Thursday, January 30, 2014

Apologetics Press- The Resurrection of Christ as a Fact of Science

This brief article written by Kyle Butts describes how New Atheist Sam Harris' concept of a "fact" affirms the Resurrection of Jesus Christ-


Famed atheist and New York Times bestselling author Sam Harris published a book in 2010 titled The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. In the book he attempted to show that atheistic materialism can provide a standard by which to judge moral behavior. He failed to prove his point, as we have shown in other places (Butt, 2008), but he did make some telling admissions.
In the introduction, Harris provided an endnote that described his view of the concept of a “fact.” He stated:
For the purposes of this discussion, I do not intend to make a hard distinction between “science” and other intellectual contexts in which we discuss “facts”—e.g., history. For instance, it is a fact that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Facts of this kind fall within the context of “science,” broadly construed as our best effort to form a rational account of empirical reality. Granted, one doesn’t generally think of events like assassinations as “scientific” facts, but the murder of President Kennedy is as fully corroborated a fact as can be found anywhere, and it would betray a profoundly unscientific frame of mind to deny that it occurred (2010, p. 195).
Harris is exactly right. Events that happened in the past such as assassinations can be every bit as scientific and factual as other types of experiential knowledge. In fact, those of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ have contended for years that direct observation is not necessarily needed to establish it as factual. If the assassination of J.F.K. can be nailed down scientifically and established as a fact, is it not also true that the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be equally validated as a scientific fact in the way Harris describes? Certainly it is. (We have established the case for the fact of the resurrection elsewhere, see Butt, 2002.)
“In our best effort to form a rational account of empirical reality” we are forced to conclude that no other series of events offers the explanatory power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The event is recorded in detail in the only book in the world that is proven to be inspired by God. Hundreds of people in the first century saw the resurrected Lord, and testified of such. And the fact is that Jesus’ tomb was empty. These facts and others combine to provide a cumulative scientific case to establish the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
Of course, Sam Harris would disagree about the resurrection of Christ being a fact. But his insightful discussion of what actually constitutes a scientific fact opens the door for the resurrected Lord to walk through. “And it would betray a profoundly unscientific frame of mind to deny that it occurred.”

References

Butt, Kyle (2002), “Jesus Christ—Dead or Alive?” Reason and Revelation, https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=10&article=147.
Butt, Kyle (2008), “The Bitter Fruits of Atheism,” Reason and Revelation, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=12&article=2515.
Harris, Sam (2010), The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Value (New York: Free Press).

11 comments:

Geoffrey Charles said...

"If the assassination of J.F.K. can be nailed down scientifically and established as a fact, is it not also true that the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be equally validated as a scientific fact in the way Harris describes?"

I don't think so. We have tons of evidence that leads to Kennedy's assassination. Assassination is a thing that sadly happens often in this world. Murder; people kill other people all the time. Sometimes it happens on camera while many people are watching, and professional agencies investigate, and reams of documentation is written. Kennedy's assassination is so proven that it's obvious it happened. This is not at all the case with the resurrection.

You're comparing a common event to an uncommon event. It's like comparing a losing lottery ticket to a winning lottery ticket.

The Other Chad said...

Hi Geoffrey,

Welcome back to our blog. I have two questions in regards to your comments below-

“I don't think so. We have tons of evidence that leads to Kennedy's assassination. Assassination is a thing that sadly happens often in this world. Murder; people kill other people all the time. Sometimes it happens on camera while many people are watching, and professional agencies investigate, and reams of documentation is written. Kennedy's assassination is so proven that it's obvious it happened. This is not at all the case with the resurrection.”

So based on your description above, how can we prove the Holocaust happened?

“You're comparing a common event to an uncommon event. It's like comparing a losing lottery ticket to a winning lottery ticket”

I’m not sure I understand the logic of the comparison here? Please elaborate.

Andrew Ryan said...

"So based on your description above, how can we prove the Holocaust happened?"

The Holocaust is equally backed by reams and reams of evidence – testimony of survivors, testimony of the Nazis, film of mounds of dead bodies, endless paperwork associated with the massive logistical job of killing millions of people etc, etc, and indeed etc. Watch the documentary Shoah if you're still in doubt.

...So much evidence that I can't understand how anyone would compare it to the evidence we have for the resurrection.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Hey, Chad. Sorry for the delay. I didn't get an email that you had responded.

"based on your description above, how can we prove the Holocaust happened?"

Using almost all the same types of evidence used for Kennedy's assassination.

"I’m not sure I understand the logic of the comparison here? Please elaborate."

I'm saying that a losing lottery ticket is like a very probable event. Kennedy's assassination is like a getting losing lottery ticket in that they both are probable events relative to a resurrection. Losing lottery tickets are purchased all the time, and murders happen all the time. So, right off the bat (before we even consider the specific evidence for Kennedy's assassination), we know that murder is more likely than any resurrection, just like buying a losing lottery ticket is more likely than buying a winning one. In other words, the prior probability of a murder is much higher than the prior probability of a resurrection.

So, back to the point in the article...

"is it not also true that the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be equally validated as a scientific fact in the way Harris describes?"

So my response, summarized simply, is that murders are not like resurrections. You're comparing apples to oranges. There's no evidence that they methods used to prove Kennedy's assassination can be used to prove an ancient resurrection.

The Other Chad said...

Hi Andrew,

Obviously I don't doubt the Holocaust for the reasons you mention above including eyewitness testimony and all of the documentation related to these horrific events. But that's also why I believe the Resurrection account of Jesus provides the best explanation as to why their was an empty tomb. This would include eyewitness testimony of 500+ people seeing the risen Jesus and the commitment of those who saw it to document it and in many cases suffer or die for it.

The Other Chad said...

Geoffrey,

Thanks for the reply. In your summarized response you say that you can't compare apples to oranges when speaking of a murder vs a resurrection. But shouldn't we be more concerned about what evidence exists for an event as opposed to what type it is? If I have a family member who despises me, and they decide to write me a letter telling me they appreciate me, should I not accept it is true because it's not probable? Even though all evidence points to that family member as being the author? If that can be fully corroborated as fact wouldn't it be unreasonable for me to deny it?

Andrew Ryan said...

"This would include eyewitness testimony of 500+ people seeing the risen Jesus"

Can you name those 500 people? What evidence do you have for them? If I tell you that ten people saw something unlikely happen, you don't really have ten people's testimony to explain, you just have one – mine. The claim here seems to come down to a single passage in 1 Corinthians 15, and even that is open to interpretation.

"and in many cases suffer or die for it"

Can you tell me which witnesses of the resurrected Jesus you believe died for that belief?

In other words, they need to have a) Claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected, b) were threatened with death for that claim, c) were given the chance to RECANT that claim, d) did NOT recant and were then killed.

I'm not aware of many people who fit that criteria. When I try to investigate evidence for, say, the martyrdom of Peter, there doesn't seem to be much there. I've seen Christian cites mentioning 'church tradition', or quoting a letter from about AD90 that says: "Peter, through unjust envy, endured not one or two but many labours, and at last, having delivered his testimony, departed unto the place of glory due to him".

It doesn't seem strong. Certainly the claim of 500 witnesses and the claims of martyrdom have nothing like the wealth of evidence to support them equivalent to the Holocaust or death of Kennedy. It's a massive difference in both degree AND in kind.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Chad,

A relative who once despised you saying they now appreciate you is not all that improbable to begin with -- this happens all the time, just like murders.

The Other Chad said...

Andrew,

If you haven't already, please check out the post that Chad G. posted on Friday to address your questions about evidence for the martyrdom of the apostles.

Thank you,

Chad Vaughn

The Other Chad said...


Geoffrey,

In the specific case for me that comes to mind, I believe it is very improbable that I will be getting a letter of appreciation.

But going back to the point of the article, according to the definition given by Sam Harris, the Resurrection Event is a fact. The author of the article sites his previous work to back this and it is included in the post.

However, if one evaluates an event from a viewpoint of naturalism or evidential perfectionism, then it becomes very easy to pick and choose which events can be seen as improbable.

You may have the last word if you like.

Sincerely,

Chad Vaughn

Andrew Ryan said...

Other Chad, I have read it. In short, it comes down to making guesses about people's motivations, and what strikes Wallace as likely on the balance if probability. Whether you buy his argument or not, it's still in no way comparable to the direct, and in many cases first hand, evidence we have for the Holocaust or the Kennedy assassination.