I find this completely bizarre.
Jason Thibodeau has a “new” argument against the resurrection over on The Secular Outpost. I say, “new” because even if the argument hasn’t gotten widespread attention before, I cannot possibly imagine that it has not been previously advanced by someone. JT isn’t vouching for this argument per se, but rather he wanted to “present it [there] and solicit the thoughts of the Secular Outpost community”.
What is this grand argument? I copy it verbatim:
(1) God is completely rational.
(2) Any action that God performs is undertaken on the basis of some good reason.
(3) There is no good reason for God to resurrect Jesus from the dead.
(4) God did not resurrect Jesus from the dead.
Premise (1) follows from the fact that God is perfect and (2) is a consequence of (1). Therefore, the soundness of the argument depends on the truth of (3). We can defend (3) by considering possible reasons that God might have for resurrecting Jesus and rejecting them. It is probably impossible to consider all possible factors that might count in favor of God’s resurrecting Jesus. However, that need not undermine the argument. Suppose we are not certain that there is no good reason for God to resurrect Jesus from the dead. We can issue a challenge to any person who believes that God did resurrect Jesus. That challenge would be to provide the good reason for God to resurrect Jesus. In the absence of any such account of God’s reason, we ought to be skeptical that there is such a reason.
One would hope most of my readers would instantly see significant problems with this argument, but since there are only two of you, it looks like our only options are all, half or none. So just in case it’s not “all” I thought I’d just go ahead and say a couple things.
- Are you kidding me? and
- No, seriously. Are you kidding me?
Moving on, the first bit of bizarre here is that the argument is titled “A moral argument against the resurrection”. But where is morality in this argument? Nowhere. Nowhere at all. One really, truly hopes that Thibodeau revised the argument after typing in the title, or swapped out an entirely different argument for this one, because if Thibodeau actually thinks that’s a moral argument I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
But assuming the title is some slip of the brain, I suppose we can start with the premises. They are found in statements 1 & 3. Statement 2 is a derivation of p1. But as the explanatory paragraph tells us, p1 is actually a derivation of a premise not included in the formal argument, “God is perfect.” But how do we know that p1 follows from p0? Is “perfect love” completely rational? What about “perfect hunger”? How many imperfect gods have we examined to infer that the perfect god must be completely rational? How many perfect gods have we examined to test that hypothesis? Really, it’s just silly.
But the real trouble here is in p3 and the explanation of it. Remember:
We can defend (3) by considering possible reasons that God might have for resurrecting Jesus and rejecting them.
Okay, but there’s an infinity of possible reasons, how do we reject them all? I give full credit to the team at the Secular Outpost for their expertise in theopsychology, but this seems a daunting task. But never fear, this argument doesn’t rest or fall on the people making it:
Suppose we are not certain that there is no good reason for God to resurrect Jesus from the dead. We can issue a challenge to any person who believes that God did resurrect Jesus. That challenge would be to provide the good reason for God to resurrect Jesus.
See? The right way to employ this argument is to assert that the statement “there is no good reason for God to resurrect Jesus” is true and to cling to it unless and until someone proves it false!
So this is a bad argument because it quite obviously and openly relies on shifting the burden of proof. Thibodeau has an assertion that he dares his opponents to prove wrong. But if this is a valid tactic, then any random theist who asserts “My god is real, prove me wrong” is engaged in a valid, reasoned enterprise and is justified in believing in whatever god until someone disproves that specific god. Likewise, the statements “bigfoot exists” or “chupacabras ate all my crudités” are true until definitively proven false. Even such ridiculous statements as “Crip Dyke is typing all this up only after changing out of her pajamas” must be taken as true until someone proves them false.
And of course that would be bad and wrong no matter what the context, but in a world where theists are constantly trying to decline the burdens of proof for their own assertions, deploying burden shifting in a proof that the Christian god did not resurrect Jesus is dramatically worse. If we engage in burden shifting, how will we stop theists from doing the same?
In this context, the burden shifting is not merely bad because it’s irrational. it’s bad because we know from history that theists will use burden shifting again and again, and if we treat this argument seriously in any way, we lose the possibility of productive conversations with semi-to-mostly reasonable theists who become convinced that burden shifting is a valid tactic since “both sides do it”.
Ugh. Just ugh. The horribleness of this naked burden-shifting leaves me without even any energy to point out that
In the absence of any such account of God’s reason, we ought to be skeptical that there is such a reason.
is an argument from ignorance.
I guess I’ll have to point that out some other time.