Every year on Easter I follow a bit of a ritual. First, I forget it’s Easter. Then, I am reminded of painting eggs as a child and finally I remember the Easter Challenge. In previous years I’ve been tempted to actually apply the Easter Challenge—an effort to try to get Christians to tell a coherent, sequential and complete narrative of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection without excluding anything from any of the four gospels—but now it seems I’m jaded on the point of the challenge.
While it’s usually worthwhile to point out obvious shortcomings, it seems to me that attempts at reconciliation for the Easter Challenge, and many other challenges presented to religious and pseudoscientific, miss the point of how we determine truth. Going from impossible as stated, and therefore extremely improbable, to possible as stated but still vanishingly improbable isn’t really an accomplishment . Still, some believers seem content in doing just that and those who would challenge them also seem to fail to realize determining truth needn’t be done—and normatively shouldn’t be done—solely in absolutes.
Imagine a prosecutor saying “The defendants stories flatly contradict on what happen and in the timeline of events. Therefore the stories can not all be true.” only to be challenged by the prosecutor who argues “I object! If you make highly improbable assumptions and selectively interpret their words it isn’t strictly speaking impossible, only highly improbable that their stories are all true.” No reasonable jurist would then think “…well so long as it’s not impossible that their stories are all true that’s a good reason to believe they are indeed true.”
Yet this exact game seems to play out, on repeat, for a plethora of unlikely claims. So instead of focusing on what is or is not possible (which is really only a nonspecific declaration that something fails to meet a certain probability threshold) when you explicitly think about the relative probability of claims harder to let proving the impossible get in the way of highlighting a claim is extremely improbable. When you do this, the point of the Easter Challenge fades away as proving something is not a billion to one odds against but a million to one still means there’s a 99.9999% chance that it didn’t happen and means, frankly, that it isn’t even worth considering seriously.