German scientist and satirist George Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)
Most disbelievers in Christ’s resurrection are likely blissfully unaware of just how far New Testament scholarship has swayed in favor of Jesus’ resurrection in the last 40 years. Readers are strongly encouraged to view a You Tube video titled The Historical Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection That Even Skeptics Believe:
In this video, New Testament scholar Gary Habermas explains that, among New Testament scholars, if you talked about the empty tomb in the 1970’s “there would be a lot of snickering, and nobody but evangelicals who published in that area would accept it.”
If you mentioned post-resurrection appearances in the 1970’s “everybody would have laughed.” However, Habermas reveals that, “Today, the majority of New Testament scholars, theologians, historians, and philosophers who publish in the area [including atheist and agnostic academics...not just Christians] believe in the empty tomb.”
“In the 70’s, if you talked about bodily [post-resurrection] appearances of Jesus, they’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s nice. Go back to your church and talk about it, but don’t do it on a university campus.’”
But, reveals Habermas, “Today, bodily resurrection is the predominant view in the academy.”
Habermas also notes that, “Raymond Brown (probably the most prominent New Testament scholar in America), shortly before his death, said that the majority of contemporary theologians are conservative today.”
Habermas titles his argument for the resurrection of Jesus the “minimal facts argument” since it is based only upon the data that is granted, in his words, “by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones” (such as atheist and agnostic scholars). These five “minimal facts” are as follows (as detailed in his book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus):
1) Jesus died by crucifixion
2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
3) The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.
4) The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.
5) The tomb was empty.
Habermas explains that the following phrase will receive virtually no dispute among contemporary New Testament scholars (whether Christian, agnostic, or atheist):
“Jesus earliest followers had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus.” (Scroll forward to 52 minutes into the video to view Habermas make this statement).
So how do atheist and agnostic scholars who accept the truth of the above statement make sense of it in light of their disbelief in Jesus’ resurrection? This article provides a good example of an atheist New Testament scholar who struggles to explain the historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection through the lens of his belief system:
“…Atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann maintains a priori rejection of the supernatural and yet he says, ‘It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’ Although he accepts the historical evidence he concludes that the best explanation for it is that everybody who thought they saw the resurrected Jesus actually hallucinated. Peter hallucinated because he was overcome by grief for denying Jesus, Paul hallucinated on the road to Damascus, James the skeptical brother of Jesus hallucinated, and all the five hundred who saw Jesus at one time hallucinated.”
It does not take a mathematician to conclude that the probability of several individuals having the SAME hallucination is infinitesimally small. Habermas comments on the absurdity of this proposition in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus:
“Although the hallucination theory enjoyed some popularity over a hundred years ago and still has a few adherents, it suffers from a number of problems.
First, today we know that hallucinations are private occurrences, which occur in the mind of the individual. They are not collective experiences.
…Imagine that it is the middle of the night. You wake up your wife and say, ‘Honey, I just had a dream that we were in Hawaii. Come back to sleep and join me in the dream and we’ll enjoy a free vacation together.’ It would be impossible for her to do so, since a dream exists only in the mind of the individual. It cannot be shared with another person. Likewise, a hallucination cannot be shared.”
Similarly, Michael Lacona notes in his essay Were the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Hallucinations?:
“Gary A. Sibcy is a licensed clinical psychologist, with a PhD in clinical psychology, who has an interest in the possibility of group hallucinations. He comments:
‘I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent.’”
If it is not the historical facts which cause skeptical New Testament scholars such as Lüdemann to reject the possibility of Jesus resurrection (if favor of absurdly improbable explanations, such as group hallucinations) what is the source of their skepticism?
Their skepticism is anchored in their materialist/naturalist worldview, which says that only the material/natural world (and not immaterial entities such as God) are real. So when a skeptical New Testament scholar accepts the historical truth of post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus, but denies the possibility of resurrection, he is reasoning as follows: “Since there is no God, and only the natural/material world is real, there can be no such thing as a resurrection…since people do not rise from the dead as a result of natural causes.”
Notably, likely nobody has ever argued that Jesus rose from the dead as a result of natural causes. Rather, believers in the resurrection believe that Jesus rose from the dead as a result of supernatural causes….divine action. Likely nobody, then, would disagree with the statement, “Assuming that there is only a physical/natural world, and no God, there is no reason to believe that a person would raise from the dead.” Therefore, the resurrection controversy is really just a controversy of worldviews: materialism/naturalism vs. Christian theism.
A solution to the controversy can be reached by realizing that it is much more than just the widely accepted historical facts surrounding Jesus Christ which are difficult to make sense of when viewing the world through the lens of the materialist/naturalist worldview. In fact, MOST OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE is difficult to make sense of when viewed through this lens.
Richard Barns details the ancient roots of materialism/naturalism, and the absurdities that necessarily result from it, in his book The Dawkins Proof for the Existence of God :
“The distinctive of Thales [ancient Greek philosopher, 624 BC – c. 546 BC] was that he was trying to do philosophy without God. Thales and his two successors, Anaximander and Anaximenes…were particularly interested in the question of what ultimately exists.
What is everything made of? Thales’ answer was simple: all is water. Perhaps he came to this view because we see water all around us. It’s in the sky and under the earth. Living things all take it in and it can exist as a solid, liquid or gas. However, despite the ingenuity of the idea it is somewhat lacking. How can something dry be made of water? How can fire be made of water?
Anaximander, coming after Thales, therefore came to a different conclusion. According to the Pan Dictionary of Philosophy, Anaximander “apparently suggested that the first principle must be something indeterminate rather than one particular kind of matter, such as water”. An indeterminate something is not much of an answer though and this was perhaps the reason that Anaximenes, coming after Anaximander, promoted the idea that all is air.
According to Anaximenes, air takes on the different forms of everything we see around us as a result of changes in its density.”
It is not difficult for the modern materialist/naturalist to perceive the absurdity of the suggestion that only water (or air, etc.) is real. How can fire, as Barns asks, be made of water?
But much as Thales’ worldview rendered him apparently unable to perceive this absurdity, the modern versions of Thales’ worldview render the current-day materialist/naturalist unable to perceive numerous other absurdities. This is because, as the English playwright Robert Oxton Bolt put it, “A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind.”
The absurdities which arise from acceptance of the materialist/naturalist worldview are not difficult to grasp. For example, if all is matter, how can there be such a thing as consciousness?
Consciousness can no more be “made” of matter than fire can be made of water. As the philosopher John Locke, who was one of the most important Enlightenment thinkers, put it: “It is as impossible to conceive that ever pure incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent being, as that nothing should of itself produce matter.”
Carl Sagan was one of the most widely recognized atheist scientists of the 20th century. In his book The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, he asks:
“If we are merely matter intricately assembled, is this really demeaning? If there’s nothing here but atoms, does that make us less or does that make matter more?”
Here, Sagan gives us a perfect example of a key explanatory failure of the materialist/naturalist worldview: How can an abstract concept (or idea), such as demeaning EVEN EXIST if “there’s nothing here but atoms,” in Sagan’s words? Abstract concepts, by definition, exist only in thought, not in material form. Put another way, if “there’s nothing here but atoms,” then how can one arrangement of atoms be more (or less) demeaning than another? How would a demeaning arrangement of atoms be distinguished from a non-demeaning arrangement of atoms? By a measurement of atomic mass?
University of Delaware physicist Stephen Barr comments on contradiction between the materialist/naturalist worldview and the existence of ideas (or abstract concepts) in Modern Physics and Ancient Faith:
“Cognitive scientists talk about neurons, for example. But ‘neuron’ itself is an abstract concept that arose from the researches of biologists. For the materialist, then, even this concept of ‘neuron’ is nothing but a neurological creation; it also is a pattern of neurons firing in someone’s brain. If this sounds like a vicious circle, it is. We explain certain biological phenomena using the abstract concept ‘neuron,’ and then we proceed to explain the abstract concept ‘neuron’ as a biological phenomenon—indeed, a biological phenomenon produced by the activity of neurons. What we are observing here is the snake eating its own tail, or rather its own head. The very theory which says that theories are neurons firing is itself naught but neurons firing.” (underlining mine)
“…Why should anyone believe the materialist, then? If ideas are just patterns of nerve impulses, then how can one say that any idea (including the idea of materialism itself) is superior to any other? One pattern of nerve impulses cannot be truer or less true than any other pattern, any more than a toothache can be truer or less true than another toothache.”
Indeed, as Barr alludes to above, the existence of truth, much like ideas, cannot be explained through the lens of the materialist/naturalist worldview. If true, the materialist belief that human consciousness is nothing but the firing of neurons in the brain cannot be anything other than the firing of neurons in the brain. If consciousness is nothing but neuronal impulses, how could a true neuronal impulse be distinguished from a false one? By measuring the voltage of the impulse? The modern materialist’s attempt to reduce consciousness to neuronal activity in the brain is no less absurd than the ancient materialist Anaximenes’ attempt to reduce everything that ultimately exists to air.
In our society, materialism/naturalism is often allowed a free “pass” on such questions that it cannot coherently answer. This is because modern western culture has uncritically accepted the view that materialism/naturalism is a “secular” worldview that occupies a sort of neutral ground between competing “religious” views. But, in reality, materialism/naturalism is no less of a “religion” than any other worldview. K.A. Smith comments in Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church:
“We all – whether naturalists, atheists, Buddhists, or Christians – see the world through the grid of an interpretive framework – and ultimately this interpretive framework is religious in nature, even if not allied with a particular institutional religion.”
Skeptics of Christ’s resurrection fail to expose their own interpretive framework to the same degree of scrutiny to which they expose Christ’s resurrection. And, although modern western culture declares that people who believe in God and attend church (or mosque or synagogue) are “religious,” and that atheists and agnostics are “non-religious,” religious scholars have been unable to reach anything even remotely resembling a consensus view as to exactly what “religion” is. (Please see my essay Doesn’t Religion Cause Killing? to explore this topic more in-depth.)
When it comes to examining the claims of materialism/naturalism, then, it is the Christian who is the skeptic and the atheist who is the true religious believer. Considering this, what could be more appropriate than to conclude by using a statement made by an atheist…as an indictment against the atheist faith? Outspoken atheist author Sam Harris writes:
“We rely on faith only in the context of claims for which there is no sufficient sensory or logical evidence.”
Is there any sensory or logical evidence for materialism/naturalism?
THE FOOL HAS SAID IN HIS HEART, "THERE IS NO GOD." Psalms 14:1 and 53:1.
This Friday I was finishing up the work week and my wife decided to walk our three dogs (who put together outweigh her two to one) just before a storm front came through. It had been storming all week. It looked like it would be cloudy for ten or fifteen minutes before another front hit. In just three or four minutes the wind suddenly picked up and rain began pouring down with fury. I imagined the dogs panic-stricken and all pulling wildly on her as she tried to turn them back to home and shelter. I quickly stuck my feet into clogs, grabbed keys and wallet and turned towards the door. I would drive Chrysler van and go around the block until I saw them and I would rescue them from the storm!
The word “judgment” has been turned into a dirty word nowadays. Non-Christians have used it as a go-to attack in an attempt to paint believers as pompous jerks. Christians themselves are afraid of the word, and more importantly the act itself. While it’s true that we as people shouldn’t constantly be judging everybody, we absolutely should be judging every decision that we possibly can. As a matter of fact, most people already do.
You clicked on this column. You made a judgment call. What are you drinking at your desk right now? Coffee, tea, maybe water? That’s a judgment call. What kind of car did you drive into the office? A Government Motors rattle-box or maybe a tightly engineered Honda?
To have ever admitted to making a mistake, is to have made a very clear-cut and final judgment.
See, we make judgments every day. People get touchy, however, when we apply those judgments to the decisions that actually matter. Nobody has a problem with somebody making the judgment that playing in traffic is bad for you. If that same person says that pre-marital relations with innumerable strangers is also likely a poor decision… it’s now considered to be terribly “judgmental.” Or in the case of Erick Erickson, if one says that men and women are physiologically different and that a child ideally needs both, you are now both judgmental and sexist. Make sense? Don’t worry, it shouldn’t.
Even worse, many of us teach our kids that it’s wrong to judge. Then, ironically, we pray and hope that they learn to make good decisions throughout their formative years. This is what in technical terminology is referred to as, “goofy, dumb-dumb talk.”
I only wish that the willful mothers of our country’s fatherless children had been briefed on the importance of judgment. I wish that the seven million prisoners in the United States had been taught how to judge early and often. If we had fewer hang-ups about who might be offended by our judgment, and were more concerned with making sound decisions, maybe we could actually better some pretty rough lives.
Instead, we allow childish, societal memes to take place of good judgment. People often say, “The Bible says not to judge!”
Dumb. Let’s see the whole verse.
“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Guess what? Ye be judged.
Even worse, we allow young and/or ignorant people (in an attempt to justify their horrible association) to use the excuse, “Jesus hung out with tax collectors and hookers!”
Firstly… good on them for putting tax collectors on the same playing field as prostitutes. I’m on board.
Secondly, no. Jesus hung out with former tax collectors and former hookers.
He told them to, “Go forth and sin no more,” not “Hey Mary, wanna meet for drinks tonight after you’re done hooking?”
Of course, as Christians, we don’t want imperfect people to avoid us due to a fear of constant judgment or a lack of compassion. Just as surely, those who consistently make the wrong decisions and do so with pride, probably shouldn’t feel all that comfortable in our company to begin with. I doubt that Mary would’ve have been comfortable breaking bread with the Messiah after squeezing in her four o’clock.
Call it a hunch.
Listen, I get it. Nobody’s perfect. We can’t change the mistakes that we’ve made, but we can always choose to do the right thing moving forward. We cannot do that however, without passing serious judgment on past decisions.
Carlos Gracie Sr. famously once said, “There is no losing. Only winning, and learning.” I believe that, but there can be no “learning” without judging.
Now, as per usual, I’m pretty sure that there are many of you reading this and are furious with me.
To you I say, congratulations … you’ve just made a judgment.
Some of the most religious people I have EVER encountered were devout Atheistic Darwinists. It is amazing how they keep the faith in spite of all the evidence, evidence they shrug aside and pretend is not there as they go back to chanting the same old disproven hypotheses and even outright lies and frauds long shown to be false. Even in museums sometimes the horse chart or the Miller-Urey experiment are presented as evidence for evolution when in fact they are certainly NOT. There are those who were shown the faked Haeckel Embryo chart and think it is true, there are those who think the fossil layers are sequential in terms of eras rather than simply sedimentary layers left behind as a result of a massive world-wide global flood. There are those who think and yet do not realize that, if they actually DO think then their belief system is thereby falsified. Do you understand why?
There is no natural source for the existence of nature itself. There is no natural source of life, or information or consciousness. From the mythical Big Bang to the mythical evolution of life from non-life to the mythical evolution of complex organisms from simple organisms, the entire thing is completely illogical and evidentially unsupportable. Yet this belief system is ripping society to shreds.
Dr. Charles Wood says...
The Supreme Court decisions this week were most disappointing for evangelicals, Catholics and those who believe in a strict, literal interpretation of the Constitution (Mr. Justice Scalia was particularly perturbed). My reactions are not going to please everyone, but I have tried to do quite a bit of reading and to give the entire picture a lot of thought.
My initial response was and is: let’s take our time and hold our fire until the “legal eagles” among us have had time to consider all the implications of the two decisions. They are somewhat innocuous sounding upon a casual reading, but there are a host of unanswered questions wrapped up in those few paragraphs (a conservative legal expert has suggested that it may be two years or more before all the suits which will arise out of these obviously onerous decisions are filed, tried and settled). Thus, we will be wise, in my opinion and that of many others, to be sure we have all the facts before we go to war.
What are the potential consequences? Depending on the interpretation of the decisions, they could include the legalization of polygamy, incest and pedophilia. Questions will also be raised about the role of evangelical and Catholic Chaplains in the military. It is likely that there will be a further loosening of restrictions on the adoption of children by same-sex couples. None of this is “for certain,” but we can be sure of one thing: pastors, priests and others who refuse to perform same-sex ‘marriages” will face problems. How do I know this? Because President Obama has promised that such will not be the case, and his promises, quite consistently, are the exact opposite of the truth or of his intentions.
History deals with facts in retrospect, and although there are times when it surely appears to repeat itself, there is no assurance that it will. Outside Scripture, predictions (no matter who makes them) are merely guesses about what course events will take. Some felt that we had “seen the end of the world and civilization as we have known it” with the Roe vs. Wade legal travesty, but a growing portion of the public is beginning to see the basic errors involved in that decision to legalize murder by choice, and it is altogether possible that even though the basic decision will never be repealed (our current President has seen to that), its growing unpopularity will lead to it being highly restricted. In any upset over same-sex marriage issue, however, never forget that we are dealing here with a really tiny slice of the overall population. Also remember that not all LGBT people are interested in same-sex marriage (statistics show that women prefer it far more than men).
Yes, my “gut-level” response is to lash out with condemnation of everyone and everything involved, but I think we need to learn a lesson from the incredible success of the LGBT forces in almost completely reversing their public perception in about two years. Formerly, the LGBT crowd was strident, abrasive, demanding, and even threatening. Then someone came up with the idea of tossing that approach, toning down the rhetoric and presenting a warm, fuzzy image of poor, deprived people who were being suppressed by mean, cruel hateful bigots on the right. They also picked up the meme of “civil rights” and managed to twist that dubious designation into a handy tool of manipulation. We, as opponents, can react with fiery denunciations, nasty, cruel and denigrating responses and such, but it seems as if we will only - in the long run - strengthen their cause and confirm their claims about us being hateful and unlike our Master. Calm, reasoned, thoughtful approaches will increase our potential for dealing with the often-troubled souls captured in this chosen way of life that so often ends with such tragedy. Such a response will likely also have an impact on those who have been convinced that we are two-headed monsters who would gladly behead anyone who is sexually deviant.
This is a recurring theme with me, but here is another opportunity to do something that we talk about but seldom really do. We claim to hate the sin but love the sinner. Our hatred of the sin is often obvious even to the most casual observer, but our love for the sinner is often tainted by the extremity of our hatred for the sin and our desire to maintain a surgical suite purity in our churches. Am I advocating the acceptance of deviant, chosen sexual misconduct as normative? Not at all. I am simply suggesting that we need to demonstrate the compassion which we so readily claim. As with all our preaching, we need to be Biblically based. No where is that more important than in this area. The Bible says enough on the subject that we need not resort to personal opinions and “end of the world” histrionics. As for LGBT people who claim to be believers, I fail to find any correspondence between their claims and the teaching of Scripture. I have yet to see a defense of their position that didn’t simply ignore or misinterpret the Bible.
Truth be told, we evangelicals haven’t been doing such a great job of excellence in heterosexual marriage and proper moral conduct. I believe it is time we began to model the kinds of families God obviously intended, thereby showing those who seek to disengage marriage from God’s intended purposes how God really intended it to be (and in the process, how much better it can really be). We shy away from frank and honest discussion of some of these issues with our young people, failing to realize that by seventh grade they already know more about the subject than most of us adults did when we got married. In a Christ-honoring way, we need to do some teaching, and we really desperately need to do a better job of preparing couples for marriage (and this includes all the multifaceted aspects of that relationship.)
American society is beginning to resemble the Pagan world of the Canaanites that God found so reprehensible that He called on His people to conquer and kill off the entire population (with the exception of those who wished to be part of the people of God).
Darwinism is at the head of the snake that slithers us towards the abyss. Our culture will not long withstand the destruction of the family and the morality and legal foundation upon which the United States (and to an extent Great Britain and Canada and Australia) once stood. We will go broke, we will turn towards anarchy, we will be conquered by militant Islam, we will kowtow to China or in some other way we will see the USA that once was be gone forever. Will another beacon on a hill be erected by another society that seeks to recreate the greatness that was the USA?
"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers - and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce - and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution - and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." - ???
Often attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville...this quote is either a paraphrase or remembrance of a speech or simply the words of someone who sought to give heft to a quote that both sounded and felt right. It was never penned by Alexis in any of his books or letters that are extant. It has been used by Presidents and pastors and political pundits alike. Its true origin is uncertain, but its certain truth is evident.