In his recent blog, Vince Vitale makes a provocative statement relating to the “God question.” He says –
Criticism without Alternative is Empty
What he is saying is, when someone criticises you for believing in God, then a legitimate response is as follows:
“Oh – okay. Well – what else have you got? Do you have a better reason for the universe around us, and the fact that you and I are sitting discussing these matters? Let’s hear it?”
In my experience, the skeptic is much more likely to attempt to poke holes in the claim of the Christian. They are less likely to posit a more likely alternative.
I’ve seen this happen many times when the topic of conversation is – the Resurrection of Jesus. Usually I will hear statements, but few arguments. Words like:
“You would be crazy to believe that.”
“There’s no evidence for it.”
“It’s just one of those unexplained phenomena, it means nothing.”
I’ve yet to hear a skeptic posit a more likely explanation for the claims of Jesus’ resurrection that beats the claims of the original Apostles. Namely – Jesus actually was raised by God from the dead. Oxford University professor Richard Swinburne cogently argues that “on the historical evidence alone, it is 97% probably that Jesus truly and miraculously rose from the dead.” The earliest statement of this historical evidence is found both inside and outside of the Biblical texts.
In the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) we read that:
- Christ’s death was predicted by the Old Testament long ago.
- He was buried and raised as predicted.
- He then appeared to the twelve apostles.
- He then appeared to over five hundred people at the same time.
- He also appeared to his brother James, and the other Christian apostles.
- He appeared to the religious anti-Christian zealot named Saul.
Outside the Bible, we have various statements about Jesus. One from Roman Governor Pliny the Younger states clearly that the first believers were asked whether they were Christians up to three times. If they persisted in this belief, that was clearly grounded on the belief in Christ’s resurrection, they were killed. What would cause someone to remain fearless in the face of their own torture and death like that? How about – many of them had actually seen the risen Christ. They weren’t dying for a lie. Rather – they were dying because they were unwilling to deny what they had seen and heard and experienced with their own senses. This is understood to be the path of Jesus’ twelve Apostles, who were martyred for their Christian convictions.
Do you dismiss the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead? Even in the light of this evidence? Okay. Then what else you got?
Here’s where resurrection becomes a reason for God.
It seems to me that if ancient Judaism points toward the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then this builds a case and presents reasons for God. We don’t just have a random guy resurrecting one day in the past. No – we have an entire ancient culture building up to this event, which on occurring, succeeds in turning the world upside down. The resurrection of Jesus, and the historical and cultural setting it occurs in, provides reasons for God.
Still not on board? Well – okay. What else you got? Vitalle suggests a few alternatives:
1 – The Resurrection was a legend that developed over time. The problem is, the historical setting and the timing of the reporting does not permit time for this. The documented reports of the Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament can be dated to within months of the event itself.
2 – Could the Resurrection have been a collective hallucination? Well – according to psychologists, such things do not exist. Not for two people, never mind five hundred or more. This alternative explanation is implausible.
3 – Was there a first century conspiracy? Well – in conspiracies, the people involved are there to get something out of the lie. What did the first Christians experience? Persecution and death. So – no. This alternative does not fly.
Criticism without Alternative is Empty
So. If we choose to reject the claims of Christianity around the Resurrection of Jesus, the question for us becomes this:
“what explanations for Jesus’ Resurrection have I considered, and why do I think it is a more cogent and convincing than the claims found in the existing historical evidence?”