May 27, 2007

I Want To Believe

There's a fascinating discussion on Telic Thoughts about the sense that most people have that there is an "underlying purpose to the cosmos." This is interesting in itself, but the comment thread meanders to other subjects, such as prophecy and the potential falsification of the central component of Christianity, the resurrection. I found this fascinating, as I had never thought of it in quite this way before.

I should have, though, because Paul makes this very point:

"But tell me this! Since you believe what we preach, that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying that dead people will never come back to life again? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ must still be dead. And if he is still dead, then all our preaching is useless and your trust in God is empty, worthless, hopeless; and we apostles are all liars because we have said that God raised Christ from the dead, and of course that isn't true if the dead do not come back to life again. If they don't, then Christ is still dead, and you are very foolish to keep on trusting God to save you, and you are still under condemnation for your sins; in that case all Christians who have died are lost! And if being a Christian is of value to us only now in this life, we are the most miserable of creatures." (1 Corinthians 15: 12-19, The Living Bible)

In other words, if Christ was not resurrected, Christianity is false, and I am spinning my wheels.

Paul doesn't just assert this, however; he provided corroboration. In an earlier part of the chapter he writes:

"I passed on to you right from the first what had been told to me, that Christ died for our sins just as the Scriptures said he would, and that he was buried, and that three days afterwards he arose from the grave just as the prophets foretold. He was seen by Peter and later by the rest of the Twelve. After that he was seen by more than five hundred Christian brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. Then James saw him and later all the apostles. " (1 Corinthians 15: 3-7)

So, Paul is saying, if you don't believe me, go talk to these eyewitnesses. This doesn't sound like a deliberate liar, or someone trying to spread the "new myth" of Christianity, since these people could easily deny his statements.

Paul's earlier devil's advocate quotation sounds like an objection raised today: Christ was not resurrected because miracles don't occur. To me, this is a cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your- face argument, or maybe a snake swallowing its tail. As so well stated by a commenter named Randy on the referenced thread:

"I fail to see how an event established by eyewitness contemporaries of Jesus is circular reasoning. I think you would have to show more evidence that they were lying, or that they were delusional, or that they had a particular insincere agenda before resorting to that argument. Most eyewitness accounts of history are accepted. We don't doubt the eyewitness accounts of the holocaust when many of them were given well after the events themselves. Why do we doubt the well documented events of the resurrection? I'll tell you the only reason that anyone could give: because miracles don't happen. But that is more circular than accepting the testimony."

It seems to me this is a good way to stifle debate of any sort, and paint people of faith as irrational. (Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine. No, I'm not going to stop talking about it.) I think that a serious thinker would have to at least acknowledge the possibility of miracles happening, and the possibility that God caused them (or, to go back further on the chain, the possibility that God exists), for his/her claims to be taken seriously, at least by me. Otherwise, I'm not going to bother; I see no sense in talking to someone whose mind is bricked shut.

As another commenter, Bradford, states:

"I've come to realize that if someone does not want to believe something no amount of evidence can be persuasive but I also take with a grain of salt the objections raised by such individuals."

Something to remember.

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