Challenge: Men Don’t Rise from the Dead

Posted: March 13, 2012 by Amy Hall in Jesus Changes Everything, Weekly Challenge

Easter is coming up soon, so here’s a related objection I hear from time to time:

We know from all of our experience of the world that men don’t rise from the dead. Therefore, it’s never reasonable to conclude from any historical “evidence” that a resurrection occurred. Any naturalistic explanation—even an outlandish, convoluted one—is more probable than an explanation that goes against what we know to be true about reality.

What do you think? Where would you take the conversation from here? This week, Brett will have a special guest to help him answer this challenge. Look for it on Thursday!

  1. Albert says:

    Interesting first sentence. Is all of our experience of the world taking into account the eye witness accounts of the apostles?
    And the second is just about the same. Why isn’t it reasonable? Just because it’s not an everyday event doesn’t mean it never happened.

    And it’s interesting that they would expect an “outlandish, convoluted” explanation one as more probable that what is written in the gospels.

    I see “bias” written all over this.

    I think there are a lot of things we would have to clarify, such as what is all of our experience mean to them. And what do they consider reasonable, or why do they expect a naturalistic explanation for a seemingly supernatural event? And what do they mean by outlandish , convoluted explanation.

    I, myself, tend to point to some of the youtube videos of Gary Habermas for explaining how the skeptics data can show that the historical documents of the bible can be traced to within 5 years from the resurrection which gives them a rather reasonable chance of showing that they have valid data.
    If we can get them to agree that at least the skeptic data is reasonable, I think there is a chance that they will start to be open to accepting that the supernatural events might have just happened.

    Well, that’s my two cents. I’m interested in seeing what everyone else writes!

  2. Elliot Neff says:

    If I’m not mistaken, this is an argument that Bart Ehrman presents in countless written works as well as debates. In short, it’s an argument against miracles across the board.

    I would take note that the challenger here has given no arguments whatsoever to come to the conclusion that a resurrection is unreasonable in all situations. A good, standard question would be, “How did you come to the conclusion that a resurrection is always unreasonable?” My guess is that the response would be, “Well, miracles are the most improbable event possible, so anything else– no matter how improbable– would have to be more probable than a miracle. Therefore, we should never believe that a miracle actually occured.” To follow that up, I think it would be fair to ask, “What reasons do you have for believing that miracles are so drastically improbable? Why should I believe that they are that unlikely?”

    Most likely, the skeptic would not know how to respond beyond that. If, however, they are a bit more “well-read” than others, they may point out arguments made by David Hume or Immanuel Kant. The odd thing is, however, that these arguments have been refuted for well over a century and have been proven fallacious.

    I would (mainly through insightful questions) try to point out to them the circularity in their argument. They ultimately have ruled out the possibility of miracles before they have arrived at the final premise of “miracles are not possible”. They’re saying:

    1. Miracles are not possible.
    2. The resurrection was a miracle.
    3. Therefore, the Resurrection did not occur (because it was a miracle).

    I would point out that if God exists at all, then miracles must be possible. After all, (if God exists) a fantastic miracle has already occured– namely, the creation of the universe out of nothing.

    Secondly, I would point out that we do not (and should not ever) immediately jump to the conclusion of a miracle. We should examine the situation and set it against the criteria for historicity (as Albert was alluding to above). Only when all other naturalistic explanations are shown to be unreasonable or greatly improbable should we conclude that a miracle has taken place. In the case of the Resurrection, I believe that this is exactly what has happened. We have much reason to believe that a genuine miracle has occured.

    Thirdly, I would clarify that we (obviously) do not believe that a person could rise from the dead naturally. Too often, the charge falls on Christians that our beliefs directly conflict with mainstream science. This simply is not true. Of course no one could rise from the dead naturally. We are arguing that Jesus rose from the dead supernaturally– that is, by the power of God.

  3. RTW says:

    The real words to discuss is what is “reasonable” and “natural.” If “reasonable” means beyond our common experience they are correct. I have never known anyone in all my 49 years to have died, and been dead for a few days, and come back to life. And actually, there is no one in history that makes that claim except for Jesus Christ. He singularly is the only person who rose from the dead by his own power. (Lazarus rose from the dead pursuant to Christ’s command.) It’s also not natural. The natural course of things are that when you are dead, you stay dead. There is no chemical, biological, physiological explanation for bringing a dead person back to life.

    But neither is the creation of the universe. It is not reasonable to believe that all matter and energy were combined in a single infitessimal point, then through a cosmic explosion, resulted in the Earth, our Sun, all the planets, and stars and galaxies in our universe. Or any of the complex organisms on Earth, including ourselves. We know they exist, but their creation is not part or our experience, nor will it ever be. And we can’t exactly explain the creation of the universe, particularly prior to the Big Bang, and we can’t give a step by step explanation for the creation of the cosmos by our present understanding of chemical, biological, physical sciences.

    But we know without a doubt, the Earth exists, we exist, the planets exist, the stars exists, and the universe exists. And for most nonbelievers, our lack of a reasonable or natural explanation for the creation of the universe does not stop one of them from believing that the universe exists. Imagine being in a spaceship for the first time to see the Planet Jupiter up close, the magnitude, the majesty. We can’t explain, we certainly can’t duplicate it. It is far beyond our understanding, and far beyond our ability to create. But we accept that it happened, it was created, and that it exists.

    The more I look at this argument, and I struggle with it, because I used to tend to believe we could persuade people into believing in God, and Jesus, but I don’t think some people will ever believe anything we put in front of them until they humble themselves before God and truly seek to know Him and His Word, and His Son. I know you could have made the most sound, logical, eloquent argument, superior to all others, and Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins would not change their mind because their heart is set on disbelieving in God.

  4. Dom says:

    This person seems to be saying a few things.
    1. If a thing or event is not experienced visually or otherwise its not likely to have occurred or be real. To this one would have to deny the existence of the universe. It’s inseption is not something that can be experienced or observed nor is it common. This also assumes natural knowledge to be the only true knowledge due to a persons ability to see it. The laws of logic at this point should be a strong example arguing against “natural” knowledge due to our inability to verify it by physical means. If you don’t have immaterial logic to support the understanding of a material natural world we no longer have a foundation for science… Not exhaustive but a decent start..

  5. Jane Clark says:

    If he was ONLY a man, that would be a problem.

  6. Sam Harper says:

    “We know from all of our experience of the world that men don’t rise from the dead.”

    This is circular reasoning. If it turns out that some people HAVE had experiences of resurrected people, then this statement is not true. So this statement assumes that nobody has ever had an experience of a risen person.

    Now, granted, if resurrections actually happen, they are extremely rare, because even the number of CLAIMED resurrections in history have been very rare when compared to the number of people who have actually died.

    But to argue from that observations is just to say that rare events don’t happen or are highly unlikely to happen. But it doesn’t take much evidence to show that a rare event happened. Many examples can be cited. Up until the 1960’s, nobody had ever gone to the moon. But it didn’t take much evidence to convince people that the first people DID go to the moon.

    If we take this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we’d have to reject all of quantum physics. The first observations were completely contrary to anything anybody had ever experienced up to that time. So by the above reasoning, nobody should’ve believed the scientists who claimed to observe it. Likewise with the next group of scientists who claimed to observe the same thing. Etc. etc.

  7. bobby says:

    i would agree with the challenger “Men Don’t Rise from the Dead” but thats what make the Ressurection Unique – it shows that christanity is the one true Religion if it happened – think about it if dead people rose from the dead all the time Christanity wouldnt be so special like it is today.

    and if the person said “Therefore, it’s never reasonable to conclude from any historical “evidence” that a resurrection occurred. Any naturalistic explanation—even an outlandish, convoluted one—is more probable than an explanation that goes against what we know to be true about reality.” i would then ask them to give my a naturalistic explanation that best explains the data – its not going to do them any good to just assert theres a “naturalistic explanation that best explains the data”.

  8. First, I would ask the critic if he is trying to say that the resurrection of Christ is impossible. If he says yes, I would further clarify if he means it was logically impossible or we have no other verifiable cases of such an event. If the former, I would point out that while the resurrection may be a very uncommon event, it is not logically impossible. If the Bible said that Christ had created a square circle, we would be justified in saying that did not happen because a square circle is a logical contradiction that could not exist in any universe. However, the resurrection is not the same as this analogy and therefore cannot be called impossible. If the latter, he is probably trying to say that the resurrection violates natural law.

    This topic came up in the Michael Shermer vs. John Lennox debate in Australia. Shermer claimed that we have no verifiable cases of miracles (miracles being the suspension of natural law) ever happening. Any so called “miracles” that happen today might have happened anyway with perfectly natural explanations. He therefore concluded that Christ either did not rise from the dead, or if he did, there was a perfectly natural explanation.

    Lennox responded with this analogy: If you count out 200 dollars plus 200 dollars in your bedside drawer and wake up the next morning to find only 100 dollars, you don’t say, “The laws of arithmetic have been broken.” You say, “The laws of Australia have been broken.” It is your knowledge of the laws of arithmetic that allow you to know that the laws have not been broken, rather something else has entered the equation. So it is with the resurrection of Christ. Men do not rise from the dead just like money does not spontaneously disappear, but something else has entered the equation, that being God himself. The laws of nature have not been broken, but God has fed something supernatural into them.

    Therefore, this challenge holds no merit. We cannot rule out the resurrection as impossible based on either logic or natural law. We then have to turn to what evidence we do have, that primarily being historical, and the overwhelming evidence of history points to the resurrection of Christ.