IT'S LOGICAL: REASONING SHOWS A 97 PER CENT PROBABILITY JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD
22nd July, 2005
For many Christians, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - a central tenet of Christianity - is simply a matter of faith.
But according to a visiting Oxford University academic, Professor Richard Swinburne, it's also a matter of logic.
Using the tools of logic and mathematics, Professor Swinburne says there is a 97 per cent probability that Jesus Christ rose from the dead as described in the Bible.
“What I argue is that it's very probable that Jesus was raised from the dead," he says. “And if you give some artificial values that more or less capture what's involved and certain other probabilities then you get the value of 97 per cent."
Professor Swinburne, who has formally retired from his professorship but still lives in Oxford, is in Australia on a month-long lecture tour of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane which kicked off with a presentation to an international philosophy conference in Sydney and has since included lectures at places such as the Australian Catholic University and the University of New South Wales.
Professor Swinburne, who was the Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford University from 1985 until 2002, has written more than 10 books with titles such as The Existence of God, Faith and Reason, and The Resurrection of God Incarnate.
While he doesn't expect to write any new books, Professor Swinburne is currently reworking some of his earlier texts to incorporate some of the discussion that has occurred since they were published as well as some more of his own thoughts.
Professor Swinburne, who became a member of the Greek Orthodox Church after leaving the Anglican Church about 10 years ago, says he was led into philosophy by an “interest in deep metaphysical questions".
“I also thought the tools of philosophy would be useful in examining the evidence for and against the Christian religion and providing a justification of it," he says.
Professor Swinburne says that an evidence-based approach to the existence of God had played an important role in Christian history up until the past 200 years.
“Natural theology - the argument from the nature of the universe to God - has always been a part of the Christian tradition until Hume, Kant and Darwin came along," he says.
“It would be silly to worship a God who almost certainly doesn't exist; it would be silly to be involved in the practice of Christian religion if it was almost certain that religion was false."
He says the text of the Biblical book of the Acts of the Apostles reveals that Paul and Peter used an evidence-based approach in their sermons.
“They didn't say, 'Believe it on faith'. They said 'Believe it because we've met the risen Jesus'. I think we should continue in that tradition."
Professor Swinburne says that Christians have traditionally believed in Jesus for “all sorts of different reasons".
“Some people have a deep, personal religious awareness of the presence of God - they don't need arguments," he says.
“Some people in closed religious communities - such as some small village in the Middle Ages - when asked why do they believe in God say because the priest told them so and as they haven't heard from anybody else, it's always sensible to believe authority.
"But in the modern age we have many authorities teaching different things and a relatively few people, I should have thought, have a deep enough religious experience for it not to need backing up by argument. So certainly in our time we need these arguments as we did in the fourth century and the third century AD when there was a similar availability of all sorts of different views."
Agreeing that an evidence-based approach to God can also be a stepping stone to a deeper experience of His presence, Professor Swinburne says an evidence-based approach has been "all important" in his own faith walk, particularly in recent years.
“I've always been a believer but no doubt I didn't believe at first for the reasons I believe in now," he says. “But whilst my reasons for believing may have changed, my beliefs remain the same."
Professor Swinburne doesn't believe the church addresses philosophical issues as often as it should and says this is particularly the case when events such as the recent bombings in London take place.
He says churches tend to avoid the issue rather than trying to provide a justification of why God might allow such things to happen.
“It just says 'Oh well, God must mean it, we don't know why and that's that'. Which isn't a very satisfactory answer. I have my own theodicy (a branch of theology that examines how the existence of a good God is reconciled with the presence of evil in the world) which has been developed at considerable lengths, and yes, I think they need that."
PROVING THE ARGUMENT
Drawing on arguments contained in his 2003 book 'The Resurrection of God Incarnate', Professor Richard Swinburne employs a combination of logic and mathematics is to reach his conclusion that it is 97 per cent likely Jesus was God incarnate and rose from the dead.
“The resurrection, if it happened, was clearly a violation of natural laws," he says. “If natural laws determine what happens then it couldn't have happened. But if it's God, then He's responsible for natural laws and He can set them aside if and when He so chooses. So one can't possibly discuss...whether the resurrection happened without considering the other evidence about whether there is a God."
Professor Swinburne argues that the evidence of natural theology - such as the existence of the world and its conformity to order - make it “modestly probable that there is a God".
Ascribing an arbitrary value of a one in two chance to that probability, he says that if there is a God, then there are three reasons why He might choose to become incarnate and live among us:
ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ Firstly, given that He created humans, God would be expected to be involved with them and, as a result, see the need for atonement of our sin. It follows that if we can't atone for our own sins, God needs to provide a means for that atonement;
ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ Secondly, if humanity is suffering for a good cause (and if there is a God, we must be suffering for a good cause), He will identify with humanity by suffering with us;
ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ Thirdly, if there is a God, He would see the need to better inform us about “moral truths" through revelation.
Ascribing the probability of God becoming incarnate with the arbitrary value of one in two, Professor Swinburne then argues that if God was incarnate, "He's got to live a good life, a hard life to identify with our suffering - and a hard life ending in a brutal execution is apt".
"He's got to teach - as far as we can judge - the moral truth, He's got say He's making atonement for our sins, He's got to show that He believes Himself to be God, and He's got found a church to continue that work. But also, if God is to really show us that it is He, God, who has done this, He's got to put His signature on His work and that would be done by doing an act such as bringing to life again the person or prophet who teaches these things contrary to the laws of nature."
Professor Swinburne says that there is only one candidate in history who either lived the sort of life required or was the subject of a “signature act" such as resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ.
“The amount of evidence there is of that life and the amount of witness testimony there is to that resurrection are unparalleled in either case in human history..." he says.
If God did become incarnate, Professor Swinburne assigns the probability that there is only a one in 10 chance the evidence available about His life and resurrection would equal that found in the case of Jesus.
“Since there is only one prophet in human history who satisfies either of these demands to the extent that Jesus did, the chance that they would be associated together by chance - without God linking it - in one prophet is immensely low and I would call that one out of 1,000."
Taking all four figures, Professor Swinburne then puts them into a mathematical equation which results in the finding that it is “97 per cent probable that the resurrection occurred and that it occurred to God incarnate".
Peace.Removed all the annoying characters and restored quotation and apostrophe marks - Cleveland, GM