I, my friends, am what people would call a critical rationalist.
If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Michael Peterson defines critical rationalism as the belief that “religious belief-systems can and must be rationally criticized and evaluated although conclusive proof is such a system is impossible.” You see, fideists believe that religious beliefs are not subject to rational evaluation and strong rationalists believe that one should not hold to any religious beliefs unless they can prove them true both rationally and properly, but critical rationalists fall somewhere in the middle: while rational evaluation is not necessary in order to achieve or hold to a belief, one should have some sort of justifiable way in which they could defend their beliefs should they be challenged. It is for this reason that I think Christians should try their best to become well-versed in the Bible and know exactly where they stand on topics, so that they would be well-equipped to defend the faith through logical, rational, reasonable, and doctrinal means. "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16)
It is for this reason that I found myself quite delighted when I came across a particular free-standing whiteboard on my way home from campus today. Apparently some guy had set up the whiteboard to spark some theological discussion with passing students (one of my favorite things about college life is how eager people are to talk about their beliefs), and the question scribbled on it was different than one I’d come across before. Typically people would write stuff like, “Got Bible questions? Come talk!” or “Who do you think Jesus is?”, and while those are all good and well, this one stuck out to me:
I guess the reason this one got me thinking is because it addresses all types of people, demonstrated by the fact that “Life arose from non-life” had nearly as many tallies as “Jesus rose from the dead.” People are often turned away by “Got Bible questions?” boards, but this one didn’t ask you to state what you believe in, but rather what you considered most reasonable based off of what you did know. And it was apparently working well, because the guy was in the midst of deep conversation even as I walked by. I stopped, place my tally under the far left column, nodded to the guy and flashed a “Gig ‘em,” and then moved on.
It wasn’t until I got to the parking garage that I truly began to think: Why did I place my tally in that column so quickly? It was here that my critical rationalist mindset began to tick, because I began to question myself: While I do believe that Jesus rose from the dead, could I so quickly and certainly claim that I believed there was more evidence pointing towards that miracle than, say, the life-arising-from-non-life viewpoint held by millions and millions of people today? Sure, I believe that Jesus resurrected, but could I defend my viewpoint that there was evidence making it more probable than evolution? This was the question I asked myself as I sat in my truck; by the time I got home just five minutes later, I had my answer:
Before I defend the resurrection, I must refute the other two claims. I will address the multiverse theory first, purely because there were 0 tallies beneath it: While the theory sounds pretty spectacular and attractive (albeit a bit depressing) when first heard, the simple truth is that we have no proof of such an existence. The multiverse theory is rooted purely in speculative science, explainable by nothing but physical conjectures that have no basis in reason or rationality. Sure, it is a possibility, but highly improbable.
Next, we come to the topic of life from non-life. While to me it makes logical sense by looking at creation that life had to have a source somewhere – let’s be real here, you’re telling me it is just mere chance that male and females can come together the way they do and somehow form an entirely new being? – this answer will not satisfy most people and thus I will turn towards science. If the multiverse theory were true, then I would say that such a possibility of life from non-life increases exponentially (because there would be an infinite number of universes in which life would fail to exist), but still the odds are ever not in life’s favor. But since we have no proof of the multiverse (sorry, Flash fans), we must instead focus on the probabilities purely within our own universe, and that is where the odds diminish to essentially the size of a dot or tittle amongst a map of millions of galaxies. We could address the topic of the Big Bang and things of the like, but I think it much easier to trace the answer even further: If life arose from non-life, then non-life would have to consist of something, and something would have to have arisen from nothing. Do you follow? If we try to use science to explain the origins of the universe, we can use nothing but natural things to explain that which we deem natural. And the problem is, every natural thing has a beginning, and thus non-life – which in itself has to be a natural existence – would have to have arisen from was once nothing. But if nothing existed at the beginning of time, how could something ever have been made? You need some sort of supernatural entity to exist, a supernatural force that exists outside of time and physicality, something that creates order and therefore creates things. This is the only possible way in order to achieve the existence even of non-life, so quite naturally – or, supernaturally, I guess I should say – it makes much more probable sense that this entity, or Deity, would be the source of life. Probability lends credit to this fact.
But now we reach the topic of resurrection, that which I deemed most probably as evidenced by the eleventh tally on that chart. Why do I feel so bold in my proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ more probably than life from non-life or the multiverse theory? Here is why:
(It must be noted ahead of time that I did not consider the following evidence when deciding to believe in Christ’s resurrection. It was only after conforming to that belief that I pursued what I consider my obligation to be able to support my beliefs through means other than simply what is preached in the Bible.)
(I) The manuscripts. I think the best way to begin this defense is by relying on historical evidence. Take our knowledge of Julius Caesar for example: everybody knows who he is, when he lived, and how he died, correct? Nobody questions his existence. The key sources we have regarding Julius Caesar’s life are as follows: his own accounts of the Gallic Wars, Sallust’s account of Catiline’s War, Suetonius’s section on Caesar in Twelve Caesars, the speeches of Cicero, and Plutarch’s section on Caesar in Plutarchs’s Lives. Five different sources from five different people, and of these five different sources we have retrieved less than sixty manuscripts total, the earliest of which comes from AD 400 (nearly 500 years after his death). The majority of these manuscripts come from Suetonius and Plutarch’s accounts, though they weren’t even alive until well over a hundred years after Caesar’s death.
Now let’s look to Jesus. Our main sources for his life come from the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John – each of which was written by an eyewitness (in the cases of Matthew, John, and maybe Mark) or close friend to an eyewitness (for Mark, who was friends with Peter, and Luke, who was friends with Paul and claims to have interviewed various different sources to compile his Gospel) within the first century AD. This is in the time when thousands of other eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus would still be out and about (unlike Plutarch and Suetonius, who lived in a time when all eyewitnesses to Caesar would have been long dead). If we include the rest of the books of the New Testament – all of which accept the Gospels as canon, and all of which were originally written within that first century AD – we have somewhere between 5,000 (on the low end) and 25,000 (being generous) manuscripts, the earliest of which date back to 125 AD, just a few decades after the original.
So to recap: For Caesar, we have 60 manuscripts, the earliest of which came 500 years after his death. For Jesus we have thousands, the earliest of which came within 100 years. We believe the story of Caesar, so why not the story of Jesus?
(II) The historian. If you were good at debate, the obvious answer to my previous question was “Bias.” It could be argued that people have no reason to lie about Caesar – which I could contest, but it does not serve my purpose – while turning a man into God is something people could definitely be lying about. And while I fully disagree with your point, I will give it to you purely because it does not take away my security.
Ever heard of Flavius Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian who basically recorded the entire Jewish history? Well, this guy lived from 37 – 100 AD, so he was literally born seven years after Jesus died. He is responsible for a solid majority of what we know about Jewish history, especially in the first century AD, and pretty much no body questions what he chronicles. In his work The Antiquities of the Jews, he mentions people such as “John, that was called the Baptist” (18.5.2) who was slain by King Herod (sound familiar?) and “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” (20.9.1). Peculiar, eh?
Oh, and one more thing before I move to my final point. It’s kind of a small one, but worth mentioning. Let me just place an excerpt for you:
“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. HE was the Christ; and when Pilate, a the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day.” (18.3.3)
So yeah, there’s always that.
(III) The apostles. To me this is the most compelling of the arguments I’ve heard, just because it makes the most sense from a rational standpoint; and in fact, it is probably the shortest. According to Christian belief, each of the twelve apostles except for John were martyred for their beliefs, and it is no secret that Christians faced severe persecution under the Roman Empire for a solid three hundred years. So my question to you is this: Would you die for a lie?
Think about it: Peter, James, Andrew, Matthew, etc., they were all eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life. They saw him die, and apparently the news of his death was so widespread that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus turned to Jesus (who they did not know what Jesus at the time) and said, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?... Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him” (Luke 24:18-20). So yeah, the apostles very well could have made up the fact that Jesus rose from the grave, but why would they die for such a lie? Perhaps one of them would be foolish enough to die for the fib, but as one after another continues to lay down their life for this single belief: that Jesus died and rose again, the probability leans ever in their favor. And then other witnesses to Jesus’ life? They give up their lives too. And for three hundred years, the early church members willingly lay down their lives to defend the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
And you don’t do that if you’re lying.
That’s all I’ve got to say about that, so I hope it cleared some things up. While yes, I came to believe that Jesus died and rose again purely based off of the story told in the Bible, I do have a rational reason to believe it, a reasoning that proves a much more probable basis than life arising from non-life and the multiverse theory proving correct.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…I could be wrong with all of this, but I have confident faith that I am not. I like to end these blog posts with a challenge, and my challenge to you today is this: Regardless of what your faith is, I challenge you to ask yourself “Why?”. Why do you believe the things you do? Is it purely blind faith (which isn’t necessarily bad) or do you have a legitimate basis for your beliefs? If I were to question you about a particular thing you believe in, would you be able to defend it? If not, I highly encourage you to.
And if you have any questions for me, I’m always here. Have a great day.