Friday, August 2, 2019

Evidence for Christianity

If you flip a coin a number of times and 60% of the time the coin shows "heads" while 40% of the time the coin flip shows "tails" would you conclude that the coin is a fair coin that is properly and unbiasedly weighted? As the question is stated, there is not enough information to accurately answer it. For instance, if you flip the coin ten times, it is quite probable that the coin will be heads six times and tails four times. A six to four split should happen about 21% of the time, so such a pattern would not be unusual in 10 coin tosses. But suppose instead you flipped a coin 1000 times and it showed heads 600 times and tails 400 times. That is still a 6/4 ratio but the probability of this pattern appearing is 4.6×10-11. Clearly a coin showing 600 heads and 400 tails is not a properly balanced coin. In order to make a definitive statement about the coin there must be enough data, or evidence, to support the hypothesis. (In reality, it seems to be impossible to make a "weighted" coin by adding weight to one side, but a coin can be made to land on a preferred side by bending it.)

This is the second installment in a series of blog posts dealing with some general questions that can be used to try to determine if a certain proposition is true or not. These principles can be applied to a scientific experiment or to the claims of Christianity to ascertain what conclusion is likely true. In a previous blog post I asked the question of whether or not the data was logically self-consistent. Regarding Christianity, I claimed that the Bible itself is a self-consistent book, and that the message of Christianity regarding the person of Jesus, the character of God, and the nature of humans is also self-consistent.

The eight questions to ask for determining the validity or truth of an idea from the available data are:
  1. Is the data logically self-consistent?
  2. Is there enough evidence to support the hypothesis?
  3. Is the hypothesis compatible with other known data?
  4. Is contradictory evidence conclusive?
  5. Is something essential missing?
  6. Is there external confirmation?
  7. Can the hypothesis be falsified or confirmed with other data?
  8. Are there other possible explanations that are more feasible?
Having dealt with the first question in the previous post, let's move on to the second, "Is there enough evidence to support the hypothesis?" Ultimately, the hypothesis that Christianity is true is based on a singular event in history: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If there is enough evidence to support the historicity of that event, then the foundation of Christianity is established. If there was no resurrection, then Christianity is false and useless. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians,

"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; ...we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

In a short blog post I cannot go into great detail about the evidence for the resurrection and show all the intricacies about why I think an actual resurrection is the only hypothesis that explains all of the evidence. In general, there are four basic historical facts that any hypothesis must address.
  1. Jesus was flogged, crucified, and buried.
  2. The tomb Jesus was buried in was empty a few days later.
  3. The followers of Jesus had experiences they claimed were appearances of a risen Jesus.
  4. The followers of Jesus boldly proclaimed his resurrection despite persecution.
The main argument against the resurrection is simply that miracles don't occur, so that any other explanation is more probable than an actual miracle. But the statement that miracles do not occur is simply a philosophical assertion which could be completely false. The better question to ask is which possible explanation best fits the facts. When I have examined the various possible alternative propositions about the facts surrounding the events of the first Easter Sunday only an actual resurrection adequately accounts for all of the facts. Occasionally in science a new idea, or even a new paradigm, must be constructed in order for the facts to be completely accounted for. Any hypothesis that cannot explain the facts must be discarded, no matter how probable or improbable it may initially seem. If an actual resurrection is the only explanation that adequately accounts for the known facts of history, then an actual resurrection becomes the most valid conclusion. Such is the case for the resurrection of Jesus. The evidence supports the hypothesis.

In my blog post dealing with the first of the eight questions above, I mentioned the psychological phenomena called "confirmation bias" in which people tend to ignore evidence that contradicts their currently held beliefs and emphasize evidence that supports their currently held belief. However, when it comes to the resurrection, the opposite happens quite frequently. That is, people who do not believe Jesus of Nazareth arose from the dead have investigated the resurrection with the goal of showing it was false, but have ultimately changed their mind and not only accepted the resurrection as historical fact, but also become Christians themselves. A short, non-comprehensive list of people who have studied the facts of the resurrection in an attempt to disprove it, but became Christians instead would include:

  • Albert Henry Ross, author of Who Moved the Stone (using the pseudonym Frank Morison) 
  • Josh McDowell, author of More than a Carpenter 
  • J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity 
  • Malcom Muggeridge, author of Jesus Rediscovered
  • Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ
  • General Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur.
In order for a skeptic to change their mind, in fact change their whole world view, the facts must be quite compelling. In the case of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, that is the case. There is certainly enough evidence to support the claim that Jesus actually arose from the dead beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus the foundational truth of Christianity is on solid evidential footing.

Addendum added 10 days after the initial post: My friend Luke Nix writes a blog and in a recent post he gives a much more detailed description of the evidence for the resurrection. For more details I direct you to his blog post here.

5 comments:

  1. The author of eureka one Chad Orzel would agree with your approach on the determination of valid truth claims and the advancement of knowledge by collecting data, analyzing it, looking for unexpected patterns...etc. Interesting to me was the role played by two ladies in astronomy whose gift was reviewing vast quantities of observations and finding recurrent patterns that fueled the cephid variable technical methods.

    One observation on the account of our Christ is the historical fact as recorded in Acts that several of the first Christians w were Jewish servers, priests..etc who were the witnesses to the rending of the veil. I look forward to your next article.

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  2. Your article state clearly what many would agree are the tenets, rational and logical rules of science for the determination of a truth claim,proposed hypothesis, challenge to an existing theory...etc. But very recently scientists received a huge dollar award for advancing a purely Mathematical construct to meld QM and GR, SUPER GRAVITY. But no one proffered experimental data that varifies any prediction of the construct. If we such is sustained then it seems your traditional process is in the instant case ignored. The danger then would apply to Christian Apologetics across the board, an outcome to be avoided.

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    1. Yes Keith. There are some scientists proposing that unconfirmed but beautiful scientific theories fall into the realm of science. I would say that they continue to be only speculative ideas until there is some confirming evidence.

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  3. Hi Michael.

    If Paul can see a bright light on a dark desert highway and believe that he has seen the physically resurrected Jesus then it is entirely plausible that this is what happened to Peter, James, the Twelve, and the “Five Hundred”. They all saw a strange bright light and believed it was an appearance of the physically resurrected Jesus. Paul may have believed that his bright light spoke to him, but a guy who believes that he has taken an intergalactic space voyage to a “third heaven” to hear confidential communications between space people is not dealing with a full deck.

    The Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses, decades after the death of Jesus, writing works of evangelism. The Appearance Stories in Matthew and Luke have nothing in common. Any non-biased reader would see these two stories are fictional embellishments of the bare-bones appearance accounts mentioned in the Early Creed. And John’s Appearance Stories, written one or more decades later, look like an amalgamation of Matthew and Luke’s Appearance Stories. Fleshed-out Appearances Stories involving seeing and touching a resurrected corpse are going to convert many more souls than a dry, non-descript list of alleged eyewitnesses.

    Unlike Jesus’ disciples, Paul was a highly educated. He was also a pharisee. Yet he converted to the new Christian sect due to a (talking) bright light. How much more likely then are the chances that the “unlearned” disciples converted due to even less dramatic experiences, such as vivid dreams, false sightings, or non-talking bright lights!

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    1. Ah Gary, back with your same uninformed comments. In the year since you've commented you haven't come up with anything new to say. I'm publishing this just to acknowledge that I have received it but as I've stated, if you just repeat yourself over and over again, there is no reason to continue to publish your comments.

      With Paul you neglected to mention the plain voice that he and others heard. You are practicing selective reading of a text. A very poor way to read the text. And of course none of the other texts indicate that they just saw a light. They actually touched him, ate with him. Gary, your prejudice and presuppositions are tainting your ability to read.

      Also back to your "non-eyewitness" claim based on posturing and rhetoric but devoid of textual analysis. And of course unlearned men can't distinguish between reality and fantasy. Please Gary, try to learn something new and come up with some new criticism that hasn't been shown over and over to be invalid.

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