Some Objections to the Resurrection

by Tom Gilson

empty_tomb_viewDid Jesus rise from the dead? No other question in history matters as much. If Jesus came back as victor over the grave, then nothing else could be the same. No moral teaching, no philosophy, no government, no event in nature, nothing could have an impact approaching that of death’s demise. If on the other hand he remained dead, then all is business as usual, at best.

Skeptics of all stripes raise multiple objections to the resurrection of Christ. I will mention here the three most prominent, in my experience:

  1. Science shows that dead people stay dead.
  2. A resurrection is so improbable, no matter what evidence you give for it, any other explanation is more likely than Jesus’ rising from the dead.
  3. The resurrection is a fable, just like the rest of the Bible.

I can’t deal with these objections in the depth they deserve, but I think I can at least get some ideas on the table. This is partial material for a 40-minute class at church, so I will keep it simple and brief.

Objection 1. Science shows us that dead people stay dead.

I’ve heard this objection in that form many times: “Science shows….” It’s as if the ancients didn’t really get the finality of death, because they didn’t have science. They hadn’t seen the microbes of decay, they didn’t know about oxygen starvation in the brain, or about toxins accumulating when the kidneys quit. Really, the problem with the ancients is they didn’t know they were ancient. They didn’t know how gullible people could be if they hadn’t been taught about entropy.

But then most of them had a lot more direct experience with death than most of us. They knew the laws of nature in much less detail than we do (if they understood them as laws at all), but still they knew that death never reversed itself. Thus they also knew that if Jesus rose from the grave, it was a literal miracle of God.

Today we understand the laws of nature considerably better than then, except for this very fundamental problem: we don’t know what a law of nature is. We can describe a force in terms of its effects, but we don’t know what it really is or why it behaves as it does, at least not beneath a certain incomplete level of analysis. So if one thinks that a resurrection defies science, that’s true in the sense of what science ordinarily deals with. It’s even true in terms of the laws of nature: Jesus’ resurrection broke those laws.

But look again: what did he break? If we don’t really know what a law of nature is, deep down inside itself, how can we say he broke them?

But the answer to this objection is intimately tied to point 2…


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