Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Skepticism about the Resurrection

There is a weak and a strong sense of the claim "Jesus rose from the dead." The meaning intended by most Christian apologists is the strong sense:

(s) Jesus died and then came back to life with a new immortal body that had amazing supernatural powers (e.g. he could walk through walls and could levitate himself up into the sky at will).

This claim is not supportable even if one makes the extremely dubious assumption that the Gospels present highly reliable accounts of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, and post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus. So, Christian apologists will never be able to prove this strong claim.

At best, the Gospels can only support a weaker sense of this claim:

(w) Jesus died and then came back to life.

This weaker sense of the claim "Jesus rose from the dead" can be clarified in terms of three historical claims:

(1) Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in or near Jerusalem in about 30 CE.
(2) Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified.
(3) Jesus was alive and walking around within a few days after he was crucified.

Skepticism about the resurrection can be categorized in terms of these three claims: skepticism about the crucifixion of Jesus, skepticism about the death of Jesus, and skepticism about Jesus being alive after the crucifixion. There are also, of course, various degrees of skepticism or doubt:
  • Ordinary Doubt: I'm not sure whether that is true or false.
  • Weak Agnosticism: No one knows whether that is true or false.
  • Strong Agnosticism: No one can ever know whether that is true or false.
  • Weak Disbelief: I believe that is false, but I'm not sure.
  • Firm Disbelief: I firmly believe that is false.
  • Strong Disbelief: I know that is false, and I can prove that it is false.

There are thus at least three categories of skepticism about the resurrection and at least six different degrees of skepticism in each category, so there are at least 18 different forms of skepticism about the claim that "Jesus rose from the dead", not including the skeptical view expressed above that no one will ever be able to prove the strong sense of this claim--strong agnosticism concerning (s).