Sunday, July 8, 2007

Part 4: Have we decided anything about the resurrection?

I want to thank every person who took the time to comment in the resurrection posts (Steven Carr, John Noyce, Bryan, Geoff, J.D. Walters, Jim Deardorff, James Crossley, Doug Chaplin [who wrote his own excellent post on the subject], Danny Zacharias, John, Tim Henderson, Deane [who also posted on the resurrection], Leon, and Loren). I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them and I have learned from your generosity of knowledge.

1. I am reaffirmed (thanks to an anonymous blogger named "John") that I should stick with SBL (smile!). I think he is right when he says:
I think you would grow tired, eventually, of the relative monotony of the AAR crowd, careful as that crowd is to rule out of consideration the possibility that God in the classical Jewish or Christian sense exists, while ruling in every imaginable modern ideology as a platform from which to interpret religious texts. I can't imagine you disagreeing that many AAR papers (I've heard or read many myself) are little more than sermons which preach to a choir of choice...
2. Mr. Walters has written many fiery comments in all the resurrection posts, and says that my position is nonsense and that I have misunderstood his. Certainly I do not consider my position that "dead bodies stay dead" nonsense. We can argue many things are possible, and that there are no absolute conditions for laws of nature. Tomorrow I might wake up to find myself green, or the floor no longer solid, or dead bodies rising out of the tombs. But I doubt that that will be the case tomorrow or the next day or any day of my life. Mr. Walters is correct that an inductive argument does not lead to a logically necessary conclusion. But the point of making arguments from history is that they are very strong inductive arguments. The argument that Jesus wasn't physically resurrected from the grave is a very strong inductive argument, much stronger in my opinion than the opposite - If anything is possible, Jesus could have risen from the grave, because we can't say based on inductive reasoning that on one can rise from the grave. On this point, I would like to quote from one of Wade's books by Simon Altmann (Is Nature Supernatural? p. 55-56):
I must remark for the moment that the question of the use of induction in scientific practice remains one of our major problems. I shall later propose a solution based on the principle that propositions in science never stand or fall on their own; that they must be closely knitted within what I shall call the scientific mesh of facts and theories, and that the use of induction for a proposition can only be legitimized when the proposition is integrated (or, as I shall call it, entrenched) as part of this scientific mesh.
It is my opinion that Altmann's "solution" is the one that historians should (even must) own as their own. Without it, we cannot "do" history, as we cannot "do" science.

3. Deane has a wonderful response to my thoughts that just maybe there were some Jews around the time of Jesus who toyed with the idea that some of the righteous dead had already been resurrected. Yes, this would have quite the implications for christology, if it is so (which I'm still pondering). I had always assumed that the righteous dead were "spirits" living with God before the end-of-the-world - Loren is correct that there is a difference between immortality of the soul and a resurrected body (Alan Segal has made this very clear in his wonderful book, Life After Death) - but the teaching attributed to Jesus is not making this argument. He is arguing that the resurrection of the dead is proven because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live with God already.

4. Leon has pointed to a couple of OT stories that he thinks could be understood in terms of resurrected bodies. First to note - the stories probably did not refer to resurrection "originally." But what they may have come to mean to Jews in the first century is another story altogether. My question is this: Are bodies brought back from death the same as resurrected bodies in first century Judaism? Maybe. On this point I think of the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the grave and John's understanding of this in terms of resurrection: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live..." (11:25). If Lazarus is the beloved disciple in John (and I think he is the only good choice narratologically), then the Johannine Christians thought that Lazarus had been resurrected from the dead and thus would never die. So they were surprised and traumatized when he died (John 21). I guess what I'm saying is that whoever wrote John believed that the raising of Lazarus was his resurrection.

5. I think that naturalistic explanations can explain the story about Jesus' physical resurrection. I have thought for a long time as James Crossley has indicated, that we should be investigating these sorts of explanations. James writes in the comments:
I find myself more and more coming to the same kinds of conclusions on the issue of historical practice. There are *always* plenty of alternatives to supernatural explanations. Consequently, it becomes futile to try and explain things with reference to supernatural which can hardly be measured or analysed in a meaningful (in terms of historical reconstruction) way.
For me this would be emphasizing religious experience, psychology, dream states, construction of memories within an eschatological Jewish community, transmission of stories in oral-literate environment, and so forth.

11 comments:

John Lyons said...

Fascinating discussion. But I doubt you’ll find it touching someone who believes in the resurrection. Part of the problem is that a certain utilitarianism keeps echoing - without ‘x’ we can’t do history. True, but not the ‘Truth’, I can already hear your critics saying.

Without wishing to criticise your historical methods, virtually all of which I habitually use, child of the Enlightenment that I am :), I would like to point out that your take on indication is badly flawed.

‘Tomorrow I might wake up to find myself green, or the floor no longer solid, or dead bodies rising out of the tombs. But I doubt that that will be the case tomorrow or the next day or any day of my life. Mr. Walters is correct that an inductive argument does not lead to a logically necessary conclusion. But the point of making arguments from history is that they are very strong inductive arguments.’

This is incorrect for two reasons. Historical arguments do not work from the events themselves, but rather from the traces of the events left in history. In other word, you are not operating as an empirical scientist would work, from present experimentation, but rather extrapolating from our texts and artefacts. Not problematic, but not very strong either – it is commonly called a weak form of induction.

The second reason is much more damning. The problem with induction - long recognised by the likes of David Hume and Karl Popper – is that however many times an event happens, there is an infinite number of times it has yet to happen. Dividing the sample by infinity always leaves a probability of virtually zero. In terms of induction, you can *never* have a strong argument. All I think you could say is that you have a strong psychological argument against resurrection.

Incidentally, Altmann’s solution is basically a version of Kuhn’s paradigms or Lakatos’ research programmes, both of which are responses to and replacements for induction. But both are very susceptible to a relativistic interpretation and quite probably will never be able to quell your opponents.

Best wishes

John

John Lyons said...

"Without wishing to criticise your historical methods, virtually all of which I habitually use, child of the Enlightenment that I am :), I would like to point out that your take on indication is badly flawed."

I meant, of course, "induction". What can I say, it was early in the morning,...

Steven Carr said...

What should be made of Wright's inductive argument that nobody in the first century would take a 'non-bodily vision' (sic) as an indication that Jesus was still alive?

Is that a weaker inductive argument than the claim that dead people are not alive?

JD Walters said...

Mr. Lyons,

I know you probably disagree with me on the resurrection, but I found it reassuring that you reached the same conclusion that I did about the 'argument from biology'. I also tried to point out that there are problems with the appeal to induction in the historical sciences and concluded that "Repeated experience with 'dead bodies staying dead' might produce a strong mental aversion to the idea of a resurrection (as Wright points out, this held for the ancients as much as modern people; ancients knew that when people died, their bodies were just corpses), but it means nothing one way or the other about whether such a thing is possible..." I take it this is what you mean when you write that "All I think you could say is that you have a strong psychological argument against resurrection." If you meant something else I would be grateful if you would correct my misperception.

Dr. DeConick,

I did not accuse you of having nonsensical views. I DID think that one particular argument that you tried to make is meaningless because it rests on a misunderstanding of the epistemology of science. I was also furious that you so lightly dismiss legitimate scholarship by evangelicals as 'apologetics' because it doesn't jibe with your understanding of proper 'scientific', historical method. That may have caused me to take on a sarcastic tone and get a bit 'fiery'!

Let me ask a question: in the academic world scholars try to come up with positions (or theses, or hypotheses) which they think are defensible based on arguments, etc. and spend a good deal of time defending these views against critics. Many times these scholars stick to their guns and continue to be outspoken in the defense of a certain idea even when the 'mainstream' in their field is against them. Now how is this different from 'apologetics'? Aren't all scholars 'apologizing' (in the original Greek sense) for some view or another? I notice that you do this quite a bit on your blog, defending the value of non-canonical documents in the face of widespread skepticism about their use in reconstructing Christian origins. Aren't you engaging in apologetics? You might say that the difference is that you use legitimate scholarly arguments and handle the evidence carefully but that is just begging the question without more careful analysis.

All that to take me back to the original point on your Crossley post: let's keep a level playing field and avoid labels like 'apologetics'. Contributing to this blog are evangelicals (such as Michael Bird) who are every bit as deserving of the title 'scholar' as you are.

Steven Carr said...

WALTERS
I also tried to point out that there are problems with the appeal to induction in the historical sciences....

CARR
If Wright can find 500 texts written by pagans saying resurrections are not possible, he concludes that no pagans anywhere at anytime ever thought that a resurrection was possible.

What is this except an incredibly weak argument from induction?

If I took a random sample of 1000 Americans, how likely would I be to hit on the belief that the identical twin brother of Jesus was crucified in his place?

Can I then conclude from my sample of 1000 people that not one person in America would believe that the identical twin brother of Jesus was crucified in his place?


(And this is assuming that Wright really does have 1000 texts denying the resurrection by pagans and has never found one affirming that corpses can rise from the dead)

Almost all of Wright's arguments are really bad arguments from induction.

IE Some Jews wrote claiming that nobody would rise before the general resurrection, therefore no Jew could have believed that somebody would rise before the general resurrection.

I'm certain that Walters can spot the flaw in that argument of Wright's!

April DeConick said...

Dear Mr. Walters,

I do find your tone and assumptions offensive, especially your accusation that I understand "scholars" to exclude people from the evangelical tradition. This is hogwash - your words not mine. Scholars come from all sorts of different backgrounds, religious and otherwise. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this!

What I have maintained and continue to maintain is that the pursuit of approximate historical "truths" is a different pursuit from the theological. I don't find biblical scholarship that is theologically apologetic very helpful, because I think that it crosses boundaries and confuses the historical approach. If this is historically "apologetic" as you suggest, then so be it.

I can give many cases in point - how theology and history have been confused in biblical studies - but I really don't feel like bothering because I do not think you are actually interested in what I am saying. Rather your approach appears to me to be one of argument for the sake of argument.

Wade Allen said...

John and J.D.,

I'm not convinced that April's take on induction is particularly flawed. First, I think that when April wrote "But the point of making arguments from history is that they are very strong inductive arguments" what she meant was that the point of making arguments from history is to make as strong an inductive argument as possible - she wasn't saying that inductive arguments in historical contexts are particularly strong because they are historical. She is saying that, presumably, because all arguments about historical events are inductive arguments, the best you can do is to make your argument as strong an inductive argument as possible. (If anyone really believed that no inductive argument can be strong there would be little reason to brush ones teeth in the morning. The basis for believing that brushing ones teeth helps lessen tooth decay is, after all, purely inductive. I, for one, am not giving up my toothbrush.)

That is what she and I (and I would guess Steven) find so troublesome in this argument. You all say that induction does not lead to logically necessary conclusions. Fair enough. But then John says "Historical arguments do not work from the events themselves, but rather from the traces of the events left in history" without seeming to acknowledge that the arguments from the "traces" of the "events" all involve inductive arguments too. And since they do, what is left if you take away the ability to draw conclusions from induction? When N.T. Wright makes assertions (such as the one JD Walters points out "as Wright points out, this held for the ancients as much as modern people; ancients knew that when people died, their bodies were just corpses") how does Wright know that? Presumably a series of inductive arguments! The problem is separating knowledge like that. Either we use inductive reasoning, knowing its flaws mean we can never have absolute certainty and that we may well have to revise theories based on new evidence, or we don't and we basically give up the search for knowledge. It is fine to give up the search and say "well, we can't obtain knowledge about anything." But then the study of history would be a bit dull.

Science is not so different than any other field in its reliance on inductive reasoning. For example, James Crossley noted that Wright wrote "[t]he normal account of the resurrection narratives within mainstream New Testament scholarship – namely, that after a brief and dubious statement by Mark the other evangelists created their stories out of whole cloth in the post 70 period – is simply incredible. These stories, for all they have been lightly edited by the evangelists, go back to the very early oral period, and were regarded as all too important, in this character of primary testimony, to be significantly altered." All these arguments he makes are, of course, arguments from induction. Why is it that arguments that rely on induction to produce conclusions about how 1st century folk are likely or not likely to behave are totally permissable, and actually persuasive to some, but conclusions from biology that we get from the same sort of inductive arguments are "irrelevant"?

John said...

Thanks, April, for hosting this discussion in a thoroughly respectful manner.

I'm the John, by the way, whom you cite at the top of your post.

J. D. Walters needs to slow down and pull some of his punches, and do a rope-a-dope once in a while. His style is just not elegant. But I agree with his basic point, that we are all prisoners to some degree of one or more ideologies.

But all approaches to reality, even all ideologies, just like all heresies (if God is good in the Kuyperian sense, as Walters believes) are both baby and bathwater. That being the case, it behooves us, each according to one's own lights, to save the other person's baby, throw out the bathwater, and argue each problem on its merits, whenever we interact on issues on common interest.

By the way, I once heard an unforgettable lecture by Norbert Samuelson at an AAR meeting. Put another way, SBL folk would do themselves good if they wandered over to AAR lectures once in a while.

John Hobbins
www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

John Lyons said...

Dear Wade (and April),

"...Either we use inductive reasoning, knowing its flaws mean we can never have absolute certainty and that we may well have to revise theories based on new evidence, or we don't and we basically give up the search for knowledge...."

Please don't attribute to me any kind of nonsense about how we may as well just give up and go bake cookies or something. I have no problem with April's historical methodologies if we all agree that what we are trying to do is make good arguments about the probability of things happening and basing them on the data we have (such as it is). All I am trying to do here is make a technical point. Such probability cannot be a function of induction because if it were it would always be zero. (Don't shoot the messenger - go read Hume!) Instead it is a psychological probability - what we think is most likely to have happened. That is fine, normal and what historians (amongst others) base their lives on, but it is no use to us if we wish to claim that we have absolute certainty about the impossibility of something like the resurrection. Induction just won’t give us that.

Best wishes,

John

Wade Allen said...

John,

I didn't mean to attribute any "nonsense" to you or Mr. Walters. All I meant was that the uncertain conclusions of the inductive reasoning method are pretty much what we have to work with. I don't think I ever claimed "absolute certainty" about the resurrection not happening. In fact didn't I say in the sentence you quoted that we have to use induction "knowing its flaws" mean that we cannot have absolute certainty?

It seems to me that we are discussing semantics and details here that take us far afield of the practical matters of historical research. I mean, if someone asks you if Abraham Lincoln was assassinated do you really reply "we can't know if that really happened - all I can say is that it is a psychological probablity and we think it is likely that it did happen"? That may be true, but most of us just use the shorthand for that: "yes."

In terms of the resurrection it seems to me that when evaluating whether or not it "likely ... did [or did not] happen" we have to take into account everything we know about the world and how it works - we consider written records, human psychology, oral accounts, and, yes, biology. We can't leave any of them out by labeling them irrelevant with respect to the other things we consider.

Sorry if the argument caused any offense.

Geoff Hudson said...

The work of Dr Peter Oakes of Manchester University looks quite interesting.
http://www.arts.manchester.ac.uk/subjectareas/religionstheology/academicstaff/peteroakes/

He writes there about his research interests:"One particular conclusion from my study of Philippians was that Paul was presenting some sort of comparison between Christ and the Roman emperor. Much of my work since that study has been on exploring the nature of the interface between NT texts and the Roman empire. An incidental observation during my study of Philippian archaeology was of the interesting range of representation of afterlife on gravestones from the area. I am currently involved in an extended study of the significance of gravestones from Roman Macedonia for our understanding of Paul's representation of afterlife. I am also engaged in using social-scientific approaches to seek to deepen our understanding of themes such as that of vengeance at the return of Christ, especially in 2 Thessalonians."

He jointly chaired the British NT Conference 2004 - Social World of the NT. He spoke at Session 3. Here is the summary of his session: "Funerary monuments in Roman Macedonia commonly represent ordinary people as being heroized or divinized after death. In some, they go to be with the gods. In 1 Thessalonians and Philippians Paul makes eschatological promises that probably respond to such hopes. If some of Paul's eschatology corresponds to non-eschatological Greek representations of post-mortem hope, this poses sharp challenges to arguments used by J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright in recent studies on resurrection."

This may not be quite the same as resurrection in the NT sense. But it seems to be academic speak for saying the idea of life after death was strong in Roman culture. If this was so, there is more ammunition for seeing the tradition of Nero's return as a kind of resurrection.

I have no access to any of Peter Oakes' work.

geoffdothudson@ntlworld.com