The scientific method involves observing something in the world, theorizing an explanation for it, testing that theory, making additional observations, and doing more testing. The cycle continues until a reasonably reliable explanation can be made. Making repeated observations and conducting tests other scientists can repeat is fundamental to scientific inquiry. It’s also what makes it difficult or even impossible as a way to study historical events—things that happen only once and cannot be repeated. In those cases—such as the origin of the universe—the effects of the event are studied and inferences are made to explain the cause.
The claim that Jesus resurrected from the dead is a historical event that can’t be observed, tested, or repeated. Medical science does have overwhelming evidence that the dead don’t resurrect to life. The exception of near death experiences may provide some evidence for a conscious state for a time after a person is declared medically dead, but given that the people who have them have resuscitated within minutes or hours—not resurrected three days later—they aren’t very helpful. Also, people who have had near death experiences do eventually die again, unlike the resurrection of Jesus.
Ironically, in an atheistic scientific worldview, the resurrection of Jesus actually is a possibility. If, by random chance, the universe sprang into existence from nothing, and if, by random chance, life came to existence through non-life, then why should the resurrection be seen as impossible? Couldn’t Jesus resurrect from the dead through random chance? Isn’t it an example of life coming from non-life? In an atheistic scientific worldview, the cause wouldn’t be an act of God, but it would still be a resurrection. Therefore, science doesn’t disprove the resurrection.
The best evidence for the resurrection is found in the historical effects following it. Jesus’s disciples believed they encountered him after his death. According to tradition, eleven of the twelve were martyred for proclaiming the resurrection. Saul of Tarsus, a pharisee who persecuted Christians for heresy, believed he encounter the resurrected Jesus and radically reoriented his life because of it. He became known as Paul and spent the next 30 years or so traveling throughout the Roman empire, spreading Jesus’s teachings. According to tradition, he was martyred for proclaiming the truth of the Resurrection. Then there’s Jesus’s brother James. John 7:5 says Jesus’s brothers didn’t believe in him during his earthly ministry. Mark 3:21 says Jesus’s family thought he was out of his mind. And yet James believed he encountered Jesus after his death. He even went on to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem. In fact, he was so convinced Jesus was God incarnate that he was martyred, according to tradition. What kind of evidence would convince you that your own brother was God incarnate?
This article is an excerpt from Tough Questions Answered by Doug Powell. You can request your free booklet here.