This article summarizes the evidence Christian apologists rely on in support of the proposition that belief in Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is a rational belief and addresses the contention of skeptics that natural explanations, even if seemingly inadequate, are always more preferable than supernatural explanations.
Why do Christian Apologists Maintain Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection is Rational? (here>>)
Isn’t it More Rational to Believe in even a Seemingly Inadequate Explanation of Jesus’ Resurrection than to Believe Jesus was Supernaturally Raised from the Dead? (here>>)
Why Christian Apologists Maintain Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection is Rational
Many skeptics adamantly maintain it is to believe Jesus was raised from the dead because the laws of nature do not permit such a phenomenon. Christian philosopher agrees if one is limited to the laws of nature then it is highly improbable that Jesus was resurrected from the dead; however, if God does exist, then it is not improbable that God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead. [See, , The Case For Easter, “Interview with , Ph.D., D.Th.”, pg. 56 (1998)]
Considering the totality of the evidence (including the philosophical and scientific evidence for the existence of God (here>>)) as well as the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and the fact that no alternative theory adequately explains all the historical evidence surrounding the resurrection (see below), Christian apologists maintain it is rational to believe Jesus was supernaturally raised from the dead. [See, , The Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pg. 1622 (2007)] However, it must be recognized that like any other historical event, the resurrection cannot be proved scientifically because in order for the to be applied, an event must be capable of being repeated. Since no historical event or person can be repeated, no historical event or figure can be scientifically proven. However, that doesn’t mean no proof is possible. Rather, like in many court proceedings when scientific evidence is not available, the truth is determined by considering the reliability of witness testimony as well as other available evidence. As set forth in the articles referenced below, Christian apologists confidently maintain Jesus’ resurrection is verified by reliable witness testimony and documentary evidence in the same way other historical facts are systematically verified.
The claim by Christian apologists that belief in Jesus’ resurrection is a rational belief can be summed up as follows:
There is good reason to believe God exists (here>>);
If God exists, then God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead;
The following seven (7) lines of historical evidence demonstrate to a reasonable degree that God did, in fact, raise Jesus from the dead:
The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics ( and ) (here>>)
The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus’ tomb being found empty (here>>)
The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of the transformation in the lives of Jesus’ disciples from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice in that day to the burial sites of religious and political leaders
The resurrection best explains why the centered its teachings and practices around a event like the resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though Jesus had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders
Over the last 2,000 years, skeptics have proffered various alternative theories to attempt to explain away the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. However, as discussed in the above-linked articles, Christian apologists maintain none of the proposed naturalistic theories adequately explain the totality of the historical evidence and none of the theories are rationally compelling. Since there is a rational basis for believing God exists (here>>) and since Jesus’ resurrection is the one explanation that adequately explains the totality of the historical evidence, Christian apologists maintain there is a reasonable basis for believing God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead as reported by multiple independent sources in the New Testament.
Many skeptics maintain that no matter how inconceivable or inadequate a explanation of Jesus’ resurrection may be, any explanation is preferable to the explanation that Jesus was supernaturally raised from the dead. The principle that explanations are always more simple and, therefore, preferable to explanations is often referred to as .
In response to the argument that explanations are always preferable to explanations, Christian apologists raise the following points:
Point No. 1: The principle of only applies if an adequate “simple” explanation is offered. However, in the case of Jesus’ resurrection (as set forth in the linked articles referenced above), none of the naturalistic theories tendered by skeptics adequately explain the totality of the historical record. Since no naturalistic theory has proven to be adequate, the principle of cannot reasonably be relied on to rule out Jesus’ resurrection which does adequately explain the entirety of the historical record.
Point No. 2: While it is true that, in general, simpler theories are preferable to more complex explanations, it is also true that an incorrect simple theory is never preferable to a more complex but correct theory. As stated by Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, none of the proffered naturalistic explanations adequately explain the totality of the historical evidence; therefore, Jesus’ resurrection (which does explain the entirety of the historical record) is the simplest adequate explanation.
Although some skeptics are quick to allege that anyone who believes in Jesus’ resurrection is an intellectual simpleton who just isn’t willing to do the hard work of looking for an adequate explanation, this allegation is clearly unfounded. Many well-respected philosophers, thinkers and scientists have been convinced that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead (e.g., , Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, , Francis Schaeffer, , , , , , Simon Greenleaf, , , to name a few) .
In fact, following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. and well-known , Dr. , a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:
Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.
[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: June 2, 2012 / Last Updated: February 27, 2014
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
John F. Ankerberg and , Ready With an Answer(Harvest House Publishers, 1997)
Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)
Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)
, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe“Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pg. 1622 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)
(compiled by Bill Wilson), A Ready Defense The Best Of Josh Mcdowell(Thomas Nelson, 1992)
, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004)
Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers Rei Sub edition by Thayer, Joseph published by Hendrickson Publishers Hardcover (Hendrickson, 1996)
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Slideshow Photo: Graphic representation of Jesus’ empty tomb provided by Plaster Graphics.