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Bayesian evaluation for the likelihood of Christ's resurrection (Part 46)

February 28, 2017

So then, what would count as replicating the evidence for Christ's resurrection?

It's simple. The replication would be a new religious movement based on a "resurrection", which must match or exceed all of the essential components of the original evidence for Christ's resurrection. These components are merely what we've been discussing throughout this series of posts. They consist of the following:

First, the replicated "resurrection" must have sufficient evidence, enough to match the evidence for Jesus's resurrection. Again going back to the summary in 1 Corinthians 15, this must consist of at least the following:

To match Peter, James, and Paul's testimonies, we will require earnest, insistent, and personal testimonies to the replicated resurrection by three specifically named individuals. These individuals must be public figures, prominent enough for there to be a good amount of readily accessible information about them. They must open themselves up to the public, in regular speaking engagements involving cross-examinations - just as Christ's disciples did. 

To match the testimonies of the other apostles, we will require an earnest, insistent, and personal testimony by a group of people, of at least 10 individuals. They must be public figures with known names. Many (but not necessarily all) members of this group must be sufficiently accessible, to allow for public speaking engagements and cross-examinations. They need not all attain to the same level of prominence as the first group, as long as we're certain of who they are and what their testimony is. 

To match the testimonies of the group of 500 disciples, we will require testimonies from a large, specific group of people. They don't have to be named, and they don't have to be insistent in their testimony. They may be mostly private individuals. But they cannot be merely "some people". They should be sufficiently well-defined that many of them are personally known to a public figure, and their testimony should be about a specific, public event.

That's the set of people you'll need to testify concerning this replicated "resurrection". This is merely a repeat of the same conditions that we've previously used in this series. This covers the raw amount of evidence you need.

Second, this evidence for the replicated "resurrection" must have the certain qualities which make conspiracies and other crackpot theories unlikely. Again, this is only what we've covered before - but here it takes on added importance, since we're talking about artificially replicating the evidence.

One of the public, prominent witnesses must be someone who was publically known for being strongly opposed to this new "resurrection" movement from the beginning. This person must have done real, material, public harm to that movement, prior to their change of heart. That change of heart must come from a conviction that this "resurrection" really happened. 

There must not be an obvious prior connection or common cause among the public, prominent witnesses. They must be reasonably independent. 

Within, say, 30 years of its beginning, this "resurrection" movement must cover a wide geographical area with great cultural and linguistic diversity - an appropriate region might be "the Middle East", "the Mediterranean", or "Southeast Asia". Its followers, too, must reflect this diversity. As a corollary, the movement cannot be entirely directed by a central authority, and different parts of it must be in severe contention with one another. 

That 30 years will also mark how long the major witnesses must be "insistent" for. They must unwaveringly testify to the replicated "resurrection" for at least that long.

Material wealth or political power cannot be a tangible, or even likely, reward for joining up. Escape from poverty due to charity is acceptable, but only to a point where the new convert would no longer go hungry and naked.

Third, there are some further implicit factors which now need to be spelled out.

This movement cannot be built on Christianity. Otherwise, the strong dependency factors would ruin the experiment. It must achieve everything from scratch, without a preexisting foundation guiding how things ought be or ought to turn out - just as Christianity itself did. It's okay for the movement to get started in a "Christian nation", it just can't be directly based on or inspired by Christianity. 

The entire replication must be plausible. If you successfully start such resurrection-based movement, but it requires circumstances which occur once in a trillion years, that would not be considered plausible. For example, let's say you find a way to reproducibly convince people of a "resurrection". But it only works on quintuplets who were struck by a ball lightning at the moment of their conception, and it can furthermore only take place when twelve comets brighter than Venus simultaneously show up in the night sky. Such an explanation for the original, Christian resurrection is not plausible, even if it may be naturalistic. Whatever mechanism you use to generate your replication must be likely enough to have had a decent chance of actually occurring in history. 

Lastly, you may not brute force the problem with an overwhelming amount of resources. Recall that Christianity started with Jesus and a handful of his followers, with no great wealth, political power, or specialized scientific knowledge. Your effort must start with similarly humble circumstances. You cannot, for instance, enlist a billionaire to pay off the population of a whole city in some poverty-stricken country, to get them to act out a "resurrection" for your first set of witnesses. You cannot become the dictator of a country and force people to comply with your lies. You cannot impress some primitive, hidden tribe with modern science to get them to believe. You must play fair - using the same means that were available to the early Christians, if indeed their movement actually started naturalistically.

So, that is the challenge. You think you can fake a movement appearing to meet all of the above conditions? Go ahead and try. If you succeed, I will change my mind about the resurrection.

Next week, we will consider still more tests for the validity of my method and the veracity of its conclusion.


You may next want to read:
Christianity and falsifiability
A common mistake in Bayesian reasoning
Another post, from the table of contents

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