I feel badly that I wasn’t able to follow yesterday’s discussion on our friend Garrett League’s post closely. Fascinating! I especially appreciate that we had some folks who joined us who are strongly convinced of and committed to scientific reasoning, even going so far as to claim that religion cannot give us any meaningful knowledge whatsoever.
Rather than enter into a long apologetic for the possibility of religious knowledge to speak truly about the existence of God, the nature of the universe, the meaning of life, and so on, I think it best to cut right to the chase. A comment by Kyle introduces what I have to say here well:
…Christianity isnâ€™t taken in blind faith, but can be believed based on the historical evidence for its truth claims. Unlike some religions, Christianity claims to be about real people and events that are within the scope of the historical method to analyze and evaluate. Issues such as Jesusâ€™ life, death, and resurrection can be studied and evaluated for their truth claims on the basis of the available evidence.
And the linchpin event for the Christian claim is Jesus’ resurrection.
As Michael Spencer said in his post, “Why I Am a Christian: A Ten Point Argument,”
…the resurrection of Jesus is crucial to my faith. As far as I know, Christianity is the only religion that has an explicitly confessed point of falsification. That is, it tells you, up front, how to disprove it. Read I Corinthians 15:14 and 17: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith….And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is foolish.” Now this is significant because it is turning the entire worldview onto its head and standing it on one assertion. If this is disproven, then the whole structure collapses.
One of the most thorough recent studies of this critical event is The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3), by N.T. Wright. Wright concludes that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the historical data. He doesn’t claim “proof” as the result of his study. He sees his conclusions as a challenge to other historical explanations. One of yesterday’s commenters who argued strongly that scientific inquiry alone can give us accurate knowledge wrote: “Things are either evidentially supported as likely to be accurateâ€¦or not. And it is not all that difficult to make that evaluation. Either the evidence is consistent with the hypothesis you are examining or it isnâ€™t. Either the hypothesis you are examining is validly constructed to enable you to meaningfully evaluate it, or it is not.” On the basis of his research, Wright finds the Christian claim of Jesus’ resurrection supported by the evidence as the most likely explanation.
The following video summarizes one of Wright’s strongest arguments for accepting the early Christian claim that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead in a transformed body:
The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the “meetings” or “sightings” of the risen Jesus in order to explain a faith they already had. They developed that faith because of the occurrence, and convergence, of these two phenomena. Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion-experience would have generated such ideas; nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. …In terms of the kind of proof which historians normally accept, the case we have presented, that the tomb-plus-appearances combination is what generated early Christian belief, is as watertight as one is likely to find.
…The widespread belief and practice of the early Christians is only explicable if we assume that they all believed that Jesus was bodily raised, in an Easter event something like the stories the gospels tell; the reason they believed that he was bodily raised is because the tomb was empty and, over a short period thereafter, they encountered Jesus himself, giving every appearance of being bodily alive once more. (Resurrection, 686-710)