Response to Michael Martin

Because Ch. 14 of The Empty Tomb is addressed to the work of Richard Swinburne, I thought it appropriate to contact Dr. Swinburne and ask if he would like to comment on the chapter. He graciously agreed to this, and I mailed him a copy for his comments. What he offers in reply we provide first below; and then, we shall provide our own comments on the chapter.

Dr. Swinburne:

[Martin's] first main section entitled 'The probability of the existence of God makes a lot of very quick moves against the coherence of theism and the strength of arguments in favour of it (concentrating especially on the argument against theism from the fact of evil and the from the alleged scarcity of miracles). This book of mine was not at all concerned with these issues, but it proceeded to argue that, if we suppose there is a modest probability on the evidence of natural theology that there is a God, then it is very probable that the Resurrection of Jesus took place. I have discussed the coherence of theism and the arguments for and against the existence of God from natural theology at considerable length in other books. He does refer to my short book IS THERE A GOD?, and also to my book on the soul - THE EVOLUTION OF THE SOUL. But he does not refer to any other books. And so, for example, its very unfair of him to say that (his page 457) numerous criticisms of free-will defence have been given 'many of which Swinburne makes no attempt to answer. I wrote a whole book on the problem of evil - PROVIDENCE AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL, a considerable part of which was devoted to the free will defence.

Again, he makes a quick claim that simple theories are preferred to more complicated theories for merely pragmatic reasons; and that my contention that they are 'always a priori more likely' is dubious. I have argued at considerable length (in my book EPISTEMIC JUSTIFICATION, chapter 4) that unless we take the simplest theory as evidence of truth, science becomes quite impossible. It is always possible to construct an infinite number of theories entailing any finite collection of data which make wildly different predictions from each other for the future. Unless there is an a priori criterion for deciding between them, a scientist would have no grounds for making any predictions at all. Study of the procedures of science reveals that that a priori criterion is (in a wide sense) simplicity. And as for the claim, two lines further on, that 'one wonders why naturalism would not seem more likely than theism since it seems simpler than theism', I have written an enormous amount about this - see especially the EXISTENCE OF GOD (2nd edition, 2004) chapter 5. But it would not be a very profitable task for me to attempt to list the various places where - in my view! - I have dealt with ALL the objections which Martin makes in this section, since really my book THE RESURRECTION OF GOD INCARNATE is - as I have said - not about these matters. It makes the assumption that there is a God (for which I've argued at great length elsewhere) and then proceeds further from that basis. So I dont think that Martin should really be adducing arguments against the existence of God in this article. He has after all written various other articles about my work directed directly at those other writings of mine.

So let's move on to the section 'The probability of the incarnation and resurrection of God', which deals in effect with my chapter 2. He criticises my theory of the atonement, but this is only 'substantially' the same as Anselm's theory (see the bottom of my page 38), and I make no claim (as far as I recall) that our sinning consists of wronging 'God's honour'. My account of what our sinning consists in is that in the first paragraph of my page 40. I was not claiming that the reparation (the word I use rather than 'satisfaction') which Christ paid to God was in any way equal to the quantity of human sin. I don't think it makes much sense to weigh these things against each other - see my RESPONSIBILITY AND ATONEMENT p. 154 note 10 and p. 160). Allowing himself to be killed after torture - Jesus was tortured, contrary to the implication of Martin's p. 461 line 1 - constitutes a solemn offering of a life. And God needs to show us that his sacrifice has been accepted - hence a need for resurrection (Martin's p.460).

There are arguments of the 'why did it take God so long' to offer atonement etc. God has no obligation to offer atonement, and no doubt he hoped that it would not be necessary since he hoped that humans might deal with their own sins. I agree that at some time or other God was obliged to identify with our suffering, but I don't see that it has to be at one particular time rather than another, and I give reasons on my p. 66 as to why it was desirable that it should not occur at the beginning of human history - it may well turn out that (relative to a long period of history ahead of us) it occurred fairly early in human history!

Martin mentions on p. 462 'Jesus tacit approval of slavery'. Jesus is not recorded as having said anything about slavery, but I think it extremely unlikely that he would have not endorsed the Old Testament teaching about slavery - that (as regards Hebrew slaves) it ought to end after 6 years (and so not really be slavery at all) - see (e.g.) Deuteronomy 15:12-18. And in view of the teaching of Jesus about 'who is my neighbour', I think it extremely unlikely that he would have confined this teaching to Israelites. The two following paragraphs on p. 462 simply state that Martin disagrees with things for which I argued at some length in this book - that Jesus taught his atonement, and that he did not teach that he would return within the life time of his followers. But he doesn't mention my arguments on these matters, but simply refers to something which he claims to have established elsewhere.

In the next section Martin claims (p. 462) that 'we lack independent confirmation of the resurrection both from Jewish and pagan sources.' But of course we have got plenty of confirmation from Jewish sources - Jews (all the immediate followers of Jesus) who believed in the resurrection inevitably became Christians! Martin claims that 'the genuine Pauline epistles provide no details about the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus.' But of course these letters were written to people who were already Christians and were already familiar with some of the details on these issues. That's why in I Corinthians 15, Paul has an almost impatient approach to repeating (' I should remind you' -15.1) that he 'handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received'. Paul takes this sort of thing for granted.

In the next section, on p. 464, Martin quotes me as claiming that the probability of the evidence relative to all alternative explanatory theories is 1 in a 1000. But he ignores the point that the 'evidence' is not merely the evidence of the empty tomb and post-Resurrection experiences, but as well the evidence of the whole life of Jesus. My claim is that it is immensely improbable (unless God brought it about) that there should be this coincidence between a prophet who led the sort of life that there is some reason to suppose that God incarnate would live and about whom there is the sort of evidence that there is in the form of the empty tomb and Resurrection appearances to be expected if that prophet was God incarnate. I make this point on p. 213. The point is that there is no recorded prophet in human history about whom there is the kind of evidence that there is about the life of that prophet that he led the sort of life that God incarnate would lead; and there is not another instance in human history of a prophet about whom there is kind of evidence of a super-miracle culminating his life that there is about the life of Jesus, and so it is immensely improbable that these two kinds of evidence should come together in one prophet unless God had deliberately brought it about. But at the bottom of page 464 he refers to there being 'several well documented cases of hallucinations shared by a number of people' and he refers to his own book for these cases. I should have made the point in my book that what is extraordinary about some of the resurrection appearances of Jesus is not merely that they were to groups of people, but that they involved a continued conversation with them. There are simply no parallels to that which Martin cites.

And now for our own comments: