I began this blog series by pointing out the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in Christianity and the warrant for the topic. I then argued that Christians are not different from any other human beings in terms of their rational and intellectual acumen. In fact, some of the greatest minds mankind has known have been Christians. I also made the point that for any rational person to believe such a miracle, they would need to have a personal experience of it or accept the vast weight of historical evidence attested by eyewitnesses. The question in this post is, “How Could Jesus Rise from the Dead?”…with the emphasis on the word of ability “could.” How is it even remotely possible?
The skeptic may reasonably object to any claim of the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection because resurrections simply do not happen. Dead people—certainly people who died a violent and traumatic death, and who remained dead for three days—do not recover. It is not possible. I would ask: But what about the eyewitnesses and the reliable historical accounts? The skeptic may respond by saying that, at best, history proves those people sincerely thought they saw the resurrected Jesus…but there MUST be a natural explanation, because people do not return to life.
This is the classic case of just about every Sherlock Holmes mystery. The keen detective is presented with a set of clues and circumstances that defy reason. Common men, lesser mortals, are struck with fear. With their intellect thoroughly overwhelmed, they resort to concluding the perpetrator must be some supernatural (spiritual) miscreant at foul play. At times, Sherlock appears to be on the tipping point, in doubt himself. Yet, he reminds himself of his faith in naturalism, musters his intellectual powers, and solves the crime. It was not a ghost or devil, but the handiwork of a mastermind criminal, and each step of the plot is explained, debunking any notion of a spirit. Indeed, everything has a natural explanation.
If I were the victim of a heinous crime, I would certainly want my detective to be such a naturalist. However, the world in which Sherlock Holmes operates, his conviction that the natural or material world is all there is, is not sustainable. Let’s now consider how the theory of naturalism fails under its own weight.
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Notre Dame University, Alvin Plantinga, offers the following argument, filtered through my own understanding. First, the naturalist is defined as an atheist. The naturalist believes there is no god, no spiritual, or supernatural reality. The naturalist is a materialist. Matter and energy is all that exists. And a naturalist, or materialist, is also an evolutionist. He believes that the world around us, and more importantly we ourselves, exist solely from the means of natural processes. The activities with which we involve ourselves are the results of purely chemical, electro-mechanical mechanisms. Over billions of years, those chemical and electro-mechanical actions and reactions produced life of various forms which have resulted in their successful procreation—or survival. This worldview gives us words such as “instinct.” There is no rhyme or reason, no cognitive motive, just behavior. These instincts have become hard-wired, passed along from generation to generation to ensure survival.
Beyond the behavior of instinct, lies thought. But thought itself is the effect of electro-chemical activity. We all have heard of neurons firing and crossing synapses in the brain. Thought is the activity of neurons and bio-chemistry. Beyond rational thought, lies belief. Belief is more subjective, but also must be the result of electro-chemical activity only.
A quick search on the internet provides plenty of articles of scientists explaining the natural phenomena of faith. They claim to have located the area of the brain responsible for spirituality. For instance, in this article, a professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri stated
“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.
Belief is ultimately irrelevant. What one believes, that is, the why one acts the way he does, has no impact upon the effect of his actions. Results of behavior are isolated from belief. If a behavior results in survivability, who cares what the person believes? That belief can be true or false. Furthermore, the probability of a belief being right or wrong, true or false, must be about 50/50. The same probability must apply to all thought. Therefore, Plantinga argues, the reliability of one’s faculties “is very low.” Since the naturalists’ reasoning faculties are unreliable, then his notion of a materialist-only reality is unreliable. A true naturalist must admit that he cannot have confidence that naturalism is certain.
One likely response is that reliability in rational thinking is high because experiments are reproducible. Technology works, we see it work, it is reliable. However, I must reiterate Plantinga’s point, if naturalism produces unreliable thought processes, then your experiments and your interpretations of those experiments are unreliable. The experiment has been compromised at every level. Each person has at some time come to grips with having been wrong about something. We all have experienced times when we were certain about a thing, only to be humbled and forced to admit that our “reality” was false. Ultimately, Plantinga argues that if one is relying solely on the chemical activity of neurons in the brain for a reliable interpretation of reality, that one must doubt if his neurons have produced a right conclusion.
This argument is a lot like daily life at my job. As an electronics engineer, I make measurements. I measure voltage, current, resistance, and all sorts of signals. I rely on the accuracy of the measurement tools. To ensure the reliability of those measurements, our equipment gets calibrated each year. If I find, after-the-fact, that my measurements were taken with an uncalibrated instrument, then all my data is suspect and the conclusions are dismissed. I must do my work all over again. Plantinga has shown that if the naturalist is consistent with his worldview, he must admit that his data is suspect and his conclusion is unreliable at best.
If the naturalist’s conclusions are potentially false, then logically the opposite is potentially true. A spiritual reality can exist coincident with a physical reality. In such a case, miracles like the resurrection can indeed occur; and the evidence provided in the previous blog supports the claim that they did occur.
Distinguished professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, John Lennox, explains that the naturalist vs. theist debate is not new. It has existed since antiquity. And he makes the point that the two are indeed simply worldviews—how one interprets the world. The naturalist likes to think that his view is a lock-tight truth based on unbiased empirical evidence, science. But it is not the case. The fact that the community of leading scientists is comprised of both believers in God and non-believers shows that belief exists on a deeper level than science alone. Ultimately, the worldview one adopts is based on faith. I will give an example.
I asked my non-Christian co-worker why he did not believe in Jesus Christ? He answered that the Bible was just too myth-like. He could not accept stories such as a snake speaking or Noah’s ark that drew animals from all over the world. Furthermore, he was unwilling to simply believe what men had written in a book. I asked him that if did not believe the Bible, that God had created the world, then what did he believe? How did everything we see come to be? He answered that he believed in Darwinian Evolution—the Earth is billions of years old and that life formed from primordial soup and over time evolved into what we now see. I went on to ask how he knows that is the case? Have you witnessed the evolution of a life form? Of course he had not witnessed it, for no individual has. So, if you have not witnessed it, then how did you come to believe it? He said that he believed what he was taught in school. I asked, “You read it in a book written by men?” The point was obvious.
The summary of this blog post is that the answer to the question, “How COULD Jesus Rise from the Dead?” is: Jesus could rise from the dead if reality is not limited to a naturalistic materialism. In a theistic world, a man can be raised from the dead. Furthermore, this post points out that naturalism is an assumption, a belief, a worldview and not the “slam dunk,” sine qua non that society has blindly accepted.