Is the Resurrection Unbelievable?
A short adventure in probability theory
Among other responses to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent “coming out” as Christian in Unherd magazine, Michael Shermer has added his .02 on his Substack here. Richard Dawkins has since tweeted it out as “a brilliant riposte.” It’s a long piece that ambitiously tries to cover a lot of bases. I won’t try to cover all those bases in reply, but I thought there might be value in taking up just one point: the probability of Jesus’ resurrection.
Michael wrote me a nice e-mail about five years ago when I was just emerging as a writer, after my take on the Jordan Peterson vs. Sam Harris debates went viral. He could tell I was a Christian, so he wanted to share a little of his own writing on why he wasn’t convinced by the evidence for the resurrection. We went on to have a couple short cordial exchanges, nothing extensive, but I appreciated the friendly gesture. At the time, I was still using a pen name, so I just engaged on the substance without revealing this was actually an area of heavy philosophical research focus for both my parents. But now that the cat’s out of the bag, I’ve been thinking for a while about how to introduce people to some of this work in an accessible way. So, as a beginning, while the topic is a little bit current, I thought I would dust off something my father wrote as a gentle introduction to a question whose answer can get a bit technical, depending on how deep you want to go with it: Is the resurrection unbelievable?
Most people expressing skepticism about Christianity, whether they’re laymen or academics, will say yes. When it comes to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, they will say of course, just about any explanation of the claim seems “more probable” than Jesus actually rising from the dead. After all, isn’t a miracle always the least likely possible explanation for anything, by definition?
Well, yes and no, and that’s what my dad is going to unpack here. He originally wrote this little piece as a lay-level response to this lay-level piece by philosopher Larry Shapiro, whom Shermer has relied on heavily over the years in framing his own arguments against the resurrection. Since Shermer doesn’t add much beyond Shapiro, it will be relevant to Shermer’s recent Substack. I’m mostly preserving Dad’s original words here, but I’ve made some light cuts and additions with his permission. You won’t find this article anywhere else unless you know exactly what to look for with help from the Wayback machine, so I’m happy and proud to make it a little more accessible (although I’m still throwing a paywall on it for now, because I haven’t run any exclusive content for a while, and on account of I don’t have a day job, I need to keep giving y’all a reason to give me money so I can pay rent and stuff!)
So with that, over to Dad.
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