It is 97 per cent certain that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead – based on sheer logic and mathematics, not faith – according to Oxford professor Richard Swinburne.
“New Testament scholars say the only evidence is witnesses in the four gospels. That’s only 5 per cent of the evidence,” Professor Swinburne, one of the world’s leading philosophers of religion, said last night.
“We can’t judge the question of the resurrection unless we ask first whether there’s reason to suppose there is a God, second if we have reason to suppose he would become incarnate and third, if he did, whether he would live the sort of life Jesus did.”
Professor Swinburne, in Melbourne to give several seminars and a public lecture at the Australian Catholic University last night, said the mathematics showed a probability of 97 per cent.
This conclusion was reached after a complex series of calculations. In simplified terms, it began with a single proposition: the probability was one in two that God exists.
Next, if God exists, the probability was one in two that he became incarnate. Further, there was a one in 10 probability that the gospels would report the life and resurrection of Jesus in the form they do.
Finally, the clincher: the probability that we would have all this evidence if it wasn’t true was one in 1000.
He argued that any evidence for the existence of God was an argument for the resurrection, and any evidence against the existence of God was an argument against the resurrection.
“Does he have reason to become incarnate? Yes, to make atonement, identify with our suffering and to teach us things, ” Professor Swinburne said.
Even Jesus’ life is not enough proof, he said. God’s signature was needed, which the resurrection was, showing his approval of Jesus’ teaching.
The mathematical equations appear in the professor’s book, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (OUP, 2003).
July 19, 2005
Barney Zwartz, Religion Editor