While I could see Craig's point, I wanted to pursue this avenue further. "Some critics say that the Resurrection is an extraordinary event and therefore it requires extraordinary evidence," I said. "Doesn't that assertion have a certain amount of appeal?"
"Yes, that sounds like common sense," he replied. "But it's demonstrably false."
"Because this standard would prevent you from believing in all sorts of events that we do rationally embrace. For example, you would not believe the report on the evening news that the numbers chosen in last night's lottery were 4, 2, 9, 7, 8, and 3, because that would be an event of extraordinary improbability. The odds against that are millions and millions to one, and therefore you should not believe it when the news reports it. Yet we obviously believe we're rational in concluding it's true. How is that possible?
"Well, probability theorists say that you must weigh the improbability of the event's occurring against the probability that the evidence would be just as it is if the event had not taken place."
Craig rattled off that statement so fast that my mind was having trouble assimilating it. "Whoa," I said, holding up my hand. "You're going to have to slow down and give me an example."
"Okay, look at it this way: if the evening news has a very high probability of being accurate, then it's highly improbable that they would inaccurately report the numbers chosen in the lottery. That counterbalances any improbability in the choosing of those numbers, so you're quite rational to believe in this highly improbable event.
"In the same way, any improbability that you might think resides in the resurrection of Jesus is counterbalanced by the improbability of the empty tomb, Jesus' resurrection appearances, the sudden change in the first disciples taking place if there were no such event as the resurrection of Jesus. Do you see what I mean?"
Yes, I said, that illustration made his point clear. As improbable as the Resurrection might seem to skeptics, this has to be weighed against how improbable it would be to have all of the various historical evidence for its occurrence if it never actually took place.
"So," Craig concluded, "it becomes quite rational to believe in an event like the miraculous resurrection of Jesus. Besides, I look at it this way: if God really exists, then in what sense is it improbable that he would raise Jesus from the dead? I can't think of any."
"Have you seen skeptics who have become believers in Christianity because of the quality and quantity of the evidence for the Resurrection?" I asked.
Craig's eyes got wide. "Oh, yes, certainly!" he said. "I recently met a fellow who became a Christian out of the so-called free thought' movement. He looked into the Resurrection and concluded from the evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead. Of course, his free-thought colleagues bitterly railed against him. He said, 'Why are they so hostile? I merely followed the principles of free thought, and this is where the evidence and reason led me!"'
I chuckled. "Are you saying some 'free thought' folks aren't as free thinking as they would have people believe?"
"Frankly," he replied, "I think many skeptics act in a close-minded way."
As a former skeptic myself, I have noticed the same phenomenon. "Are you referring to the fact that some of them rule out even the possibility of miracles from the outset?" I asked.
"Precisely," Craig said. "Logicians have a term: 'inference to the best explanation.' This means you have a body of data to be explained, and then you have a pool of live options or various explanations for that data. You need to choose which explanation from that pool would, if true, best explain the observed data.
"Some skeptics, however, will not allow supernatural explanations even to be in the pool of live options. Consequently, if there is no natural explanation for an event, they're simply left with ignorance.
"That's prejudice. Apart from some proof of atheism, there's no warrant for excluding supernatural explanations from being a member of the pool of live options. If you do put them in that pool, then you've got to be an open, honest investigator to see which is the best explanation of any given event."
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