Does the Resurrection provide an objective criteria for Christianity?
Let’s step right in with some heavy Science and Religion.
If you were following this blog before I left, you may recall a post (with a promised follow up that never happened until now) on the Resurrection. Specifically, I contest the claim offered by so many of the so-called “New Atheists” (and others like them) that Christianity has no clear objective criteria. The fact of the matter is that it does. What is more, the criteria is falsifiable: namely, the Resurrection of Jesus. The argument is simply this. If the Resurrection did not occur, I will–well not gladly– admit that Christianity is a lie, or a fool’s hope, or some combination of the two. If, however, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ did in fact occur as historical event, then the truth of Christianity, at least at its core message that Jesus was God who came to save us, cannot honestly be disputed. The question then becomes, is the Resurrection a satisfactory objective criteria?
Let’s look, briefly, at the history of science (which entails some philosophy of science) to possible help us out. In the early history of modern science (beginning, with Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton), scientists set about trying to prove that something was or wasn’t true with their own method. They would amass data and from that data put forth a theory that made sense of the data. If enough data was collected which conformed to the theory, then the theory was considered proven, and in some cases referred to as a physical law.
This method was adopted until the beginning of the twentieth century. The first major problem was the failure of the positivist project, which I talked about here. The second major problem was a category mistake. If you’ve taken logic, you may recognize the scientific method as being primarily a form of inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning can never lead (validly) to universal claims, one needs deductive reasoning for that. Thus Karl Popper introduced (or re-introduced, depending on whom you ask) the concept of falsifiability. Deductively the observation of a number of white swans cannot move to the proposition that “All swans are white,” only that the number of white swans observed are, in fact, white. However, the statement “All swans are white” may be likely, and have a certain falsifiability to it. Indeed, when black swans were discovered in Australia (where else?), that hypothesis/theory proved wrong.
Later, the new criteria of reproducibility and the practice of verification were introduced to aid in other issues with different methodologies. However, it is a mistake to believe these other methodologies are universally applicable. There are certain historical events, which nevertheless are scientific or objective in the claims made about them, that are by their very nature non-reproducible and not subject to verification in laboratory experiment. One of the most discussed of these is the nature of the beginning of the universe. Evidence of it may be analyzed and even, with Super-Colliders (such as CERN) be reproduced. But the majority of what occurred is not subject to reproducibility. There are still other events, such as massive geological shifts, the history within evolutionary biology, and other such things that are not reproducible. Yet, they are not called “unscientific.” Instead, it is understood that they are objectively observable events that, due to their massive and historical nature, can only be analyzed today from the effects of them, whenever they occurred (or are presumed to have occurred).
Since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a cosmic event upon which all of history turns (or rather, if it occurred it is of this sort), and it is necessarily historical in nature, it does not need to be reproducible to be objective (indeed such a claim is ridiculous). Instead it must meet two criteria to be objective. It must have effects and historical markers which can be analyzed, and it must be falsifiable. The historical markers are numerous, and there are many witnesses and writings which record the event, as well as the impact it has clearly made upon the world via the Church, an organization which the Resurrection established. It is also clearly falsifiable. Namely this: produce the body, or evidence that there was a body of Jesus that was not brought back to life and all of Christianity falls (well except that which follows in the line of Tillich or Bultmann, but that might scarcely be called Christianity). It was an historical event in the sense that anyone could have witnessed it, and it involved material things.
Note, though, that this is a different claim than one that says I can prove the Resurrection is true. Granted, I do believe the Resurrection is true, and even believe it can be shown to have likely occurred, but, as is the case with most historical events, I do not believe it can be absolutely proven until history ends (and Christ returns). That does not, however, change the fact that the Resurrection is itself either objectively true or false, and with it all of Christianity.
Also, this is not a claim, from the objective scientific/historical point of view, of whether God did or did not do it. That is a philosophical and theological claim (which does not mean it is not a description of reality, only that it is of a different sort). I am merely claiming that the objective claim of Christianity is that the historical person Jesus really existed, genuinely died on a Friday, and was genuinely brought back to life on a Sunday.
However, of all the possible interpretations of the resurrection event, if it occurred, the most likely is that God is the one who raised Jesus, and if so then the claims of Jesus could only be true. Rather than say that this aspect is unscientific, though, I would like to merely point out that the objective claims of science are often followed (usually immediately) by decidedly philosophical interpretations of those objective claims. If they did not, then nothing meaningful about the world could ever be made. For example, it doesn’t matter that 1 + 1 = 2 for the purpose of the world if it doesn’t have some correspondence to reality (i.e. that if you have one item and another item, putting them together yields two items). However, applying the mathematical concept of ‘1 + 1 =2’ to reality universally (and not just in this or that instance, but in all future instances yet to be encountered) is a philosophical, not objective, claim. However, because it is based on objective events, we consider it valid. My argument here is that the Resurrection functions in the same way as other scientific claims for the foundation of Christianity as a valid paradigm.