Daniel Ang: A Scientist Looks at the Resurrection

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

A physicist confesses that the electron is round and that Jesus rose from the dead. “My own faith is informed by the evidence, but it is much more.”

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

So here we are @Rumraket, though I know the conversation continues on the other thread: How Do Scientists Believe The Resurrection?.

Also relevant is this article from Ian Hutchinson: Can a scientist believe in the resurrection? Three hypotheses. - The Veritas Forum - The Veritas Forum

And this one from me: http://veritas.org/evidence-easter-scientists-list/.

Your question is a legitimate one. I would say that we already know that there are many true things outside of science. There is evidence for the Ressurection, even though it is outside of science too. I like, also, how @dga471 puts it:


A point of clarification. @dga471 didn’t say the electron was round. He showed that the electromagnetic field of the electron was very radially symmetric, i.e. round. He says nothing about the size or shape of the electron itself which is, as far as we know is zero size and neither round nor not round.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) pinned globally #4

(Guy Coe) #5

Don’t you guys all mean “perfectly spherical?” : )


Nope. The size of electron as far as we know is zero. That would make it have infinite curvature. Given the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which is really an informational way of the wave/particle duality, we really need to change our definition of particle and wave as the electron is both wavelike and particlelike. @Guy_Coe I know it can be hard for a non-physicist to understand this but if you just accept it on faith in physics, well you can live blissfully without cognitive dissonance. :sunglasses:

(Matthew Dickau) #7

Very well written, @dga471! I appreciate and concur with your approach - the evidence for the Resurrection is powerful, but will never be 100% certain. But it prompts us to seek out a relationship with Jesus in faith, as you say:

So I choose to believe. In doing so, I join in the confession of millions of Christians throughout time and space who also chose to follow Christ and let him change their hearts, minds, and way of life. The more I choose to surrender my life to Jesus, the more I grow in my relationship and trust in him. Far from undermining my scientific work, my faith gives it a purpose, meaning, and ultimate foundation. It is a foundation that I hope every person reading these words will share at some point.

And in seeking - many of us find Him. :slight_smile:

(Vincent Torley) #8

Hi @dga471,

I’ve been reading your personal statement, Daniel Ang: A Scientist Looks at the Resurrection. I’d like to focus on one statement you made:

…it seems clear to me that the theory that Jesus rose from the dead is a much more plausible explanation than any of the other ones.

It strikes me that an unbeliever might concede this point, and yet still argue that it doesn’t warrant belief in the Resurrection. Here’s why. Let’s say we’re comparing the Resurrection hypothesis (call it R) with some rival Naturalistic hypothesis (call it N). Let’s say that R explains the three key evidential facts you cite (let’s call them E) much better than N does - say, 100 times better. Thus P(E|R) is much greater than P(E|N). However, if the prior probability of R is much, much lower than N, then N will still emerge as the superior hypothesis, despite its awkwardness in explaining E. In general, P(N|E) will still be greater than P(R|E) if the ratio P(N)/P(R ) is greater than the ratio P(E|R)/P(E|N), which was 100 in our example above.

Now, given that the number of people who have ever lived is very large (about 10^11, according to current estimates), the prior probability of a resurrection is going to be very low, even granting the existence of a God who can work miracles: the evidence of history indicates that He seldom raises people. Of course, the naturalistic hypothesis N might turn out to be a highly improbable hypothesis, too, but its prior probability could still be several orders of magnitude higher than 1 in 10^11 - say, 1 in 10^5, making it 1,000,000 times more probable than R. If that’s the case, then even if P(E|R)/P(E|N) is 100, P(N|E) will still be 10,000 times greater than P(R|E). Thus on the face of it, it’s going to be very difficult to show, using Bayesian logic, that P(R|E) is greater than P(N|E).

Now, you might reply that my prior probability figure of 1 in 10^11 is too low. After all, Jesus wasn’t any old human being: he was a very special one, who cured the sick and preached the coming of the kingdom of God, and who made some extraordinary claims about himself and his role in history. Thus God had a special reason to raise him, in vindication of his claims. Fair enough. But in that case, you’ll have to put forward your own estimate for P(R ), which will involve some subjective judgments on your part as to what degree the 1 in 10^11 figure needs to be inflated. You’ll then have to justify your new estimate.

You might also try to argue that the ratio P(E|R)/P(E|N) is actually much greater than 100, as in our example above. After all, what kind of naturalistic hypothesis could explain 11 apostles seeing and hearing exactly the same thing, when they encounter Jesus? The odds against that would be astronomical. But here’s the thing: we don’t know that they saw and heard the same thing. There isn’t enough information in the Gospels to tell us that. To mention one possibility: what if most of the apostles initially had a very brief, shared apparition of Jesus triggered by Peter’s suddenly seeing him (“Look! There he is! Do you see him?”), and then after that, each apostle had his own private apparition of and conversation with Jesus? And what if only a few of the apostles who saw Jesus actually heard what he said - say, only Peter, James and John? Could it have happened that way? We don’t know. We also don’t know how many of the apostles touched Jesus. Matthew doesn’t tell us that any of them did, although Luke and John do.

In fact, what we have are three Gospel accounts (Matthew, Luke and John) of Jesus’ appearance to his apostles, written at least 25 years and possibly as late as 60 years after his death, which are wildly divergent regarding both the time and location of the resurrection appearances, as well as what Jesus said when he appeared to his apostles. To make matters worse, Matthew 28:17 records that some of the apostles doubted, and even Luke’s and John’s accounts include the motif of doubt. Finally, we don’t even know whether all of the apostles came to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection. Indeed, New Testament scholar Professor Maurice Casey (1942-2014) suggested in his biography of Jesus that some of them weren’t convinced (on the basis of Matthew 28:17), which is why they drop out of the narrative in Acts. That’s speculation on Casey’s part, of course. But the point I’m making is that we don’t have enough evidence from the New Testament to show that it is any less reasonable - or more reasonable, for that matter - than believing in the Resurrection. In the end, it all comes down to your own assessment of Jesus’ character and his impact on history.

Putting it another way: if all you knew about Jesus consisted of the Passion and Resurrection narratives in the Gospels, and you knew nothing whatsoever about his teachings, would it still be reasonable to believe in him? Obviously not. That should tell you that a case for the Resurrection which is built entirely on the Passion and Resurrection narratives and the brief testimony of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 isn’t enough to warrant faith in Jesus’ Resurrection. Much more is needed to make belief in the Resurrection intellectually reasonable, including a close study of Jesus’ teachings, how his teachings were subsequently transmitted by his followers, and the impact of his ideas on world history, making him a unique force for good in the history of the world.

My two cents.

(John Harshman) #9

I was wondering if anyone would put forth a Bayesian argument and was considering doing so myself. The prior for resurrection would crucially depend on the prior for God’s existence, which I would put very low. And if one is trying to use the resurrection as evidence for God, I’d say that’s backwards. One would need to have a high prior for God in order to interpret the meager evidence of the bible as making the posterior probability of resurrection high. Or to put it another way, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, and both resurrection and God are highly extraordinary.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #10

I see the other way around @John_Harshman. The Resurrection (and the evidence surrounding it) changes how I figure the probability of God’s existence, not the other way around.

(John Harshman) #11

I’m not sure that’s true. Did you become a Christian because your were convinced by the evidence that the resurrection happened? I find it hard to believe that (back to the Bayesian framework) anyone’s posterior for belief in God would be moved much by that flimsy evidence unless his prior were already quite large. After all, we have the testimony of eight honest men that they saw the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and yet I doubt you believe that those plates existed.

(Matthew Dickau) #12

@swamidass and @John_Harshman , it can go both ways, actually. (Tim and Lydia Mcgrew make this point in their article that @dga471 references. )

Independent reasons for believing in God raise the prior probability for the resurrection, and the historical evidence for the resurrection also raises the posterior probability that God exists.



Can you tell me more about thesse eight testimonies?

Are they independent and eyewitness? Do they have any minor discrepancies or contradictions (I see that as a mark of authenticity)? How early do they appear in correlation with the plates? Do they help explain the rest of the evidence? Does Joseph Smith just claim 8 people saw them?

I’m very interested in these answers.

(John Harshman) #14

I could, but I would find it annoying. Were those questions seriously intended? It’s something you could google in moments. However, the interesting thing is that Mormons find the evidence convincing, but nobody else does. Coincidence?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #15

I was not aware Mormons thought this was convincing. It does not appear to be the evidence that they rest their faith.

(John Harshman) #16

They find the testimony to be convincing evidence that the golden tablets existed. Of course that’s because they’re already mormons. I speculate that this is analogous to you being convinced by testimony of the resurrection.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #17

I think you are missing the point here. They don’t think this has much epistemic merit, from what I have seen, and instead direct people to a “burning bussom.” Mormonism has a distinct epistemology that strongly deemphasizes public evidence.

(Mikkel R.) #18

By some infinitesimally small amount, since there are an almost infinite number of possible conceptions of God. Having independent evidence that a God exists tells you next to nothing about what kind of God it is or what it wants. Just as you can imagine a God that wants to resurrect Jesus, I can imagine a God that planted the story, or never resurrects anyone. Heck, I can even imagine a God that would actively try to prevent that.

Merely presenting some evidence that a being with the capacity to resurrect Jesus exist is far from showing that it would want to. You still have all your work ahead of you in establishing the plausibility of the resurrection.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #19

To @vjtorley’s point, to understand this peice of the puzzle:

You want objective evidence? There is the Resurrection. You want coherence? Well, for that you have to go deeper.

(John Harshman) #20

You have definitely exceeded my knowledge of mormonism. Still, I think the analogy isn’t hopeless. The only people who believe the golden tablets actually existed are mormons already. My conjecture is that those who believe the evidence of the resurrection are Christians already. Is it really true that the biblical evidence of the resurrection is what convinced you to become Christian and that you had no prior commitment?