Richard Swinburne’s, "The Resurrection of God Incarnate"

A Christian reader referred me to this book as a deductive argument for the Resurrection of Jesus.  Below is the article abstract.  Below that is one liberal theologian’s assessment of Mr. Swineburne’s probability argument.  I will attempt to read more reviews of Mr. Swineburne’s book, but I don’t intend to read his entire book.  Reading NT Wright’s 800+ work, “The Resurrection of the Son of God”,  was enough.

I will intersperse my comments in red. 

The Resurrection of God Incarnate
by Richard Swinburne
Print publication date: 2003

Abstract:The (alleged) Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead involved a violation of natural laws,and so could have happenedonly if natural laws depend for their operationon God, who set them aside on this occasion. The main reasonhe would have for settingthem aside would be any reason he had himselfto become incarnate;the Resurrection would then be the divinesignature on his work, showingthat he had become incarnate.
Mr. Swinburne, at least in this statement, assumes there is a God and when he does refer to “God”, to which god is he referring?  Is he referring to an unidentified Creator God or is he simply assuming that there is a Creator God and that that God must be the Christian god, Yahweh/Jesus?
So any evidencefrom natural theologythat there is a God with a certain nature, and any reason to suppose that having that nature would lead a God to become incarnate, is evidence (background evidence)that some sort of super-miracle like the Resurrection would occur. Any evidenceagainst the existence of God or against him being such as to become incarnatewould be evidence againstthe Resurrection.
I argue that God does have reasonto become incarnate—to provide atonement, to identify with human suffering, and to reveal truth. Mr. S. is assuming that the Bible is historically accurate in all its assertions of fact..  No one but a conservative Christian would accept this as a true premise. Our evidence aboutthe life of Jesus (the prior historical evidence) is such that it is not too improbable that we would find it if God wasincarnate in Jesus for thesereasons. No Jewish scholar would agree with this statement.  This is a Christian assumption.  We have no available evidence for the details of Jesus life other than four anonymous first century works of literature, three of which copy much of the first.  All Jewish scholars and most if not all secular scholars do not believe that any Old Testament prophecies can possible refer to Jesus.  Our evidenceabout what happenedafter the deathof Jesus (the posteriorhistorical evidence) is such that it is not too improbable that we would find it if Jesus had risen from the dead. Only a conservative Christian would make this claim.  The actual evidence for this alleged supernatural event, apart from hearsay and second century assumptions, is sparse to nonexistent.
For no other prophet in human history,is there anythinglike this combination of prior and posterior historical evidence.  Evidence for this sweeping claim?

Given a moderate amountof positive background evidence, it then becomesvery probable that Jesus was God Incarnatewho rose from thedead. 

Theology FAIL: Richard Swinburne proves the resurrection

A conversation yesterday reminded me of Richard Swinburne’s 2003 book, The Resurrection of God Incarnate. Using Bayesian probability and lashings of highfalutin mathematical jargon, Swinburne argues that “it [is] very probable indeed that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ who rose from the dead” (p. 214). His mathematical apologetics for the resurrection boils down to the following argument:

  1. The probably of God’s existence is one in two (since God either exists or doesn’t exist).
  2. The probability that God became incarnate is also one in two (since it either happened or it didn’t).
  3. The evidence for God’s existence is an argument for the resurrection.
  4. The chance of Christ’s resurrection not being reported by the gospels has a probability of one in 10.
  5. Considering all these factors together, there is a one in 1,000 chance that the resurrection is not true.

It’s almost impossible to parody this argument (since in order to parody it, you would have to imagine something sillier – a daunting task!). But let me try:

The probably that the moon is made of cheese is one in two (since it is either made of cheese or it isn’t); the probability that this cheese is camembert is also one in two (since it’s either camembert or it isn’t); and so on…


4 thoughts on “Richard Swinburne’s, "The Resurrection of God Incarnate"

  1. Interestingly enough I linked Gary to abstracts of a 120+ page document for Gary to read by Swinburne, and from which he is quoting, and I did this just a few hours ago in another thread here on his blog. Why do I make this point? Unless Gary is an exceptionally gifted man, and maybe he is, it is unlikely he has dealt with Dr. Swinburne's writings beyond a precursory glance. To start commenting upon the document without a thorough amount of study shows that Gary is the worst kind of scholar that can be found. One doesn't merely rail against a published work without doing an in depth study. What this shows to me is that Gary is prone to jump to conclusions without doing his homework. He is therefore not trust worthy. I can only hope that others reading his blog will take his words with a grain of salt since he lacks the discipline to do an honest study,


  2. I never said I read the entire book, only the abstract. If you would like to give a condensed argument, I will be happy to review it, but I am not going to read Swineburne's 120 page book.

    The review at the bottom is by a liberal Christian theologian, not me.


  3. “I never said I read the entire book, only the abstract. If you would like to give a condensed argument, I will be happy to review it, but I am not going to read Swineburne's 120 page book.

    The review at the bottom is by a liberal Christian theologian, not me.”

    Yes, What you are doing is called a hack job.


  4. Here is a review by the Philosophy Dept. at Notre Dame University, a Catholic university:

    The Resurrection of God Incarnate is clearly written and Swinburne very clearly lays out the structure of his argument, something that many authors should emulate. In using a Bayesian framework to discuss evidence that is normally not thought relevant to the incarnation and resurrection, Swinburne has given an argument that those working in this area will need to take account of. However, this book will not satisfy those looking for a more philosophical work or one containing more rigorous conclusive arguments about what it is rational to believe. Swinburne’s discussion of a wider range of evidence and Bayes’ theorem does not solve these problems, but instead focuses the debate on the values of other probabilities. Since Swinburne is not successful in defending the values he assigns to various probability statements he used in Bayes’ theorem, I do not think he is successful in showing that, given our evidence, necessarily it is very likely that Jesus was God incarnate who rose from the dead; rationality appears to tolerate a wider range of belief than Swinburne acknowledges. But even if Swinburne is not successful in showing that it is overwhelmingly likely that Jesus was God incarnate who rose from the dead, he has made a good case that it is rationally permissible to hold beliefs that, by Bayes’ theorem, result in this being very probable. Thus although Swinburne may not have shown that it is rationally obligatory to believe in the incarnation and resurrection, he does give us reason to believe that one can rationally hold beliefs that imply their high probability. Another way of putting this would be to say that Swinburne’s argument is unsuccessful if dealing with logical probabilities, but we can instead interpret it as describing Swinburne’s own subjective probabilities or degrees of belief. If probability, like logic, places constraints on rational belief, Swinburne’s argument can be seen as supporting that it is epistemically permissible to believe in the resurrection of God incarnate.


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