To begin with, I do not reject the account of the resurrection in particular simply or solely because I wasn’t there to witness it myself. Whatever happened 2,000 years ago did so whether I was there or not. I am perfectly aware, as well, that certain continents exist and sporting events occur even though I have not experienced them personally. But we’re not talking about Australia or UCLA games here; this is what could be the most important event in human history: a virgin giving birth to a being both human and God, who performed miracles, was put to death and was resurrected to save humanity from eternal damnation. The real question is, does the evidence presented by Christianity adequately support such incredible claims?
If, for example, I told you I have a pet parakeet, you would most likely take my word for it; parakeets are very common and your life experience tells you that owning one is normal. I could be lying, or hallucinating, but there doesn’t seem to be any problem taking the statement at face value. But if I went on to tell you that this same parakeet lays golden eggs, you would probably want a lot more proof because this would contradict everything you know about how the world works. At the very least, you’d want the parakeet inspected by veterinarians, the eggs analyzed by experts, and to see this miracle bird with your own eyes before you would even begin to accept my story. The claims of Christianity, by comparison, are far more extraordinary, so one would expect it to present at minimum the same level of proof one would need to believe in my miracle parakeet. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t.
When you say I would “want a lot more proof” you are clearly saying that I would want good quality evidence, but notice that you are not saying I would want a different type of evidence. Veterinarians, experts, etc. are still examining empirical evidence and that is the only point I was making. Admittedly, I was responding more to the other emailer than to you, Allan, and trying to refute the propositions “Christianity does not offer empirical evidence” and “Christianity is not unique.” I did not actually conclude, as others have accused me of, that “We can accept UCLA played basketball, therefore Jesus rose from the dead.”
Anyway, what you are saying, as far as I can tell, is that we can accept empirical evidence for Christianity, but it has to be high quality empirical evidence, because the claims are out of the ordinary. For example, the witnesses have to be highly reliable (“analyzed by experts”). Fair enough, I’ll accept that. In fact, let me add some further qualifications. To believe something out of the ordinary has happened, it is helpful (it adds to the quality factor of the evidence) if there are different instances of the same irregular phenomenon as well as different type of evidences presented to back up the claim that they are true. If the claim is that I have a parakeet that can lay golden eggs, it would be nice if that parakeet did it more than once, in different situations, witnessed by different people. If the owner of the parakeet is the only witness and the goose did it once, than of course the claim is suspect. If the parakeet does it consistently, in or out of the presence of the owner, in front of all types of people, we can be a little less cynical about the claim.
Even better would be for there to be other types of evidence. Suppose that there are some predictive elements involved. Suppose that, while the parakeet is going around laying golden eggs that it prophecies (parakeets talk, right?) that on a certain day it will lay a diamond egg. Because of the nature of the claim, the parakeet is put under close scrutiny so there can be no tricks. If, on the prophesied day, it actually lays a diamond egg, could we then start to think that the evidence supports this being a special chicken?
Of course you see where I am going with this. The evidence for Jesus is not one single event. It must be examined as a whole. It is less than useful to analyze single claims apart from the whole story – like me trying to explain away only one incident of a golden egg if there were 200 reported. We see this problem in the research just released trying to explain the walking on water story. If the whole story of Jesus consisted of one isolated incident of a few guys believing he walked on water, then perhaps we could buy that they didn’t realize he was actually walking on ice, even with all the problems associated with that theory. However, the walking on water story is just one of many incidents of supernatural associated with Jesus. If you are going to explain them away, you’ve got to have an explanation that encompasses all the data, not just one part of it. Christianity does offer the extraordinary evidence that is required of extraordinary claims.
One piece of so-called empirical evidence cited by believers is that the gospels were eyewitness accounts. But this is very problematic because they include events, such as Jesus’ conception, birth and childhood, as well as incidents during his adult life and ministry, that could not have been witnessed by a disciple. How would they know, for example, what Gabriel said to Mary? What Satan offered Jesus on the mountain top? What Pilate dreamed? Yet, the gospel writers detail these events, which are clearly fabrications, with the same earnestness as the ones they may have personally witnessed. Where, then, does an objective observer decide the myths end and the facts begin?
I don’t see the problem with distinguishing the events that could not have been witnessed with those that clearly were. It does not follow that any of the events (seen or unseen) did not happen. I accept Jesus theological teaching about Heaven not because he showed it to anyone, but because Jesus showed us enough other stuff to make his teachings about what we have not seen trustworthy. If, after giving good evidence that He was authoritative and trustworthy, Jesus told someone the Satan story and they wrote it down, I have no problem with that.
Ultimately, to return to my original argument presented in my e-mail, if Jesus wants me to be saved, and could appear to me and convince me of this, and has so far chosen not to, I must conclude either He doesn’t want me to be saved, He doesn’t have the power to appear to me, or, far more likely, He doesn’t exist.
I don’t accept the premise that Jesus appearing to you would necessarily convince you, so the rest of the argument doesn’t follow. It is logically consistent to hold that Jesus exists, wants you to be saved, but thinks He has offered you enough evidence to achieve his purpose.