superhuman powers; e.g. he was able to appear and disappear).  (ROGI, p.1)

[In raising Jesus, God was] interfering in the operation of the natural laws by which he controls the universe.  For the coming-to-life again of a body dead for thirty-six hours is undoubtedly a violation of natural laws.  (ROGI, p.1-2)

The traditional Christian belief in the resurrection includes or implies: (GE), (GPM), (JEP), (JWC), (DOC), (JAW), (JRD), and (GRJ), and also the belief that God raising Jesus involved the violation of natural laws or interference in the operation of natural laws.

 

SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE RESURRECTION

Universal skepticism denies all knowledge, and so it denies that anyone knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.  But universal skepticism is implausible and indiscriminate, so it is not very interesting.  Qualified forms of skepticism can be more plausible.  One sort of qualified skepticism denies that people know that God exists.  If nobody knows that God exists, then nobody knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Skepticism about the resurrection, however, does not have to be based on skepticism about the existence of God.  One can be a skeptic about the existence of Jesus, or a skeptic about Jesus alleged death on the cross, or a skeptic about whether Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.  If nobody knows that Jesus existed, then nobody knows that Jesus rose from the dead, and nobody knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.  If nobody knows that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, then nobody knows that Jesus rose from the dead, and nobody knows that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Skepticism about the resurrection could also be based on skepticism about supernatural powers or events, or skepticism about miracles.  For further discussion on skepticism about the supernatural, see Part 4 of this series.

A qualified form of skepticism can deny that people have a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED BELIEF that Jesus existed, or that Jesus died on the cross, or that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday.  Such skepticism could be argued on the grounds that Christians have failed to provide solid reasons and evidence showing that Jesus existed, or that Jesus died on the cross, or that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday.  Or such a form of skepticism might be argued for more generally on the grounds that the available evidence, primarily the New Testament writings, is unreliable and insufficient to establish these beliefs related to the alleged resurrection of Jesus.

A qualified form of skepticism can deny that people have a TRUE BELIEF that Jesus existed, or that Jesus died on the cross, or that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday.  Such skepticism could be argued on the grounds that the available evidence proves one or more of these beliefs to be FALSE, or that the available evidence shows one or more of these beliefs to be PROBABLY FALSE.

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