The Probability of the Easter Resurrection


It’s Easter Sunday now, and I got my new Doctor Who in, and I await to newest episode of Game of Thrones (as I mentioned earlier). So far, totally worth it.

But for this holiday, I wanted to look at what makes this a holy day (aka holiday). According to many folks, on this day in history a man came back from the dead, proving the power of God and the truth of his messenger. But how likely is such a claim?

Who ya gonna call?

At the end of my talk about the historical Jesus, one person brought up the argument by Timothy and Lydia McGrew that the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection was amazingly good. As in 10^44 good. Ok, what does that even mean? It is a factor in a calculation of Bayes’ theorem. When you include the prior probability, you can then conclude how probably true or false a claim is, given all your numbers you used are justified. So even if miracles are amazingly improbable, say one in a trillion chance (10^-12), then the probability that the resurrection of Jesus’ body happened is a near certainty.

But with a number like that, it’s hard to even know what it means, considering it’s so large. For some comparison, a DNA paternity test will be, in the best cases, 99.999% sure. According to the McGrews, the evidence for Jesus is literally more than billions and billions and billions AND BILLIONS of times better. In other words, you can be far more certain that Jesus rose from the dead than that your father is your father.

If that doesn’t strike you as absurd, think about it again.

So, here is a video I made looking at how plausible is the case, even if we assume, like the McGrews do, that the Gospels are totally reliable (an assumption known to be false for the last 150+ years!).

The conclusion: either Christianity had the most amazing attrition rate in its first month after Jesus’ resurrection and that most people who were eye-witnesses denied Jesus rose (over 75% of witnesses thought Jesus wasn’t resurrected), or that just about everyone who saw Jesus hallucinated. In other words, the evidence is very bad, even assuming the best of all possible evidence considerations.

There is plenty of literature out there that pokes holes in the story of the Gospels by trained biblical scholars, including religious ones. Heck, there are competent books that argue the Gospels are novels. So please, don’t celebrate the holiday based on credulity. Family and chocolate are reason enough, so have a Happy Easter.

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