#STRask: July 17, 2017

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Published on 07/17/2017

In 4 min. or less, Greg answers questions about saving faith, the probability of resurrections, and ending life support.


  • In Luke 7, when Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith and heals his servant, was the centurion saved? Was his faith saving faith?
  • Does a low prior probability of a resurrection happening in general make it less likely that Jesus’ specific resurrection happened?
  • What is your analysis on a family member wanting to be unplugged if ever on life support, being only kept alive by machines?


Melinda: Hi there, I’m Melinda, The Enforcer. I’m here with Greg Koukl for Stand to Reason.

Greg: Hi. Hi.

Melinda: This is STR’s Podcast #STRask. Do you know why Greg?

Greg: Why what?

Melinda: #STRask is the name of the show?

Greg: I know the STR part and people are asking questions. I don’t know what the heck a hashtag means though.

Melinda: But you know where it’s used.

Greg: It’s a little key on the computer.

Melinda: Okay. You go to Twitter, use #STRask, and we can locate your questions that way, then we pose them to Greg or somebody else.

Greg: So the hashtag is...You put a hashtag on something and it goes somewhere, that’s to me amazing. It just goes somewhere. How does it know what to do?

Melinda: We’re recording this in June but it’s going to get played in July. By this time, you’ve been away quite a while and people are saying, “Where is Greg? Why isn’t he there on Tuesday? I want to talk to him.”

Greg: Where’s Waldo? Usually around this time of year I have some time off. I take some time just by myself and maybe with my brother to do a little fishing at the end of May, although I don’t do that every year, only about half the years I’ve done that. Sometimes I’m out of the country and so just working. But generally, either in June or July I try to take two and a half to three week and I take my family up to our place in northern Wisconsin. We kick back and relax and do some swimming, and I repair the pier and I fix the boat and I put new siding on the cabin and fix the plumbing and do all kinds of stuff like that.

Melinda: You love those kinds of projects.

Greg: Yeah.

Melinda: It’s not like you’re complaining.

Greg: We all get eaten by mosquitoes and ticks, and then we come after three weeks, telling everybody what a great time we had.

Melinda: Because you did.

Greg: That’s one of the reasons I’m gone, and in this particular case I came back just in time for fourth of July, which falls on a Tuesday or fell on a Tuesday this year, and then left immediately for a week at Hume Lake where I was teaching. That’s why I missed some more time, but it looks like I’ll be here for a bit for the rest of the summer.

Melinda: But that’s why he’s abandoned you people. Let’s get going on these questions to try to give them a little something while you’re gone just relaxing.

Greg: Alright.

Melinda: First question comes from, excuse me, Squaredonut. In Luke seven, when Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith and heals his servant, was the centurion saved? Was his faith saving faith?

Greg: My simple answer is yes, I think so. If you think about Jesus’ comment to him, it is among the highest compliment that He gives anybody in the New Testament. It’s a compliment because the centurion is acknowledging the authority that is inherent in Jesus, and therefore in His words. So he is saying essentially, “Look, I don’t need you to come to my house and heal my servant. I know you’re the kind of guy that if you just say the words, I know my servant will be healed.”

Keep in mind, there’s not a lot of theological detail that’s given at this point. Theology gets developed in more granularity detail as the New Testament unfolds, but there are a whole bunch of people who acknowledge Jesus as the savior, that clearly Jesus welcomes into the kingdom based on their simple straight forward trust and acknowledgement of Him as the savior and messiah.

So we have a thief on the cross who simply says, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” We don’t have a lot of complexity there theologically, nor is it needed. I think the core of salvation is a trust in God’s rescuer or God’s provider, and that can be expressed in different ways and the New Testament expresses it different ways. I think in Luke chapter seven that centurion expressed that kind of trust.

Melinda: Okay. Next question comes from Jaylen12. Does a low prior probability of a resurrection happening in general make it less likely that Jesus’ specific resurrection happened? There’s been some attempts, I think they probably are misguided, to actually use probability to try to predict miracles.

Greg: Yeah, Bayes’ theorem and stuff. To be honest with you I’m completely lost in that kind of thing. I know Bill Craig uses this to some benefit. When I think of probability I think of what most people think of probability, just things that happen probabilistically and not in a designed fashion. Bayes’ theorem may be more sophisticated than that but I’m not there.

I just think no miracle is probable if you’re looking at it probabilistically. That is, it isn’t like miracles just...They don’t happen too often like a royal flush, but every once in a while you’re going to get one just based on probability. No, you’re not going to get one based on probability. When resurrections happen it’s because something...It wouldn’t be bright to say improbable happened. It’s something happened that could only be explained in virtue of an act of God.

Is it probable or improbable that I just took a drink of water here? I don’t even know how to calculate that but the fact is I did take a drink of water and it was a function of my action. If we have you, Melinda, as a reliable witness to the action, thinking about, “What is the probability he might have done that,” is irrelevant if you witness the action itself. It’s 100% probability, or certainty I should say, if it actually happened, and we know it happened because of your witnessing it. I’m never tempted to approach things like miracles, in particular the resurrection of Jesus, from the perspective of probability. I don’t think any event in history is properly assessed that way. You assessed the claim of an event in history based on other notions, not probability.

Again, I admit that I may be misunderstanding to some degree how Bayes’ theorem is used, B-A-Y-E-S, Bayes’ theorem, but nevertheless, regardless of that, if there is an event that seems unusual, the kind of event that doesn’t happen very often, I get it. But it’s not enough to simply dismiss it because it’s unusual and you don’t see them every day. I think this is a flaw in maybe David Hume’s approach. All you have to demonstrate - and I argue this way in The Story of Reality - that a man rose from the dead is that you have good reason to believe that he was dead at one point in time. Truly dead, dead as a door nail dead is the way I put it there, and truly in fact alive at some time afterwards. That’s all you have to do to demonstrate a resurrection.

It all comes down to the evidence regarding both of those point. Was Jesus really dead? Yeah. Three days lie in a tomb, packed with 75 pounds of herbs and spices, crucified, lance through his chest, declared dead by Roman centurion and embalmed essentially or partially embalmed by people who understood death and deal with death all the time with the death of their relatives. They didn’t send him off to the caretaker, whatever, the undertaker.

Yeah, I think we have every reason to believe he was actually dead and then two days later, three days later the tomb was empty and many declared that they actually saw him and ate with him and talked with him and walked with him a number of times in a number of different places at great risk to their own life to give this testimony. Those are all good reasons to believe that Jesus was dead, then he was alive. Therefore, resurrection happened, regardless of probability.

Melinda: I remember 15 or so years ago, I was still at Talbot, talking about this in one of the classes. Garrett DeWeese, one of the professors there at the time, said, “part of the problem with using probability like this is you can use it to even supposedly prove that things even in the natural world couldn’t have occurred that did occur.”

I can’t remember all the details but his meeting his wife was a variety of very, very unusual circumstances. Any one which could have been a once in a lifetime kind of thing. So if you go with probability of the unlikelihood of all those individual things occurring at any time, but especially simultaneously, it was essentially impossible, and yet it happened because they met and they married.

Greg: That would be true of just about any...

Melinda: Any event.

Greg: Yes. I go to Wisconsin, I stand in line and buy a chicken, and somebody behind me buys a loaf of bread.

Melinda: What do you do with the chicken?

Greg: I eat it.

Melinda: Oh, a dead chicken.

Greg: It’s already cooked.

Melinda: I don’t know, in northern Wisconsin they might have live chicken.

Greg: Okay, but think of all the things that could have been different such that I wouldn’t have been buying a chicken in the same store at the same time, that the person actually standing behind me was buying a loaf of bread. That would be highly improbable in that sense.

Melinda: Well it depends, how often do you buy chickens in northern Wisconsin?

Greg: Pardon me?

Melinda: How often do you buy chickens in northern Wisconsin?

Greg: That’s the point, not very often. Or if I had just...Let’s say northern Wisconsin, I go there more frequently, what if I just...I’m going to be in Louisville. I go to Louisville, or we’re going to be in Portland coming up in the fall, I don’t buy chickens in Portland very often. It’s just any particular thing that you might do, any coincidental thing that is two vents that happen at the same time are always going to be highly improbable by that assessment, but in fact those things happen all the time.

Melinda: Okay. Last question for this episode from EnabledByHim. What is your analysis of a fa- What would you do if a family member wanted to be unplugged if ever on life support and was being kept alive only by machines? Though neither you nor I ever faced this exact situation, we did have to talk to our parents about their wishes as they reached the end of their lives, right?

Greg: Mm-hmm. It’s a little bit of a complex question because I guess I’m just presuming that they’re...You have to make certain presumptions about this kind of thing. If a person is not obliged to stay on so-called life support, then one is not morally obliged, morally wrong in taking them off. The problem, part of the confusion has to do with the circumstances under which this is done. If a person is for all intents and purposes dead, but you have machines that are able to keep their tissues alive...

Melinda: Keep their lungs respirating.

Greg: Yeah, and things like that. There’s no obligation, I think, to keep them plugged into those machines. We always have an obligation to give care, but we don’t always have an obligation to give I should say, yeah care but not medical treatment. The medical treatment has to have some reasonable expectation of benefit and cannot be an undue burden on a person.

Sometimes people are just dying and you have a DNR, Do Not Resuscitate, in a code situation. They’re dying of cancer, then they have a heart attack. What’s the point of trying to revive them so they can just die of cancer very shortly? There is no sense in that. I don’t think we’re obliged to keep them alive under those circumstances and, therefore, if we’re not obliged to give the medical treatment then we can remove the medical treatment.

I don’t view hydration and food, nourishment and air to be medical treatment. I consider that to be care. That is, those are the kinds of things that anyone, excuse me, needs to survive. If you withhold any of those things, they will all die through the withholding of it. That I think is in a different category.

Melinda: Okay, so basically when we evaluate the physical condition of a patient and if essentially they’re dead and the machines just are helping their body keep going, like you said, it’s permissible to withdraw that treatment.

Greg: Yeah because-

Melinda: How about, and I think this is actually the trickier one maybe, when the focus is on the quality of life of the individual? Somebody says, “Well, if I have a stroke or something, I don’t want to be in a vegetative state. I don’t want to be stuck in bed, unable to do anything, so just let me die with dignity.”

Greg: I know they say that, but I don’t think that that necessarily is dying with dignity and some other way of dying is not with dignity, whatever. But in any event, that’s rhetoric that is meant, I think, to sanitize euthanasia. But it’s just a legal question, people can make their own choices about those circumstances and they give advance directives and then it isn’t up to the family to decide.

It’s up to the doctors to decide that based on the advance directive. “Under these circumstances I don’t want any further care.” Those are directives that are acknowledged. What I think is important to point out here is that when I use the criterion of reasonable expectation of benefit, that is a medical assessment, it isn’t a quality of life assessment.

The minute you make that a quality of life assessment, then it becomes a judgment call based on what any person thinks the quality of life ought to be. A lot of times when quality of life considerations are in play, it turns out that it’s really the quality of life of the caregiver that is being considered there. “This person is a burden and if I pull the plug, then I won’t have to bear the burden of that person’s life.” Of course that’s not the right way to decide that.

Melinda: But even the quality of life of the patient is problematic to make decisions based on that. People who are in long term comas or supposed vegetative states, and so their nutrition and hydration is removed to cause them to die when they’re not dying.

Greg: That’s right.

Melinda: Those are not permissible situations.

Greg: Right, right. I think we should let God/disease, whatever, take the life. We shouldn’t take the life by our failure to act as we should in those circumstances.


Melinda: I’ll add to, because you talked about a family member’s wishes, both my parents basically had health directives while they were still healthy. That said, there was a part of it that was basically based on quality of life. “Well, we don’t want to be vegetables or anything.” I talked with my parents, I said, “You cannot rely on me to carry that wish out because I think it would be immoral to kill you in that situation. And if you’ve put me in charge of this, I will not honor that wish. I will do what I believe to be moral and right.” I just told them upfront, they kept me on.

Greg: They didn’t fire you.

Melinda: We’re not obligated to carry out immoral wishes of our family members. That has no moral bearing just because somebody said, “This is my wish,” or something. I know in the last couple years of my mom’s life in and out of the hospital, we did have a DNR that we carried along, but I also always filled those out and I always told my mother, “this is what I’ll give permission to, but I will not give permission to these other things.”

She left it to me so she didn’t change her mind. We’re not obligated to honor family members’ wishes that turn out to be immoral. They may not realize it because this kind of stuff is talked about all the time. They may not have thought it through. I’m not accusing the family member of doing something immoral.

On that kind of depressing sober note, that’s it for this episode of STRask. I’m Melinda, the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl for Stand To Reason.