Curious Evidence for the Claimed Resurrection of Jesus

When considering the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, one thing often overlooked is the lack of a second burial.

In ancient Jerusalem, families often shared tombs where deceased family and friends were laid on stone shelves. Bodies were “wrapped in grave-cloths along with a significant amount of spices, to offset the smell of putrification, on the usual assumption that other shelves in the cave would be required soon.”[1] Then after a year, the family would return and “collect the bones, fold them reverently and carefully…and place them in an ossuary.”[2] This would count as the second burial and cleared tomb space for future burials.

Here’s the interesting thing – no account exists of a second burial for Jesus’ body.

  • If the data existed, wouldn’t the enemies of Christianity have pointed to it?
  • Jesus’ life was carefully documented, why would the second burial also be written down?

What is written down casts doubt that a second burial ever occurred at all.

  • At the precise time the second burial should have occurred, the record talks about his friends “proclaiming him as Messiah…on the grounds that he had been raised from the dead.”[3]
  • Also at this time, the Christian church’s persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, claimed to have encountered the risen Jesus and become a Christian evangelist.

 

Perhaps the reburial happened privately so wasn’t documented. Could Jesus’ disciples have stolen the body as a way of concocting a resurrection myth?

  1. Why? No-one in first century Judaism expected resurrections to work this way, so why would they concoct something they weren’t expecting?
  2. This implicates the disciples in a coverup. Yet the historical record establishes high confidence that many were martyred for their Christian faith. “Lying about something is a poor thesis for being a martyr.”[4]
  3. How does this explain Saul going from persecutor to Christian evangelist?
  4. If Jesus was still dead when Christianity erupted in the city where he was killed and buried, why wasn’t his dead body produced by the authorities to stop the Christians from preaching his resurrection?

 

Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, so we cannot be 100% sure. But given the history of the early Christian church combined with Saul’s conversion, isn’t it reasonable to posit that there’s no evidence of Jesus’ second burial because no body remained and days after his public execution, the tomb was empty, and friends and enemies alike did encounter him alive again in a new way?[5]

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

[1] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 707.

[2] Wright, 708.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Evidence for the Empty Tomb, The Resurrection of Jesus, Gary Habermas, in the Credo Courses, accessed May 6th, 2017, http://www.credocourses.com/product/the-resurrection-of-jesus/.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Acts 2:32.

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Nature and Reason Point to the Existence of God

road-sun-rays-path

Richard Swinburne proposed this argument for the existence of God[1] during a debate at Oxford University. His argument’s uses an approach called “natural theology” because it appeals to nature and human reason when arguing for the existence of God.

 

I often hear people dismiss the idea of God. “We just don’t know”, they say. Swinburne appeals to nature, and to human reason, and takes issue with this claim.

 

Swinburne’s proposition is that God is a personal being. Clearly, we are too. But unlike us, God has no limits or constraints placed upon him.

 

Further, God’s also perfectly good and free from irrational inclinations. Unfortunately, we can’t consistently do the right and good thing. Partly, that’s because we don’t always do the rational thing. There are many complicated reasons for this. But God’s not subject to this limitation – we might not fully understand why he does certain things (he’s God and we’re not) but God acts on reason always. He’s free – and he is good.

 

Swinburne proposes that if this God exists and is responsible for the universe – then that would explain two interesting observations.

1 – that there IS a physical universe in the first place.

2 – the Universe is governed by laws (captured by theories like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity).

These laws mean that every single particle in the universe has the same power and liability to influence any other particle in the universe.

 

 

Why would Swinburne’s description of God explain the existence of our ordered universe?

First – a good God would naturally seek to bring about good things. Fundamentally, human beings are intended as good things. It’s good for me that we all exist…and its good for you too. Of course, we face choices on how to treat each other. And we don’t always choose the good thing. But – its good for us that God has delegated this choice to us. We have free will because God intended it that way.

 

Second – for beings like us to exist, God must provide the necessary conditions. We are limited beings, embodied and our physical bodies require a physical universe.

If we are to be able to act as free beings in this universe, it has to be an ordered and regular universe. Not a chaotic one. What does this mean?

1 – we can predict what will happen. For example, if I feed you then – all things being equal – you will live. If I poison you…you will die.

2 – in a chaotic universe, it wouldn’t matter what I did…I would never actually know how it might affect you…. either positively or negatively. A regular universe is required for us to see how things behave. And this regularity is captured by certain laws, like physical laws, and these lead to general principles. For example, food nourishes and poison kills.

 

Swinburne’s claim is – if this sort of God exists – then you would expect to have a universe which is ordered.

 

 

What if there wasn’t a God like this. Would we expect this sort of ordered universe?

First – think about our physical universe.

Every particle of matter stretching across our mind-bendingly vast universe. Not only do these particles of matter exist in the first place…they are completely regular. Each and every one is composed of the same sub-atomic building blocks and behaves exactly the same way.

Now – how likely would this be if there was no God? Wouldn’t this be a bit like winning the lottery…not once…but a trillion-trillion times in perfect sequence?

Yet some people who do not believe in God might say – that’s just how the universe is.

But to believe that every particle of matter behaves as every other particle of matter – yet then proceed to decide that this state of affairs doesn’t require a meaningful explanation – seems deeply unscientific.

1 – you are faced with an overwhelmingly enormous number of coincidences.

2 – you can explain them all by a very simple explanation – there is a God.

3 – to stop at the coincides and to live with them, flies in the face of the scientific method.

 

So – we have data about how our universe is structured and behaves. Matter exists, and there are conscious beings who are able to recognise and analyse that fact. If there’s a God, you would expect that data. If there’s no God – if the physical laws are somehow ultimate and there’s nothing and no one beyond them – then you would not expect this data. It’s just astronomically unlikely.

 

Second – think about human moral choice.

We are faced with the choices whether to help or hinder other people…to hurt or to benefit. I face this choice, and evil results when I abuse the privilege of this choice. God’s good, and he’s interested in making people who are good and who will live forever.

The way human beings work, the choices we repeatedly make form our characters. Every time we choose to do the good and right thing, its easier to make that choice again. Likewise, every time we compromise, its easier to compromise in the future. God allows us the freedom to make these choices – but his goal is to help us develop good character.

So – what about human suffering, then? The fact that human beings suffer seems to fly in the face of this. Does suffering disprove the existence of God because it takes away human moral choice?

Well – to develop good character, we must have serious problems to face and to overcome. If I become ill, then the question is how will I deal with this? Will I grow in resentment and become a negative influence on the people around me? Or – will I face this challenge good naturedly?

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that God would provide difficult situations as an opportunity – during our limited time on this planet – to give us the chance to develop a good character? While this does not cover all issues related to human suffering, it poses a serious challenge to me. How will I choose to respond when I am suffering?

So – human freedom – and the choice to build a good or reprobate character – points to the existence of God.

 

 

In summary – this is the sort of world you would expect to have if there was a God. If there was no God – it would just be unbelievable that such a world would exist.

Therefore – on that basis – Swinburne proposes that there is a God.

 

 

Image courtesy of pexels.com.

[1] Richard Swinburne, Religion Helps Society | Richard Swinburne | Oxford Union, OxfordUnion, Youtube, accessed 23rd January 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_QXll-_qhQ.

Christianity Causes CONFLICT?

blood handsOften I hear people reject Christianity because of the violence that Christians have wrought throughout human history.

 

But what if conflict is not actually caused by “religion” at all? People start wars (hello President Trump and Kim Jong-un). Violence is a human problem that inflicts both the religious and the irreligious.

 

My focus in this blog…is specifically Christianity. Why? Because I’m a Christian. And because I view it as a unique faith system. Only Christianity reveals the God who is seeking people out personally to save them. I won’t speak for other religious belief systems…I will speak for Christianity.

 

At the outset, I’m convinced that no violence is acceptable for a Christian. I am NOT going to attempt to justify or defend past atrocities committed by Christians. I will say that I think Christian people suffer the same tendency TOWARDS violence as other human beings. We all have hearts that need changing. BUT – there is hope.

 

What’s my argument proposing that conflict is not particularly caused by Christianity?

First – Christianity’s Critics Exaggerate Past Christian Violence

Christianity’s critics exaggerate the past in order to misrepresent the behaviour of violent, misguided Christians from the past.

John Dickson has researched two sad but specific examples of Christian violence over the last 600 years.

1 The Spanish Inquisition (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition)

Setup to coerce people into Catholicism, it began in the 15th century and lasted for 350 years. It is commonly claimed that hundreds of thousands of heretics were killed during this period. The facts paint a different picture.

“in its 350-year history, the Spanish Inquisition probably killed around 6,000 people. That comes out at eighteen deaths a year.”[1]

That’s 18 deaths a year too many…I agree! But a lot less than the hundreds of thousands that are often claimed.

2 The Crusades

A popular notion blames the crusades during the Middle Ages on the Christian church. Someone who was alive around that time – Martin Luther – had this to say about that notion:

“there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.”[2]

In other words, the exaggeration here is on the level of genuine, believing Christians who were actually involved in this violence.

3 The Northern Ireland Troubles

This thirty year conflict, beginning in 1968, was sectarian and claimed the lives of less than 4,000 people…though many more were injured physically and psychologically over this time. The BBC history website reports, “During the Troubles, the scale of the killings perpetrated by all sides – republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces – eventually exceeded 3,600.”[3]

Having personally lived through this time, and known people caught up in it, it was terrible in so many senses. And 133 deaths a year were too many.

 

 

Second – Secular Conflict is Worse than Religious Violence Yet this Fact is Downplayed

Let’s bring a bit of perspective here.

1 The French Revolution

The secular French Revolution between September 1793 and July 1794 happened in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.

“As many people were executed…in a single year of the Revolution…as were killed in the entire three decades of the [Northern Ireland] ‘troubles’”[4].

The French Revolution was a bloodbath.

 

2 Secular 20th Century Wars

World War 1 (the war to end all wars) caused an estimated 8,000,000 deaths.

World War 2 was much worse; 35,000,000 deaths.

Joseph Stalin’s openly atheistic regime killed at least 20,000,000 people. This means more people died under Stalin each and every week…than died as a result of the entire 350 year history of the Spanish Inquisition.

Atheist Paul Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge, “led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of 7 to 8 million died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork. Some estimates place the death toll even higher. One detention centre, S-21, was so notorious that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived.”[5]

 

I would suggest that the results of purely secular conflicts are downplayed because they are so much MORE bloodthirsty than the historical religious ones.

 

Third – Violence is Not Particular to Christianity. It is a common Human Problem

These figures are both tragic and mind boggling. But they paint an obvious picture.

BOTH religion and irreligion can inspire violence. Yet the irreligious violence tends to be MUCH MORE SEVERE than the violence from Christians.

Christian violence is a sad historical fact. So is secular violence – which is much worse than the Christian violence.

This points to my thesis that – I don’t think conflict is particularly caused by Christianity. Violence is a human problem; we all are affected.  The problem is the human heart….not Christianity or Christian belief.

 

 

 

YET – there is STILL HOPE for Humankind

The hope will not appear if mankind succeeds in stamping out Christianity (as some have suggested). The hope comes when we become more true to the life and teachings of Jesus. Why?

Imagine a committed atheist who is convinced that there’s no God and we live in a cold merciless universe… the product of the blind forces of physics..

If I [as a Christian] try to put myself in that position, then I make an interesting observation. As Bertrand Russell once pointed out, the atheist’s decision to love is nothing more than a personal preference. Surely because there is no God, and therefore no ultimate accountability for our actions, then ANY kind of life is logically compatible with the atheist worldview?

While the atheist can live how he pleases, no such free choice lies before the Christian. We are commanded to love like Jesus loves. “when Christians love, they do so in full accordance with their worldview that begins with the love of God and the inherent value of his much loved creatures.”[6] A hate filled Christian is indeed a historical fact…but it is also a clear logical DEFIANCE of the Christian worldview. A hate filled Christian makes no logical sense.

 

So where is the hope I referred to earlier?

Christianity doesn’t provoke war; it brings peace to all people. Eternal peace between us and God.

The solution for violent Christianity is REAL Christianity.

The solution for a violent world is not no religion…where love is logically nothing more than a lifestyle choice. The solution is REAL Christianity; loving and following Jesus Christ in a fuller and more devoted way.

 

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Jesus Christ (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)

 

“The cure is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion…The more Christian faith matters to its adherents as faith and the more they practice it as an ongoing tradition with strong ties to its origins and with clear cognitive and moral content, the better off we will be.”            – Miroslav Volf (Christian theologian)

 

“But why so many words when I can say it in one sentence, and in a sentence very appropriate for a Jew. Honour your master, Jesus Christ, not only in words and songs but, rather, foremost in your deeds.” – Albert Einstein (deist)

[1] John Dickson, Life of Jesus, Zondervan, 68.

[2] Martin Luther, On War Against the Turk, available from http://www.lutherdansk.dk/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror1.htm, accessed 4th January 2018.

[3] BBC History, “The Troubles 1968 – 1998”, BBC History, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles, accessed May 5th 2015.

[4] John Dickson, 69.

[5] History, Pol Pot, History, http://www.history.com/topics/pol-pot, accessed May 5th 2015.

[6] John Dickson, 70.

EVOLUTION and the Gap

pexels-photo-356040

I’ve spent my life unconvinced by Neo-Darwinian claims that life arose on this planet over a long time by purely natural means – random genetic mutations combined with the observed process of natural selection.

I’m clearly swimming against the tide of opinion here.

Sometimes, people will react in horror or amusement when I question Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy. After all – this is the science we learned as kids at school. We remember the pictures from the science textbooks. Routinely – the response I get from people is:

  • Evolution is a fact. It describes how life arose.
  • Anyone who questions evolution …is living in the dark ages of human knowledge.

This might be a common assumption. What I find fascinating is – there’s a massive gap between society’s widely held beliefs about the capabilities of “evolution” …and scientists’ beliefs on the effectiveness of the modern synthesis (textbook Darwinism) to explain life’s origin. It seems that the general public have greater confidence in Darwin…than an increasingly large number of scientists do.

In November 2016, there was a meeting at the Royal Society called “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” During this meeting, evolutionary biologists clearly laid their cards on the table. Their admissions may surprise you.

Gerd Müller (Austrian evolutionary theorist) said that the modern synthesis (Neo-Darwinism) fails to account for:

  • The origins of the anatomy of living creatures (eyes, ears and body plans).
  • The origins of new forms of life throughout the history of life.
  • Abrupt discontinuities in the fossil record, when complex new life forms appear suddenly.[1]

Müller referred to the gap in understanding between scientists and the public. Even tho Neo-Darwinism continues to be “presented to the public via textbooks as the canonical understanding of how new living forms arose,”[2] the theory lacks the creative power to generate novel anatomical traits and forms. He was simply saying that – contrary to popular belief – evolution does not currently account for the origins of life.

Jim Shapiro (professor of microbiology) went on to show evidence that evolution does not progress slowly and randomly. Rather, cells adjust themselves rapidly and in real-time:

  • Many mutational processes in life aren’t random at all. They seem to operate under “algorithmic control.”
  • Life seems to possess a pre-programmed adaptive capacity.[3]
  • These adaptions can occur in very short periods of time.[4]

I found a great example of this behaviour from microbiologists in the University of Reading in the UK: [5]

Today’s experimental biology is showing that, “cells perform adaptions of astonishing sophistication in real time, but these events are emphatically non-random. This means that evolution has goals, and so too do organisms.”[6]

Yet no one asks the question, “where do the non-random, sophisticated pre-programmed real-time capacities originate from?” Life just finds a way. Why?

 

 

There’s a gap between the popular understanding and the honest, scientific assessment.  There’s no working theory that explains how life arose by purely random naturalistic processes. As paleontologist Graham Budd has observed, “When the public thinks about evolution, they think about [things like] the origin of wings…But these are things that evolutionary theory has told us little about.”[7]  Further – life can adapt at a staggering speed and level of sophistication.

 

The history of science is littered with theories that worked for a while, but were abandoned when we learned that, while they were successful in predicting some observations, the theory turned out to be false. It seems like scientific thinking on “evolution” must evolve to let go of the old ideas about gradual, naturalistic random change. We need to move forward now. The increasing evidence pointing towards purpose, intention and design in life needs to be better understood.

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Pexels. https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-biology-chemical-chemist-356040/

 

[1] Why the Royal Society Meeting Mattered, in a Nutshell, Evolution News & Science Today, https://evolutionnews.org/2016/12/why_the_royal_s/, accessed 2nd January 2018.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Landmark conference puts Neo-Darwinism and its atheist evangelists on thin ice, Premier Christianity, https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Landmark-conference-puts-Neo-Darwinism-and-its-atheist-evangelists-on-thin-ice, accessed 2nd January 2018.

[5] Bacteria evolve over a weekend, UniofReading, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE8fKOozG40&feature=youtu.be, accessed 2nd January, 2018.

[6] Landmark conference.

[7] Why the Royal Society Meeting Mattered, in a Nutshell.

RESPONDblog: The Cumulative Case…or God’s Crime Scene!

Gods-Crime-Scene-Review_feature

I recently met up with two friends who would (probably) describe themselves as committed sceptics when it comes to Christianity. We’ve spoken about these things many times. Yet they never feel able to come close to joining me in my Christian convictions.

 

At one point that day, they reminded me, “We are not saying there is no God. What we are saying is – there isn’t enough evidence to decide about God either way. We simply cannot say.”

 

I’ve heard this perspective before. And I suspect it’s a strategy that’s used to push the responsibility for wrestling with ultimate questions of life away from us and onto God (if he’s even there!). It’s a way of divulging myself of that responsibility. If God wanted me to believe in him, he would be able to convince me that he’s there. He hasn’t. So, I’m justified in dismissing the subject altogether.

In other words – it’s God’s problem, not mine.

 

This bothers me. Not because I think this line of reasoning is correct, but because I’m concerned that this way of thinking just avoids the obvious. I’m referring to the strong cumulative case for God.

 

Jim Wallace lays this case out clearly in his book, “God’s Crime Scene”. He proposes that the universe and all its wonders has a cause found either inside or outside of the universe. If the cause is inside, there’s some natural explanation for it all. If it’s an outside cause – it’s God.

When Jim (a cold-case detective) looks for evidence that a murder has been committed, he examines the crime scene where the body is found. If there is any evidence of outside activity or objects which have been imported into the room (a foreign footprint or evidence that a gun was positioned to give the appearance of a suicide) then it is reasonable to posit there has been an influence from outside the room, and so a murder case needs to be solved.

Turning this reasoning to the bigger crime scene of the universe, Jim observes eight evidences “inside the room” that point to an outside influence:

 

Our universe had a beginning

“The universe could not have caused itself, since something would have to exist to cause its own existence.”[1]

Our universe appears fine-tuned for life

It’s fine-tuned in the following ways:

Forces governing the atom

Forces governing the matter in the universe

Forces governing the creation of chemicals

Shape, Position and Size of the Milky Way Galaxy

Position and composition of our sun

The age and mass of our sun

Relationship of planets to our sun

Earth’s relationship to the sun

Earth’s atmospheric conditions

Earth’s terrestrial nature

Earth’s relationship to the moon

Often people will quip, “We’re only able to notice fine-tuning because we’re here to see it. So, we can’t draw solid conclusions for the cause of fine-tuning.” Yet this is to commit a logical error in our thinking. We are confusing an observation with its explanation.

Others will claim this is an argument from ignorance. Yet surely, it’s precisely because we are NOT ignorant of these facts, that we are exploring this natural evidence? This is an argument from a growing competence in our understanding of nature.

Others will assume an infinite number of universes; we were bound to come up lucky with one of them. Yet a multi-verse would require finely tuned conditions itself to cause it, and the question of fine-tuning returns.

Life appeared from non-life

“’…the problem of getting all of the compounds together in a living cell is much like the problem of making a cream puff. The filling needs to be made in a pan on a stove, then put in a refrigerator, while the shell is combined in a bowl, baked in an oven, then cooled, before the two parts are put together. All of the steps need to happen to the right amounts of the right components in the right sequence using the right tools in order to form a successful final product.’ To make matters worse, the ‘icing’ on each ‘cream puff’ must also be inscribed with a message (DNA) billions of letters in length.”[2]

Biological organisms appear designed

Randomness is unable to invent, and all the complexity of life must already exist before natural selection can modify it. Life looks designed, and there’s a good reason for that.

Evil and injustice persist

This is a complex subject and there’s no one reason that can come close to explaining all the possible causes for evil and suffering.

“Yet our recognition of the existence of evil is itself a pointer back to God, not away from him. Unless there is a transcendent, Divine standard of “straightness,” evil is simply a matter of opinion. If this is the case, we can eliminate evil tomorrow. All we have to do is change our opinion of it.”[3]

Transcendent moral truths exist

Some things are always wrong. It’s always been wrong to kill other people for the fun of it. And the “transcendent, objective virtue of selflessness and virtuous reciprocity finds representation in nearly every historic theological or philosophical system”[4]

If this is simply a product of culture, then which one is right and how big does the moral majority must be before we must agree with it?

Perhaps morality is all about promoting human flourishing? But the problem here is that this idea imports moral ideas in the term “human flourishing”. It proposes moral survival before explaining the source of the moral truth.

Humans are free agents

Human freedom is a right, and people are morally accountable for the free will choices they make. Some deny free will exists, pointing to the deterministic biological processes at work within us. Yet our ability to ponder these issues “presupposes we have the freedom to think independently from deterministic physical processes.”[5]

“Free will is difficult to deny (unless, of course, we have the freedom to deny it.”[6]

Consciousness emerged from unconscious matter

There’s a strong case to suppose that my physical brain is separate from my mind or consciousness. There are foundational differences between mind and brain. “Any reluctance to embrace a dualistic explanation for mind seems grounded not in the evidence but in a desire to resist answers found outside the room.”[7]

Human consciousness is so inexplicable that naturalist philosopher Thomas Nagel has reluctantly affirmed that, “On a purely materialist understanding of biology, consciousness would have to be regarded as a tremendous and inexplicable extra brute fact about the world.”[8]

 

Having laid out eight examples of crime scene tampering, Jim draws the following conclusion.

If we could identify just one of these evidences, that would be enough to point to a potential outside cause. But when you concede the strong cumulative case…there are at least eight lines of diverse evidence for outside tampering…then we have a strong reason to pursue this case.  A far stronger reason than would be necessary to trigger a police murder investigation.

 

There’s a lot of natural evidence pointing towards God. In a real sense, God’s left his fingerprints everywhere. So perhaps the real question is not “is there evidence for God,” it’s “will I choose to discover who this God is?”

 

 

 

[1] [1] J. Warner Wallace, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, (David Cook), 41.

[2] Wallace, 75.

[3] Wallace, 190.

[4] Wallace, 163.

[5] Wallace, 152.

[6] Wallace, 157.

[7] Wallace, 137.

[8] Wallace, 136.

RESPONDblogs: Can Science Answer Moral Questions?

moral_landscape

I regularly watch TED Talks. As a regular public speaker myself, I love to learn from the best speakers. I recently watched a TED talk by Sam Harris which dealt with why Science and not Religion can answer the deepest questions about right, and wrong and human morality. In fact – Harris argues that science’s objectivity can give us better moral answers than religion can.

 

You can watch his talk here.

Science Can Answer Moral Questions | Sam Harris | TED Talks

I have a lot of sympathy for Harris’s arguments. And judging by the standing ovation he received at the end, so did his audience. I feel that Harris plugs in to our intuitive sense of right and wrong in this talk. He appeals to our inner call for justice in the face of injustice towards women and children. His condemnation of religious extremism? I wanted to stand up and applaud him for these points too!

 

But do I agree with him that science can give us any answers on the questions of right and wrong? No – I don’t follow his argument at all. It doesn’t make sense to me. And I’ll tell you why.

 

Harris uses the term “flourishing” as he builds his case. He claims that the scientific method can help us to work out what enables human beings and human society to flourish. Moral behavior, therefore, is simply that which causes the majority of people to flourish. I agree with him that human flourishing is important. And I am sure he’s right that scientific observation can assist in this process. But there’s a big question that is looming over his argument.

 

1 – Harris’s Argument Never Answers WHY?

WHY? Why is it right and good for the most number of people to flourish, and bad to frustrate this moral agenda?  Ah – a reply comes – it’s all about survival. We promote human flourishing to ensure the survival of the species in a Darwinian sense.

 

No – hang on a moment. Survival is not the “ought” that promotes human flourishing. Survival of the fittest is not going to work for you here. Because when it comes down to it, moral good isn’t actually defined as the best for the most people. History is full of examples of that sort of reasoning, where the majority benefit at the expense of the minority. A morality based on the principle, “might is right” is no morality at all. History shows us that it opens the door instead to all sorts of inhuman acts.

 

Why shouldn’t I flourish at your expense? Whether “I” is me personally or my community of my ethnicity or whatever? If I’m unfortunate enough to be in the minority who is not permitted to flourish…then that’s just tough luck to Sam Harris. Agreed – it is tough luck. But is that morally right? I think we would intuitively say – no it’s not morally right. So why is it allowed to happen? Harris’s argument has nothing to say beyond, that’s just the way things are.

 

The problem is, Harris measures morality purely on the basis of observation, watching how people behave. It is locked into human society. It has no way to appeal beyond human society to a higher ideal. Science cannot reach beyond “what is”. It cannot touch on “what should be”. The scientific method was never intended for this purpose. It is the wrong tool for the job.

 

 

2 – Harris’s Argument ASSUMES Moral Values Exist in Order to Work

This is the deeper issue for Sam Harris.

 

His Moral Landscape imports human morality in order to work. He assumes that it is morally good to encourage people, to promote value and purpose and all these things. And he is right – it is good! But the problem is – he is not deducing these things. He is just assuming them. His logical argument “begs the question” over morals and their existence.

“Concepts of sacrifice, nobility and honour must be assumed foundationally, but these are not morally neutral notions….He’s borrowing pre-existent, objective moral notions about worth, value and purpose, while holding a worldview that argues against any pre-existent moral notions.”[1]

 

Harris needs morality to exist in order for his moral landscape to make any sort of sense. But these morals are precisely the things he is trying to explain! Where do these notions come from? Ironically they come from the Christian foundation that he has benefitted from as a citizen of a Western nation. The humane, people valuing society that is promoted through the teaching of the Bible. A million miles from the religious extremist caricature he paints.

 

 

 

So…

 

I applaud Sam Harris as he calls for the protection and the flourishing of persecuted people groups. I’m with him on that. But we part company when it comes to his line of reasoning. Science cannot derive issues of ultimate value to human life. Because by definition it is locked into the human condition.

 

Rather, it seems to me that science needs to import and assume Christian moral values in order to become humane. And so do people. There’s a transcendent source for the moral values that Sam…and each one of us…appeal to. And whether we like it or not…we are ultimately answerable to that source. A Holy God.

[1] J Warner Wallace, Is “Right” and “Wrong” Simply a Matter of “Human Flourishing”, Cold Case Christianity, http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/is-right-and-wrong-simply-a-matter-of-human-flourishing/.

RESPONDblogs: Why Christianity Can’t Just Be Based On Wishful Thinking

i_want_to_believeIn 1961, the first big Alien Abduction claim hit the public consciousness. Barney and Betty Hills, from Portsmouth New Hampshire, reportedly had a Close Encounter with…something.

What exactly did Barney and Betty claim? You can listen to an interview with Betty online[1]. It’s fascinating and familiar to those of us with the benefit of 10 seasons of Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” to draw from!

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at Betty Hills outlandish claim…which sounds very much like fiction to me…I wonder whether Christianity sounds just like it to many people today. Christianity’s claim that Jesus of Nazareth returned from the dead 2000 years ago  – is this any less outlandish? Does the New Testament’s report of Jesus’ resurrection belong in the fictional “X-Files” cabinet, or is there more substance to Christianity’s claim that points toward its historical credentials?

 

Let’s go back for a moment to the cold war tensions and paranoia of 1961. It wasn’t just a new decade marked by musical brilliance and Moon shots. Aliens were also reportedly doing medical procedures on unfortunate folks who were going about their daily business!

 

Driving home one evening, they thought they saw something unusual in the night sky. Actually – many people including the US Military later agreed that something weird was happening that night. They reportedly stopped the car and took a good look. But the bright lights – and the erratic behavior of the object – began to freak them out. So they hurried back to their car and drove on. Before long – it became apparent they were 35 miles further down the road than they should have been. They appeared to have lost time!

Many weeks later, following a period of disrupted sleep and nightmares, they reportedly went thru regression hypnosis. And this brought out vivid details of little bald grey captors, operating tables and medical procedures.

Actually this is only the first well documented case of Alien Abduction – throughout the next 20 years, a number of similar claims were made by apparently ordinary people with no apparent reason to lie.

 

The New Testament contains 2000 year old eyewitness reports from apparently ordinary people too.

  • Reports of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, followed by the grief and shock of his friends.
  • Reports that these grieving people then subsequently encountered their friend back from the dead at various different times and places over a 40 day period.

 

Sounds pretty unlikely – right? Dead people don’t come back. Aliens don’t abduct people driving home in their cars.

 

Whatever historical event you are trying to verify – whether mundane or fantastical – historians apply 5 criteria to test the solidity of the report.

A solid Historical claim will[2]:

1 – be supported by multiple, independent sources

2 – be attested to by enemies (hostile witnesses) as well as friends

3 – include embarrassing admissions which reflect honest reporting rather than creative storytelling

4 – be supported by direct eyewitness testimony

5 – be supported by early testimony making legendary development impossible

 

The problem with the Barney and Betty Hills Alien Abduction claim is – by the criteria laid out above – we do not have a solid Historical report.

The only witnesses were the alleged abductees. There are no independent sources or witnesses – either friendly or hostile – to the Hill’s claim.  While other people agreed something strange was seen in the night sky that evening in September 1961, no other witness to the alleged Close Encounter exists. We’re right to be skeptical – their case is historically unverified.

 

So – what about the Bible’s claim that God raised Jesus from the dead? (Acts 2:24) Well – a historical case based on a minimal set of data does exist. What is this data and how solid is the case?

 

DATA POINT 1 – The Death of Jesus By Crucifixion

This fact is attested by every Gospel, and many non-Christian sources too. For example – Roman historian Josephus, Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata as well as the Jewish Talmud itself.

Jesus crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple independent eyewitnesses, early sources and enemy attestation.

Some have proposed that – maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He merely swooned, was then buried and was then revived in the cold tomb.

But this doesn’t work.

  • Roman executioners were excellent torturers and executioners
  • Jesus faking his resurrection goes against his moral teachings
  • There are no early reports he was wounded and not killed
  • A half dead Messiah could not serve as the foundation for a belief in the Resurrection. If his friends had encountered him bloodied and bleeding…they would not have called him the Lord of Life. They would have called him a doctor!
  • Jewish thinking said, only once at the end of human history would the dead be raised. This means that – on encountering Jesus alive again after his crucifixion –his followers would naturally have just assumed he didn’t die. Yet this is not what they claimed. It is highly culturally unusual for the Jewish early Church to proclaim him as Christ crucified and raised from death.

 

DATA POINT 2 – The Empty Tomb

All naturalistic theories that attempt to explain away the Resurrection presuppose the empty tomb. The body was reportedly gone.

From the beginning, the hostile Jewish authorities claimed that Jesus’ followers had stolen his body to fake his resurrection. But this claim gives no reason WHY they would have done so.

Further – the claim that the disciples stole the body does not work within Jewish culture at that time. There was no expectation of a Messiah who would become the suffering servant; who was executed shamefully by the Gentiles, and then raised bodily before the general resurrection at the end of time. Rather – Messiah’s were ten a penny in ancient Jerusalem. If your Messiah got themselves killed – you either gave up and went home, or you hitched your wagon to a different one. But the idea that Jesus followers stole his corpse and faked his resurrection just wouldn’t have entered their minds at that point in Jewish history.

Finally – if the disciples stole the body – this doesn’t explain the conversion of Christianity’s 1st century enemy turned Apostle – Saul who became Paul.

Surely if someone had managed to produce his rotting corpse and deposit it in the middle of Jerusalem for all to see….that would have been an end to it. But they could not.

DATA POINT 3 – The Post-Resurrection Appearances

Scholars cite 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as the earliest snapshot of Christian belief about Jesus. Paul claimed to receive this creed from the original Apostles many years before he wrote his letter. Scholars date the creed to within months or weeks of the crucifixion itself.

Three of our four minimal facts are recorded there as an early statement of belief – Christ died, his tomb was discovered empty and he was seen by his closest friends. And then more than five hundred people saw him at once.

The early date of this creed rules out legendary embellishment because there simply wasn’t time for legends to develop. And besides – the eye witnesses were still alive at the time this was passed on.

Yet over hundreds of years some legends did develop; they are referred to as the 3rd century Gnostic Gospels. In comparison to the New Testament’s stark and excited eyewitness reporting, the Gnostic Gospels are full of bizarre and fanciful imagery.

 

Some have suggested hallucination as an explanation for the appearances. People saw what they wanted to see. But Psychologists have ruled this out. Hallucinations are private experiences yet crowds of eyewitnesses reportedly witnessed the risen Jesus. Remember, Jews would not expect to see a raised Jesus anyway. And finally – hallucination does not explain the empty tomb itself or indeed Saul’s conversion to Christianity.

 

DATA POINT 4 – The Origin of the Christian Faith

Within one generation of Jesus crucifixion, “the Way” had spread to Europe, Asia and Africa. If Christianity is the effect – then what was the cause?

Well – surely the most obvious cause is the Apostles belief that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead. And this belief transformed people’s lives. The cultural worship practices of Jewish people changed. Church moved to a Sunday.

Could the Disciples have stolen the body and made it all up? No lie or shared conspiracy or mistaken observation has the explanatory power to ignite the Christian church in human history.

 

IN SUMMARY

Jesus resurrection is based on historically verifiable evidence – it meets the 5 requirements outlined earlier in this blog. However unusual the event, there is powerful evidence of the event’s historical reliability. Even though we don’t understand how it happened – this does not preclude us from historically accepting that it did happen.

 

Really?

You’ve got to be gullible to believe Alien abduction reports – right? In the same way, dead men do not rise!

Hold on a minute –

The historical basis of the resurrection is incredibly strong. And no one claims Jesus was raised from the dead by natural means. Christians simply repeat what the Bible eye witness accounts say – that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Besides – you don’t have to understand something to accept the truth of it. Ask any Scientist to explain human consciousness; where does it come from? Then ask them what energy really is. They don’t really know. If Scientists can accept these things even though they don’t understand how and why they work – can’t we accept Jesus’ Resurrection as true based on observable and historically verifiable evidence?

 

 

[1] Betty Hill UFO Encounter Interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FO6VIMPZhwA.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.