Swinburne - The Probability of the Resurrection of Jesus


Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Swinburne, Richard
Year 2014

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God has major reasons for intervening in human history by becoming incarnate himself – to identify with our suffering, to provide atonement for our sins, and to reveal truths. Given there is at least a significant probability that there is a God, there is at least a modest probability that he would become incarnate and live a life and provide teaching appropriate to one who sought thereby to realise these goals. Jesus lived and taught in the appropriate way. If it was God incarnate who did so live and teach, he would need to show us that it was God who had done so, and so could be expected to put his signature on that life and teaching by a super-miracle, such as the Resurrection. So there is a modest prior probability in advance of considering the direct historical evidence of the Resurrection, to expect that it would happen to someone who lived and taught as Jesus did. Jesus is the only person in human history about whom there is significant evidence both that he led the appropriate kind of life, and that his life was culminated by a super-miracle. So we do not need too many witnesses to the empty tomb or too many witnesses who claimed to have talked to the risen Jesus, to make it probable that Jesus did indeed rise. We do have some such witness evidence, which it is very improbable would occur (in connection with someone who led the appropriate sort of life) unless the Resurrection occurred. In consequence it is overall very probable that the Resurrection occurred.

RICHARD SWINBURNE is a Fellow of the British Academy. He was Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford from 1985 until 2002. He is best known for his trilogy on the philosophy of theism (The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason).The central book of this trilogy, The Existence of God (2nd edition, 2004) claims that arguments from the existence of laws of nature, those laws as being such as to lead to the evolution of human bodies, and humans being conscious, make it probable that there is a God. He has summarized the ideas of this trilogy in a short 'popular' book, Is There a God? He has written a tetralology of books on the meaning and justification of central Christian doctrines (including Revelation and Providence and the Problem of Evil). He has written at various lengths on many of the other major issues of philosophy (including epistemology, the study of what makes a belief rational or justified, in his book Epistemic Justification); and he has applied his views about what is made probable to the issue of how probable it is on the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead in The Resurrection of God Incarnate. He has summarized the ideas of the later tetralogy and on the Resurrection in a second 'popular' book, Was Jesus God? He is also well known for his defence of ‘substance dualism’ (the view that humans consist of two parts –soul and body), especially in his book The Evolution of the Soul. His new book Mind, Brain, and Free Will claims that substance dualism has the consequence that humans have free will to choose between good and evil. It argues that neuroscience cannot now and could not ever show this claim to be false. He lectures frequently in many different countries.