Saturday, February 27, 2010

Evolution & Christianity, Part I - What is Evolutionary Theory?

I. The Importance of Addressing Evolution

This morning I want to talk about the relationship between evolution and Christianity – a controversial topic, but one which needs to be addressed. Why is this an essential topic to address?

A. Evolution is a major cause of unbelief

First, evolution is perhaps the major intellectual cause of unbelief in North America today. That is, for people who either renounce or reject Christian theism, evolution is the most commonly cited reason. Specifically, students will often claim, “I was presented with the evidence for evolution, and saw that evolution is incompatible with Christianity. The evidence for evolution seems overwhelming; thus, I have to reject Christianity, as it seems based on faith rather than fact.”
A major purpose of Christian apologetics is providing struggling or doubting Christians with reasons to continue to believe – what I call closing the back door of the church. We must face the reality that there are probably hundreds of thousands of Christian students who are slowly being persuaded that evolution makes Christianity impossible.

B. Evolution is a major contemporary worldview

Second, as Christians, we need to understand the times that we live in, and the mindset of people in our world. Evolution is a, perhaps the, dominant cultural worldview in North America today. In order to understand how folks are thinking, we need to grasp the variations and implications of evolution.

II. The Importance of Defining and Understanding Evolution

Understanding evolution is easier said than done, partly because it is often undefined, poorly defined, or just defined differently by different people. Let’s take a look at the three major ways that people can and have defined (and understood) evolution.

A. Micro-Evolution (Adaptation)

In its simplest and least controversial definition, evolution is simply adaptation – the ability of a species to adapt to a changing environment in order to survive and thrive. Thus, for example, in famous studies of Galapagos finches, the average size and shape of beaks was observed to change in accordance with unusually dry or unusually wet climate cycles and the resultant change in food sources and abundance. Alternatively, we can see the increase in average human height and weight over the past two hundred years in response to improved medical care and availability of food.

This brand of evolution is called “micro-evolution,” although it should more naturally be designated simple adaptation. There is no question whatsoever that this type of evolutionary theory is perfectly compatible with orthodox Christianity.

B. Macro-Evolution (Darwinism)

The second common way of understanding and defining evolution is classical Darwinism, or ‘macro-evolution’. This begins with the observations and thesis in the first (adaptational) definition of evolution, but builds upon it. Darwinism, as classically expressed in Charles Darwin’s 1859 blockbuster The Origin of Species, extrapolates from variations within species, and posits variation between species. The adaptations that we see, for example in finch beaks, continue and compound over time, and eventually result in speciation – or alteration from one species into a new, distinct, species. Thus, for example, the Galapagos finches, whose beaks change in response to changes in the food supply, would speciate into a new variation of bird entirely if the changes in food supply became permanent.
The mechanism through which speciation occurs is random mutation and natural selection. Random mutation simply identifies random genetic mutations which result in offspring with slight differences from the parent. Natural selection indicates the reason that some random mutations are preserved in future generations while others are not. Simply put, Darwin’s theory was that some mutations were beneficial for the survival and success of an organism, and for that reason were preserved through reproduction. The offspring of the positive mutant also contain the mutation, and thus are better adapted to survive and thrive; they then pass along the mutated gene to their offspring, etc.

Over time, these gradual, cumulative changes accrue in offspring, and eventually result in a specimen which is distinct from the distant ancestor. Thus, for example, if we observed, say, 100 generations of Galapagos finches evolving within an altered (but stable) environment, the finches in that hundredth generation may well be so different from the first generation that they would be an entirely new species of finch.

Extrapolated over millions (or billions) of years, the accumulation of gradual changes within species are responsible for what we observe as the tree of life. Darwin traced the incredible variety and proliferation of biological life on earth back to a common ancestor, the original life-form on earth. Now, it is essential to note that Darwin’s common ancestor was a robust organism with the five senses which we are accustomed to enjoying. Most contemporary evolutionists insist that our common ancestor was not this robust organism posited by Darwin, but rather was a single-celled organism, with no sensory experience at all. In that sense, they are not Darwinists, but rather neo-Darwinists – Darwinists with a difference.

At any rate, this definition and understanding of evolution begins with the common ancestor, and argues that all life (including human beings) have descended from that common ancestor through a combination of random mutation and natural selection.

Is this understanding of evolution compatible with Christianity? This is a hotly-debated issue, and I don’t pretend to have the final answer - nonetheless, I will contribute my thoughts on the issue. There are a number of Christian thinkers who are known as “theistic evolutionists,” or “evolutionary creationists,” or any other number of terms that indicate that they embrace both biblical Christianity and macro-evolutionary theory. Theistic evolution, generally speaking, accepts the precepts of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and seeks to accommodate it within a theistic (i.e. Christian) worldview. Hence, they may say something like: “Evolution is the mechanism by which God went about a part of His Creative work.” For a theistic evolutionist such as Dennis Lamoureux (a professor at my alma mater, the University of Alberta), the general truth of evolutionary theory does not undermines or challenge his faith in the God of the Bible – rather, it enhances it. Dr. Lamoureux speaks of how evolution helps Him to understand more of the mind and the workings of God Almighty.

While theistic evolutionists understand Christianity and evolution to be compatible, the general tenor of evangelical conversation insists that there is absolutely no way to reconcile evolutionary theory with Christianity, and that theistic evolutionists are basically betraying their Lord and Savior (or, in a popular and effective phrase, ‘giving away the store’).

Speaking personally, I think this is incorrect. First off, there are theistic evolutionists who, in my estimation, hold a sincere, evangelical faith themselves – Richard Swinburne, Alister McGrath, Dennis Lamoureux. I may not agree with them on everything (particularly on the question of evolution), but I am unwilling to brand them heretics on account of their evolutionary views. I believe that evolution can potentially be reconciled with a biblical worldview. That is, I do not think it is necessarily a contradiction in terms for someone to be called a “Christian evolutionist”. I do think that this requires a major revision of the first plank of Darwinism – random mutation – as the driving process to evolutionary change; but theistic evolutionists generally make that revision, and speak of the process of natural selection being guided by the purpose and direction of an omniscient God (one exception seems to be Francis Collins, who I suspect is an open theist). [At this point, one could very legitimately question whether theistic evolutionists are evolutionists at all, since Darwinism holds to an undirectly, random process of mutation. Theistic evolutionists would simply respond by identifying natural selection as the key mechanism of Darwinism, and random mutation as an additional philosophical thesis piled on top.]

Let me give you two examples to hopefully illustrate what I am getting at here.

First, imagine being a sincere, Bible-believing Christian in Galileo’s days. You’ve been hearing that there’s this new guy who is proposing that the earth is not the center of the universe, but that rather the earth revolves around the sun. This is major news, because for centuries the dominant worldview has been geocentric. Now this crazy Italian is proposing a heliocentric model of the solar system. I am hopeful that, if I happened to be alive during Galileo’s days, I would have had the wisdom and discernment to see that heliocentrism did not contradict biblical Christianity. I probably would not have leapt up and defended Galileo’s model, proclaiming that it “must be true because it isn’t contradictory to our faith”; however, I hope that I would not have branded him a heretic for proposing a system which contravened general scientific thought at the time. And, of course, as things turned out, Galileo’s model turns out to be right, and everyone now realizes that it is not in the least bit threatening to the Christian faith.

Second, imagine, just for the sake of argument, that there does exist intelligent life somewhere on a distant planet in the far corner of the universe. If you’re like me, this requires you to suspend disbelief, but go with it. Does the existence of life elsewhere in the universe contradict biblical Christianity? I don’t think there’s any way that we can conclude that it does. It would certainly require us to refine some of the ways that we think about the universe, but there is nothing in the tenets of our faith which dogmatically require us to believe that there cannot be life out there somewhere.

With both of these issues – heliocentrism and extraterrestrial life – the main question is not whether they contradict biblical Christianity, but rather whether or not they are true. With heliocentrism, we understand that it is a true theory which does not contradict our faith. With extraterrestrial life, I understand (and I hope you do too) that it is a false theory which nonetheless, if true, would not contradict our faith.

This is the mindset with which I would argue we need to approach the issue of evolutionary theory. I propose that it is not inherently contradictory to our Christian faith. But the more important question then becomes: is it true? If it is true, then we better do the hard work and reconcile it to our worldview; if not (and, as will become clear, I highly suspect that evolution is not true), then we should reject it as being false. However, before we launch into a critical examination of Darwinism, let’s look at the third understanding or definition of Darwinism current in society today.

C. Evolution as a Worldview

This understanding of evolution includes both of the above definitions – adaptation and descent from a common ancestor, but goes further yet, and develops evolutionary theory into an all-encompassing worldview.

First, worldview evolution includes a professed explanation for the origin of life on earth. Remember, classical Darwinism begins with life (robust life at that) and argues common descent from that point. Worldview evolution seeks also to explain how life came to be. The argument, put simply, is that life evolved through the same random processes combined with natural selection that later resulted in the proliferation of life on earth. The early earth, it is held, contained some kind of prebiotic soup (the contents of which are hotly debated); out of that interacting prebiotic soup, plus the external application of energy (through lightning, etc.), enzymes formed, combined into proteins, and eventually, given enough time, resulted in the formation of the first simple life form – a single-celled organism that we’ll call Adam. Adam managed to reproduce himself, and from this earliest simple life-form, again given sufficient time, all of life evolved.

Second, worldview evolution includes an explanation of the universe itself. That is, the grand narrative of evolution explains how the universe came to be, and why it is structured the way that it is. Most often, worldview evolution invokes the majesty of multiverse theory as the explanatory mechanism for the universe.
Third, worldview evolution includes an explanation of sociality – that is, human ethics and religion. According to the grand evolutionary story, human morality and spirituality have evolved over time. Ethics and religion are, or at least were at one time, facets of existence which facilitated human survival and flourishing. I will devote future blogs to these topics of conversation, so I won’t spend more time on them right now. What is essential to note is simply that the worldview version of evolution seeks to provide a natural (and naturalistic) explanation for human morality and spirituality.

Is this version of evolution compatible with Christianity? While it is clear that the first definition of evolution (micro-evolution or adaptation) is perfectly compatible with Christianity; and the second definition of evolution (macro-evolution or classical Darwinism, descent from a common ancestor) is potentially compatible with Christianity; this third definition of evolution is quite clearly not compatible with Christianity. The main Darwinian mechanism of random mutation and natural selection has already sought to remove the concept of design or teleology from an explanation of biological life. The further worldview understanding that evolution is sufficient to explain the origin of life itself and the existence and nature of human morality and religion, has entirely removed the possibility of the divine from the scope of reality. God is not required (or permitted?) as the originator of biological life. God is not required (or permitted?) as the explanation for the existence and fine-tuning of the universe. God is not required (or permitted?) as the explanation for the unquenchable religious spirit of humanity. God is not required (or permitted?) as the explanation for the undeniability of ethical absolutes. God has been irrevocably removed from the picture of life, the universe, and everything.
When evolution becomes an all-encompassing worldview in this way, theism has been explicitly rejected and rendered impossible. Evolution is no longer a part of the story – evolution is the whole story.

D. Which Version of Evolution is Predominant?

In terms of what is presented and evidentially defended in academia and society, the second version of evolution is predominant. When college students come face-to-face with evolutionary theory, it is the idea of common descent that first confronts them. However, underneath the presented understanding of evolution usually lies a worldview which has been affected and eventually enveloped by naturalistic evolution – the third definition of evolution. The scientific evidence, so far as it goes, supports only the second picture of evolution. The extrapolation to the third definition requires philosophical assumptions and the imposition of a naturalistic worldview.

What this discussion has hopefully uncovered is the necessity of identifying exactly what someone means when they say, “I can’t believe in Christianity – I believe in evolution.” What kind of evolution do they believe in? On what basis do they believe in the evolution that they have embraced? [Incidentally, I think this is also true when someone around us says, “I am a Christian.” We ought to ask, “Well, what kind of a Christian are you? Biblical? Cultural? Revolutionary? Orthodox? And on what basis do you embrace Christianity? “] We should not simply assume that we know what someone means when they say they accept evolution as the explanation for life. Ask them. Find out exactly what they mean. Then you can address them in terms of what they actually believe, rather than on the basis of what you presume they believe (based on your own understanding of cultural evolution).

In my next post, I will assess the value of evolutionary theory, and show the reasons why I think it is probably untrue (in both the second and third variations discussed above).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is There a God? The Evidence of Design

In my last post, I presented some contemporary astronomical evidence that points towards the existence of a transcendent Creator - a being outside of time and space (the universe as we know it) who brought the universe into existence. In this post, I want to continue by presenting clues from the intricate design, or fine-tuning, of our universe. In a nutshell, the clue that we are looking at acknowledges that the universe looks exquisitely fine-tuned in order to support the development and support of life, particularly human life on earth; and that the natural conclusion to draw is that the universe is actually designed.

II. The Clue From Design – the Teleological Argument for God’s Existence

If the origins of our universe strongly points towards the existence of God, the fine-tuning of our universe is both an argument for God’s existence, and an indication of God’s intimate concern with humanity. The anthropic principle points to the various ways in which the universe seems uniquely designed in order to support human life on earth. The anthropic principle demonstrates the immense range of cosmological constants and physical laws which are necessary for the universe to have the qualities necessary for human life to flourish upon Earth.

Proponents of the anthropic principle argue that the precise nature of the universe’s construction is finely-tuned in just such a way as to make life possible, and that it is nearly impossible that this fine tuning could have arisen from random chance. Instead, the fine-tuning of the universe is direct evidence for the existence of a Creator who ensured that the universe would spawn life on Earth.
There are many things about our universe which need to be “just so” in order for life to be possible anywhere in the universe. Hugh Ross has made his life’s work studying the fine-tuning of the universe and its suitability for life. He relates 35 different laws and constants which are precisely arranged in order for life to exist in the universe. We will briefly examine just three of them - the cosmological constant, the electromagnetic force constant, and the relationship between the gravitational and electromagnetic constants.

1. Our Finely-Tuned Universe

A. The Cosmological Constant

The cosmological constant “is best described as a self-stretching property of the space-time fabric of the universe.” It acts against gravitational force to govern the rate of expansion of the universe. The constant has to be precisely fine-tuned. Why? If the cosmological constant were even slightly smaller than it is, then the early expansion of the universe would not have been rapid enough to have overcome the force of gravity - the universe would have collapsed back in upon itself almost instantly after the Big Bang. If, on the other hand, the cosmological constant were even slightly larger than it is, the universe would have expanded much more rapidly, so that galaxies and stars would not have been able to form. As Francis Collins says, “The unexpected, counterintuitive, and stunningly precise setting of the cosmological constant is widely regarded as the single greatest problem facing physics and cosmology today.”

B. Electromagnetic Force

The electromagnetic force, along with the ratio of the mass of the electron to the mass of the proton, governs the ability and rate of molecular bonding. Molecular bonding is necessary for life because the molecules necessary for life require the bonding ability of at least 40 different elements. The electromagnetic force governs the attraction of elements to one another. It is set precisely so as to allow molecular bonding at the rate necessary for life to flourish. If the force were even 0.3% stronger than it is, then atoms would be so tightly bound to their electrons that they would never be shared with other atoms. No molecular bonding would occur. If, on the other hand, the electromagnetic force were even 2% weaker than it is, then atoms would not be bound to their electrons at all, and they would never be able to share electrons with one another - again, no molecular bonding would take place. Either way, life would be “impossible at any time and any place within the universe.”

C. Electromagnetism and Gravitational Force

Another precise example of cosmic fine-tuning is the relationship between the electromagnetic force constant and the gravitational force constant. The two interact together to govern star creation. “If the electromagnetic force relative to gravity were increased by just one part in 10[40] , only large stars would form. And, if it were decreased by just one part in 10[40], only small stars would form. But for life to be possible in the universe, both large and small stars must exist. The large stars must exist because only in their thermonuclear furnaces are most of the life-essential elements produced. The small stars like the sun must exist because only small stars burn long enough and stably enough to sustain a planet with life.”

D. Other Necessary Universal Constants

These are just three of the physical and cosmological constants which are required to be precisely configured in order for life to be possible anywhere in the galaxy. Others include the strong and weak nuclear force constants, the gravitational force constant, the entropy level of the universe, the mass density of the universe, the speed of light, the initial uniformity of radiation caused by the Big Bang, average distance between galaxies, the decay rate of the proton, the mass excess of the neutron over the proton, and the ratio of the mass of exotic (dark) matter to ordinary matter. All of these universal constants are required to be very finely-tuned in order for life to be possible. The fact that all of them are precisely fine-tuned is evidence that there was a transcendent, supernatural being behind the origin of the universe - Davis proclaims that “this remarkable fine-tuning of the universe cries out for a philosophical or theological explanation.”
It’s supremely improbable that the fine-tuning of the universe could have occurred at random, but it’s not at all improbable if it were the work of an intelligent designer.

To this point, we have considered only the universal laws and constants that are required for life to exist anywhere in the universe at any time. There are also laws and constants that are necessary for life to be possible on a particular planet within a particular galaxy somewhere in the universe. Ross has documented 122 such parameters, of varying degrees of probability. Space does not permit a discussion of these parameters here, but Ross concludes that the possibility of all parameters being met in any single planet is 10[-160], and that accordingly, it is virtually impossible to expect that there would be even one planet anywhere in the universe that meets all of the criteria necessary for life to emerge. Thus, the fact that we live on such a planet is itself in defiance of all expectations and odds. The universe seems to be rigged to allow life to exist somewhere; it seems to be further fine-tuned so as to produce intelligent life on earth. Hugh Ross concludes:
“While there is not the remotest chance that the natural conditions and physical laws of the universe will spawn a planet capable of sustaining physical life, there is nothing to stop the Creator of the universe from miraculously designing several planets, rather than just one, with the capacity to support life. The question of how many planets God created for physical life is open to speculation.”

2. The Undeniability of Apparent Design

The logic of the anthropic principle as a theological argument for God’s existence is accepted even by those who do not agree with the outcome of the anthropic principle:

Francis Crick - “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the condiions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature, p. 88. Crick immediately goes on to argue that this does not mean we should believe that life is a miracle. See Crick, pp. 88-105.

Paul Davies - Davies, Cosmic Jackpot, p. 132-151. “The collection of felicitous ‘coincidences’ in physics and cosmology implies that the Great Designer had better set the knobs carefully, or the universe would be a very inhospitable place.” (p. 146) “Scientists have long been aware that the universe seems strangely suited to life, but they chose mostly to ignore it. It was an embarrassment - it looked too much like the work of a Cosmic Designer.” (p. 151) Davies then proceeds to argue that the fine tuning only appears that way because our universe is just one bubble in the extravagant multiverse.

Richard Dawkins - Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 143. “The actual number [of six cosmological constants] sits in a Goldilocks band of values outside which life would not have been possible. How should we respond to this?” (p. 143) Dawkins proceeds to dismiss the work of a divine designer, arguing instead for multiverse theory. (p. 143-145)

Stephen Hawking - Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p.126-130. “The laws of science … contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” (p. 129) “Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty. One can take this either as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as support for the Strong Anthropic Principle.” (p. 130) The Strong Anthropic Principle as Hawking defines it holds that “there are either many different universes or many different regions of a single universe, each with its own initial configuration and, perhaps, with its own set of laws of science. In most of these universes the conditions would not be right for the development of complicated organisms; only in the few universes that are like ours would intelligent beings develop.” (p. 129).

Such scientists find a different explanation for the apparent cosmic fine-tuning of the universe. The notion of invoking the divine to explain the universe is just beyond comprehension - it is outside the "pool of live options" contained within their worldview - and so they design alternative explanations. This is the primary reason for the current popularity of multiverse theory - it not only gives a partial explanation for the origin of our universe (although as we have seen, this explanation is entirely unsatisfactory), but it also gives as a palatable naturalistic explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. Because there are countless (perhaps infinite) universes that are generated by the multiverse, and because each universe will be governed by different physical laws and astronomical constants, then it is inevitable that one of those bubble universes will have the laws and constants necessary for the emergence of life. We just happen to be living in such a universe.

It must be admitted that multiverse theory does present an alternative explanation of the cosmological data demonstrating both the finite origin of our universe, and the obvious fine-tuning that has made our universe suitable for human life on earth. The problems raised earlier with multiverse theory remain, however. The multiverse itself requires an explanation, and exists in the absence of concrete evidence.

As a theist, I wish that I could say that the evidence we have examined to this point conclusively proves the existence of God. But this would be a stretch. It is fair to say that the evidence clearly points in the direction of the existence of a transcendent, supernatural creator of the universe; but it falls short of conclusive proof. There are alternative ways of explaining the data. The alternatives, however, do seem to fall logically short of the theistic explanation. It is, indeed, “quite reasonable to choose the design theory over the chance theory.”

3. What is Your Levitating Super-Turtle?

Paul Davies, although he personally adheres to multiverse theory, openly admits that theistic explanations of the universe are just as rationally defensible. He describes an age-old illustration where an old lady debates a cosmologist by claiming that the universe is carried on the back of a turtle, which is on the back of another turtle, and in fact “it’s turtles all the way down.” Then he goes on to say that, ultimately, everyone seeking an explanation for the universe accepts, at some point, what he calls “their levitating super-turtle” to bolster their universal model.

“Scientists who crave a theory of everything with no free parameters are happy to accept the equations of that theory … as their levitating super-turtle. That is their starting point. … Multiverse devotees … accept a package of wonders, including a universe-generating mechanism, quantum mechanics, relativity, and a host of other technical prerequisites as their super-turtle. Monotheistic theologians cast a necessary God in the role of super-turtle. All three camps denounce the other’s super-turtles in equally derisory measure. But there can be no reasoned resolution of this debate because at the end of the day one super-turtle or another has to be taken on faith (or at least provisionally accepted as a working hypothesis), and a decision about which one to pick will inevitably reflect the cultural prejudices of the devotee. You can’t use science to disprove the existence of a supernatural God, and you can’t use religion to disprove the existence of self-supporting physical laws. … It should be clear from this chapter that all attempts to explain the world completely … eventually hit a wall, and demand that something truly huge be accepted on faith alone.”

Such intellectual honesty from a self-professed naturalist and multiverse theorist is shocking - especially given the virulence with which other naturalists (e.g. Hawking, Dawkins) denounce the mere possibility of a divine explanation for the universe. Cosmology, astronomy, and the laws of physics give abundant evidence for the existence of God. They cannot prove God’s existence, but they certainly make it reasonable and rational to accept a transcendent creator of a universe who has supernaturally fine-tuned the universe in such a way as to facilitate human life on earth. The evidence shows, that it is reasonable not only to believe that God exists, but furthermore to believe that God is intimately interested in us as human beings. I propose that the evidence not only makes the existence of God a reasonable possibility, but furthermore, when you consider the incredibly increased complexity required to accept naturalistic alternative views (which end up being no less supra-natural than theism), the existence of God becomes the most reasonable explanation by far.

III. The End of the Matter

Do the clues from the origins and design of the universe rationally compel a naturalist to abandon their worldview and embrace theism? Obviously not. Do they provide the theist with a rational underpinning for their worldview? Quite clearly yes. Do they also provide the sincere seeker with reasons to embrace theism? We pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit, that the clues from the origins and design of the universe – the cosmological and teleological arguments for God – will point people towards faith in the one true Creator God.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is There a God? The Evidence of Cosmology

Psalm 19:1-4 reads: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

How do the heavens declare the glory of God? Astronomer Hugh Ross says that “Astronomers who do not draw theistic or deistic conclusions are becoming rare, and even the few dissenters hint that the tide is against them.” Why is this so?

In this and a following blogpost, I will examine scientific evidence for the existence of a divine Creator by looking at the origin and intricate design of the universe.

At the outset, however, we have to acknowledge that there is a difference between a rationally compelling mathematical proof, and the evidence, arguments, or proofs that we are going to be talking about. 2+2=4 is a rationally compelling mathematical proof. The law of non-contradiction is a rationally compelling logical requirement. The scientific arguments from cosmology (origins) and teleology (design) are not rationally compelling theological proofs for the existence of God. Someone who is determined not to embrace a divine Creator will not be persuaded by these arguments.

However, the arguments we’re going to look at are helpful to at least two groups of people.

(1) Those of us who are already Christians have our faith bolstered and strengthened through examining the scientific evidence which supports the existence of God. Oftentimes, skeptics and atheists insist that Christianity is an irrational faith. Seeing the strength of cosmological and teleological arguments for God show that there are solid reasons supporting our faith.

(2) Perhaps more importantly, arguments from the origins and design of the universe can be helpful and persuasive to those who are not yet Christian, but who are open or seeking. For someone who has acknowledged that there is something missing from their life, or who questions whether the secular worldview they’ve been raised in is sufficient, these scientific arguments can be extremely helpful in pointing them towards embracing God.

Because of the purpose and helpfulness of these arguments, combined with their appeal to seekers, I agree with Timothy Keller, who suggests that we call these clues rather than proofs or arguments. If we are willing to follow the evidence where it leads, these clues will be powerful and persuasive. However, if someone approaches these clues with their mind already made up, having ruled God out of their pool of live options, then of course they are not going to be convinced.
With that being said by way of introduction, let’s look at scientific clues to the existence of God – first, the origins of the universe, then the intricate design of the universe.

I. The Clue of Creation – the Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence

The cosmological argument, or the clue from the origins of the universe, begins with two premises.

a) Everything that begins to exist has an external cause.
b) The universe began to exist.
If those two premises are true, then the inescapable conclusion is:
c) Therefore, the universe has an external cause.

A. Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has an external cause.

Until the late 1900s, the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument was not disputed. Everyone took it for granted. It seemed self-evident to philosophers, theologians, and scientists alike. Even the Scottish skeptic David Hume conceded the truth of the premise: “But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.” We’ll return to this premise later on this evening.

B. Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

The second premise of the argument, however, was not only vigorously disputed in the Middle Ages, but was seriously questioned. Until the 1900s, this premise was, scientifically speaking, neither self-evident nor widely-accepted. The dominant philosophical and scientific belief was that the universe is eternal. This made eminent sense, at least in a non-Christian worldview. After all, the universe did not seem to change over time, other than the changing of the seasons and the regular movements of the heavenly hosts. The regularities which we observed could reasonably be extrapolated backwards into eternity. As difficult as it is to comprehend today, just 100 years ago the dominant scientific belief held that the universe was eternal. Belief in the eternality of the universe hearkens all the way back to the Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle. Scientists believed that the universe is all that was, all that is, and all that ever will be. For centuries, Christian theists had argued, using logic and mathematics, that the universe was not eternal, but had a definite beginning point. They were arguing, generally, against the scientific evidence of their day.

1) The Rise of Big Bang Cosmology

This state of affairs began to change early in the 20th century. As Albert Einstein began to develop his theory of general relativity, he realized that his equations pointed to a temporal origin to the universe - that a finite time ago the entire cosmos burst forth and is still expanding. Einstein was “irritated” by this, and did his utmost to avoid it. His resistance did not hold on for very long. In the 1920s, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered “red shift” in the light emitted from distant galaxies. This red shift showed that galaxies are moving apart from one another, indicating that the universe is expanding. Hubble’s discovery of red shift further showed that the universe is expanding at the same rate in all directions.

The logical conclusion from the discovery of red shift was that, “at some point in the past the entire known universe was contracted down to a single mathematical point, from which it has been expanding ever since.” In other words, at some point in the distant past (now believed to be about 13.7 billion years ago), the universe began to exist. At this beginning point, the universe is referred to as a singularity - “A point of infinite density and infinitesimal volume, at which space and time become infinitely distorted according to the theory of General Relativity.”

As the theory of the universe’s temporal origin began to gain prominence, it was derisively called “The Big Bang” by Sir Fred Hoyle, an atheistic astronomer. Hoyle was extremely reluctant to let go of his belief in the eternal, steady state of the universe. Even in 1978, he can only speak of the Big Bang as being “the prevalent belief”, but argues that “modern astronomy has not yet provided a final answer to the question of how the universe began.”

However, the scientific evidence for the Big Bang continued to accumulate. In 1965, astronomers stumbled across Cosmic Background Radiation - the leftover heat wave emanating from the Big Bang - which had been predicted to exist as early as 1948. The degree and uniformity of the radiation matched precisely the predictions from Einstein’s theory of relativity and models of Big Bang cosmology. Since then, several other astronomical discoveries have provided further confirmation of the Big Bang. Today, the Big Bang is not just the dominant scientific understanding of how the universe began - it is almost universally-held amongst astronomers. Interpretation of the Big Bang as a singularity differs; but there is almost no argument that our space-time continuum began at the Big Bang.

Thus, William Lane Craig concludes: “A hundred years ago … Christians had to maintain by faith in the Bible that despite all appearances to the contrary, the universe was not eternal but was created out of nothing a finite time ago. Now, the situation is exactly the opposite. It is the atheist who has to maintain by faith, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, that the universe did not have a beginning a finite time ago but is in some inexplicable way eternal after all. So the shoe is on the other foot. The Christian can stand confidently within biblical truth, knowing it’s in line with mainstream astrophysics and cosmology. It’s the atheist who feels very uncomfortable and marginalized today.”

It is difficult to overemphasize the size of this paradigm shift. The scientific community has, in less than 100 years, done an abrupt about-face. What had been accepted for centuries as scientifically-established dogma (the eternality of the universe) has, in the space of a few generations, been entirely and totally debunked. It is now accepted as evidentially proven that our universe began about 13.7 billions years ago in a massive cosmic explosion, a Big Bang. Time and space as we know them are not eternal, but had their beginnings in that singularity.
Time and matter both had their origin in that singularity, and there was literally nothing in physical existence prior to the Big Bang. Scientific evidence accumulated consistently until the Big Bang became the accepted scientific understanding. Thus, premise 2 – “the universe began to exist” – is very well-established scientifically today.

Nonetheless, skeptics have sought to avoid a true origin to the universe, and propose three alternative models of the universe.

2) Oscillating Universe

The oscillating universe model holds that the universe is, indeed, eternal, and has gone through an infinite series of “bangs” and “crunches”. That is, the universe as we know it originated from the Big Bang, but the Big Bang was only one of many big bangs that have occurred. The universe is now expanding, but, this model holds, eventually this expansion will cease, and the universe will begin to contract again, eventually shrinking back to a singularity. At that point, the universe will again experience a Big Bang, and will expand forth from that singularity. The oscillating view of the universe, with infinite eternal bang-crunch cycles of creation, destruction, and creation, is deeply influenced by Eastern spirituality – Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism – with their eternal cyclical view of time and history. In this model, the cycle of bang-crunch, bang-crunch, will continue to occur forever. Eventually, one bang is certain to produce the physical and cosmological laws necessary for the emergence of life.

While this view is appealing to followers of Eastern mysticism, there are deep logical and rational problems with the oscillating universe model. First, it contravenes astronomical evidence, which points to an unending expansion of the universe. There is simply no reason to believe that the universe will ever stop expanding, and will begin contracting back upon itself. Second, there is no known mechanism or astrophysical law which would result in the “rebounding” of the universe when it contracted back to a singularity. Third, the oscillating model violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the law of entropy. This law suggests that in an oscillating universe, each successive “bounce” would get smaller, and eventually, the universe would not rebound at all, but would simply “crunch” and cease to be. Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, the oscillating model only pushes back the problem of the origin of the universe. It still does not explain how the universe came to be. Given the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the inclusion of time within the four known dimensions of the universe (as well as the impossibility of an actual infinite number of prior bangs and crunches), the universe cannot have experienced an infinite series of bangs and crunches already. Thus, at best, the universe has experienced a finite number of oscillations. What, then, lay behind the first “big bang” of the universe? There is still need for a first cause.

3) Multiverse Theory

Multiverse theory, in various representations, has replaced the oscillating universe model as the most popular naturalistic alternative to big bang theory. The most prominent version has been put forward by Paul Davies and Andrei Linde.

“What we have all along been calling ‘the universe’ is, in this theory, just an infinitesimal part of a single ‘bubble’, or pocket universe, set amid an infinite assemblage of universes - a multiverse - itself embedded in inflating space that exists without end. … an inexhaustible universe-generating mechanism, of which our universe - our bubble - is but one product. Each pocket universe will be born in a burst of heat liberated in that bubble when inflation ceases, will go on to enjoy a life cycle of evolution, and will perhaps eventually suffer a death, but the bubble bath system as a whole is immortal.”

There is a magnetic attractiveness to the majesty and grandeur of multiverse theory. The imaginative concept of a reality far vaster than even the unfathomably vast reaches of our known universe is quite compelling. Davies’ multiverse theory pictures our universe as just a tiny product of a universe-generating machine, paralleled by countless (infinite) other universes that have been created similarly. Multiverse theory is attractive to naturalistic cosmologists because it not only explains the origin of our universe, but it also explains the very evident fine-tuning of our universe which makes it amenable to human life.
Unfortunately, the other universes in multiverse theory, as Davies confesses, are so far apart that they are impossible to observe. There is something very “Star Trek” about multiverse theory - it is more science fiction than science! Even proponents admit that “there are many scientists who dismiss the multiverse as a speculation too far.” The central scientific objection to multiverse theory is its inherent unobservability. It simply cannot be tested by direct observation and evidence.

Worse, multiverse theory exists in the absolute absence of corroborating evidence - it is spurred not by science, but by philosophy. As Davies admits, it represents a shift in the “philosophical foundations” of cosmology, not its scientific foundations. Multiverse theory is not in its essence a scientific theory, but rather a philosophical proposition.

The other problem with multiverse theory is that it does not explain its own origin! All it does is kick up the requirement for a first cause. Rather than needing to explain the supernatural origins of our individual universe, multiverse theory needs to explain the origins of the universe-generating mechanism - the superspace from which our bubble universe and other similar bubble universes have proceeded. As Francis Collins argues, multiverse theory “would not destroy the case for design. It would just kick the issue up another level. In fact, I believe it would point toward design.” The complexity of our universe itself is compelling reason to believe in its transcendent design and creation; to postulate the existence of an infinitely more complex and expansive fabric of reality that itself is the cause of our universe, demands an explanation of its own. It is highly ironic that Davies, who condemns the oscillating universe model on the basis that “we don’t explain something by saying that it has always been there” , proceeds to do just that with multiverse theory - arguing that the multiverse is a sufficient explanation for our own universe, and that the multiverse has just always been.

4) Hawking’s Imaginary Time / No Boundary Origin

The third counter-argument to a supernatural origin to our universe comes from renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking begins with the fact that Einstein’s theory of general relativity breaks down at the Big Bang - the singularity where time and space are shrunk to an infinitesimal size and an immense density. Hawking proposes that as one goes back to the Big Bang, a linear understanding of time breaks down, and should be replaced by a concept of “imaginary time”. He draws the correlative to imaginary numbers (e.g. the square root of -1) which mathematicians use to pursue formulas and equations. With imaginary time:

“It is possible for space-time to be finite in extent and yet to have no singularities that formed a boundary or edge. Space-time would be like the surface of the earth, only with two more dimensions. The surface of the earth is finite in extent but it doesn’t have a boundary or edge: if you sail off into the sunset, you don’t fall off the edge or run into a singularity. … The quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behavior at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down, and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could say: ‘The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.’ The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.”

Hawking thus neatly does away with the problem of a “beginning” to the universe. The universe does not have an origin - it has, in fact, always been. Hawking essentially is attempting to resurrect the old belief that the universe is eternal by invoking the concept of imaginary time. But there are two major, fatal, flaws to his theory.

The first is that it is untestable, something which Hawking himself admits as a serious problem. This makes it very questionable as a scientific theory. The second flaw is that it is, in essence, bad science. Hawking rightly points out that mathematicians use imaginary numbers in their equations all the time. However, when mathematicians do this, they eventually reconvert the imaginary numbers into real numbers in order to arrive at a practical, real solution. Hawking, however, refuses to reconvert the imaginary numbers into real numbers. Why? Because as soon as you do so, “Presto, the singularity reappears!” The singularity (i.e. the Big Bang) is actually there all along, and is ultimately unavoidable. Hawking merely manages to hide it for a period of time by invoking his imaginary numbers. This is why Hawking’s theory, even associated with his immense genius and almost cultic status amongst scientists and the general public, has not garnered support. Imaginary time is simply that - imaginary. It does not exist, and it does not help describe the original state of the universe.

So the oscillating universe, multiverse theory, and Hawking’s imaginary time have serious short-comings, and cannot counter the strength of Big Bang theory. Thus, counter-arguments to premise 2 of the kalam cosmological argument for God’s existence are exceedingly weak, and most scientists (and theologians) agree that the universe does, indeed, have a beginning in both time and space, about 13.7 billion years ago.

5) Unavoidable conclusion that the universe has a beginning

Ultimately, alternative explanations of the universe’s origins suffer from the same fundamental shortcoming. They are desperate naturalistic attempts to describe the universe without resorting to the supernatural or transcendent. Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking comes very close to admitting this as his intention.

“But if the universe is really self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a Creator.”

“But if the universe is completely self-contained, with no singularities or boundaries, and completely described by a unified theory, that has profound implications for the role of God as Creator.”

In other words, if we can avoid a beginning to the universe, we can avoid the conclusion of a Creator God. Hawking, like other naturalists, will bend over backwards in order to avoid the conclusion to which all of the contemporary astronomical, cosmological, and physical evidence points - that the universe originated from a singularity which is naturally inexplicable and seems to be the work of a transcendent, supernatural agent. The fallacy of their arguments, and the weakness of their alternative theories, is evidenced by the fact that they do not accept, and argue virulently against, one another’s pet theories. Hawking dismisses multiverse theory as a fanciful philosophical treatise; Davies laughs at the preposterous notion of an oscillating universe. Atheistic scientists may all reject the truth that God created the universe ex nihilo, but they cannot agree on a different theory, because none of them hold water scientifically. If one has conceptually rejected the possibility of a supernatural being (i.e. God), then I can understand how it would be more palatable intellectually to introduce such crazy concepts as imaginary time and a universe-generating machine; however, if one is not already entirely closed to the possible existence of God, then the evidence points squarely and clearly in the direction of a divine Creator of our universe.

C. Premise 1 reconsidered: Everything that has a beginning has an external cause

As mentioned earlier, for centuries, no one, even the most strident skeptic, doubted the premise that everything that begins to exist has an external cause. Maggots do not spontaneously arise; they hatch from eggs laid in dead meat. Lightning does not arise out of nothingness; it is caused by electrical currents in the atmosphere. Houses do not create themselves; they are built out of wood, nails, shingles, etc. However, since the discovery of the Big Bang, and the accumulation of overwhelming scientific consensus that the universe did, in fact, begin to exist, some philosophers and scientists have begun to question premise 1 of the kalam cosmological argument. The primary source of their arguments is the wacky world of quantum physics.

Naturalists points to quantum physics experiments that have demonstrated the “creation” and “annihilation” of virtual particle/anti-particle pairs from a “quantum vacuum”. The argument is that, just as matter can arise spontaneously out of a quantum vacuum, so too the universe could have spontaneously sprung into existence out of nothing. As atheist Quentin Smith puts it, the universe came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.

Unfortunately for proponents of such arguments, they fudge the meaning of what a quantum “vacuum” is. Laypeople generally understand a vacuum as being the absolute absence of all materials and structure - total and complete nothingness. A quantum vacuum is quite distinct from a classically understood vacuum. There is a rich mixture of energy within a quantum vacuum, governed by a specific structural set of mechanical laws. In other words, a quantum vacuum is not truly a vacuum at all, and it does not represent an accurate picture of what the Big Bang arose out of.

Quantum physics, then, does not hamper the integrity of the premise that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Quite the contrary - origins of particle/anti-particle pairs from a quantum vacuum show that, even with quantum physics, these virtual particles do not arise out of nothing, but are precipitated within a comprehensive structure of laws and energy. Thus, even in the wacky world of quantum physics, you can’t get something from nothing. Nothing gives rise to nothing. The first premise of the kalam cosmological argument remains true: everything that begins to exist has an external cause – even if that cause is a quantum vacuum!

D. Conclusion: The universe has an external cause.

Let’s revisit the original proposition of the kalam cosmological argument. Again, the two premises were: 1) Everything that begins to exist has an external cause. We have seen that this premise is established and supported by logic, philosophy, and science. 2) The universe began to exist. Again, we have seen that the scientific consensus holds, and logic dictates, that the universe began to exist. The conclusion which follows logically from those two premises is: 3) Therefore, the universe has an external cause. The scientific evidence supporting the Big Bang is unquestionable. The singularity from which the Big Bang erupted is inexplicable scientifically by any other means - all known scientific laws break down and cannot fathom or describe what happened and why. The only philosophically and scientifically consistent and satisfying answer is that the universe has, in fact, been caused by a supernatural, transcendent being which exists outside the space-time fabric of our universe. This, in fact, is the Biblical picture of divine Creation - “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing). This inescapable conclusion is being confessed by an increasing number of scientists, especially astronomers and cosmologists - those who study the universe and its origins are strongly inclined to admit its transcendent cause. Thus, the origin of our universe is a strong argument in favor of the existence of God - a transcendent, supernatural being who brought the universe into existence out of nothing from the singularity which we call the Big Bang.

Critics and skeptics may joyfully point out that the cosmological argument, or the clue provided by the origin of the universe, does not, on its own, demonstrate the existence of the Christian God. But the cosmological argument was never intended to do that! But it does provide a very compelling intellectual and rational demonstration that there has to be a Creator God.

Next, I will examine evidence of the fine-tuning of our universe, how it is exquisitely designed in order to support human life on earth, and how this design points to the existence of a divine Creator of the universe.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Worldview, Part 2 - The Power and Influence of Worldview

II. The Power of Worldview

With that general understanding of the components and nature of worldview, let’s take a look at the influence that our worldview has. I want to focus our attention on four ways that our worldview influences our interpretation of evidence and rational arguments. First, incumbent worldviews require relatively less evidential or rational support for their continued support. Second, we tend to interpret new data or arguments in a manner that accommodates it within our existing worldview. Third, a consciously-held, critically-examined worldview controls what we call the pool of live options – what we consider to be possible or likely to happen. Fourth, we tend to cling to our worldviews tenaciously, unless we are confronted with strong or persuasive reasons (evidential, rational, emotional, or volitional) to change them. Through examining these four ways that worldview influences our interpretation of external data, I pray that we will come to a deeper understanding of how we should critically examine worldviews—our own and other peoples’.

A. Existing Worldviews Require Less Evidential/Rational Support

I love detective shows, like Law & Order, and particular Monk. When cops or crown attorneys have a working thesis concerning a particular crime, the way they treat evidence is affected by how that evidence relates to their governing thesis. For example, if they have a suspect who they are sure committed the crime in question, tiny bits of evidence will strengthen their position. In one Monk episode, called Monk and the Astronaut, Adrian Monk investigates the murder (a staged suicide) of a former call girl who was about to publish a revealing autobiography. Monk quickly becomes convinced that the murderer is a prominent NASA astronaut and rising politician. During the investigation, it is suggested to Monk that the woman’s autobiography was going to include a chapter relating how the suspect was intimately involved with the dead call-girl earlier, and was arrested at one point for beating her to a pulp. When Monk hears that, it supports his thesis that the astronaut is “the guy”. It provides “motive” for the murder. The evidence is not airtight—there are no surviving manuscripts of the autobiography, no solid proof that the woman was going to “out” the suspect, no concrete evidence that the call-girl was beaten up by the suspect. But it doesn’t take a big piece of evidence to support or maintain Monk’s theory.

As it is with criminal theories, so it is with worldview. It takes relatively less evidence (or less persuasive arguments) to support an existing worldview. This is the first way in which worldview affects the way we treat external data. Tiny shreds of external confirmation support our worldview and are clung to accordingly.
You can see this with proponents of evolution. According to Darwin’s original theory, the fossil record should be replete with multitudes of examples of intermediate species, transitional fossils which highlight the evolution from one distinct species into another. While evolutionists acknowledge that the vast fossil evidence predicted by early Darwinists is simply not there, evolutionary theory persists. And every year or two, you hear about the proclamation of a new fossil discovery of a professed “transitional species”. There are few intermediates, certainly not as many as predicted; but proponents of an evolutionary worldview cling to each new proposed discovery as “proof” of the truth of the theory.

Along the same lines, proponents of a worldview which claims we live in a random, purposeless universe, and that human life on earth arose strictly by chance, tend to believe that there must be life somewhere out there in the universe. If it is believed that there is life beyond the earth, then the discovery of lines that look like ancient river beds on the surface of Mars is quite exciting, and serves as confirmation of that worldview. To me, it just looks like interesting lines that might indicate there used to be water on the surface of Mars—nothing earth-shattering, and certainly not proof that life could have existed on the Red Planet.

Alternatively, Christians who believe in life after death, that this physical life is only the introduction to eternity, point to studies in near-death experiences as proof that there is at least a minimal existence and consciousness after death. It doesn’t take a significant amount of corroborating evidence to support or reinforce the existing worldview.

B. New Data/Arguments is Interpreted In A Self-Affirming Manner

A second way that worldview affects our interpretation of evidence and argumentation is the accommodation of new, relatively neutral evidence. Simply put, worldviews interpret new data or arguments in a self-affirming manner. One example is the layers evident in the Grand Canyon. Mainstream geologists look at the data, carbon-date the rocks within the layers, and conclude quite logically that the various layers are the product of layers of sediment laid down millions of years after one another. This fits quite nicely within their basic worldview assumption that the earth is billions of years old, and that events on earth have progressed over time through predictable and lengthy physical processes.

A minority of geologists (known as young-earth creationists), however, look at the same physical data and come to radically different conclusions about what it means. From their perspective, the layers and even the ancient appearance of the Grand Canyon is not the result of millions of years of erosion, but rather represents the catastrophic effects of a global flood described in Genesis 6. The dire consequences of the flood, in their view, explains the inaccuracy of carbon-dating the rocks in those sediment strata—the flood changed the composition of the atmosphere, thereby rendering long-term past carbon dating useless. Young-earth geologists begin with a radically different set of assumptions, and thus interpret the same physical data in a radically different way. It must be emphasized that both groups of geologists cannot possibly be right. The data of the Grand Canyon cannot mean both that the earth is billions of years old and the rocks are layers of sediment laid down millions of years after one another; AND that the earth is only thousands of years old and the evident layers are the result of a single catastrophic flood. One camp is correct in their interpretation and the other is incorrect—or, perhaps, both camps are incorrect and some other explanation is the right one. Some of you will have a definite opinion in terms of which camp is correct, but for our purposes this evening, it is not important who is right—what’s important is to note the power of worldview in determining how physical data is interpreted. The point is that worldviews interpret new data, evidence, or arguments in a self-affirming manner. Young-earth geologists accommodate the data to fit their prevailing worldview; old-earth geologists do the same, although in this case their job is a little easier. To the extent that it is possible, people will accommodate new data within their worldview, rather than altering their worldview to suit new data.

Using our earlier analogy of crimes and suspects, there was another Monk episode where a rich playboy is suspected by Monk of committing a gruesome murder. However, he had an alibi for the night of the murder—he was occupied in bed with a particular young woman. The woman confirmed the alibi—they were ‘busy’ all night. Someone who believed the playboy was innocent would have taken the alibi as conclusive proof that he couldn’t have done it. But Monk wasn’t convinced. Rather than allaying his suspicion, he sought to understand how this new data could fit within his existing theory. He still believed the playboy to be guilty, but had to explain why the woman would lie to protect him. He figured that the playboy had to be paying off the young woman—a suspicion that eventually was proven correct. The point, again, is that we generally seek to accommodate new data or information within our existing worldview.

Sometimes this requires a minor adjustment to the worldview. For example, the relative absence of transitional species in the fossil record has not led any evolutionary theorists to abandon their primary commitment to a purposeless, random process of evolution and common descent. Rather, the underlying worldview is slightly tweaked to explain the lack of supporting evidence. Hence, Stephen Jay Gould proposed the idea of punctuated equilibrium, whereby new species arise very quickly with a large number of mutative changes present in them. Punctuated equilibrium is not the same as Darwinian evolution, which required the changes to occur over long periods of time. But the fundamental worldview remains the same—the process occurs through random mutation and natural selection, and is not governed by any type of intelligent designer or Creator.

C. Worldview Controls the Pool of Live Options

The conceptual scheme through which we view the world exerts great influence upon the pool of live options that we approach data or arguments with. Sometimes, the foundational beliefs that we hold determine what the answer to a given question (even an empirical question) must be. For example, my great-grandmother died when I turned 9; a week after her funeral, I asked my mother – “Where is Great-Gramma Ross now?” After a long pause, my mother replied: “Nowhere. After we die, that’s it. We’re dead, and there isn’t anything more.” Within my mother’s worldview, there is no room for a belief in an afterlife. However, if I had asked my Grampa Roberts (Great-Gramma’s son-in-law) that same question, I suspect he would have replied: “I think she’s in heaven now; but only God knows.” Grampa’s worldview allowed for the possibility (indeed, probability) of life after death.

Worldviews, particularly if they are consciously held, are held tenaciously. A bit of contrary evidence of argumentation doesn’t do much to challenge a deeply-held worldview. One of the best examples of this that I have come across involves John Dominic Crossan, a scholar with the Jesus Seminar in the 1980s. Crossan once engaged in a public debate with William Lane Craig, one of my favorite Christian scholars and apologists, about the resurrection of Jesus. During their dialogue time, there is a fascinating and very revealing exchange.

First, Craig asks Crossan: “What evidence would it take to convince you [that the resurrection of Jesus really happened]? Or are your preconceived ideas about the impossibility of the miraculous and so forth so strong that, in fact, they skew your historical judgment so that such an event could never even be admitted into court?” Craig is asking Crossan, what type and amount of evidence would convince you that Jesus really was raised from the dead? Is your worldview so set against the very possibility of such things that you could not be convinced no matter how powerful the evidence? Crossan’s reply is revealing, and worth quoting:

“But it’s a theological presupposition of mine that God does not operate that way. … What would it take to prove to me what you ask? I don’t know, unless God changes the universe.” In other words, there is no type or amount of evidence that could convince Crossan of the literal truth of the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a theological presupposition of his that God would not do such things. It is a part of his worldview. He is absolutely closed to the possibility, because it does not fit within his worldview. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not within Crossan’s pool of live options.

The pool of live options is the realm of possible explanations that we can give to a given set of data or arguments. For example, if you come home after church today and find a couple letters in your mailbox, what are some possible explanations? (1) Perhaps you missed taking the mail in yesterday. (2) Perhaps the mailman came to your house today, mistakenly thinking it was Saturday. (3) Perhaps your mail got delivered to your neighbor by mistake, and they put your letters in your mailbox this morning. (4) Perhaps the U.S. Postal Service has begun delivering mail seven days a week. (5) Perhaps aliens descended during church and planted mail in your mailbox while you were gone. (6) Perhaps it’s a communist plot. Given various worldviews, each of those options is a possibility. However, almost all of us would immediately rule some of them out – that is, they wouldn’t be within the pool of live options for explanations we would consider. If I found mail in my mailbox, I wouldn’t attribute it to aliens, nor to a communist plot. I would consider it just barely possible (but not at all likely) that the Postal Service has begun delivering on Sundays, or that the mailman got his days mixed up. My natural assumptions would be (1) or (3). But, if there was fairly strong evidence, I could be persuaded that (2) or (4) was the correct explanation. The point is, there is a pool of live options that I approach the data with; that pool of live options determines what I consider a possible explanation. Believe it or not, a fair number of Americans would consider (5) an entirely plausible explanation – aliens delivered the mail!

Going back to the example of John Dominic Crossan; in order to accept the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, Crossan would have to alter his entire worldview, which holds that there is absolutely no possibility of life after death, and that God (if an objective Creator God really exists at all) never involves Himself in the affairs of the world. The bodily resurrection of Jesus, although it is undeniably a central doctrine of the Christian faith, is simply not within Crossan’s pool of live options.

Or, to take another example, I fiercely hold an orthodox Christian worldview—that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in perfect Triune communion, that God created the universe and everything within it, that human beings are the special creation of God, made in His image as the crown of His Creation, that we have fallen into sin, and thus earned the penalty of physical death and eternal separation from God, but that Jesus came to die in our place and grant us the gift of redemption and eternal life. I believe that we will all rise after our death, to judgment and hell or salvation and heaven. Imagine a university philosopher professor stood up in front of my class and proclaimed, “I have examined all of the arguments for the existence of God and found them all to be lacking and unpersuasive. I have concluded that there is absolutely no possibility that God exists. We live in a godless universe without purpose and meaning.” Would that shake my Christian worldview? No. It might force me to examine certain aspects of my worldview, seek to evaluate the philosophical arguments for God’s existence (which, as we’ve gone through, I personally find quite compelling and convincing). But it would not force me to alter my underlying worldview—because my worldview is consciously-held and critically examined. The non-existence of God is not currently within my pool of live options.

D. It Takes Overwhelming Evidence/Arguments to Overthrow Existing Worldviews

However, there was a point in time at which I did not believe in God. In fact, when I was 17, my pool of live options was the exact opposite of what it is now – the existence of God was not within my pool of live options. But my view of the world changed, and so did my pool of live options as a result. But how do worldviews change? What causes someone to embrace something that formerly was rejected? Worldviews can only be defeated or replaced by strong or overwhelming evidence and powerfully persuasive arguments. Worldviews represent the core assumptions and understandings about the world around us. The questions involved in the fundamental worldview we hold are foundational. Such beliefs are not easily altered—especially when they have been critically examined and are consciously held. We tend to cling to our worldviews tenaciously, unless we are confronted with strong or persuasive reasons (evidential, rational, emotional, or volitional) to change them.

For example, let’s go back to Monk and the Astronaut, the episode where Monk suspects an astronaut of murdering a former call-girl who was writing an autobiography. Monk’s primary obstacle in solving that case was the little problem of the suspect’s alibi—he was in a spaceship orbiting the earth at the time of the woman’s death. Alibis really don’t come much more airtight than that! How does Monk deal with that alibi? Does he say, “Oh well, the guy’s got a pretty solid alibi—he must not be the guy”? No, instead he says, “I don’t know how he did it, but he did it. He’s the guy.” It takes more than an apparently air-tight alibi to convince Monk to abandon his thesis. As it happens, Monk was right—I’m not going to give the story away, but Monk eventually figures out how the astronaut set conditions up for the woman to die while he was in space. The point is that Monk was not dissuaded by pretty powerful evidence that contradicted his thesis.

As it is with Monk, so it is with worldview. For many people, like John Dominic Crossan, worldviews are very stubbornly held. Contrary evidence does not convince them to abandon their worldview and adopt a different one. Another way of putting this is to say that worldviews are inherently conservative. They are not changed unless they have to be. Last summer, Vanessa and I went to see Race to Witch Mountain, starring “The Rock” as a taxi driver who unwittingly drives two alien teenagers around Las Vegas. Weird things start happening right after The Rock picks them up, but he doesn’t immediately conclude that they are alien beings. After all, his character, Jack Bruno, is a committed alien skeptic. It takes a long time, and a number of seriously strange occurrences, for Jack Bruno’s worldview to be overthrown by the overwhelming evidence that these teens ain’t human.

There are other examples as well. C. S. Lewis was an atheist until well into his professional adulthood, when he converted to Christianity. In 2004, Antony Flew, Britain’s leading intellectual atheist for the past 50 years, abandoned the atheistic worldview which he had defended quite consciously and critically.

III. The Necessity of Engaging Worldviews

The difficulty that many Christian students face when they get to university is that they have held a Christian worldview, but have neither examined it nor consciously acknowledged it. When a different worldview is presented to them (as it certainly will be on a university campus), they are ill-prepared to respond to it or deal with it. Oftentimes, Christian students are shaken at their worldview level, and many of them abandon their faith—they convert from an unexamined, unconscious Christian worldview to an unexamined but conscious atheistic or agnostic worldview. There are two reasons that it is vitally important to engage others’ worldviews.

A. Developing and Defending Our Christian Worldview

First, in our contemporary, increasingly secular society, the Christian worldview (where it is held consciously and consistently) is under attack. We need to defend it. Sometimes this requires questioning the worldview of those who attack ours. Sometimes it requires us to consciously understand and critically examine our own Christian worldview, so that we can defend its coherence and truth to skeptics. Our churches are filled with young men and women whose Christian worldviews will come under strenuous attack. If they hold their Christian worldview unconsciously and uncritically, then they will probably abandon the faith before graduating from college. If, however, we build up a Christian worldview in our students, and an ability to defend God’s truth, then they will indeed stand firm in the faith. (Rom. 12:1-2, Col. 2:8) This is a part of closing the back door of the church – the purpose of apologetics that I talked about in an earlier post.

B. Expose Flaws in Contrary Worldviews

Second, many non-Christians are consciously committed to an anti-Christian worldview—we need to expose the weaknesses and fatal flaws in their worldview. For example, atheists like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins deny the existence of any transcendent Being; simultaneously, they promote vibrant moral standards which all people ought to embrace and follow. However, they have no foundation for the moral standards which they promote. This is a flaw which we can pursue to demonstrate why atheists’ worldview is lacking and needs to be replaced by a coherent, liveable worldview.

Similarly, many non-Christians are unconsciously operating under a worldview which excludes the possibility of God—we need to highlight their core worldview assumptions. Often they will reject these assumptions when they are forced to admit them, because the unspoken assumptions are untenable. For example, many people today unthinkingly embrace moral relativism—the view that what is right for me could be wrong for you, and vice versa. Because they hold that underlying worldview, they reject the possibility of Christianity – a religion which claims to be the way, the truth, and the life. When pursued, however, such folks will almost always admit that there are some things which are actually and fundamentally wrong—rape, child abuse, torture, cold-blooded murder. But their admission that there are some things that are objectively wrong undermines their professed acceptance of ethical relativism.

Or consider those who have unthinkingly embraced an atheistic evolutionary perspective regarding the universe. You can question them: “Let me get this straight. You think that the universe arose out of total nothingness? That there was no cause to the universe? Even though from all the scientific knowledge and observation that we have, nothing ever comes from nothing? And let me understand this as well—you believe that life on earth arose from random chemical reactions, even though all of our biological and chemical knowledge demonstrates that life cannot arise from non-life?” When you uncover some of the weaknesses and flaws in others’ non-Christian worldviews, you can begin to bring down their defenses against the Christian faith. Looking back, I think that was instrumental in my own conversion. I had friends who were willing to challenge my atheistic worldview, and put the truth of Christianity forward for me to consider. Over time, it sunk in, and I became open to considering Christianity.

So, is worldview important? Yes, it is. Your worldview is the collection of fundamental assumptions that you hold about the world and how it works, and it affects how you interpret the world around you. We need to have a conscious, well-thought-out worldview, and be willing to challenge the worldview of our non-Christian friends. This is a part of both defending our faith, and of presenting the glorious truth of Jesus Christ to those who do not yet know Him.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Worldview, Part 1 - Definition, Components, and Nature of a Worldview

Romans 12:1-2 reads: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I. Introduction: What is a Worldview?

A. Definitions

(1) “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions … which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” (Sire, Naming the Elephant, 122)

(2) The conceptual lenses through which we view the world.

(3) [Christian worldview is] the “attempt to provide a comprehensive explanation of reality that is rooted in the Word of God.” (Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, 4)

B. Components of a Worldview

Every worldview answers at least six fundamental questions:

(1) What is ultimate reality? (God, Brahma, Allah, Demiurge, universe, multiverse)
(2) What is the nature of the universe? (the nature and character of the physical world: created/eternal; real/illusory; purely material/material-spiritual)
(3) What is the nature of man? (imago dei, sinful/normal, evolved/created, dualism/physicalism)
(4) What is wrong with the world, and what is the solution? (sin, ignorance, prejudice; salvation, enlightenment, tolerance)
(5) What happens to human beings after death? (judgment, universal salvation, reincarnation, extinction
(6) How do we know what is right and wrong? (ethics: divine moral law, social contract, evolutionary morality, transcendence of moral categories)

Every worldview makes assumptions in each of those six areas. For example, the Buddhist worldview (in classic Buddhism, anyway), claims that what is simply is, without explanation, and there is no divine transcendent Being; the physical world is primarily illusory; our fundamental problem is ignorance; the solution to the problem is enlightenment and getting rid of all personal attachments; after we die we are reincarnated endless times until (unless) we achieve enlightenment, at which point we are absorbed into an impersonal nirvana that transcends nothingness; moral categories represent mistaken worldly categories, and must ultimately be transcended.

The atheist worldview claims that the universe sprang into existence from nothingness with no explanation, life arose on primordial earth through random chemical reactions, and human life evolved through random mutation and natural selection; our primary problem is enslavement to a superstitious worldview that promotes religious belief; the solution to the problem is intellectual evolution; after we die we entirely cease to be; human ethics are either socially contrived or the result of naturally evolved reciprocal altruism.

The worldview questions can be put in different ways. James Sire, in Naming the Elephant and The Universe Next Door, develops seven fundamental worldview questions – (1), (2), (3), (5), and (6) above; plus (4) how is it possible to know anything at all?, and (7) what is the nature and meaning of history?

One could also compress the worldview questions into three: (1) Where did we come from? (2) Where are we now? (3) Where are we going?

C. The Nature of a Worldview

Every person has a worldview—worldview is ubiquitous and universal. But there are three distinctions in the nature of worldviews that we need to take note of.

(1) Some worldviews are consciously acknowledged; some are unconsciously entrenched. For example, I unapologetically hold a Christian theistic worldview which proclaims and worships God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But I have met many folks who have unknowingly embraced and adopted a worldview which discounts the very possibility of a personal, active deity.

(2) Some worldviews are critically analyzed; others are unquestioningly embraced. For example, Dr. Gary Habermas grew up in a Christian home, but had his faith shaken by trials and tribulations; he was forced to critically examine his worldview, and after a few years of philosophical and emotional searching, he concluded that the Christian worldview was, in fact, correct. He remains a vibrant Christian today, and a world-class philosopher and professor as well. On the other hand, there are folks in all of our churches who have grown up within the Church, remained in it their entire lives, and never felt a need to question or doubt the truth of their faith. Similarly, many are brought up within an agnostic or atheistic worldview, and never question the truth of the beliefs that they were taught as children. Others, like myself, come to a point where they examine the coherence and liveability of atheism, and convert to Christianity.

(3) Finally, some worldviews are challenged and eventually rejected; others are held firmly for life. For example, Billy Graham and Charles Templeton began their adult life on the same path—as promising and powerful Christian evangelists. In their mid-20s, they simultaneously went through a deep crisis of faith and belief. Billy Graham remained on the Christian path; Charles Templeton questioned and eventually rejected the Christian worldview, and is now an elderly agnostic.
So worldviews can be conscious or unconscious; examined or unexamined; rejected or maintained. But worldviews are like souls—everyone has one, even if they don’t know it or don’t like the fact. Unfortunately, the worldview of many (perhaps most) Canadians (and Americans) is unconscious and unexamined. The Greek philosopher Socrates declared, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To modify Socrates’ wisdom, I would also argue that the unexamined worldview is not worth holding. As Christians, we need to consciously hold and examine our worldview, and seek to see reality through the correct interpretive lenses.

In my next post, I will discuss the power and influence of worldview, and stress the importance of engaging people (inside and outside the church) on a worldview level. As always, comments, questions and feedback are appreciated!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection

My last post explained the centrality of Christ's resurrection within the Christian faith. In this post, I wish to survey the historical evidence that shows that Jesus truly did rise from the dead.

At the beginning, however, I want to remind all who are reading this: if you have comments or questions, please post them up as comments. I will respond. This blog is intended to be an interactive site, particularly geared to those who are in my Sunday School class. So please feel free to ask questions or make comments - I love the opportunity to interact and dialogue.


So, what are the historical and logical reasons to believe that Jesus really rose from the dead? At the outset, I want to stress three things. First, I am not going to be able to go in-depth into any one of these lines of evidence. Last year I taught a three-month Sunday school course on the resurrection of Jesus Christ at our church, and we still didn’t exhaust the materials! So please understand that this is a greatly condensed presentation of the evidences supporting the resurrection.

Second, each of the historical and evidential lines of support for the resurrection which I am going to mention has extremely broad, nearly universal support amongst scholars. That is, over 95% of all scholars who study in this area (especially speaking here of ancient history and biblical studies) grant the truth of each line of evidence that I will present (except one, which we will discuss). This scholarly consensus includes biblical scholars who reject the truth of the resurrection, even the most radical and sceptical scholars out there. In other words, the level of support for these lines of evidence is truly astounding.

Third, the evidence I will present does not presume the inspiration of the Bible. I personally believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word revealed to us. But the arguments I will present do not depend upon that view of the Bible (although I would argue that true Christianity generally does). This is why even critical and skeptical scholars can embrace the truth of each of these lines of evidence. With all that said, let’s look at the six lines of historical evidence.

I. Historical Evidence for the Truth of the Resurrection

There are six lines of evidence which I want to briefly present, all of which are like planks in an argument. Each plank points with greater or lesser strength towards the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But when you put them all together, the conclusion that Jesus truly rose from the dead is nearly inescapable. There is no other logical conclusion. Let’s look briefly at these six lines of historical evidence supporting our rational belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.


This might seem somewhat obvious. Obviously, Jesus’ death is a prerequisite to His resurrection. And virtually no one outside of the Islamic faith today doubts that Jesus died by crucifixion sometime around the year AD 30. The Gospels all record the death of Jesus Christ – and ancient historians accept the general historical reliability of the Gospel accounts. Furthermore, Jesus’ death is referred to in extrabiblical accounts – the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historian Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian, and the Jewish Talmud all reference Jesus’ death by crucifixion. His death is also affirmed by a truly countless number of early Christian writings. There really is no doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, Muslim protestations to the contrary.


Presently, we are going to discuss the reality of the empty tomb. Well, for a tomb to be “found empty”, it has to have been previously occupied. And so the second historical plank in our rational argument for the resurrection is that Jesus was buried in a tomb. If He is never buried, there is no tomb to be discovered empty. If He is buried, then there is a tomb to check up on. For the burial of Jesus, we are dependent upon the biblical accounts in the gospels and 1 Corinthians. But again, with respect to the burial of Jesus, biblical scholars are almost unanimously agreed that there is no reason to doubt that it really happened. John Dominic Crossan (of the Jesus Seminar) is one of an exceptionally small number of scholars who cast doubt upon the burial. And Crossan himself has to violate his own critical methodologies in order to reject the burial. Despite the fact that Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea occurs in every gospel, in even the most ancient strata of the gospels, Crossan nonetheless rejects it as an unhistorical invention by later Christians. His counter-argument? That Jesus was never buried at all, but that His body was cast into a shallow grave and eventually eaten by wild dogs. Sadly for Crossan, there is simply no evidence which supports this thesis, and it is rejected by almost every biblical scholar and ancient historian.


Given the death and burial of Jesus, the other physical prerequisite to the resurrection would have to be the discovery of the empty tomb. Of the six facts that I am talking about this morning, the reality of the empty tomb is the only one that does not have nearly-unanimous agreement amongst biblical scholars. Still, over two-thirds of critical scholars accept that the tomb that Jesus was buried in on Good Friday was found empty on Easter Sunday. While not unanimous, this level of scholarly support is astounding, given the importance of the empty tomb in arguments for the resurrection. Why ought we to believe that the tomb was, in fact, found empty on Easter Sunday?

On the one hand, the Gospel accounts, and the other New Testament letters, all state and presume that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. Each Gospel has an account of the tomb being found empty. But there are other reasons as well.

First, you have the reality that Jesus was crucified and buried in Jerusalem. As Gary Habermas writes, “It would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had still been in the tomb. His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would only have had to exhume the corpse and publicly display it for the hoax [of the resurrection] to be shattered. Not only are Jewish, Roman, and all other writings absent of such an account, but there is a total silence from Christianity’s critics who would have jumped at evidence of this sort.” In other words, as soon as the disciples began preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead, their opponents (including Saul/Paul) would have leaped at any opportunity to produce Jesus’ corpse in order to debunk the resurrection claims. But they could not.

Instead, opponents of Christianity acknowledged that the tomb was found empty – and then accuse the disciples of having stolen Jesus’ body. Matthew 28:11-15 reports that the chief priests concoct a plan to accuse the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body. While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The 2nd-century Christian writer Justin Martyr writes, in Dialogue with Trypho, that the Jews were still circulating the same rumor in 150 AD (more than 100 years later) – that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. In other words, even the enemies of Christianity acknowledged that Jesus’ tomb was empty – they did not argue that Jesus hadn’t been buried at all (as the historical revisionist Crossan argues), or that Jesus’ body was still in a tomb somewhere. They admitted that the tomb was empty, and accused the disciples of stealing the body.


The apostles universally claimed to have seen Jesus, after His crucifixion, death, and burial – no longer dead, but alive and walking about in a resurrected body. Again, the ancient creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 – For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. The resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ are not all at the same time, nor in the same place. Rather, they occur over the course of about 40 days, in Jerusalem, but also in Galilee. Some of the resurrection appearances are recorded in the New Testament – Matthew 28:8-10, 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-52; John 20-21; Acts 9 – while other resurrection appearances are not, for example the appearance to James, which we are told happened but is not described.

There are a few significant things about the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples. First, He appears not just to isolated individuals, but to groups, and even to at least one large group of about 500. That means that these are not delusions or personal visions experienced by the disciples.

Second, He appears to His half-brother, the skeptic James, who did not believe in His identity as Messiah prior to His crucifixion and death (see Jn. 7:5; Mt. 12:46; Mk. 3:20-21). James subsequently becomes a believer, and emerges as a key leader of the church in Jerusalem.

Third, He appears to Saul (we know him as Paul), an ardent persecutor of the Christian Church – a man who believed that Jesus died as a false prophet cursed by God. Subsequent to seeing the risen Jesus (an experienced described in Acts 9, and recounted again in Acts 22 and Acts 26), Paul becomes a follower of Jesus, and later emerges as a key leader, especially in the evangelistic missionary movement throughout the Roman Empire.

Fourth, the appearances of the risen Jesus are unapologetically physical in nature. The risen Jesus is no mere ghost or ephemeral spirit – He appears in a flesh and blood resurrected body.

Thus, in John 20:24-28, we see Jesus invite Thomas to touch the nail-holes with his fingers, to touch the wound in his side with his hand. Jesus says, Stop doubting and believe! Thomas touches Jesus, and exclaims, My Lord and my God! In Luke 24:36-43, we see Jesus insisting: Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. The resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples are explicitly claimed to be physical, bodily appearances. We are not left the option of somehow assuming or concluding that the resurrection appearances are ghostly, or immaterial, or metaphorical, or anything other than literal, physical, bodily appearances. The Gospels all make it exceedingly clear – what the disciples claim to see is the risen bodily Jesus. But at this point, all that we have are professed resurrection appearances – the disciples claiming to have seen the risen Jesus. How do we know that they are telling the truth?


A popular argument against the real resurrection of Jesus Christ often has to do with supposing that the disciples made up the story of the resurrection – maybe they stole the body and invented the resurrection; or at the very least, when the tomb was inexplicably found empty, they made up stories of having seen the risen Lord Jesus. The truth that we are about to contemplate destroys such theories.

Call to mind the state of mind of Jesus’ disciples after He was arrested, tried, crucified, died, and buried. First, the disciples all desert Jesus and flee when He is arrested (Mt. 26:55-56). Peter denies even knowing Jesus, calling down curses upon Himself (Mt. 26:69-75). In Matthew 27, Judas is overcome with grief and sorrow and commits suicide (Mt. 27:3-5). With the sole exception of John, the disciples are nowhere to be found at the scene of the crucifixion – they have all run away and are cowering in fear. John 20:19 presents the disciples on Easter Sunday as gathering together in an upper room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.

Simply put, the disciples were a disillusioned, despondent, and fearful group. Shortly thereafter, however, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, His disciples were radically transformed from fearful, cowering individuals who denied and abandoned him at his arrest and execution into bold proclaimers of the gospel of the risen Lord. They remained steadfast in the face of imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom.

From fleeing in terror during the trial of Jesus, the disciples are transformed into men who fearlessly preach that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Acts 4, beginning in verse 8:

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to [the rulers of the Jews]: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ [Ps. 118:22] Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Peter has been transformed – he is no longer cowering in fear, denying that he even knows Jesus. Rather, he is boldly proclaiming the name of Christ. The Sanhedrin warns Peter, v. 18:

Then they [the Sanhedrin] called them [Peter and John] in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What causes that transformation in Peter? The simplest explanation, and the right one, is that they saw Jesus, risen from the dead, and that this changed their lives. The martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 does not reduce the disciples’ resolve; nor does the martyrdom of Peter, Paul, James, and all of the other disciples except John. Indeed, Stephen’s martyrdom scatters the early Christians, but everywhere they go, they continue to preach the Good News of Jesus crucified and risen.
Again, it is good to remember that all of the historical sources that we have record the martyrdom of all of the original disciples except John – and even John suffered exile and deprivation on account of the Gospel. If the disciples made up the story of the resurrection appearances, don’t you think that they would have given up the story at some point along the road rather than going to their death for it?

At this point a skeptic might point out that people die for causes all the time, and often the causes that they die for are lies. There is, however, a crucial difference. People will die for a lie that they believe to be true; but people do not willingly die for something they know to be a lie—it simply doesn’t happen. So, on the one hand, Muslim mujahaddin will die for Islam, believing that Islam is the true religion, the straight path, and that dying for Allah will grant them immediate entrance into paradise. They are, from our viewpoint, dying for a lie—sometimes believing that their suicide bombings of targets like the World Trade Center or a nightclub in Bali are earning God’s eternal favor. They are dying for a lie. But the key is that they are convinced that they are dying for the truth.

People will die for a lie that they believe to be the truth, but they will not die for a lie that they know to be a lie. Here’s the kicker. The disciples knew whether Jesus had been raised from the dead or not. After all, they were the witnesses to the fact! Acts 2:32 puts it very succinctly and plainly – “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” The disciples did not die for something that they mistakenly thought was true; they did not die for something they knew to be a lie. Rather, they died for their absolute conviction, their personal experiential knowledge, that Jesus is risen. It is good at this point also to note that the disciples were not persecuted and martyred for proclaiming some sort of mystical, spiritual, or metaphorical resurrection of Jesus Christ – nobody would have much cared if that is what they were preaching – rather, they were persecuted for proclaiming their sole allegiance to a King who had conquered death through His physical resurrection. And they died for a belief that they knew to be either true or false – either they had seen the risen Jesus, or they had not. If they had not, it is simply inconceivable that they would have all willingly suffered and died for what they knew to be a false claim. The only rational conclusion is that they in fact died for something – the resurrection of Jesus Christ – which they knew to be true.


Finally, let’s consider the birth of the Christian Church. Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, tried, and crucified in Jerusalem – the center of the Jewish religion and the Israelite people. Where was the Christian Church born? In Jerusalem. Within 2 months of Jesus’ death, the disciples began preaching publicly. Let’s read just a sampling from Acts 2 – Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost.

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him … God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

One of the central tenets of the early preaching of the Christian Church was the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this message was preached in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had so recently been put to death. Again, all of the historical sources that we have relate the early and public preaching of the Gospel; they all indicate that the Church began in Jerusalem, and that the resurrection was a core element of that preaching.

If the resurrection never happened; if Jesus’ body was still lingering in some tomb, or if it had been buried in a common grave for criminals, Jerusalem is the last place that the Christian Church would have sprouted. It would have begun in some backwater like Galilee, where no one could have checked up on the facts concerning the burial and tomb. In Jerusalem, there was so much publicity, so much awareness, that it was not possible to fool the authorities or the people. But the church not only begins in Jerusalem, it expands exponentially. There is rapid growth, which is not checked by the breakout of intense persecution as recorded in Acts 7-9.

II. Putting it all Together: The Rational Conclusion

Let’s quickly put these six lines of evidence together. First, Jesus is crucified in Jerusalem. Second, He is buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. Third, His tomb is found empty on third day. Fourth, the disciples (including James and Paul) claim to have experiences where they see the risen Jesus. Fifth, the disciples are transformed from fearful cowards into bold and fearless proclaimers, suffering and even dying for the message that Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day. Sixth, the Gospel message is preached within months of the death and resurrection of Jesus, in the very city and place where these events happened.
There is much more to the argument. The Christian Church is born in Jerusalem, and immediately begins preaching the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. But these early Jewish Christians (followers of Jesus who had been faithful God-fearing Jews) have their entire worldview and religious practice changed. We’re not going to look deeply into it, but take note of a few things that change.

First, they not only go to synagogue on the Sabbath (Saturday) to worship the Lord, they also begin, very early on, gathering for Christian worship on the first day of the week (Sunday), in recognition and celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
Second, they begin praying in Jesus’ name, and worshiping Jesus as God – something inconceivable within a Jewish worldview. Third, they profess the secondary nature of the Jewish temple rituals which had been central to their Jewish religion. In short, everything changes. N. T. Wright, in his massive study The Resurrection of the Son of God, concludes that there is only one rational conclusion to come to when all of the evidence is considered and weighed. There is only one thing that explains the change in the disciples, that accounts for the discovery of the empty tomb, and that can make sense of the rapid rise of a Christian Church with a radically new religious worldview. There is only one reasonable conclusion, and it is the same conclusion that orthodox Christians have universally believed for over 1900 years. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who died on the cross in order to atone for our sins and wrongdoing, was raised from the dead on the third day by God the Father. There is no other rational, clear-headed conclusion.