What is the probability that you will be benefited by reading Swinburne’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Richard Swinburne is one of the world’s foremost Christian philosophers and in “The Resurrection of God Incarnate” he seeks to answer the question of the resurrection of Jesus from the perspective of probability.
That’s what is said, but the huge majority of the book reads as history. This is not a problem of course, but it does seem to affect the whole of the argument. It becomes just taking the historical data and then adding math. This is fine in some cases, but most readers will probably not be convinced. After all, few think in such terms and want just the historical data.
Swinburne’s case starts off with one for theism that will result in a concept of God compatible with natural theology. I have no problem with that. I think the arguments of natural theology do work and that that certainly means that there is a deity of some sort. When looking at the mathematics for the likelihood of the resurrection, this definitely would change any outworkings of the system.
Swinburne does say that most of the statements he’s reaching would not likely be reached prior and this is an important admission. It is highly doubtful that by pure reason alone, anyone could make a case for Christianity, but Swinburne’s approach comes after the fact to show that the way that Jesus behaved and acted is entirely compatible with natural theology.
Swinburne makes the case that if there is a God, He will want to reveal to us the way that we are to live and will do so to fulfill His obligations to us. Now at this point, I do have a problem as I don’t think God has any obligations to us until He makes a promise and even then, the obligation is more to His own nature. He cannot deny Himself. I think we can describe God as a good being who acts in good ways, but not as a moral being who acts in moral ways. It is not the latter because there is no standard outside of Him that He submits to.
For the historical arguments, they’re fine by and large. There were some points I disagreed with here and there, such as his statements about Jesus and the timing of his parousia, (coming) but those do not affect the overall scope of the book.
It is interesting to see a philosophical perspective on certain historical events, but if you’re one who’s familiar with the historical arguments, you probably won’t see much here that is new to you.
I conclude that it is an interesting approach to take and I think it is one that is worthy of more consideration. The world of NT scholarship does need to make sure it is in interaction with the world of philosophy and with the world of theology, but let us remember that history must still be done by historiographical methods. I see Swinburne’s book as a reminder to not isolate history from philosophy, but let us be sure of the danger that our philosophy does not drive our history.