Dealing with the Inductive Argument Against the Resurrection

As every student of logic knows, every argument is composed of at least one premise and a conclusion. The two premises are used to support the argument, and if they fail to support the argument the argument may be invalid or unsound. Thus, in the classic deductive argument about Socrates' mortality, the argument reads like this:

Premise 1 (P1). All men are mortal
Premise 2 (P2). Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

In a valid deductive argument, the premises are such that if the two premises are true, the conclusion must be true. In the case of an inductive argument, it is often the case that the argument can have one premise and the conclusion is a reasonable inference from the premise. Thus, an example would be:

P1. Every frog that I have ever seen is green.
Conclusion. The next frog that I see will be green.

Of course, the confidence that comes from the inference varies depending upon the strength of the evidence found in the first premise. Thus, if I have only seen 10 frogs in my life, then the fact that they were all green makes my case much less strong that the next frog I see would be green then if I had spent the past 25 years of my life studying frogs and seen well in excess of one million frogs and they were all green.

Now, one skeptical argument against Christianity relies upon the strength of inference and inductive reasoning to claim that Christianity is false. It would go something like this:

P1. In my entire life, I have never seen a person resurrected from the dead after two days of being dead.
Conclusion. Therefore, Jesus did not resurrect from the dead after two days of being dead.

(Note, I say "after two days" to remove from the argument people artificially resussitated and to take into account the Biblical teaching that Jesus resurrected on the third day.)

Now, this statement is actually a very strong inductive argument. I certainly have little doubt that such a statement is true: they have not seen a person resurrected from the dead after being certifiably dead for two days. I know that I've never seen a person who has been dead two days resurrect from the dead. In fact, the argument is strengthened because I doubt that there's a single person alive today who has witnessed such a thing, and throughout history I suspect that there are so few claims of such events (and even fewer that have never been debunked in some sense) that it is so highly improbable that it seems legitimate to claim that it is highly unlikely to the extreme that such a thing could have happened. Ergo, it is argued, it is unreasonable to believe that Jesus was resurrected following two days of being dead.

So, how might a Christian deal with this inductive argument?

It seems to me that the answer is to admit that the resurrection of Jesus is so unlikely that, all things being equal, it would be silly to believe it occurred against the mountain of evidence that such resurrections don't happen. However, it isn't the case that all things are equal in this circumstance. After all, in the ordinary course, a rock lying on the ground will simply sit there unmoving, held in place by the force of gravity. If I were to lay 1000 rocks on level ground and watch them over 1000 years, I feel very confident that my observation would lead me to conclude that once rocks lie on level ground they will not rise into the air because gravity is holding them in place. Yet, if a person walks up and picks up one of the rocks and throws it into the air, the rock has done something that is contrary to the natural forces acting upon it and the inferences that I would have arrived at following my 1000 years of observation. Of course it's true that rocks don't rise in the air on their own, but a person -- an intelligent, sentinent being who has has abilities beyond those of a rock -- can lift the rock and throw it into the air.

In the same way, it is certainly true that in the ordinary course people who have been dead for two days don't suddenly rise from the dead and a very strong inference from 1000s of years of observation confirms that conclusion. However, if someone who has abilities beyond the ordinary human being's ability to give life chooses to raise that person from the dead, does the fact that we ordinarily wouldn't expect it (and, in fact, in the ordinary course without intervention by an outside power would find it to be impossible) mean that it can't happen?

When speaking of God -- who is outside of our physical universe, who created everything we see, and who gives and sustains life -- it is not unreasonable to note that His involvement can disrupt the strongest of inferences as to what should happen and would happen in 99.99999% of all cases. Now, you can get into arguments about whether there is a God or whether he acted here, but the point is that the inference from past experience in no way makes an invincible case that Jesus couldn't have resurrected from the dead. God's intervention would, in many cases, cause things to happen that are statistically improbable or impossible.


Vinceny Sapone said…
On a more fundamental level, no argument from induction can ultimately prove anything. There is no logical necessity involved in the idea of a man and dying. This is where you use David Hume, ironically, to flout skepticism.

If you choose to define man as mortal then all men do die. But if man is provisionally described as mortal on the basis of observation there is always room for exception in that description. To say that man is mortal is too assume that the heading "man" does not include an immortal soul---which despite the inductive evidence for physical death--most people in the world still believe in. We can be confident that the physical self ages and stops functioning as normal for most all people. Can there be exceptions? If you believe in God, yes, if not no.

We are not afforded the lucury of knowing all that there is to know about what constitutes a man. In fact, the mind-soul-body problem is still alive and well with both sides of the debate not being able to cogently extrapolate their beliefs. This is where the materialists easily crumble--and so to do some theists, however. Failure to heed the advice of Socrates gets you into philosophical trouble.

This is how you resolve the issue of Jesus being fully God and fully man. How is this possible, the skeptic might ask? Well since we do not know all that it means to be either fully man or fully God, we cannot be sure they are mutually exclusive.

Hume may have furnished the solution to this difficulty but he offers us another problem. I think the question that needs to be asked is, are miracles so improable--- that accepting them over the explanatory notion of you being crazy, someone lying, or your mind playing tricks on you is the less rational course of action?

This is the tough question for theists but the answer to this is easier than we think. We don't know the probability of a given miracle for we don't know the mind of God. Thus, if we simply do not allow materialism the default position the objection loses its force. Its probable left to their own rocks will stay where they are. If God desired to throw them at someone the probability of them doing so would increase.

Plus improbabilities such as this happen all the time. If I shufflew 50 decks or 52 cards together and deal them out. What was the probability of that sequence occuring? Kazillions to one. It happened though and will never happen again. Should I believe that it didn't happen because the "odds" of it happening in that way were so unlikely? Obviously, somewhere, someone is abusing probabilty and induction when its turned against God.

BK said…
Excellent observations, Vinnie.

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