Do Christ’s divinity and resurrection defy common sense?
“The ghostly presence of virtual particles defies rational common sense and is non-intuitive for those unacquainted with physics. Religious belief in God, and Christian belief that God became Man around two thousand years ago, may seem strange to common-sense thinking. But when the most elementary physical things behave in this way, we should be prepared to accept that the deepest aspects of our existence go beyond our common-sense intuitions.”
–Nobel Prize winning physicist Tony Hewish, as cited in the foreword to John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale’s book Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief.
The following piece of “common sense” wisdom spread like wildfire in early 2006, and before: “Real estate prices only go up, because they aren’t making any more land…so invest in real estate.” Sadly, many people uncritically accepted this “common sense” view just before the real estate collapse of 2006. Largely, this was the result of failing to expend the time and effort necessary to arm oneself with all of the facts and reasoning available, so as to ensure that one’s “common sense” was truly a fully informed common sense. (And if I was one of those people, I would never admit it). Passively accepting “common sense” wisdom from one’s social/cultural environment can have dire consequences, because one cannot be certain that one has all of the facts unless one actually does the homework.
For a very select few who did the “heavy lifting” necessary to fully inform themselves about the true nature of the real estate market, however, not only was financial disaster averted, but fortunes were made. The hedge fund manager John Paulson, for example, made billions of dollars from the real estate crash by correctly assessing the true nature of the real-estate market…a bubble about to burst. In a similar light, to those willing to invest the time and effort in examining the claims about the divinity of Jesus, a spiritual fortune awaits. Fortunately, the time and effort required to obtain this spiritual fortune is far less than that which was required of those who profited from the real estate crash. This is partly due to the fact that much of the “heavy lifting” has already been done by others.
Albert Einstein once commented that, “It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom.” And the biblical claims surrounding Jesus’ divinity and resurrection are prejudicially rejected by many….with little or no examination of the evidence. Why expend time and effort examining the claims about Jesus’ divinity and resurrection—goes the “common sense” reasoning of many—when there is no good reason to believe in anything that is non-material? If we live in a world that is (as far as we can tell) made up of nothing but material objects, what reason is there to waste time and effort thinking about things of a non-material/spiritual nature? Why believe in the spiritual when the only things we can perceive with our five senses are material things?
Contrary to our “common sense” impressions, the universe is mental/spiritual rather than material.
Unfortunately for those who do not want the inconvenience of the “heavy lifting” involved in carefully examining the biblical claims regarding Jesus, denial of the spiritual is a very weak starting point.
And, as I point out in God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism, modern physics has shown that, contrary to the “common sense” intuitions of popular thought, the fundamental character of the universe is mental/spiritual, rather than material. As Johns Hopkins University physicist Richard Conn Henry puts it in the concluding paragraph of his Nature magazine essay titled The Mental Universe, “The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.” And if our universe is mental/spiritual, what choice do we have but to conclude that it is the product of a mind/spirit? (Read: God).
As Johns Hopkins University physicist Richard Conn Henry puts it in the concluding paragraph of his Nature magazine essay titled The Mental Universe, “The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.” And if our universe is mental/spiritual, what choice do we have but to conclude that it is the product of a mind/spirit? (Read: God).
Earlier in the above mentioned essay, Henry writes:
“The 1925 discovery of quantum mechanics solved the problem of the Universe’s nature. Bright physicists were again led to believe the unbelievable — this time, that the Universe is mental. According to [the knighted physicist, mathematician, and astronomer] Sir James Jeans: ‘The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter… we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.’ But physicists have not yet followed Galileo’s example, and convinced everyone of the wonders of quantum mechanics. As [the great physicist] Sir Arthur Eddington explained: ‘It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character.”
And if rank-and-file physicists have a hard time accepting the mental/spiritual nature of the universe, it should be no mystery why the general public understanding has not caught up with the insights of modern physics. Elsewhere, Henry elaborates on the topic of why the insights of modern physics have failed to successfully penetrate the general public understanding:
“Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism.” [Underlining is mine]
Accepting that it is the material world which is an illusion, and that it is the spiritual world which is real, involves a much too unsettling and inconvenient trip down the rabbit hole (to borrow from Alice in Wonderland) for many. (Please read Mindful Universe by University of California, Berkeley physicist Henry Stapp, and The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries that Challenge Our Understanding of Physical Reality by physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin, as well as my essay God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism for a further exploration of this topic).
The perception that only the material world is real (and that the mental/spiritual world is an illusion) has been debunked by modern physics.
Further, the commonplace perception that only the material world is real (and that the spiritual world is an illusion) is a perception which has become ever more deeply entrenched in our culture over the course of the last several hundred years. Such deeply entrenched elements of the general public understanding do not become dislodged overnight. To cite another example from history, the educated elites accepted that the earth is a sphere (rather than flat) several hundred years before the average person. Physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin explain how materialism (the view that only the material world is real) became so deeply entrenched in our culture, in their book The Matter Myth (mentioned above), in the chapter titled The Death of Materialism:
[Isaac] Newton’s view of matter as inert substance shaped and formed by external forces became deeply ingrained in Western culture.
“…At the time of the publication of the Principia [Newton’s seminal work] the most sophisticated machines were clocks, and Newton’s image of the working of nature as an elaborate clockwork struck a deep chord.” “…It is hard to overstate the impact that these physical images have had in shaping our world view. The doctrine that the physical universe consists of inert matter locked into a sort of gigantic deterministic clockwork has penetrated all branches of human inquiry. Materialism dominates biology, for example. Living organisms are regarded as nothing more than complicated collections of particles, each being blindly pulled and pushed by its neighbors.”
Lastly, a theistic view of the universe is distasteful to many because the concept of having to answer to a higher moral authority is an affront to one’s moral autonomy. I discuss this topic in much greater depth in If the evidence for God is so strong, why are so many smart people unconvinced? As a result, many “cling with…ferocity to a mind-independent [material only] reality,” in the above cited words of physicist Richard Conn Henry. It is not inappropriate, then, to compare those who dismiss the claims of Christ’s divinity and resurrection, based upon a denial of the spiritual, with those who dismiss any notion that real-estate prices could go down sharply, based upon a denial that such an event is possible.
An exhaustive exploration of the evidence for Christ’s divinity and resurrection would be impossible in the short span of an essay. However, what I can do is introduce the reader to brief excerpts of arguments from individuals who began their exploration of the gospels as hardened skeptics…but, as a result of their research, became believers. One such individual was the British journalist Frank Morrison. As an atheist setting out to write a book debunking the miraculous claims of the gospels, Morrison, much to his own amazement, eventually found himself, instead, writing a book confirming these miraculous claims. His book Who Moved the Stone? is, in his own words, “the inner story of a man who originally set out to write one kind of book and found himself compelled by the sheer force of circumstances to write another.” Below is an excerpt:
“The modern reader, coming to these [biblical] passages with a certain instinctive reluctance to accept anything that transcends the field of normal experience is inclined to say, ‘I can understand Jesus predicting His own death. He must have foreseen what was the probable outcome of the ever-widening gap between Himself and the priests, and I think it is not unlikely that He may have prepared the disciples privately for the event. But surely these direct references to His rising from the dead can have been written only after His death and are not an integral part of the original utterances.’ Let us admit frankly that it does look like that at first sight.”
“However, when we come to examine closely the minutes of this trial with all its primitive marks of authenticity, its meticulous and, in the end, fruitless hearing of hostile witnesses, we make the startling discovery that these very words (‘in three days’), which reason asserts could never have been uttered by Christ, are precisely the words that according to all the witnesses formed the pith and core of the fatal and historic sentence with which He was charged. It would have been a strange coincidence indeed if the one sentence chosen by the enemies of Christ on which to base the most deadly charge they could bring against Him found no counterpart or parallel whatever in all the varied teaching of the two preceding years.”
Warner Wallace is a former cold-case homicide detective who, like Morrison, began his exploration of the gospels as a hardened skeptic (and atheist). Wallace’s experience as a cold-case detective provided him with an expertise in analyzing written eyewitness statements, which he was able to apply to the eyewitness accounts of the gospels. He writes in his book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels:
“In the end, it all comes down to the reliability of these accounts. When I was a nonbeliever, I heard Christians talk about the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible, at least as these terms are typically applied to the original manuscripts that were composed by the authors. I examined these concepts in depth in seminary many years later, but as I first read the accounts in the Gospels, I was far more interested in evaluating their reliability as eyewitness accounts than their inerrancy as divine communiqués. I knew from my experience as a detective that the best eyewitness accounts contained points of disagreement and that this did not automatically invalidate their reliability.”
“If it was God’s desire to provide us with an accurate and reliable account of the life of Jesus, an account we could trust and recognize as consistent with other forms of eyewitness testimony, God surely accomplished it with the four gospel accounts. Yes, the accounts are messy. They are filled with idiosyncrasies and personal perspectives along with common retellings of familiar stories. There are places where critics can argue that there appear to be contradictions, and there are places where each account focuses on something important to the author, while ignoring details of importance to other writers. But would we expect anything less from true, reliable eyewitness accounts? I certainly would not, based on what I’ve seen over the years.”
But perhaps the most prominent example of an atheist who became a believer as a result of his research into the gospels was C.S. Lewis: A Professor of Medieval and Renaissance studies at Cambridge University, Lewis was a mythology expert of the highest caliber (with a photographic memory). Art Lindsley recalls in C.S. Lewis’ Case for Christ that:
“When Lewis examined the Gospel narratives, having already become an expert in mythology, he was surprised to find that his literary judgment told him that they were more than myths:”
“[Lewis wrote] ‘I was now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter that they set down in their artless, historical fashion…was precisely the matter of the great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh: God, Man.’”
And, regarding the reliability of the Gospel accounts, Norman Geisler notes in Who Made God?: And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith:
“Simon Greenleaf, one of history’s greatest legal minds, former Harvard law professor, and author of a book on legal evidence, carefully applied the rules of legal evidence to the Gospel accounts in his book The Testimony of the Evangelists. He argued that if the Gospels were submitted to the scrutiny of a court of law, ‘then it is believed that every honest and impartial man will act consistently with that result, by receiving their testimony in all the extent of its import.’ He added, ‘Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth.’”
I would like to conclude this essay by quoting scripture. But before any hardened atheist or agnostic readers click away from this page in disgust, I should mention that I have decided to spice things up by quoting HINDU scripture (The Vedas which date to at least 1200 B.C. and the Upanishads which date to around 500-400 B.C….as excerpted from The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of Jesus by Roy Abraham Varghese). I do this in order to give a taste of the references to God’s self-sacrifice on the cross which are present in other cultures and time periods (which I detail in Which God Is Real?) :
“The Supreme Creator took a perfect human body (Nishkalanka Purusha) and offered it up as a self-sacrifice (Brihad Aranyak Upanishad 1:2:8).”
“If you want to be delivered from the sin, which you commit through eyes, mouth, ears and mind, bloodshed is necessary. Without shedding the blood, there is no remission for sin. That must be the blood of the Holy one. God is our creator. He is our King. When we were perishing, He came to save us by offering even his own body on our behalf.” (Tandya Mahabrahmana 4.15).
“The redemption is through shedding of blood only and that blood has to be through the sacrifice of God himself.” (Taittiriya Aranyaka, verse 3).
“This [sacrifice] is the only way for the redemption and liberation of mankind. Those who meditate and attain this man, believe in heart and chant with the lips, get liberated in this world itself and there is no other way for salvation too.” (Yajur-Veda 31:18)
“The Purusha was above sin, and only in knowing him does one attain immortality.” (Chandogyopanishad 1:6:6-7)
“After giving Himself as the supreme sacrifice, this Purush resurrected himself.” (Brihadaranyakaopanishad 220.127.116.11-5; Kathopanishad 3: 15).
“The purpose of this sacrifice is to provide the only way to Heaven and the only way to escape from Hell.” (Rig-Veda 9:113:7-11; 4:5:5; 7:104:3).
“His hands and legs are to be bound to a yoopa [a wooden pole] causing blood shed.” (Brihadaranyakaopanishad 3.9.28; Aitareya Brahmana 2:6).
“The sacrificial victim is to be crowned with a crown made of thorny vines.” (Rig-Veda 10:90:7, Brihadaranyakaopanishad 3:9:28).
“Before death he should be given a drink of somarasa [sour wine made of an herb called somalatha].” (Yajur-Veda 31).
“None of His bones must be broken.” (Yajur-Veda 31:; Aitareya Brahmana 2:6)
“We are still uncovering the mysteries of what constitutes matter. Quantum physics discloses that ’empty’ space and strange characteristics of probabilities and nonmaterial information underlie the existence of what we perceive as solid matter. (See my discussion in A Case for the Existence of God.) The God behind these bizarre aspects of our physical nature must have considerable ability to make changes that could conceivably result in a resurrection. Why are we so amazed at the concept of a bodily resurrection when our science has given substantial verification to a model of a surreal network of probabilities and non-material information underlying the existence of all physical things? Why should we so limit our understanding of what is possible, given the very strange nature of the extremely successful model of quantum physics?”
Former Oxford University Templeton Scholar Dean Overman, as cited in A Case for the Divinity of Jesus: Examining the Earliest Evidence
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