Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A not-so-hard question to answer from one atheist blogger

At Patheos, James Croft wrote some years back, recalling a live lecture (2012) on miracles from Ph.D. mathematician and Christian apologist John Lennox:

The Q&A was brief, but I’m glad my question was chosen to be asked: “ If I was to tell you I were just raised from the dead, what evidence would you require to believe it?”
I ask this question of all apologists for Christianity, because it goes right to the heart of the evidentiary claim: what would it take to convince them that someone they encountered today had indeed risen from the dead? There are two common responses: either apologists evade the question, or answer with standards of evidence way higher than the standards of evidence they use when considering the resurrection of Christ.
Apparently, if you go to read on, Dr. Lennox had trouble answering this question.  So I'll take this one.
Prove you were dead.
What could they possibly say in response?
Perhaps around before the publication of atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian's book "A Manual For Creating Atheists," and certainly codified in it, is the notion that Christians will evaluate a piece of evidence against Christianity very critically, so much more than they would examine any other piece of evidence for the veracity of their faith.
In their experience, Christians have had abominably lopsided approaches to evaluating evidence ("A false balance is an abomination to the Lord" Proverbs 11:1; "Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, strength, or quantity" Lev. 19:35; "Do not have differing weights in your bag--one heavy, one light" Deut. 25:13).
This is, apparently, a common sticking point that atheists have in conversations with Christians, and is fashionable to regurgitate in talks online discussing the alleged implausibility of the Christian faith.
And if John Lennox couldn't answer this simple question, as was reported in the rest of the post that I didn't quote, I submit he was thinking too hard, and sticking too closely to his talking points. And if other Christians haven't been able to answer this question, I submit Christians need a lot more training in critical thinking. 
Putting the onus of proof on himself
So again, prove you were dead. 
His question puts all of the weight on the resurrection part. But his question hasn't even got off the ground yet, and may not ever.
He forgot somebody actually had to die to get there first. And apparently, he forgot he'd also had to prove that his lifeless corpse would have had to have to undergo a certain scientific examination itself -- and then be pronounced dead by the authorities. His metaphorical "tomb" would have to been made known to some folk, which was exactly was known of Jesus's tomb, before he met back up with his disciples to talk about the resurrection that just happened.
I mean, it's a common Christian retort that is beyond cliche territory, but, I mean, you know, he wouldn't want us to take the premise of his question on faith now would he?
And for all of his appeal to our modern sensibilities, you would have at least thought he would have been kind enough to provide his I.D. and death certificate so we could verify. There was no mention of those credentials in his blog.
In the gospel of John, we have a real doubting Thomas who asks a similar question. 
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:25-29 NRSV)
Thomas asked. Thomas received. And this is of course recalled in one of four death certificates, I mean gospels, of Jesus' life. These are the death certificates we show non-believers all the time, and the I.D. where we can read about the life of our Lord, but with much more detail than a 2.5 x 4 I.D card.
Part of the problem with presumptuous, sloppy, and snobbish questions is that they assume too much and prove too little, if anything.
And that is where he went wrong. At least, if you believe in the historical Jesus you would believe that he died by crucifixion and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Unless, of course, you are one of those types that believes he died and was buried in a shallow pit to be eaten by dogs (bad), or you don't believe in Jesus existed at all (worst). 
Christians have a testimony grounded in history, four separate documents from four separate authors that attest to Jesus' crucifixion, on top of multiple ancient authors to attest to his crucifixion and burial.
This guy has a question backed with the conceit of a college sophomore.
The Close of the Atheist Witness
Reframing the question, if done in a way that oversimplifies the question, looses a few key premises, and then answers a straw man, is definitely unfair, and an abomination unto the Lord, and violates doing unto others as we would have done unto us.
But I do believe the blogger asked a question that needs some work [1]. I do think the question misunderstands some things about resurrections. I know a person who was legally dead (heart stopped) and then was resuscitated by doctors, which is what many of the "resurrections" in the New Testament are like. They are brought back to life to die again. But Jesus is the "first fruits," that is, the first of the resurrection unto immortality. And by definition, this 21st century man claiming to be resurrected can't be. The dead will be raised; flesh will put on immortality; corruption will put on incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:52-54), and all of this will happen at the "Last Trump" (v.52), not right before a Q&A at a John Lennox lecture.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that (Who?) those who are Christ's at (When?) His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.… (1 Corinthians 5:22-24) [emphasis mine]
Apart from scripture and revelation, which, if true, is intimately linked to past, present, and future history, his question doesn't make any sense. Indeed, his claim to have been resurrected would mean that God is a liar that didn't keep his promise to raise the saints of God on the "Last Day." And that, personally, would raise my eyebrows indeed and warrant my scrutiny.
Indeed, his question can't even make sense in a world where atheism is true because by definition there would be no God to raise him.
On the apologetic method, I didn't even have to worry about who raised you or when were you raised or even begin to answer the question. I just made a simple demand: just prove you were dead. And then after that, prove your theology.
Like the question "Who Made God?" this question, like the former, as John Lennox put that one, is in schoolboy category, because, like how atheists misunderstand the nature of God, this question fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the resurrection.
And according to scripture, I would simply be able to look at him in his glorified body to see if he was resurrected. So would Lennox.
  1. I do think if he reduced his question to the point of simple "miracles" he would have a stronger case. But choosing the specific term "resurrection" he did not. For example, if he reframed it as "If I was to tell you that God performed a miracle in my life, what evidence would you require to believe it?"

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