Can an atheist please explain these three facts?
The RZIM Summer school continues and this morning I heard some excellent presentations. One by Simon Edwards focused on the ‘historical’ questions surrounding Jesus and notably his resurrection. I’ve spent much time on this blog already exploring some of these questions. Yet Edwards’ presentation had some fruitful areas of potential dialogue.
Edwards’ presentation was built on the ‘minimal facts’ approach to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This approach considers only the facts that virtually all critical scholars agree occurred (Christian and skeptical). I’m not completely convinced by validity of the ‘minimal facts’ approach as it does tend towards ‘truth by democracy’ and prophetic and minority voices who may be right are ignored. Yet this approach still does give a helpful place to begin analysis of historical questions. With reference to the resurrection of Jesus there are three ‘minimal’ facts:
- Jesus died by crucifixion
- Disciples genuinely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them on a number of occasions.
- Th early church exploded in numbers soon after Jesus death.
These facts require explanation.
The figure of Jesus and his resurrection is at the heart of the Christian message. To comprehensively demonstrate that Christianity is false a naturalistic explanation must be given to most satisfactorily explain these three facts.
Edwards’ said quite provocatively (and correctly) that if one plausible naturalistic explanation can be given then the resurrection is unlikely. So this is a challenge to atheists – I’m keen to hear naturalistic explanations for these three facts.
Edwards then suggested that there were three alternative hypotheses to explain these (most particularly fact 2 – that the disciples genuinely believed Jesus rose from the dead).
- The disciples were deceivers
- The disciples were deceived
- The disciples were deluded.
(are there any more potential options?)
Edwards rejected these because
1. The disciples were not deceivers because they did genuinely believe this, they didn’t yield under torture.
2. The disciples were not deceived because who did the deceiving? The Romans – unlikely, they weren’t going to develop a rival god; The Jews – they killed Jesus; or Jesus didn’t really die – again unlikely – the Romans were expert murderers.
3. They were all deluded and suffered a mass hallucination. Yet unlikely as hallucinations were a group phenomenon (and also the tomb was still empty – no body has ever been produced).
Hence through a process of abduction, it seems that the resurrection is the most satisfactory explanation. It’s remarkable, but unless a better explanation can be produced, it appears that Jesus really did rise from the dead.