Evidence And The Resurrection

Induction, the basis for all scientific inference, presupposes the uniformity of nature, which is to say it operates under the expectation that the future will be like past. From a Christian perspective, it is ordinary providence that explains how the scientific method is possible. Therefore, to argue for the miracle of the resurrection according to evidence and human experience is “foolish” (Proverbs 26:4). Resurrection is a phenomenon that contemplates an exchange of ordinary providence for the miraculous, which pertains to God working without, above, or against ordinary providence (WCF 5.3).

The resurrection of Christ from the dead is contra-uniform. It does not comport with experience. Our experience is that people die and are not raised three days later. Also, we have all met plenty of liars and those deceived into embracing false beliefs (even dying for false beliefs!) but nobody living has ever observed a single resurrection of the body. Given the uniformity of nature coupled with personal experience, a more probable explanation for the empty tomb is a hoax put on by liars rather than a miracle put on by God. (The same reasoning applies even more to the virgin birth I would think.)

We do not come to know the Savior lives by examining evidence according to alleged neutral posture, for the facts do not demand the conclusion that Christ has risen. So, at the very least, Christians should not argue from evidence to resurrection lest we lie by implying that we know Christ lives because of evidence upon which our belief does not rest.

When well-meaning Christians remove the extraordinary claim of the resurrection from its soteriological context, the resurrection is anything but credible. Yet, the resurrection is perfectly sensible within the context of things we know by nature and are awaken to by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with Scripture. Namely, God’s wrath abides upon all men and God is merciful and loving. In the context of man’s plight and God’s character, the preaching of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ can be apprehended as not just credible, but the very wisdom of God. Our full persuasion of the resurrection unto knowledge of the truth is gospel-centric. The good news of John 3:16 is intelligible only in the context of the bad news of Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 3:10-20. The former presupposes the latter.

The place of evidence:

Evidence indeed corroborates the resurrection and is useful within a Christian context. We read in Scripture that a man named Saul who once opposed Christ became the chief apologist for the Christian faith. The way in which one will interpret the transformation of Saul to Paul will be consistent with one’s pre-commitment(s). Christians take the fanaticism of the apostle as corroborating what they already believe to be true about the resurrection; whereas naturalists will find an explanation for the apostle’s transformation and empty tomb outside the Christian resurrection interpretation. Similarly, the way in which one interprets Joseph Smith’s claims will be according to one’s pre-commitment(s). If one is committed to a closed canon, then the claims of Smith’s Mormonism will be deemed false.

There’s a vast difference between:

If resurrection, then evidence

and

If evidence, then resurrection

The first refers to evidence as something we would expect given the resurrection. Whereas the second construct employs evidence as sufficient for resurrection. The first is biblical – the second, fanciful.

Of course the tomb is empty, for Christ has risen. Of course the apostle Paul preached the resurrection of Christ with all his heart, soul and strength, for Christ has risen. Of course the Mormon religion is a cult, for Jesus is the eternal Son of God and the canon is closed. Do we come to believe these things by evaluating supposed brute-particulars in an alleged neutral fashion, or are our beliefs already marshaled according to our pre-commitment to God’s revelation of his love for condemned sinners? Do the “facts” speak for themselves or has God already exegeted the facts for us?

The only way one ever will savingly embrace Christ’s resurrection is if the Holy Spirit gives increase to the work of the cross as explicated in the context of God’s solution to man’s dilemma.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Transcendental Arguments, a Primer

Transcendental arguments (TAs) are deductive arguments in that if the premises are true and the form is valid, then the conclusion must be necessarily true. Furthermore, TAs pertain to preconditions for the possibility of the existence of some basic or common experience. That is, TAs put forth necessary precondition(s) without which a generally accepted experience is unintelligible. Finally, another distinguishing trait of TAs is that preconditions for such basic or common experiences are not learned by experience. The preconditions pertain to what can be known only apart from experience.

In analytic form a transcendental argument may look as follows, [where P is a common experience and Q is a necessary precondition for P, which can be appealed to on an a priori basis (and not according to a posteriori inference)].

Prove Q exists by way of: If P, then Q:

1. ~Q (Assume the opposite of what we are trying to prove: Assume Q does not exist.)
2. If ~Q –> ~P (If Q does not exist, then P does not exist since Q is a precondition for P)
3. ~~P (It is false that P does not exist – i.e. P does exist.)  (Contradiction)
4. ~~Q (It is false that Q does not exist.) (Modus Tollens 2, 3 and 4)
5. Q (Q exists.) (Law of negation)

In other words, for P to exist, Q must also exist since Q is a necessary precondition for P. Since P exists, then so must Q.

The analytic form of the argument is common and is most often used for non-transcendental arguments. Because TAs are concerned with preconditions for intelligible experience and how reality is, TAs have a unique quality about them both in what is purported as a shared experience among humans as well as the profundity of the transcendental itself. They’re not so trivial as to pertain to arguments such as, if the Eagles did not win Super Bowl LII on Sunday February 4, 2018, there would not have been 700,000 Eagle Fans celebrating an Eagles Super Bowl LII win on Thursday, February 8, 2018 on Broad Street in Philadelphia. There were 700,000 fans celebrating… victory… Therefore, the Eagles won Super Bowl LII.

Although celebration of victory presupposes victory, the Eagles Superbowl experience is not universally shared. Moreover, the argument would rely upon appeals to inferences gained by experience, such as we know from observation that sports fans typically celebrate victories, not losses, and we can witness victory celebrations following victories. Therefore, the form of an argument alone does not make a transcendental argument. Aside from being deductive arguments dealing with preconditions for shared and typically uncontroversial experiences, TAs also incorporate a (transcendental) premise that can be known only a priori. (The Eagles argument fails to be a TA on two out of three counts.)

Similarly, a necessary precondition for death is life but life is not a transcendental relative to death. Death presupposes life is an a posteriori consideration. One’s knowledge that death presupposes life can be appealed to according to empirical observation.

A brief comment about traditional theistic proofs:

Aside from the fallacious formulations of the traditional arguments for God’s existence (as they have been traditionally formulated), they are not transcendental-oriented. They don’t aim to demonstrate that God is transcendentally necessary for the possibility of, for instance, causality or design. That God is a transcendent first cause does not imply that God is a necessary precondition for the intelligibility of causation. We also might want to address that the unbeliever’s implicit claim on the intelligibility of causation does not comport with her worldview presuppositions (e.g. all that exists is chance acting upon matter over time). Because the unbeliever will not acknowledge a common creator and sustainer of men and things, she works on borrowed capital when operating as if the rational thoughts of the human mind should have any correlation to the way in which the mind-independent world rationally behaves.

Regarding necessary conditions in general:

“If causality then God” merely means that causality is a sufficient condition for God and that God is a necessary condition for causality. Which is to say: if causality exists then it is logically necessary that God exists. However, such a premise does not delve into the question of how God and causality relate to each other. It does not tell us whether God exists because of causality or whether causality exists because of God (or neither). If, then propositions often refer only to states of affairs, not order whether logical or temporal. (It’s not unlike, if justification, then faith; and, if faith, then justification. Both are true. Yet neither premise informs us that justification presupposes faith and that faith is a necessary precondition for justification.)

TAG from causality:

Causality presupposes God says more than causality is a sufficient condition for God and that God is a necessary condition for causality. Causality presupposes God implies that God makes causality possible. Since causality exists, then so must God. (To argue either way, for or against God, even presupposes God!)

TAG under delivers?:

Christians and Atheists often say that TAG does not achieve its goal because not every worldview can be refuted by a single argument. Such a claim demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the scope of transcendental arguments in general and TAG in particular. To deny the success of any particular TAG that is properly formulated is to reject logic and / or biblical truths. It’s also an indicator that one might be confusing proof with persuasion.

The transcendental premise:

So what about the controversial claim that God is a necessary precondition for causality? We can ultimately defend our knowledge of the premise by appealing to the absolute authority of Scripture. Of course, the unbeliever rejects that authority; nonetheless that the unbeliever is dysfunctional in this way does not mean that an appeal to Scripture is fallacious to justify one’s knowledge of the premise. It is critical at this juncture for the Christian to distinguish for the unbeliever (a) the source of her personal knowledge that God makes causality possible, which comes from the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination through the self-authenticating Scriptures, from (b) the proof that God makes causality possible. How we know x is not the argument for x.

What’s a girl to do?

Of course, given the unbeliever’s suppression of the truth of Scripture, the presuppositional apologist defends the transcendental premise by performing internal critiques of opposing worldviews, showing that they cannot account for causality etc., while showing that Christianity can. It would be a mistake, however, to think that such an accommodation and avoidance of any serious charge of being fideistic implies that the conclusion of TAG (God exists) and the justification for the transcendental premise (God is a necessary precondition for causality) rests upon inductive inference. By refuting opposing philosophical ideologies the Christian apologist merely acknowledges that the unbeliever refuses to bend the knee to the self-attesting Word of God. Since unbelievers will not accept the truth claims of the Bible, the only thing the Christian can do before God and onlookers is refute hypothetical competitors, but that hardly implies that a formulation of any given TAG is an inductive argument, or that the transcendental premise within such an argument is inferred only after having successfully refuted enough opposing worldviews.

God or ~God:

Lastly, we don’t have to refute an “infinite number“ of “explanations” for the intelligibility of causality. Either God is necessary for the intelligibility of causality or God is not necessary for the intelligibility of causality. Those are the only two possibilities. It’s not a matter of God vs naturalism, idealism, atheism, Platonism or any number of X-isms. It’s not a matter of a, b, c….  It’s a matter of a or ~a. Autonomy or ~autonomy reduces to  ~God or God.

The believer cannot get out from under the fact that he has an infallible word on the subject. Nor should she be embarrassed by the revelation of God as if it may not be appealed to disclose how we know what we know. There is no meaning if autonomous presuppositions are true; we know that through Scripture, though we demonstrate it by arguing for the impossibility of any proffered worldview.

Let’s reason together:

We don’t dodge the would-be competitors to God as the unifying source of otherwise brute particulars, the solution to the One and the Many. Bring them on and let’s see if they can make sense of reality, knowledge and moral absolutes. Let’s compare worldviews to see who can make sense of men and things. As each variation of the one non-Christian worldview is refuted one by one, let’s not mistake those refutations as the basis for our knowledge of God’s existence. Rather, let’s recognize those refutations for what they truly are – a display of what we already know apart from those refutations, that only God (and not autonomous reasoning) can make sense of God’s world.

Foundations of Presuppositionalism

“Dave, I’ve never said I could give you 100% proof of Christianity. But I think I’ve given you some very strong evidence – stronger than you have for believing a lot of other things, I’ll bet. But even if those evidences [for Christianity] weren’t that strong, you’d have good reason to commit yourself to Jesus, because the stakes are so high. You have a great deal to lose if you don’t and Christianity is true, and nothing to lose if you don’t and Christianity is false.”

Calvin Beisner (Answers for Atheists…)

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Apostle Paul (Mars Hill)
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Much of what passes today as a Christian apologetic has little to no resemblance to how Scripture confronts the ideologies of the age. The evidences for Christianity that might not be “that strong” can’t be the evidences the twenty seven books of the New Testament present. After all, Scripture is a more sure word of knowledge that is worth our attention, for by the power of the Holy Spirit it alone can cause light to break into dark places “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

If Genesis 15:17 and Hebrews 6:13 tells us anything it is that only God’s word can authorize God’s word. Unlike an expert witness in a forensic trial, who can God call in to verify his claims?! By the nature of the case, the testimony of Scripture is self-evidencing and not dependent upon the testimony of men or a subjective response. (As Westminster Confession of Faith 1.4 teaches, the Bible ought to believed, obeyed and received because it is the Word of God.)

Although the Bible self-evidences itself as divinely authoritative and infallibly true, those objective considerations can be distinguished from the Holy Spirit’s internal testimony, which bears witness to the Word of God as the Word of God. When a believer subjectively receives the Word of God for what it truly is, he does so on the authority of God speaking therein. That is why the apostle Paul could give thanks to God because the Thessalonians received the Word of God “as what it really is, the word of God.” (My focus here is not on salvation, but in passing it is worth noting that in a technical sense one’s knowledge of the gospel message will depend upon the warrant or justification for her true belief in the gospel message. Does the authoritative basis upon which we believe the gospel message is from God a matter of concern?)

Especially in the context of all men knowing God through creation and in judgement, God’s voice in Christ comes with equal clarity and authority (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18-20; John 5:36-37). If Jesus’ testimony of himself is not sufficient warrant for receiving him on his say-so alone, then Jesus could not truthfully and justly say, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48)

Regarding the fool who has said in his heart there is no God, he must be answered according to his folly lest the apologist aids him in appearing wise in his own eyes (Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 26:5). The goal in answering the fool this way is not so that he might believe God exists, for he already does know God, though he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:-18). The goal is that by showing the foolishness of unbelief the “unbeliever” will be (a) undressed before the world as the fool* he truly is and (b) given no occasion from the faithful apologist to be wise in his own eyes (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). No credibility may be given to the unbeliever’s agnostic claims and vain presuppositions lest we become like him in his foolishness (Proverbs 26:4). Not only must the unbeliever’s foolishness be exposed on its own terms (according to his presuppositions of unbelief), the unbeliever is also to be answered not according to his folly. If his folly is his would-be autonomy, then he is to be answered according to true presuppositions, the presuppositions of the world’s dependence upon God for all things.

Our apologetic is two-step. For argument sake we begin with the presuppositions of unbelief and proceed to expose the particular stripe of unbelief that is before us according to its arbitrariness and inconsistency. Then, for argument sake, we ask the unbeliever to assume the Christian worldview to see whether it makes sense of human experience. We are commanded to give a defense, yet in gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

God willing, in the coming days we will move from the theoretical to a formal proof of God’s existence.

* When the Bible calls man a fool, it is not engaging in ad hominem attack or cruel name calling. Rather, Scripture is referring to the one who conducts his life without regard for God. The fool does not fear God, which leads to corrupt and perverse living (no matter how camouflaged in hypocrisy).

 

Evidence

Can it be proven that Christ is risen?

If Harry did not believe the Philadelphia Phillies won the 1980 world series, he would likely change his mind if it could be proven from Baseball Almanac. Similarly, if Harry did not believe Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents would more than likely put the matter to rest for Harry. Similar examples could be given for state capitals, the location of famous rivers and so on. The point should be apparent. What one will accept as proof will depend upon what one accepts as authoritative.

The reason people are willing to change their minds on such matters after being confronted with a reliable, even an authoritative source, is because not much is at stake. It does not dramatically affect one’s worldview whether Calvin Coolidge rather than, say, Herbert Hoover was the 30th U.S. President. Just like it does not disrupt one’s worldview if one mistakes the winner of the 1980 World Series with the winner of the 1981 world series. Adjusting relatively inconsequential beliefs is not a matter of grave concern. Nothing major is at stake, other than perhaps a little pride.

In both cases, we may say that what was first in question by Harry was later proved true by a source worthy of acceptance. We may also say Harry became persuaded. Moving forward, we would do well to maintain a clear distinction between the objective nature of proof and the subjective nature of persuasion. The question before us is whether proof is ever dependent upon the result of persuasion.

Now what if Harry did not readily accept the testimony of a book on U.S. Presidents right off the bat? In other words, what if Harry was not immediately persuaded by an appeal to an authoritative book but then after further reflection realized the book must be correct. Obviously Harry’s disbelief would have given way to belief. Harry would have become persuaded by the proof for Calvin Coolidge as America’s 30th President. It is also noteworthy that the proof Harry would eventually be persuaded by never changed. Therefore, the proof itself did not become more persuasive. Rather, a valid proof with a reasonable premise (that such books are typically reliable) eventually persuaded. The variable was Harry. He changed. The proof remained constant. It did not change.

Lest we confound the objectivity of truth and what constitutes sound argumentation, we must maintain that Calvin Coolidge was objectively proven to be the 30th President of the United States prior to Harry becoming subjectively persuaded by the proof. If not, then objective proof would be dependent upon subjective results, in which case arguments could become sound (or go from weak to strong in the case of inductive arguments) after they are subjectively accepted, which would collapse proof into persuasion. It could not be proven to a philosophical skeptic that there is a tree outside the window or the cat is on the roof.

Putting this all together, if persuasion is a matter of what one will accept as authoritative and a sound proof is a matter of validly presented truth, then the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be proven from the Bible regardless whether the unbeliever rejects the authority of God’s word. If proving secular historical facts from fallible and potentially errant books is not dependent upon consensus, then how much more the case with facts contained in God’s infallible and inerrant Word? The issue at stake is what one will accept as authoritative.

Now obviously I would not expect an unbeliever to submit to the objective authority of God speaking in his Word without the Holy Spirit’s sovereign work of subjective persuasion, but neither should I expect a Christian to deny that the Christian worldview can be proven true from the Bible. Comparatively speaking (and whether one accepts it or not), we have it on greater authority that Christ is risen than Calvin Coolidge was the 30th U.S President (or the Phillies won the Series in 1980). Uninspired history books can err. God’s Word cannot.

At the heart of apologetic methodology is ultimate authority. How the authority of Scripture should shape the Christian’s defense of the faith is a matter of bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, (even as the Christian gives an answer for the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear.) How consistently the believer sanctifies the Lord God in his heart will determine his general apologetic methodology.

 

 

 

Antithesis

Unbelievers require a “neutral” investigation into the claims of Christianity. Unbelievers employ autonomous reasoning, i.e. reasoning from a mindset that does not acknowledge God’s epistemic Lordship over the possibility of human reason itself, without which unbelievers cannot judge whether the Bible should be deemed reliable for its claims let alone authoritative over all of life. Apart from judging the Bible from a throne of autonomy, the Bible and all it claims cannot be assessed as true. The problem with such a philosophical posture, which touches upon a concept that is difficult for both unbelievers and many believers to grasp, is that if the Bible must first be validated by the unbeliever as authoritative, then it cannot be intrinsically authoritative. Yet if the Bible is in itself authoritative by virtue of its divine origin, then no such human validation is permissible (or even possible when one is in submission to God’s word). As long as the unbeliever behaves this way – as long as he remains a judge of God’s word – the unbeliever remains his own authority, which means God‘s word is rejected while the unbeliever believes he is being neutral in his evaluation of that word. With hat in hand, God remains in the dock awaiting the unbeliever’s favor.

What is built into the unbeliever’s make-up is something from which the unbeliever cannot extricate himself. That is, there is an ethically driven intellectual bias, a deep seated antithesis that rejects the authority of God’s voice in Scripture. If God’s Word is authoritative, then it may not be judged. It must be obeyed for what it truly is, God’s word. But like Eve who placed God’s word on the same level of Satan’s and then rose above both to judge what is true, so it is with the posture of the unbeliever. He sits in the place of God.

It is not as though in conversion the unbeliever chooses to grant approval to God’s word and then by way of reason decides for himself to submit to what he himself has decided to be authoritative. Rather, in biblical conversion God subdues the sinner’s will, causing him to believe and to receive God’s word aright, as authoritative. (Then from a recreated posture of belief and submission, the believer can can choose to submit to the authority of what Scripture has to say.) Since we don’t choose to accept truth, the converted sinner doesn’t choose to believe and receive God’s word as being authoritative. Instead, by the grace of God the sinner’s rejection of the voice of God is overcome whereby he finally receives it for what it really is, the authoritative Word of God. 

As noted above, the unbeliever cannot free himself from his bondage and rebellious stance against God and his word. He is not neutral toward God. He is at enmity with his Maker. And although the apologist needn’t necessarily inform the unbeliever of this rebellion, it is nonetheless something of which the apologist should be aware lest his apologetic methodology likely suffers.

 

Apologetical Foundations

If God is the being that Scripture claims, then man’s knowledge must correspond to God’s knowledge if there is to be any human knowledge at all. Not only must man’s knowledge correspond with God’s, Scripture informs that God makes human knowledge possible. Human knowledge obtains when God enables us to think his thoughts after him on a creaturely level.

Yet when the believer engages the unbeliever on the question of God’s existence the unbeliever cannot rid herself of her moral rejection of God as a necessary precondition for the very possibility of knowledge. In her professed desire to be objective in her pursuit of the possibility (or actual existence) of some greater truth, she prejudicially dismisses God as the one who makes intellectual pursuit possible! Due to the effect of the fall, the unbeliever is anything but neutral in her approach to the question of God’s existence. The unbeliever presupposes at the outset that the requisite tools of rational investigation (e.g. logic, inference, memory etc.) and the context in which they function (e.g. reality and providence) are not God dependent. In other words, the unbeliever‘s bias is that any mind-world correspondence is perfectly intelligible apart from any reference point other than the finite human mind itself. Little if no consideration is given to the question of why the subject and object of knowledge should correspond, or how there can be a fruitful connection between the knower and the mind-independent external world that can be known. By the nature of the case, the unbeliever imagines that if God exists, he must be discovered through autonomous reason that is capable of functioning apart from God. In doing so, the unbeliever not only rejects a God who must make reason possible – she actually is not even seeking such a God at all! The unbeliever is seeking a god who does not make knowledge possible and has not plainly revealed himself in creation, providence and grace. The unbeliever is seeking an idol of her own making.

Given such antithesis between God and man, what sorts of things might the Christian want to be cognizant of when engaging the would be atheist? God willing, I’ll take a look at some of those things in the weeks to come.

Christianity, a Philosophical Worldview

Christianity isn’t an addendum to life, a past time of sorts or hobby that one may pick up for a while only to drop later should life become too busy. Rather, Christianity is a philosophical view of all of life. It’s the web through which a believer interprets God, men and things. In a word, Christianity is a full-orbed worldview. As such, Christianity isn’t merely a Sunday ritual or a moral code to live by. It’s much more than that. Christianity is something the believer simply cannot live without. That’s because all believers realize (to one degree or another) that when it comes to faith and practice Christianity has true answers to all things answerable. It’s only by wearing the spectacles of Christianity that one begins to make sense of reality, knowledge and ethics. As an all inclusive worldview that is consistent, coherent and explanatory it should not be surprising that Christianity explains creation, fall, redemption and consummation. In other words, Christianity informs us of how we got here, why things are such a mess, how things get put back together and where life is heading. There are no competitors to Christianity. It is the revelation of God.