- Perhaps you’d challenge my statement above about Jesus that “the overwhelming conclusion of the historical evidence we have available is that He did” rise from the dead. What exactly is this evidence? Good question. And even though the complete answer is far more than what I can take space for here, I’ll try to point you in the general direction.
According to the book Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment (a debate between a believer and a skeptic), any “adequate historical hypothesis” about what happened to Jesus of Nazareth must be able to explain four established historical facts (accepted by the majority of New Testament scholars, liberal and conservative alike). These four facts are…
> Jesus’ burial
> The discovery of the empty tomb
> The postmortem appearances
> The origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection
(You mentioned only the final one in your challenge to me above, and I agree with you: this fact by itself is inconclusive. When taken in conjunction with the other three, however, it changes this discussion completely.)
I believe that the only hypothesis that adequately explains all four of these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead, just as the apostles taught. It is by far the most plausible conclusion, in my opinion, when all the surrounding facts and circumstances are taken into consideration.
There are, however, a number of competing theories that have been suggested, so let’s look at them briefly.
One idea is that the postmortem appearances were the result of a chain of hallucinations; this would supposedly explain the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, even though it really hadn’t happened. This idea does not, however, explain why the tomb was empty.
Another theory is that the disciples stole Jesus’ body from the tomb. This would explain the empty tomb, but it wouldn’t explain why the disciples believed in the resurrection so strongly that they would die for that belief.
A third proposal is that the Jewish or the Roman authorities stole Jesus’ body from the tomb and hid it somewhere. This could explain the disciples’ belief and also the empty tomb, but it doesn’t explain the postmortem appearances. It also doesn’t explain why these authorities, who desperately wanted to suppress this new religion from the outset, did not simply produce the body and dispel forever both the resurrection theory and the Christian religion with it. (The easiest way to disprove a resurrection is to simply produce a body. No one did.)
Another theory is that Jesus somehow naturally rose from the dead. This is of course silly, since science has conclusively shown that this sort of thing just doesn’t happen. The idea that billions of dead cells could spontaneously spring back into life, all at the same time, defies all the known laws of logic, science, and mathematical probability. (I have utmost respect for science, and its ability to tell us what can and what can’t naturally happen. It is simply the wrong tool, however, to determine what might occur in the supernatural.)
Finally, it appears that we ought to humbly admit that the most reasonable explanation is that God really did raise Jesus from the dead. The only thing that would prohibit us from accepting this explanation is if we have arbitrarily ruled out the possibility of miracles from the outset, or if we have bought into some philosophy, religion, or pre-conceived notion that the supernatural does not exist.
- Jesus is the only person in history who has been able to (1) claim to be divine, (2) use His self-predicted resurrection as the primary evidence for that claim, and (3) keep His credibility in the process.
Many others have claimed to be divine. Many others have claimed to rise from the dead. Many others have kept a degree of credibility, to the point that they were able to found worldwide religions with devotees in the millions. But only Jesus was able to do all three. Think about it.
Now I would like to respond briefly to a few of the other specific statements you made above.
> “Atheists have never been in the majority.”
No, of course not. Most people are alert enough to recognize that something exists, and it takes more faith than most people have to believe that something just popped into existence out of nothing. The more wide-spread confusion is not whether a deity exists, but rather, who is He, and how does He reveal Himself to us, if at all? This confusion was cleared up, for those who love the truth, in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
> “We have never found a supernatural explanation that turned out to be true.”
What you mean is, you have never found a supernatural explanation that could be detected with naturalistic testing methods. Just like you have never found love that could be detected with your postal scale.
> “We always found non-supernatural explanations.”
My guess is that most of the “we” you are referring to have been scientists—many of whom believed in God—who were operating in the realm of freedom, looking for the truth wherever the evidence might lead. It was not atheism, but rather science, that made these discoveries, and the scientists involved probably wouldn’t appreciate atheism trying to take credit for them.
> “We still struggle to teach basic, well-established science in school.”
I just want to clear up a common misconception. The words “evolution” and “science” are repeatedly used together as though they mean the same thing, but they simply don’t. I love science and support it completely. Evolution, on the other hand, though it claims to be science, is actually more religious than scientific. Why do I say that? Because of this: of the six types of evolution—Cosmic Evolution (big bang/origin of matter), Chemical Evolution (formation of the higher chemicals), Planetary and Stellar Evolution (origin of the stars), Organic Evolution (origin of life), Macro-evolution (animals changing into new kinds), and Micro-evolution (variations within kinds)—only the final one, Micro-evolution, is actually observable science.
> “But simple, obvious proofs such as these don’t sink in, to a religious mind determined to defend his preferred mindset.”
Of all the great scientists that have believed in God, are you really saying that all of them were unintelligent and irrational? Or would you admit that there have been at least some intelligent, rational scientists that have believed in God? If so, have you ever stopped to ask yourself why they, of all people, would choose to believe in God? What is it these intelligent, rational scientists saw that you don’t?
> “Faith does not free thought. It ends it.”
I agree with this, when it is a blind faith that is placed in something that isn’t true. For instance, a blind faith in naturalism puts an end to honest, open thought about many of the questions that really matter.
- Recently a well-known atheist was asked this question. “If I could prove to your satisfaction that the God of the Bible exists, would you worship Him?” To his credit, the atheist was honest enough to answer that no, he would not. He was admitting, in other words, that his primary motive for rejecting God was not about the logic or the evidence, but rather because of some other personal motive.
In this essay, I’ve been trying to look at both logic and evidence in my effort to encourage you to seek and find the God who created you. I’m concerned, however, for anyone who, like the atheist mentioned above, does not really care about the evidence, but simply has a hatred for God out of some personal motive. Wherever this is true, I might as well lay aside my efforts at logic, and plead with you instead to humble yourselves, however painful it might be to do so. Please don’t wait for God to humble you against your will, which will be many times more painful than doing it voluntarily.
- Finally, this entire discussion is not so much a debate between atheism and religion as it is a struggle between truth and falsehood. Picture a big, bright line called Truth cutting its way relentlessly through every idea, worldview, and philosophy, and leaving them all sitting meekly on one side or the other, either in the realm of the true or the realm of the false. Everything on the side of the false by definition is opposed to everything on the side of the true, even if the various forms of falsehood cannot agree with one another.
I remember you telling me about how you and other atheists got together on May 21, 2011 to have a good laugh over all the billboards which had proclaimed that that day would be Judgment Day. If the great division is between atheism and religion, then congratulations, you had a good laugh at the expense of the enemy. If, on the other hand, the great division is between the true and the false, then is it possible that you actually were mocking your own teammates?
Jesus stated, along with plenty of evidence to satisfy those who love the truth, that He is the way, the truth, and the life. He also said, for the sake of those Judgment Day-proclaiming billboards, that no man knows the day or the hour of His return.
Whenever that day comes, however, this little dialogue between you and me will be over. Every eye will be opened, every knee will bend, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.