Evidence vs. Conclusions
I recently viewed a debate between top-notch Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The topic of the debate was "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?" The format of the debate was normal, both men spoke at a college, and had time for opening statements, 3 or 4 rebuttals, and then a Q&A session. Craig laid out his criteria in favour of the resurrection: 4 pieces of evidence that had to be refuted in order to disprove it actually happened. He cited the quick and large-scale spread of Christianity after the death of Christ, the multiple attestation of the 4 different gospel accounts (among other corroborative evidence from non-Christian writers outside the Bible), etc.
Dr. Ehrman offered the opposing view, that Jesus probably didn't rise from the dead because: the Gospels differed from each other by way of contradictions, they may have been recorded after some decades of verbal accounts handed down and possibly distorted, and that people don't rise from the dead generally speaking. In effect, Ehrman was attacking mainly the idea of something miraculous happening; namely that anyone (in this case Jesus) could be raised from the dead at all, because miracles just don't happen.
Now what was most interesting about this was that neither man attempted to erase any of the accounts in the New Testament. Ehrman didn't say, "well Jesus wasn't killed," or "Jesus was mythical." Instead, (and as Criag says in one of his rebuttals) the key points of evidence weren't being discredited, but rather Ehrman just concluded different things based on that same evidence. Two men who have studied the gospels in great detail, arrived at 2 different conclusions not based on what happened... but rather what those things that happened meant. Now this is an interesting concept because the Bible warns us that there are people who "see without seeing," and "hear without hearing." This I believe is how people can read the life-changing testimonies of the Bible, and get caught up in the fact that in one gospel Matthew refers to 10 disciples, but in another gospel Mark may refer to 11.
Ehrman was basing his conclusions about Christ rising from the grave based on his refusal to allow for the miraculous ever occurring. In short, by excluding God from the outset, he effectively removed God from the conclusion. Of course we could argue the same thing from Craig's perspective. Wasn't the fact that Craig was a believer from the outset influential in his acceptance of the resurrection as actually occurring? But think about this. If it never really happened, then what is all the fuss about? What was the big deal 2,000 years ago? Why are people's lives being changed every day by the power of the Gospel message? As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, "Christianity is either the truth that we are blessed to have received from a gracious God, or a lie from the pit of hell." (paraphrased).
I come down on the side of believing that Jesus DID rise from the grave, that the Bible is actually more than a just a collection of stories from some wise people, and that miracles DO happen. What a cruel hoax it would be if there was no Christ, or if He hadn't actually been resurrected. If this were true, we would still be dead in our sins, and this life is all there really is. But if the reverse is true, then we are an incredibly blessed species, because something up there really does revere and love us. Make your own choice regarding Jesus, but make sure you look at the evidence fairly, allowing for both possibilities: that miracles couldn't possibly happen, or that they can and do happen. How much more sense the 4 Biblical accounts make in light of the supernatural, as they were always meant to.