Michael Shermer is a popular author, professor, scientist and atheist. In his article How Might a Scientist Think about the Resurrection? he gives several reasons why we should doubt Jesus’ resurrection. Allow me to respond to each one.
1. Other Religions Doubt the Resurrection
Shermer’s first reason is that “Jews and Muslims, along with the world’s other four billion religious people, do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.”
This is an odd objection to me. Typically, if a Jew or a Muslim believed in the Resurrection, then they wouldn’t be a Jew or Muslim, but rather a Christian! However, there is one notable exception. Pinchas Lapide was a Jewish theologian who wrote, “I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event”–and yet he still remained Jewish.
With that said, why would people of other faiths be more likely to believe the Resurrection than the rest of the population? If anything, people with prior religious commitments may be harder to convince than those without them. In spite of this, people from other faiths do sometimes become Christians. For example, apologists Nabeel Qureshi and Abdu Murray were practicing Muslims before converting to Christianity.
2. The Resurrection Requires Extraordinary Evidence
Shermer’s second and third reasons are similar if not the same point. The Resurrection was so unusual in human history, and yet the evidence needed to confirm it isn’t strong enough to justify belief in it. As he puts it, “…the scientific principle of proportionality means we should adjust our confidence in a truth claim according to the proportion of evidence for it, and the more extraordinary the claim the more extraordinary the evidence for it must be.”
I agree that the Resurrection is a one-time and extraordinary event. However, so is the beginning of the universe out of nothing, and you don’t need extraordinary evidence to believe that it happened. All you need is good evidence. As I argue in my chapter in our ebook, Make Christ Clear, providing evidence for the resurrection can be as simple as showing that Jesus died at point A and was alive again at point B. The evidence needed to determine whether someone is dead or alive doesn’t have to be extraordinary.
3. Lack of Extra-Biblical Sources
Next, Shermer says, “There are no reliable extra-biblical sources documenting Jesus’s [sic] resurrection.” For some reason, in the land of historical studies of Jesus, extra-biblical sources are king. In other words, although we have twenty-seven historical documents which were later compiled into what we now call the New Testament, the evidence for Jesus in sources outside of these must be more reliable!
4. The Four Gospels are Not Dependable
Shermer argues that we cannot trust the Gospels since they were written decades after Jesus’ death and human memory is unreliable. First, the Resurrection was something that radically changed the disciples from cowards into brave proclaimers. In other words, the event was so significant that it would be hard for them to forget. Generally speaking, events that are more significant to us are easier to remember than insignificant ones. Second, this view completely glosses over the fact that these stories and sayings of Jesus were in fact passed down through oral tradition in a highly oral culture.
5. The Resurrection is Beyond History
Shermer’s final reason is that the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus’ resurrection “remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.” And if this is the case, then science and history cannot prove or disprove the Resurrection.
I am not so sure how I feel about the quote, but I am sure that Catholics believe in the physical, historical resurrection of Jesus. The Catholic Church seems to be saying that the Resurrection is such a miraculous event that it cannot be completely grasped by our finite minds. Nevertheless, the New Testament documents certainly portray the Resurrection as a historical event.
In closing, none of Shermer’s reasons cause me to be skeptical of the Resurrection, but perhaps I’m just a biased Christian! At the end of the day, a scientist should think about the Resurrection just like someone in any other profession: examine the evidence and come to a conclusion.