Imagine your neighbor shows up at your door claiming his dog died. This is no surprise to you, and you have no trouble believing his dog actually died. Now imagine a month later that same neighbor returns to your door claiming that same dog resurrected from the dead. You would not believe him. Why? Because dogs don’t resurrect from the dead. Your mind would probably be weighing all the possible reasons your neighbor has made such a claim including reasons related to insanity, confusion, drunkenness, mistaken identity, and an odd sense of humor. But what if hundreds of other people claimed they also saw the resurrected dog? Would you then believe? Probably not. You understand that dogs don’t resurrect. This is based on both the lack of a single substantiated account of a resurrecting dog, and our understanding of biology. And we don’t need to identify the actual explanation to be content in our strong disbelief. Each of the alternative explanations is more probable than the probability of a dog rising from the dead., and their combined probability far surpass the probability of a resurrected dog. If your neighbor claims you need to identify the actual explanation in order to disbelieve, you’d probably just chuckle, dismiss him, and go on with your day.
But what if your neighbor rebuked you for your narrow-mindedness, and reminded you that, if there was a God who could resurrect dogs and who wanted to resurrect dogs, a resurrected dog would be trivial. And the fact that his dog resurrected was evidence for a God who could and would resurrect dogs. How would you respond? You’d probably point out the intrinsic circularity in such reasoning. If there is a dog-resurrecting God, then his dog-resurrecting is very likely. And if his dog did resurrect, then a dog-resurrecting God is very likely. Is not this same circular reasoning used to suggest Jesus resurrected?
Consider the degree of evidence it would take for you to believe your neighbor’s dog rose from the dead. Consider all of the alternative explanations you would assess to be improbable, but far more probable than a resurrected dog. Now consider why Muslims believe that Muhammed split the moon and why Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead based on claims found in their respective holy books. Is not the allure of the miraculous and the beautiful, plus the suspension of critical thinking sufficient to explain why humans irrationally believe such claims?
Why would we believe Jesus resurrected from the dead based a book written decades after the death of Jesus by authors committed to the notion that Jesus was the messiah, an extraordinary claim not mentioned by secular historians of that era? Especially when we have all the following candidate explanations?
- The entire story was made up by the Gospel writers to map to Old Testament prophecies.
- Jesus was not actually dead before being placed in the tomb.
- The body of Jesus was simply placed in the wrong tomb.
- The disciples stole the body to allow for the resurrection claim.
- The Romans took the body away to avoid making the gravesite a venerable memorial.
Sometime Christian leaders suggest we must know and argue for one particular of these candidate explanations, or we must default to the miraculous explanation. Is this true? Do we need to believe our neighbor’s dog resurrected until we are able to provide evidence for a particular one the many more probable alternative explanations? Or do we simply acknowledge that the combined probabilities of all the candidate explanations far outweigh the probability of a dog resurrecting, untroubled by which explanation is actual?
More importantly, the resurrection, were it to be true, would defeat the central notion of the Gospel: that Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins. If Jesus was dead only three days, and we pay with eternal death for our sins, what kind of creative accounting would make these three days equivalent to eternity? This is dealt with in depth in Chapter #35.
(See also #23, “Supplementary C” and “Supplementary G” for more related to the claim of the resurrection.)
It is often informative to simply ask Christian leaders what probability they assign to the resurrection within 10 or so percentage points. Then ask them to walk you through the evidence and arguments that have led them to that degree of probability. Pay attention to the rigor or lack of rigor in their reasoning. Is their reasoning in line with rigorous standards of evidence? Or does it take more the tone of theological spin and biased thinking you find of theologians across world religions?