Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Contra Craig #4 - Argument from Easter

William Lane Craig makes the same four or five arguments in almost every debate, and yet continually his opponents are usually addled, befuddled, confused, disoriented & exasperated. For the sake of argument, I propose that each one of Craig’s arguments may be easily met with a brief response, a single question which strikes at the root of the fallacy being propounded:

  1. Cosmological argument – “What can the word ‘cause’ be understood to mean when taken out of its usual context within time and space?”

  2. Teleological argument – “Given that life exists, wouldn’t fine-tuning be necessary in order for metaphysical naturalism to be true?”

  3. Moral argument – “Why should we believe that human moral intuitions indicate the existence of anything beyond human beings?”

  4. Historical Jesus argument – “Given the historicity of an empty tomb, would not a natural process of myth-making (incorporating messianic expectation, eschatology, mysticism and syncretism) easily account for all subsequent doctrinal developments?”

  5. Subjective experience argument – “Supposing subjective religious experience is indeed a trustworthy and valid means of theological insight, why has it lead to incredibly divergent sets of mutually exclusive religious doctrine, even among those who lay claim to the spiritual heritage of Abraham?

Every one of these Socratic interrogatives requires a bit of fleshing out and following up, but only the fourth requires any particular expertise with the subject matter. That counterargument requires a more than a bit of study and also suffers from ceding more ground than strictly necessary from the perspective of methodological history, since the empty tomb may well be naught but a Markan literary device. I should note here that Craig himself has conceded the possibility of Matthew inventing quite a few empty graves as a parabolic and eschatological literary device in his narrative (during the recent Hitchens debacle) and it is no huge leap from there to considering the possibility that Mark did something similar in his gospel narrative.

That said, assuming that there really was a tomb which was found empty, there is little reason to suppose that it was the right one. Assuming the gospels are correct on these matters, Jesus was not interred by his own disciples, but rather by a member of the Jewish Council, the whole of which "were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death." Implausible as this might sound on its face, it nonetheless raises the question of how Jesus' female followers could have known the location of the tomb. Presumably, they covertly followed Joseph of Arimathea until he interred the body of their beloved rabbi, as they watched from a distance with tear-filled eyes, their minds clouded by shock and grief. Under such extenuating circumstances, they could have easily failed to find the correct tomb two days later, on Sunday morning.

Suppose, hypothetically and for the sake of argument, that the original episode in the tombs actually went something like this:
And when the Sabbath was past, Mary and Salome brought sweet spices to anoint the body. Very early in the morning, they came among the sepulchers at the rising of the sun. They said to themselves, “Who shall roll away the stone from the sepulchre?” They came to a sepulchre by which a great stone had been laid, stooped and looked into the tomb, but found it empty within. The women came across a young gardener walking amongst the graves and said to him, “They have taken away our rabbi, and we do not know where they have laid him.” The young man said unto them, “He is not in this tomb, behold, the place where the body would be laid.”
Just as in the oldest gospel, in this scenario the women were so absentmindedly grief-stricken as to forget to recruit a few strong men to move the stone, without which their journey would be in vain. Might also have forgotten the proper path to get to the right part of the tombs? It seems perfectly plausible, given their emotional and mental state at the time.

Hypothetically, the women end up at a sepulchre which only resembles the one which they had glimpsed earlier and from afar. While in the area, they have a brief exchange with a strange young man, and then begin the long trek back, exhausted, puzzled, and woebegone. Along the way, they start to reflect upon the significance of the empty tomb, and one of them comes up with the idea of a bodily resurrection as vindication of Jesus' righteousness and his teachings. From there on in, the process of mythical accretion begins in earnest and we end up with the gospel accounts as we have come to know them.

Is this scenario implausible or unlikely? Perhaps it is, at least somewhat, but bear in mind that it is to be compared against the probability of a disembodied mind taking on flesh for the express purpose of undergoing a violent death and thus appeasing its own wrath/bloodlust, facilitating a sacrificial atonement, and thereby fulfilling humanity's dearest wishes of eternal paradise.

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