Sometimes, when I see a debate on a Facebook board, I feel obliged to jump in a little – if for no other reason than to refine my arguments and the presentation of those arguments, and because even armchair apologists like myself require some “street” or “internet cred.” It never hurts to get some ideas for articles, either.
Last year, I noticed the interesting question, would Christians abandon belief in God, if it could be proven that He does not exist. My response was in my usual vein, “Find the body.” Since this article was originally published, I’ve refined my arguments – I’m never satisfied with the completeness of my past work.
The question for me is not that of proving theism – I’m not merely a generic theist, I’m a Christian. As such, the real question is (or should be), “Would I change my beliefs if someone could disprove Christianity?” This question, naturally leads to the follow up, “if so, how could someone disprove Christianity?” The only means to do so is to prove that the Resurrection did not occur, or at the least present me with an argument on the resurrection that I find more convincing.
Here is my organization of the minimum facts that must be disproved. These are ultimately not original with me, but this is the way I organize them:
1 Jesus died when crucified.
2 His followers claimed to have seen Him after His death. These men and women were profoundly changed by what they saw, and most were tortured and killed for their faith; none recanted.
3 Paul and James were skeptics about Jesus at one point in their lives, who later claimed to have seen Jesus after His death. Both became followers after these experiences and both died martyrs’ deaths.
4 The tomb was guarded by soldiers who were answerable to Pilate, yet the tomb was found to be empty.
Any theory about Christian origins must be able to account for all of the above minimum facts. Additionally, to be credible, there are some limits to the way in which a competing theory can be constructed.
- It cannot invent evidence, or cherrypick the evidence. One cannot argue that the tomb had a backdoor (due to a lack of evidence) or simply pick elements of the New Testament that fit ones theory and reject the rest without some demonstrated criteria external to one’s arguments, if such a criteria is invented for working through the evidence, it must be one that is demonstrated to either be true, or with arguments that I consider convincing.
- One cannot simply dismiss the source material without a solid argument that is not based solely on speculation. All of the external evidence supports the traditional authorship (and the patristic evidence on this point is rather impressive), there is nothing in the internal evidence that requires someone to reject that external evidence – a highly speculative case can be made that the documents were written by other people – but as noted, the key phrase is that the case cannot be based “solely” on speculation, since another word for speculation would be “Imagination.”
- It must be able to account for the growth of the Church in the first century at Jerusalem, since many early converts to Christianity were present at the time of the events.
- It must yield to Ockham’s razor, which is a warning about the multiplication of causes. If an argument requires us to assume one thing caused the empty tomb, and requires a separate, unrelated cause to account for the conversion of Paul, and a third separate, unrelated cause to account for the conversion of James, then that theory should be dismissed on grounds of being “ad hoc.”
To date, no explanation other than the Resurrection is successful at dealing with these facts in the manner I’ve noted.
Perhaps someone may come up with an alternate theory that adequately explains the minimal facts in the manner I have described. Similarly, perhaps someone will come up with a way of proving that the moon really is made of green cheese.