Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Extraordinary Claims - Extraordinary Evidence

This past Sunday, all around the world, people of faith celebrated the resurrection of Jesus...a fitting remembrance of what Christians claim is a piece of history and what others scoff at as legend or myth.

Because the idea of someone rising from the dead is so extraordinary, and perhaps because the resurrection is so vital to the Christian faith, the first Easter has endured multiple attacks. One particular request by critics is examined in the following paragraphs from pages 320-321 of the book I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek.

Some skeptics might admit that the Resurrection is possible, but they say it would require extraordinary evidence to believe it. That is, since the New Testament makes extraordinary claims - such as miracles - we must have extraordinary evidence in order to believe those claims. This objection seems reasonable until you ask, "What does 'extraordinary' mean?"

If it means beyond the natural, then the skeptic is asking the Resurrection to be confirmed by another miracle. How could that work? In order to believe in the first miracle (the Resurrection), the skeptic would then need a second miracle to support it. He would then demand a third miracle to support the second, and this would go on to infinity. So by this criteria, the skeptic would never believe in the Resurrection even if it really happened. There's something wrong with a standard of proof that makes it impossible for you to believe what actually has occurred.

If "extraordinary" means repeatable as in a laboratory, then no event from history can be believed because historical events cannot be repeated. The believability of historical events can only be confirmed by looking at the quality of the eyewitness evidence and the nature of the forensic evidence in the light of the principles of uniformity and causality (covered in chapter 5). Besides, atheists who demand repeatability for biblical miracles are inconsistent because they do not demand repeatability of the historical "miracles" in which they believe - the Big Bang, spontaneous generation of first life, and macroevolution of subsequent life forms.

If "extraordinary" means more than usual, then that's exactly what we have to support the Resurrection. We have more eyewitness documents and earlier eyewitness documents for the Resurrection than for anything else from the ancient world. Moreover, these documents include more historical details and figures that have been corroborated by more independent and external sources than anything else from the ancient world. And as we've just reviewed, we also have more than usual circumstantial evidence supporting the Resurrection.

Finally, the skeptic's presupposition can be challenged. We don't need "extraordinary" evidence to believe something. Atheists affirm that from their own worldview. They believe in the Big Bang not because they have "extraordinary" evidence for it but because there is good evidence that the universe exploded into being out of nothing. Good evidence is all you need to believe something. However, atheists don't have even good evidence for some of their own beliefs. For example, atheists believe in spontaneous generation and macroevolution on faith alone. We say faith alone because, as we saw in chapters 5 and 6, there's not only little or no evidence for spontaneous generation and macroevolution, but there's strong evidence against those possibilities.

Furthermore, skeptics don't demand "extraordinary" evidence for other "extraordinary" events from history. For example, few events from ancient history are more "extraordinary" than the accomplishments of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.). Despite living only 33 years, Alexander achieved unparalleled success. He conquered much of the civilized world at the time, from Greece, east to India and south to Egypt. Yet how do we know this about Alexander? We have no sources from his lifetime or soon after his death. And we have only fragments of two works from about 100 years after his death. The truth is, we base virtually everything we know about the "extraordinary" life of Alexander the Great from historians who wrote 300 to 500 years after his death! In light of the robust evidence for the life of Christ, anyone who doubts Christ's historicity should also doubt the historicity of Alexander the Great. In fact, to be consistent, such a skeptic would have to doubt all of ancient history.

Truth is...the evidence backing up the claims of these few paragraphs require the several chapters the authors used, and I don't expect this excerpt to change anyone's worldview...but if anyone is motivated to investigate further, I'll consider this post well-received.

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