Eliminating the Impossible: Can a Scientist believe the Resurrection?
by John Lennox
The Christian gospel is based squarely on a miracle. It was the miracle of the resurrection of Christ that started it going, and that same miracle is its central message. Indeed, the basic qualification of a Christian apostle was to be an eyewitness of the resurrection, and for centuries Christians have greeted each other at Easter time with the confident words, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
C.S. Lewis expresses the situation precisely: “The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this ‘gospel’, no Gospels would ever have been written.” According to the early Christians, then, without the resurrection there simply is no Christian message. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
The question is: can we make sense of this claim in a scientifically literate society? For the Christian gospel conflicts with the widely held notion that belief in miracles in general, and New Testament miracles in particular, arose in a primitive, pre-scientific culture where people were ignorant of the laws of nature, and readily accepted miracle stories. In the oft-quoted words of David Hume (1711-76):
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“A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience as can be imagined … It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event; otherwise the event would not merit that appellation.”
Hume denies the miraculous, because miracle would go against the uniform laws of nature. And yet elsewhere he denies the uniformity of nature. He famously argues that, just because the sun has been observed to rise in the morning for thousands of years, it does not mean that we can be sure that it will rise tomorrow. This is an example of the Problem of Induction: on the basis of past experience you cannot predict the future, says Hume. But if that were true, let us see what follows.
Suppose Hume is right, and no dead man has ever risen up from the grave through the whole of earth’s history so far; by his own argument he still cannot be sure that a dead man will not rise up tomorrow. That being so, he cannot rule out miracle. What has become now of Hume’s insistence on the laws of nature, and its uniformity? He has destroyed the very basis on which he tries to deny the possibility of miracles…
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