Monday, August 30, 2004

Oportet Filium Hominis Die Tertia Resurgere

The late Richard Taylor has an essay, written for a general audience, on 'myths and mysteries' (thanks to Ektopos for the link). He rightly notes that the Resurrection is essential to Christianity, but then goes on to say:

Of course this presents an overwhelming problem for thoughtful and sophisticated persons, for the doctrine of the resurrection, literally understood, is an absurdity. That a man, three days dead, might be revived, to mingle again with the living, talk to them, and move about much as if nothing had happened to him, violates the most basic certainties of reason and common knowledge. The dead become dust and ashes. They do not rise.

Setting aside the obvious falsity of "move about much as if nothing had happened to him", the question obviously arises, 'It is an absurdity in virtue of what?' We need something a bit more specific than saying it "violates the most basic certainties of reason and common knowledge". Which basic certainties? The dead become dust and ashes, and do not rise. Yes, that's generally the case; this does not tell us whether, given the right cause or causes, there might be an exception. Lady Mary Shepherd would go to town on Taylor, as she did on Hume in similar circumstances. We cannot rule out effects on the basis of their generally not being effected, but only on the basis of there being no cause adequate for them. It is not even inconceivable that with sufficient scientific knowledge doctors could make the dead rise. God forbid, and it might turn out to be physically impossible for reasons we do not yet have in hand, but it is not inconceivable. This would not be the sort of resurrection we Christians attribute to Christ, because it is clear from the accounts that His resurrection was not a mere reversal of the processes of corruption (hence the falsity of the phrase noted above); but merely repeating the sentence "The dead do not rise" no more proves that they cannot than repeating the sentence "The sun always rises" proves that the earth will comfortably orbit the sun for all eternity, come what may. One might as well say that no one can fly from Toronto to London because "men do not have wings". The real issue is not what usually happens, but what causes are involved. And, indeed, it would not be exaggerating to say that the point of the Resurrection is what Cause is involved.

(The title of this post, by the way, is taken from Luke 24:7, Vulgate.)

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