Once upon a time Jesus was resurrected

Chris Mooney takes issue with Sean Carroll.

[I]s a claim like “Jesus died and was resurrected” really falsifiable by science in the same way that a claim like “The Earth is 10,000 years old” is falsifiable? I’d submit that at least as held by some sophisticated believers, it isn’t.

The fact that it isn’t falsifiable is actually a reason not to believe it rather than a reason to believe it. Freudian psychoanalysis isn’t falsifiable either, and that’s what makes its claims so dubious. But Mooney isn’t really talking about falsifiability, he’s challenging Carroll’s ‘The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look.’ He’s asking something more like ‘is it really the case that a claim like “Jesus died and was resurrected” is incompatible with empiricism?’ He then quotes John Haught talking a lot of wool about that there resurrection, then he says we’re allies so why worry about what Haught believes.

Because that’s what the discussion is about. The discussion isn’t about preventing Haught from believing what he believes – it’s about whether religion (the epistemology of religion, if you like) and science are genuinely compatible, so the question of why one would believe that Jesus died and was resurrected is right in the middle of it. It’s not possible to give evidence that demonstrates that Jesus was not resurrected – but that is not a reason to believe that Jesus was resurrected. The salient point here is that there is no good reason to believe that Jesus was resurrected. None. Zero. There are no records, no physical traces, no contemporary accounts, no eyewitness accounts, nothing. All there is is a story, composed decades after Jesus was executed. There is no more reason to believe the story is true than there is to believe that Athena really appeared to Odysseus. That’s what Carroll means by ‘perfectly evident.’ He doesn’t mean anyone can brandish a slide that demonstrates the non-resurrection of Jesus, he means there’s no good reason to think the story is anything other than a story. Carroll is talking about epistemology and Mooney is talking about all getting along, and those two subjects are also somewhat incompatible. Then again, one could simply be more interested in getting along with people who don’t automatically believe stories than with people who refuse to be skeptical of certain stories. We can’t have everything, after all.

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