Home > Resurrection, Theology > Is Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection Justified?

Is Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection Justified?

May I suggest that, fundamentally, the way we know Christianity to be true is by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit? Now what do I mean by that? I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God… How then does the believer know that Christianity is true? He knows because of the self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit who lives within him.

– William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 32-4

What bothers me about Bill Craig (pictured here with two people I have never met) is that he is so absolutely overconfident that he is right. There are very few self-authenticating experiences in life – experiences that you can be so sure of that there is no way that you could possibly be wrong. Decartes’ famous statement, “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) seems to be self-authenticating; statements of feeling are self-authenticating, like, “I feel hungry.” The fact that you feel it is proof that you feel it. But outside of a few examples, no experience is ever self-authenticating. There is always some room for doubt – maybe you misinterpreted, or don’t have all the information, or have been deceived or something.

If you allow this line of reasoning, then you have to allow the legitimacy of Mormonism. They tell you to pray about the book of Mormon and God will confirm to you that it is true. They have this same sort of confidence that their religious experience is self-authenticating. It just doesn’t hold up. I’m not saying anything here that Craig himself is not aware of, so I’m really not sure why he advances this argument.

But the place where this reasoning really bothers me is in his defense of the resurrection. There has probably not been anything that has shaken my faith so much as reading Bill Craig’s defense of the resurrection. Take, for instance, his argument with Gerd Lüdemann in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?. Craig acts as if he has an absolutely rock solid case for the resurrection and that you couldn’t possibly doubt it so long as you have all the historical evidence. Lüdemann, who has no philosophical training, is a really lousy debate partner and presents a confused and weak argument. There are gaping holes in Craig’s argument, but you’d never know it from Lüdemann’s presentation.

I will leave the holes in Craig’s argument for another post. What really bothered me was how he came back to this idea of self-authentication in his concluding statement. He was smart enough to save this point to the very end, because it does not count as real evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. And yet the real reason Craig believes in the resurrection is not the historical evidence. “So if you ask me why I believe Christ is risen from the dead, I would not only point to the historical evidence, but I would reply in the words of the old hymn, ‘You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!'” (p.65)

The orthodox Christian faith rests, at least in part, on a defense of the resurrection. But the evidence to compel someone to believe in the resurrection is not that good. Say, for instance, that we had the same historical evidence for the resurrection of Abraham Lincoln. Would he be inclined to argue that Lincoln too had risen from the dead? I doubt it. The real reason Craig feels the evidence is so good is because it is confirmed by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. But the inner witness of the Holy Spirit cannot function as valid evidence any more than it can function as valid evidence for the veracity of the book of Mormon.

I still believe in Jesus’ resurrection. I believe for the same reason that Craig does: He lives within my heart. But I don’t think I have sufficient epistemological justification for that belief. Moreover, I am skeptical that any historical argument will really be satisfactory (not even N.T. Wright’s, with all his scholastic superpowers). When the early Christians first proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection, they were not advancing historical arguments. It seems I am searching for a different line of reasoning that is more in line with theirs.

So I think we are within our epistemic rights to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. That is to say, if we accept the resurrection on fideistic grounds, we can come up with rational arguments to justify the fideistic jump we have already made. But the belief still ultimately rests on fideism. I think this is what I was getting at a few weeks ago with my Theology is not Knowledge post. Theology cannot be truly public because it rests on this fideistic assumption that Jesus rose from the dead.

You may not agree with me that Bill Craig’s (or Tom Wright’s) historical arguments are not compelling. I hope to revisit that issue soon. But if you were to accept my premise that the Craig’s arguments are not compelling, do you think the rest of what I’ve said follows?

  1. Anonymous
    December 14, 2007 at 11:24 pm


  2. Vinny
    December 16, 2007 at 10:52 am

    I agree. Moreover, I think apologists like Craig only succeed in making theism look foolish by claiming that it rests on evidence they don’t have rather than on the faith they can justly claim.

  3. Ryan Jones
    December 18, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Vinny.

    I have just posted my review of Craig’s debate with Gerd Ludemann. Let me know what you think.

    There are lots of things about Craig that I respect. I just think he has a tendency to overstate his case.

  4. Vinny
    December 19, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I can respect Craig’s willingness to debate top scholars with opposing viewpoints. In that format, he can’t indulge in the kind of excesses that seem to be the bread and butter of someone like Lee Strobel. On the other hand, I would be less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt when he does overreach since he has demonstrated the ability to present his views without exaggeration.

  5. Ryan Jones
    December 20, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Vinny, Craig makes essentially the same case in more depth later in the book, and also in Reasonable Faith, neither of which were limited by the debate format. I think these presenatations are vulernable to the same critique I made of the debate. I have just posted a response to these more elaborate arguments.

    …than on the faith they can justly claim.

    If Craig’s theism does not rest on evidence, then in what sense can he justly claim faith? If evidence is deficient, I do not think we can say that faith is truly justified.

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