TM: One of the hazards of writing technical philosophy is the risk that someone who lacks the appropriate expertise will attempt to critique it. In the case of the article on the resurrection that Lydia and I wrote for The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, this has already happened. It is hard enough to correct misimpressions of this sort on a relatively neutral topic; when the subject rouses passions of the sort that, as Hume reminds us, religious disputes are apt to generate, then the difficulties are redoubled.
But one thing that we did not anticipate is that people who are completely clueless would undertake to explain the article to the rest of the world, in the process completely garbling the central claim and shedding absolutely no light on any of the surrounding issues. Since this particular exhibition of aggressive incompetence is now being uncritically rebroadcast by people who are unable or unwilling actually to read the article, it is worth making a few salient points:
1. Nowhere in the article do we give, estimate, or suggest "odds on the resurrection." Near the outset we explicitly disclaim any attempt to do so, writing:
Even as we focus on the resurrection of Jesus, our aim is limited. To show that the probability of R given all evidence relevant to it is high would require us to examine other evidence bearing on the existence of God, since such other evidence – both positive and negative – is indirectly relevant to the occurrence of the resurrection. Examining every piece of data relevant to R more directly – including, for example, the many issues in textual scholarship and archeology which we shall discuss only briefly – would require many volumes. Our intent, rather, is to examine a small set of salient public facts that strongly support R. The historical facts in question are, we believe, those most pertinent to the argument. Our aim is to show that this evidence, taken cumulatively, provides a strong argument of the sort Richard Swinburne calls “C-inductive” – that is, whether or not P(R) is greater than some specified value such as .5 or .9 given allevidence, this evidence itself heavily favors R over ~R.
The ratio of 10^44 to 1 is a likelihood ratio, not odds. People who do not understand the difference between these two ratios should not attempt to discuss the mathematical parts of the article.
2. We are very explicit about our assumptions. In the online version of the article, on p. 39, we make it plain that our calculation
is predicated on the assumption that in matters other than the explicit claims of miracles, the gospels and the book of Acts are generally reliable – that they may be trusted as much as any ordinary document of secular history with respect to the secularly describable facts they affirm. And where they do recount miraculous events, such as Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, we assume that they are authentic – that is, that they tell us what the disciples claimed. This calculation tells us little about the evidence for the resurrection if those assumptions are false. We have provided reasons to accept them, but of course there is much more to be said on the issue.
3. We are quite aware that the assumption of independence is critical, and we discuss this matter extensively on pp. 40-46. It is wearying to see commentators who have not bothered actually to read the article confidently proclaiming that we have overlooked the possibility of dependence.
Readers are of course free to disagree with our actual conclusions. It would be cheering, however, if they would first take the trouble to understand what those conclusions are.