Guest post by Mike Williams
Is the resurrection of Jesus believable? This is the question I have been asked to answer for a class that I am currently enrolled in. My initial reaction to this questions is an affirmative, no! Of course, it is not reasonable to believe that someone can resurrect themselves from the dead. I’ve never seen or heard of it by anyone else, so why should I believe it about Jesus? However, upon further reflection I start to think about a lot of other things that I do believe, things that I once found unbelievable. Once I am presented with good evidence then I am often much more willing to believe the unbelievable.
Headline: Click here if you’d like to learn how to fly
If the “unbelievable” were truly impossible to believe then the news industry would have a tough time making money with their current strategy. Headlines are usually ridiculous, sensational and truly unbelievable but because we know unbelievable things sometimes happen, we click on the article and begin to read. In fact, if it doesn’t sound sensational, most people won’t find it worth reading. My experience has taught me that most of the time if something sounds too good or too crazy to be true, it usually is. I have clicked on plenty of these “clickbait” titles but most of the time I am disappointed with how lame the actual story is. Besides the fact that I usually get annoyed with these types of ads I still like clicking on them because occasionally, they are actually about something that really happened. I guess I’m operating under the belief of Mark Twain that “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
If clickbait ads were never about anything real, then people would eventually stop clicking on them and a new strategy would be needed. Is the resurrection of Jesus some form of ancient clickbait? Is it a sensational story meant to completely mislead people into reading the rest of the story? I guess the only way to know is to research it further. When I’m trying to find out the truth of something I research. My research consists of first going to reliable sources on the internet, then if I have time I read books, then I’ll reread the original source more closely, then I cross reference, then I listen to eyewitness accounts, and if possible I check the facts with other sources that are known to be reliable. If those sources confirm the story, then I’m much more inclined to believe it regardless of the initial difficulty in believing.
History is filled with clickbait
I also realized in analyzing this resurrection question that much of history is filled with these exact types of unbelievable events. In fact, if the event is not significant or sensational then it probably would not be recorded and studied in history for several successive generations. A five minute google search or access to any history book will confirm that a lot has happened in history that sounds unbelievable.
Many people at this point in the blog will probably just say that it’s a waste of time to research the resurrection, because they know for certain that dead people do not rise from the dead. If you are one of these people I’m betting that you feel this way for some predetermined reason.
Option number 1, you are not as gullible as I am and you have never been tempted to click on “clickbait.” I am jealous of these people and I’d like to be in their group one day.
Option number 2, you are indifferent toward miracle claims because there is some other form of “clickbait” begging for your attention somewhere else on the internet right this minute. Bye!
Option number 3, you do not believe that miracles can happen because you do not believe in the existence of a god.
Methodological Naturalism is not the only way to know truth
This third option is the David Hume camp, a.k.a. the methodological naturalist camp. This group has already determined that if you can’t test it with science then it does not exist. One thing you cannot test with science is the existence of an invisible god, i.e. the God of the Bible. God exists in the non-natural, non-testable world but since this camp has decided ahead of time that non-testable (empirically speaking) things like miracles cannot occur, no amount of evidence will ever convince them that this miracle or any other miracle could or ever would happen. What these naturalists are forgetting, as Greg Koukl points out, is that science is not the only way of knowing things. Further, science cannot “disprove the existence of anything.” (1) It can simply test what has been found and reveal certain truths about those things that have been found. Science cannot disprove; love, unicorns, married bachelors or square circles. “All science can do is say that scientists may have been looking for unicorns for a long time and never found any.” Since science is descriptive and not prescriptive it is limited in its ability to answer certain questions. If science were the only way to know truth, we would miss out on knowing so many truths that are provable through other means of knowledge available to thinkers. You can use rationalism, pragmatism, authority, revelation and other means to find truth. Therefore, methodological naturalists dismiss truth on scientific grounds without a scientific reason to support such a claim. Someone needs to tell the methodological naturalists that “science doesn’t say anything-scientists do.” For a full explanation of this idea see the article What Science Can’t Prove by Greg Koukl. The link is provided here.
Dismissing the possibility of something before you have observed the evidence seems to be a textbook version of close-mindedness. I’ve met many naturalists who dismiss the unbelievable without observing the evidence- instead they have presupposed (decided beforehand) that all non-material things are not real-yet they consider themselves open-minded. I wonder if close-minded, by their definition, is just another name for people who hold opposing views from their own. To make sure I’m not prejudging this group, let’s look at a quote from one of the heroes of this belief system, David Hume. David Hume is a British atheist from the 18th Century who became famous for his anti-god and anti-miracle beliefs.
Begging the Question
David Hume defines miracles as “a violation of the laws of nature.” He then concludes that since miracles break those laws, they must not actually be happening. In other words, he is begging the question and defining his way out of ever having to believe in a miracle. You cannot believe in miracles because miracles are impossible, is another way of stating it. The equivalent is to define taxes as “something that cannot be paid.” That way when the IRS shows up and asks for the money you owe them you can just remind them that “taxes are something that cannot be paid” so you cannot possibly owe them taxes. (2) The Christian version of begging the question usually sounds like “the Bible says that the Bible is true, so I know the Bible is true.” I’m therefore convinced, that the only reason Hume’s argument is considered acceptable is because people do not want to believe in the existence of God and so they close their minds off to reasoning that might lead them face to face with a God.
Hume continues his line of reasoning by saying that the most probable explanation is always the thing that must be true and violations of laws are always the least probable explanation. If this is true then Hume would be forced to disbelieve in someone getting a perfect poker hand. The odds are 1 in 649,739 to get a royal flush, and yet people have actually been dealt a royal flush. This happens on a regular basis, but because it is improbable, based on Hume’s reasoning, it cannot be believed regardless of evidence. The same is true of several events that have actually happened; a hole in one, winning the lottery twice, running a 4-minute mile. (3) All of these events go against what is probable and yet there are too many evidences to deny the fact that they happened. Hume is thus closeminded and unreasonable in his dismissal based on improbability without even looking at the evidence. For more on David Hume being disproven read Miracles by C.S. Lewis.
Not Science, Not Philosophy
Thus, far we have seen that science does not disprove the possibility of resurrections. Further we cannot dismiss the possibility of a resurrection on the grounds of philosophy either. Philosophy has yet to prove that God does not exist. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence in philosophy for the existence of God and very little evidence against his existence. Accordingly, the possibility of the supernatural is philosophically reasonable and if a supernatural God might exist then it is a small step to believe he in fact causes inexplicable things such as miracles to occur. Further if we have a constellation of evidence supporting a miracle, the likelihood of it being real increases considerably.
Therefore, it is obviously completely reasonable to spend some time observing the evidence of the resurrection before it is dismissed outright. In fact, I think it seems absurd based on the above discussion to dismiss such a claim outright without first observing the evidence. If you’re interested in reading about the evidence, read the next blog in this series. It is okay to look at the evidence with a skeptical mind, the Berean’s were encouraged to do so in regards to Paul’s truth claims (Acts 17:11). I myself am a skeptic at heart, but I’m also reasonable and I attempt to be open-minded.
Mike Williams is a Bible and Worldview Instructor at Calvary Chapel Christian School Las Vegas. He is currently completing a D.Ed.Min. in Applied Apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Las Vegas with his wife and two children.
(1) Koukl, Greg. “What Science Can’t Prove.” Stand to Reason, February 4, 2013. Accessed February 15, 2017. http://www.str.org/articles/what-science-can-t-prove#.WL8uxzvyvcv.
(2) Horner, David. The Case for the Resurrection. Presentation by David Horner https://apps.biola.edu/apologetics-store/products/audios/item/the-case-for-the-resurrection-of-christ_CD
(3) Douglas Groothuis. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove: IVP, 2011.