Many skeptics approach religious matters from a standpoint of probabilities. Looking back at an historical event, they ask “how likely is it that such an event occurred.” Christianity, as we know, rests upon the historical claim that Jesus, a man, rose from the dead in some sort of supernatural body. One skeptic put the challenge this way:
Do you honestly think that a supernatural physical resurrection and ascension is really the most likely scenario here? I have no good reason to believe the various post resurrection appearances as they all come down to us as hearsay accounts. Even if they are true however I still think there are much more plausible natural explanations for these historical occurrences. I've been reading a lot about religious and cult group behavior and there is no shortage of examples where persecution binds them together and strengthens their convictions.
This is understandable in a way. We intuitively assess claims that are put to us to see how plausible they are, and none of us wants to be made the fool. Try, for example, telling someone that the word “gullible” is written on their back and you’ll see what I mean. So, when someone tells you about the 10-foot fish he caught, you suspect exaggeration, at the very least, if not outright falsehood. And what bigger “whopper” is there than the account of a resurrected man?
Well, let’s see. How about the creation of the universe from nothing? According to Big Bang cosmology, the universe is expanding. Wind back the clock and you reach a point in the very distant past when there was no universe. There was nothing. Spend a moment thinking about that. Not vast empty space, or space teeming with lifeless rocks, but … nothing. Absolute, unbroken absence of anything. Yet somehow, from “outside”, a singularity appears from which everything we now see initially began. What are the odds of that?
Or how about the existence of DNA. Not how it presently replicates, which science can tell us about in some detail, but how it first assembled itself into a complex, information-rich blueprint to build living things. DNA isn’t just a few lines of information that might have somehow, randomly, found its way together, but is millions and millions of lines of code that instructs brain cells to be different from eye cells, drives the construction of that marvel of engineering otherwise known as the human hand, and ensures that the stomach is lined by a type of cell that won’t be digested by the acid all around it. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. A pretty improbable event, if you ask me.
Next, let’s take the existence of life. When the Earth consisted of rocks and bigger rocks and a variety of other inanimate things, what were the odds that life would arise? That proteins would not only unfold in a particular manner and bind together, but that the resulting organs would start to work, that hearts would beat and kidneys would filter and brains would think, all with such fine-tuned precision that the whole is orders of magnitude greater than the sum of the parts. And if you think any of these events is “probable,” what are the odds that one type of thinking brain would develop consciousness, self-awareness and imagination?
Compared to creating the universe, DNA, life or consciousness, resurrecting a man is child’s play. So, to answer the skeptic’s challenge: No, I don’t believe that resurrection is the “most likely” scenario, because on the face of it, the likelihood of any miraculous event is exceedingly low. I think that it actually happened, and that probabilities of what might have been do not matter at that point. I think that resurrection is the best explanation for the evidence that comes to us from the past.
Assessing that evidence is beyond the scope of this post. Countless books have been written making that case. In the end, whether the resurrection is worthy of belief is a question of assessing the evidence. But concluding that it didn’t before actually considering the evidence is nothing more than narrow thinking, and bad philosophy.