On Feb 26th, 2017, we co-hosted an event on The Ohio State Campus called “Resurrection or Reimagined? Two Professors Discuss the Plausibility of the Resurrection of Jesus. This was a discussion between my friend Dr. Michael Licona, professor of New Testament at Houston Baptist University, and president of Risen Jesus. and Dr. Larry Shapiro, professor of philosophy at The University of Wisconsin, Dr. Licona has published extensively on the resurrection of Jesus. His book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach set the bar in scholarship. Dr. Shapiro has published a book called The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified.
Here were some of my thoughts on the discussion/debate. Obviously, much more can be said.
- Remember, Dr. Licona’s specialty is history and New Testament studies. And he has published many works on the resurrection. Shapiro’s specialty is philosophy. This doesn’t mean Dr. Licona doesn’t know anything about philosophy. He knows a lot about philosophy of history and anyone who has read his massive book on the resurrection of Jesus knows this.
- Shapiro doesn’t have a background in history and New Testament. So that hurt him on many levels. His comments about the New Testament being corrupted or embellished didn’t work and Dr. Licona exposed the weakness of that argument. Not even Bart Ehrman agrees we can’t know anything in the New Testament.
- Shapiro’s entire argument that the supernatural is always unjustified was question begging. This is a circular argument and is a repeat of what Hume said. Of course, there has been more than enough responses to Hume.
- I did think Shapiro did communicate well and connected with the audience. He was clear in his communication. He was funny as well.
- Abduction/Inference to the Best Explanation: Deductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). Both Licona and Shapiro appealed to what is called “Abduction” or “Inference to the Best Explanation.” Abduction or, as it is also often called, Inference to the Best Explanation is a type of inference that assigns special status to explanatory considerations. Most philosophers agree that this type of inference is frequently employed, in some form or other, both in everyday and in scientific reasoning. See Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy article here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abduction/
- Shapiro attempted to explain this with the cookie jar illustration which was good. But that didn’t translate well at all into his attempt to explain the competing hypotheses for the resurrection. He seemed unaware that many of those competing hypotheses had been answered and the ones he mentioned lack explanatory scope and power. They were also ad hoc. I was surprised he didn’t mention anything about hallucinations or cognitive dissonance. Those seems to be the big ones they use. We went over the problems with those at the RC meeting. He also said that perhaps a competing hypothesis was that the witnesses were deceived or they lied. But we must differentiate between what’s possible and what’s reasonable. Is it a possibility they lied or were deceived? I guess. But is it reasonable? Jim Wallace points out people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons: 1) Financial Gain: In this case, we don’t see any evidence for this. The New Testament shows the disciples/apostles being chased from location to location, leaving their home and families and abandoning their property and what they owned; 2) Sexual or Relational Desire: The New Testament does not say much about their “love lives.” There are Scriptures that speak to sexual purity and chastity; 3) Pursuit of Power: While Christianity became a state sponsored religion in the fourthcentury and the Popes became powerful both politically and religiously, there is no evidence (pre 70 AD), for the early disciples pursuing power as they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. As far as Shapiro’s points that people who follow cult leaders die all the time for their leader, the biggest difference is it is true they know they are dying for a lie and will still die for it. The witnesses in the NT thought that what they believed was true. Also, as Dr. Licona said, the argument isn’t because someone is martyred, that makes it true. We have never said that. We must also take into consideration about the entire scope of the ministry of Jesus. He isn’t just another cult leader.
- When the question from the audience came to him as to what like experiences had shaped Shapiro’s view of the resurrection, he said he had lost someone close to him, it revealed there is some pain there. I wonder if he prayed and maybe didn’t see God intervene. Who knows?
- Justification: I thought Shapiro’s use of justification was interesting. Justification says a belief is said to be justified when a person fulfills his or her duties in acquiring and maintaining a belief. A belief is said to be justified when it is based on a good reason/reasons or has the right grounds or foundation. Note he said he wasn’t arguing about whether the resurrection is true. But since the average person there may not know much about epistemology, he may have lost them on this point.
- Shapiro’s comments about people at the time of Jesus being mistaken about things at that time translated to “the first followers of Jesus could be mistaken about the resurrection.” This translated as “we are smarter than the ancients.” But this argument didn’t work and takes us back to his view any supernatural explanation is wrong. Even if they got some things wrong, he still must explain the competing hypotheses on the table.
- In my opinion, when Shapiro said Christians should be concerned that they do get the resurrection correct, this was a home run! It does impact the way we view reality. Thus, this was a good challenge for Christians. But his comments about abortion and gay marriage was telling. Once again, we have a secularist admit they are concerned about non-secular values forming public policy. Nothing new there. Remember, people get hurt on secular values and secular laws as well. So his view of reality better be right as well!
- The Cause of a Miracle? One things that did seem to come up was that we needed to get behind the cause of a miracle? Can we know? Stephen T. Davis has suggested three criteria for assessing whether a miracle remains a potential explanation: (1) when the available naturalistic explanations all fail and nothing else on the naturalistic horizon seems promising, (2) when the event has moral and religious significance, and (3) when the event in question is consistent with one’s background beliefs about the desires and purposes of God, as revealed in the religion to which one is committed (for example, the event occurred after prayer or as an aspect of an epiphany or incarnation). (see Copan and R.K. Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann (Downers Grove, IL: Intervaristy. 2000), 75. If we take these criteria in to consideration, it is evident that the resurrection of Jesus does have great moral and religious significance. If we take these criteria in to consideration, it is evident that the resurrection of Jesus does have great moral and religious significance. As far as our background beliefs about God, if there is a God who is responsible for the questions listed here, it would make sense that He would want to reveal his purpose and plans for humanity within the context of human history.
- How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Fine-Tuningof the Universe?
- How do you explain the Fine-Tuningof Planet Earth?
- How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
- How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
- How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
- How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?
12. As far as our background beliefs about God, if there is a God who is responsible for the questions listed above, it would make sense that He would want to reveal his purpose and plans for humanity within the context of human history. By the way, if we take these three criteria into consideration, I think Dr. Licona’s illustration as his head getting chopped off, etc would maybe fulfill these three criteria: (1) when the available naturalistic explanations all fail and nothing else on the naturalistic horizon seems promising, (2) when the event has moral and religious significance, and (3) when the event in question is consistent with one’s background beliefs about the desires and purposes of God, as revealed in the religion to which one is committed (for example, the event occurred after prayer or as an aspect of an epiphany or incarnation). But since they ran out of time, they couldn’t discuss these.
13.The debate showed the difference between classical and historical apologetics: The classical apologist generally starts with the evidence for God outside the Bible and then works his way to demonstrating that such a God would want to reveal more of Himself to the human race through special revelation. Hence, classical apologetics relies heavily on natural theology. Of course, the classical apologist knows that many faiths try to use miracles to validate the truth of their religion. Therefore, the classical apologist demonstrates that many of the miracle claims outside the Christian faith are lacking in historical/evidential support. Historical Apologetics does have some things in common with classical apologetics in that they begin with evidence to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Both the classical and historical apologist see historical evidence to be crucial to the defense of Christianity. However, the historical apologist doesn’t see the need for theistic apologetics (starting with evidence for God outside the Bible) as prior to historical apologetics. The classical apologist believes it begs the question to discuss the resurrection as an act of God unless one had first established that a God exists who can intervene into the world. The historical apologist argues that one can show that God exists by demonstrating from the historical evidence alone that an act of God occurred, as in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the supreme apologetic. The reason I bring this up is that since Shapiro already rejects what he calls the “supernatural” it shows there may be the need to establish there is a God first before it being even plausible that He has revealed himself within human history. See our post here for more on this.
Overall, the goal of the event was achieved. People are thinking and talking about the central event of the Christian faith which is the resurrection of Jesus.