The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of Christianity. The apostle Paul, one of Christianity’s earliest and most important voices argued, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:17-19). Paul is saying if the resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity is a mythical story offering only false hope. On the other hand, if the resurrection did happen, it’s proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be: the Son of God.
Science doesn’t support the resurrection. I think that statement is true, yet I believe the resurrection of Christ happened in a real and physical sense. No doubt some will read those sentences and conclude that I’m foolish, or simply an advocate of a blind and irrational faith. However, I would argue accepting that science doesn’t support the resurrection doesn’t have to lead to the conclusion that it didn’t occur. There are good reasons a person would be warranted to believe that Jesus died and came back to life, even if science doesn’t support the claim. Before looking at those reasons, however, we should address why science doesn’t support the resurrection.
Miracles and Science
Science doesn’t support the resurrection because the resurrection was a miracle. Miracles, by definition, are events caused by something outside the material universe and distinct from the ordinary laws of nature. Thus, if miracles happen, they aren’t something that can be detected by science.
Science requires observing the world with our five senses, making hypotheses about what we experience and how it all works, then testing those hypotheses to see if they hold true under further examination. Since science is limited to speaking only about material causes that we can observe with our five senses, other immaterial or supernatural forces that can bring about effects in our world are not subject to the scientific process. Thus science can neither prove nor disprove their existence. To be even clearer, miracles can’t be disproven by science. But neither can they be proven. If a miracle occurred we would have to arrive at that conclusion through other means than scientific inquiry.
Can We Know if the Miracle of the Resurrection Happened?
To determine whether or not a miracle happened depends primarily on the credibility of the accounts of the event. If an individual tells us they were abducted by aliens, and there’s nothing but their testimony to back up the claim, we would rightly be very skeptical. However, if there were a variety of independent witnesses telling the same story, with no reason to be biased one way or another, the claim would be more credible. Furthermore, if there are many credible accounts, we would want to consider whether or not the story they tell makes sense of any available data.
We have to apply the same sort of method to claims that a miracle happened, and of course, to the claim that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Are there credible accounts of the resurrection? We have four Gospels written in the first century A.D. In addition, we have the letters of the apostle Paul written between 15—25 years after Christ’s crucifixion which all attest to a widespread belief in the resurrection based on eyewitness testimony (1 Cor. 15:1—8).
Do these credible accounts make sense of the available data? As historian Tom Holland writes about the biblical Gospels’ record of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death, “There is no reason to doubt the essentials of this narrative. Even the most sceptical historians have tended to accept them.” Yet, despite widespread acceptance that the Gospel accounts are basically truthful to this point in the story, once they claim that Jesus rose again, many become skeptical. At the very least, it’s clear that Jesus’ body went missing from the tomb. The disciples claimed, to their deaths, that they’d seen him alive again after his crucifixion. There’s no evidence that the Jews or Romans ever produced Christ’s body, which would have been the easiest way to refute the claims of the disciples. So we must ask: Why did the disciples go to their deaths telling and affirming the story of the resurrection if it was an elaborate hoax? Seldom do people suffer torture and death for something they know is untrue. In this case, eleven men would have done so without changing their story.
Even though science can’t support the resurrection, you can’t ask for better evidence than the New Testament provides. Believing that the resurrection happened is ultimately a historical question, not a scientific one. It doesn’t require blind or illogical faith, but it does require a faith tempered by thoughtful analysis and logic. Are the Gospel accounts credible? Do they make sense of the available data? If we can move past the faulty idea that science disproves the resurrection, we can begin to answer these and other questions. Science may not support the resurrection, but the evidence for the miraculous raising of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead must be considered.
 Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (Basic Books: New York, 2019), 4.
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