Responding to Michael Shermer’s article: What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?

This is the time of the year where many Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Personally, I think it should be celebrated every day. But that’s a topic for another time. Skeptic Michael Shermer has written an article called What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?

Sadly, there is nothing original in this article at all.

In it, he says:

“The principle of proportionality demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims” Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find.”

So let’s lay this out here:

(1) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
(2) The claim that any miracle such as the resurrection is extraordinary.
(3) Therefore, any evidence supporting it ought to be extraordinary as well.
(4) I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “extraordinary.”
(5) But whatever evidence you attempt to come up with, it’s not going to work.
(6) Therefore, we can’t ever have justification for believing Jesus rose

If “extraordinary evidence” means that one must provide miraculous evidence for any miracle or so called extraordinary claim, it would lead to an infinite regress. In other words, if the theist kept providing miraculous evidence the objector would most likely keep asking for more evidence. It would go on and on.

Natural Causes Only?

If an “extraordinary claim” means something that is non-natural, than it must be shown that natural laws are immutable. However, natural laws are not immutable because they are descriptions of what happens, not prescriptions of what must happen. Natural laws don’t cause anything, they only describe what happens in nature.

In asking whether “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” it is also important to understand the difference between deductive reasoning which is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). But whether a miracle has occurred is not determined by a priori probabilities but by a posteriori facts.

If you want to see how William Lane Craig answered this issue, see his debate with Keith Parsons.  This pretty much sums up the issue.

Who was David Hume? 

David Hume ( 1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian. Although many of his arguments have been found to be problematic in contemporary philosophy, his legacy and writings live on in the academic arena. Most of  the skeptical arguments against miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus) in the Bible can be traced back to Hume. As James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis say in their book In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment“It is no exaggeration to say that, from his days to ours, the vast majority of philosophical attacks against the rationality of theism have borne an unmistakable Humean aroma.” Hume left us with his argument against miracles:

1. Natural law is by definition a description of a regular occurrence. 2. A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence. 3. The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare. 4. A wise man always bases his belief on the greater evidence. 5. Therefore, a wise man should never believe in miracles.

A response to Hume’s argument:

1. Even if people saw Jesus rise from the dead, according to Hume, you as a wise person, should not believe it. It seems a bit odd to something wrong to disbelieve what you verified to be true. 2. Hume confuses probability with evidence. He does not weigh the evidence for each rare event; rather he adds the evidence for all regular events unworthy of belief. This is flawed reasoning. The issue is not rather we have an event is that is regular or rare, the issue is whether we have good evidence for the event. We must weigh the evidence for the event in question, not add the evidence for all previous events. 3. Hume’s Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview) is clearly seen here. He rules out miracles in advance and hides behind his presuppositions. 4. Hume’s “uniform” experience either begs the question or is special pleading. It begs the question if Hume presumes to know the experience is uniform in advance of the evidence. (6)

There have been more responses to Hume’s arguments than I can count on my hand. Even people were writing counterarguments to Hume in his own day. To read one of the more current responses to Hume, see John Earman. Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles.

Or see, John Depoe’s lecture here:

The Resurrection?

I do agree that the resurrection of Jesus isn’t an ordinary claim. But the statement, “extraordinary claims require evidence” can cut both ways. One can’t dismiss the historical data for the resurrection simply because it is a so- called “miracle claim.” We need to remember that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical claim.

Therefore, historians can and do apply historical tests to the very documents that discuss the resurrection.  After all, it is certain aspects of the historical method that makes it possible to attempt to demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happened. Hence, it is falsifiable.  For example,  I remember watching documentary film  by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron called The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The documentary was an attempt to demonstrate that archaeological evidence warranted that Jesus’ tomb was found. So we need to be consistent in our use of the historical method to show what can and can’t happen.

So in my opinion, we must at least be willing to look at the five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus). These five facts are:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a committed follower of Jesus the Messiah

And one must explain how naturalistic theories that have been presented throughout the centuries have better explanatory power for: 1. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimatha 2. The discovery of Jesus’ tomb 3. The postmortem appearances 4. The origin of the disciple’s belief in Jesus resurrection 5. A high Christology in a very short time period/The birth of the Messianic Movement-pre 70 A.D.

What about the other religious claims such as Mormonism, Islam, etc., who make extraordinary claims? For starters, in evaluating any extraordinary claim, here are a few guidelines:

1. What does it claim to know? 2. How does it claim to know it? 3. What is the evidence for it? 4. What is the historical and religious context for the claim?

False Analogies

Also, we want to avoid false analogies. This type of analogy is said to be false when it compares two objects that are actually relevantly dissimilar or if the points of comparison are used to draw a conclusion that simply does not follow. For example, skeptics like to compare the resurrection of Jesus with belief in Big Foot, UFO’s, etc. This gets really old. I don’t have any  historical or religious context for Big Foot or UFO’s. And the last time I looked, there is quite a bit of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and very little if any for Big Foot, or UFO’s. So it would be nice if skeptics would stop with the poor analogies. 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


I don’t expect the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” to go away. It is so ingrained in skeptics minds that it comes up with almost any conversation with them. There is no need for the apologist to keep providing evidence for the one who keeps bringing this objection to the table. I doubt much will ever satisfy them. To see more on this, see the post “What evidence will satisfy hard-core unbelief?”

Sources: 1. Kreeft, P. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1994, 101-120. 2. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481. 3. Ibid, pgs 470-481. 4. Ibid. 5. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12. 6. See Geisler, N.L., and Frank Turek. I Do Not Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 197-217.