Alister McGrath on the Ernst Troeltsch Objection to the Resurrection of Jesus

alister mcgrath

Here is a common objection to the resurrection of Jesus that I hear from critics and others in academic circles. Alister McGrath addressed it here:

“The third line of criticism of the historicity of the resurrection is due to the German sociologist Ernst Troeltsch, who argued that, as dead men don’t rise, Jesus couldn’t have risen. The basic principle underlying this objection goes back to David Hume, and concerns the need for present-day analogues for historical events. Before accepting that an event took place in the past, we need to be persuaded that it still takes place in the present. Troeltsch asserted that since we have no contemporary experi¬ence of the resurrection of a dead human being, we have reason for supposing that no dead man has ever been raised.

Of course, as Christianity has insisted that the resurrection of Jesus was a unique historical event, the absence of present-day analogues is only to be expected. If people were raised from the dead on a regular basis, there would be no difficulty in accepting that Jesus Christ had been thus raised. But it would not stand out. It would not be different. It would not say anything, either about the identity of Jesus himself, or about the God who chose to raise him in this way. The resurrection was taken so seriously because it was realized that it was totally out of the ordinary, unique in the proper sense of the word.


Nevertheless, a more sophisticated reply to this line of criticism is needed. The most vigorous response to Troeltsch’s criticism has been made by Wolfhart Pannenberg, who pointed out that Troeltsch had adopted a remarkably dogmatic view of reality, based upon questionable metaphysical presuppositions, effectively dictating what could and could not have happened in history on the basis of his preconceived views. Troeltsch, Pannenberg argued, had already laid down in advance that the resurrection could not happen. The argument seemed to move as follows:


a. Dead people do not rise from the dead.
b. Therefore Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead.
c. End of discussion.


But this is unacceptably superficial. The philosophical question of induction, noted earlier, does not allow the conclusion to be drawn from the premise. Observation does not determine fixed laws, which may be used to determine whether something did or did not happen in the past. It merely establishes the probability of events of a certain type.”

To read the full article called The Resurrection by Alister McGrath, see here.

A Look at Cognitive Dissonance and How People Come to Resolution

Just recently I have been reading a new book by Christian philosopher Greg Gansslle. His latest book is called  Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations. In it, he says the following:

“Cognitive dissonance is tension that arises when our beliefs come into conflict with each other. I often experience this tension when I try to find my keys. I believe I left them on the counter next to my wallet, but they are not there. I have one belief based on my memory and another based on the fact that I don’t see them where I expect to see them. These beliefs conflict with each other. I want to find my keys, but I also want to find an explanation for the dissonance. Why were the keys not where I thought they would be? I keep looking for a resolution. If I figure out the problem, I feel a sense of relief. Finding my keys is a simple case. Cognitive dissonance in other cases can be deep and persistent. Scholars sifting through complex evidence face a deeper kind of cognitive dissonance. It often takes a great deal of time to work out their ideas and find resolution.

When we experience dissonance, we strive for resolution. We want to remove the tension. We cannot remain in a state of conflict for significant periods of time. We achieve resolution by revising either the content of our beliefs and desires or by revising the ordering of our beliefs and desires. We will often change our beliefs to fit our loves. We are less ready to change our loves to fit our beliefs

It is important for me to make it clear that I shall not argue that Christianity is true. I believe it is true, but for most people, the question of whether it is true is not the most important question. My suspicion is that there are many people who think something like the following: “I am pretty sure that Christianity is not true, and it is a good thing that it is not.” I want to challenge the second part of this thought. I hope to persuade readers that it would be a good thing if Christianity turned out to be true. For this reason, I will explore elements of our experience that we care deeply about, and I will point out how the Christian picture of reality makes sense of these elements. The assumptions by which we navigate our lives include more than what we believe. They include our desires or our loves. It is not only what I think is true that will affect how I pursue the best life. It is also what I most want.”

In regards to these comments by Ganssle, I have been told religious people are the ones who have to struggle with cognitive dissonance. This happens when Christians are given objections by atheists or people from other faiths. Well, guess what? All people deal with issues of cognitive dissonance. It is part of life. Yes, atheists as well.

If someone is a skeptic, and says that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible and they are challenged with dissonance, in many cases, they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis and dismiss evidence that might overturn their position.  Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist or comes to the conclusion that God does exist by their own investigation, when challenged, they will seek evidence to continually support such a claim as well.  Thus, we tend to fill in the dissonance by looking for evidence that confirms our beliefs. Same goes for Muslims, Mormons, and others.

This doesn’t mean there is no objectivity involved here. But in many cases the bias and starting points are the same. Both parties are looking for evidence for their position and they cite books and articles to back up their points. Also, both sides can tend to dismiss each other when they cite an authority on some given topic.

But what about  Ganssle’s comments about we tend to want to cling to what we love more than what is true? Keep in mind, when we say something is true, we mean it matches reality. But yes, in many cases, we do pick what we love and desire over what is true. I have seen this happen quite frequently.  Ganssle also quotes the famous atheist  Bertrand Russell  who said:

“Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”-Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (New York: Modern Library, 1927), 2-3. This essay was originally published in 1903.

So the question becomes, do some people love and desire to  be the result of an undirected, naturalistic process?  Of course some will say “Well, the evidence supports the fact that humans are the result of an undirected, natural process. ” We can debate the evidence all day long about this issue. But from a Biblical standpoint, all human beings enjoy the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Thus all humans have a right to human dignity (i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or rank or any other way). NOTE: I chose to the use the word ‘ethnicity’ instead of race since the Bible doesn’t teach there are races. There is only one race which is the human race.  We also have a responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others. Theism has a clear teleology which is the belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history. Many atheists adhere to a naturalistic worldview which has no teleology. In other words, humans are a blind cosmic accident who came from a process that has no meaning, no purpose, no goal, no directions.  Atheist Thomas Nagel laments in the following comment:

My guess is that the cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.-The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 13

Anyway, this is some food for thought.

NOTE: Also, see the article, “Is Religious Belief Just a Brain Function?”



What Does It Mean To Love God With All Our Heart, Soul, and Mind?

In Mark 12.28-34 we find a scribe asking Jesus a serious question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus replied by saying, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus then added a second commandment (from Leviticus 19.18) when he said, “The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here we see the Shema is the central creed for Jesus! Jesus is quoting from Deut. 6:4-9:

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.” These six words begin the Shema (pronounced “shmah”), three sections of Scripture repeated twice daily to remind each Jewish person of his or her commitment to God (Deuteronomy 6: 4– 9; 11: 13–21; Numbers 15: 37– 41).

In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of  the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the  Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is  “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is  used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical  standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire  person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional,  affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart”  (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the  rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblical faith involves a  commitment of the whole person.

In Jewish thought, in the Shema, hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. Hence, in Deut. : 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We love our God with our emotions, our actions, our entire beings (including our minds).  How might me love God with our minds?

First, as John Piper says in his essay on Faith and Reason:

Paul said in Ephesians 4:18: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In other words, at the bottom of human irrationality and spiritual ignorance is hardness of heart. That is, our self-centered hearts distort our reason to the point where we cannot use it to draw true inferences from what is really there. If we don’t want God to be God, our sensory faculties and our rational faculties will not be able to infer that he is God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul says the mind is “hardened” (epōrōthē). In1 Timothy 6:5, he calls the mind “depraved” (diephtharmenōn). And inRomans 1:21, he says that thinking has become “futile” (emaraiōthēsan) and “darkened” (eskotisthē) and “foolish” (asunetos) because men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). In other words, unrighteousness disorders the capacity to see the truth. The corruption of our hearts is the root of our irrationality.

We are an adulterous generation. We love man-centered error more than Christ-exalting truth, and our rational powers are taken captive to serve this adulterous love. This is what Jesus exposed when he said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” In other words, your mind functions just fine when seeking out a partner in adultery, but it cannot see the signs of Christ-exalting truth.”

Note: You can download Piper’s book THINK right here.

As Christ followers, we are called to not fall into the same traps that Paul warns his audiences here.

Second, Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity) from a Christian/biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity. As Norman Geisler says,

God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (1)

Third, establish a worldview: The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience.(2)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Fourth, as William Lane Craig says:

It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (3)

If we teach the holistic nature of faith, we won’t over emphasize emotions to the detriment of intellect or vice versa.

Fifth, from a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?


I hope these tips help. Remember, Biblical faith is a holistic commitment to God. It is a commitment that calls for us to submit our mind, emotions, and will all to the glory of God.


1. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.

2. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.

3. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.

Would You Believe the First Apologists Were Messianic Jews?


Who were the first Apologists? Believe it or not, the first apologists were all Messianic Jews. You may say “Well, what are Messianic Jews?”  Messianic Judaism is not new at all. All the authors of the New Testament were Jewish (with the possible exception of Luke). For many years the early faith in Jesus was strictly Jewish in both orientation and practice. Hence, the early Church was 100% percent Jewish! We see the growth of Messianic Judaism in The Book of Acts: (Acts 2:41) 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost  after Peter’s Sermon (goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4);(Acts 6:7) “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”; (Acts 21:20) Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul- “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands” or “countless thousands”; Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus.

Obviously, we see our first Gentile convert in Acts 10 (Cornelius).  It was only over a long period where the Church become a predominately Gentile based phenomena. To read more about this, see The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed.  Isn’t it nice that we as Gentiles are no longer “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph .2:11-13), and “without hope.” May we thank God for allowing us to participate in His redemptive plan for the entire world. To see the historical basis and background of Messianic Judaism, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations by David J. Rudolph.

Today, there are thousands of Messianic Jewish  believers in the United States alone and across the world. Of course, the Apostle Paul (a Pharisee and a Jewish Believer himself) showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5; Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). Paul understood that since Gentiles (I am one of them), have received the blessing of knowing the Jewish Messiah, they have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in learning about how to share the good news of the Messiah with the Jewish people.

Messianic Judaism pertains to those who are Jewish and have come to faith in the promised Messiah of Israel. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus, and means “Salvation.” Jesus was actually called Yeshua, a Jewish man living in the land of Israel among Jewish people.

But with acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah comes much opposition and objections from within the Jewish community. Also, it should not be surprising that the Jewish community has formed its own set of objections to Jesus and the claims of His followers. Many Jewish people who come to faith in Jesus can be ostracized by their own communities. I even know some who have been disowned by their own families.

Dr. Michael Brown

The most well-known Messianic apologist at the present time is Dr.Michael Brown. Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He has debated many rabbis on shows such as Phil Donahue, and Faith Under Fire. Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and is visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is at You can see him walking down the streets of New York discussing the Messiah issue here:

Dr. Brown has written a five set volume called Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus:
Vol 1 is called General Objections/Historical Objections
Vol 2 is called Theological Objections
Vol 3 is called Messianic Prophecy Objections
Vol 4 is called New Testament Objections
Vol 5 is called Traditional Jewish Objections

What was the Message of the first Messianic Jewish Apologists?

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

After reading this, we can see that there wasn’t much appeal to personal testimony nor “Accept Jesus into your heart and he will make your life better.”

Perhaps we can conclude with the words of J.P. Moreland:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”–J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30

Alister McGrath On Things That Can’t Be Seen

Enriching our Vision of Reality: Theology and the natural sciences in dialogue by [McGrath, Alister]

Here are some thoughts by Alister McGrath on things that go beyond our experience:

” Let’s develop an issue that has been important in recent debates between Christians and atheists. Is it rational to believe in something that lies beyond our experience? Why not just limit ourselves to what we experience and encounter in the world? It’s a great question. Science is all about observing the world. The movement known as Logical Positivism took the view that this was all that could be done. Science was basically about accumulating uninterpreted observations of the world and developing general summaries of these observations. What happens if our observations suggest the existence of certain entities that we cannot see? Physics may have begun with a naïve realism; it has, however, achieved its greatest triumphs by going beyond the observable, in a leap of imagination that goes beyond what can be seen. Isaac Newton, for example, found himself compelled to believe in the notion of gravity – something that could not be detected through any human sensory capacity. Why? Because his observations of the patterns of behaviour of falling objects on earth and the motion of the planets around the sun could all be explained if there existed some intrinsic capacity on the part of one object to attract another (‘gravitational attraction’). Although he was deeply uneasy about this notion, it seemed to work well in calculating planetary orbits.

Others, however, such as the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), were critical of such an unevidenced and counterintuitive notion. A related issue arises in connection with ‘dark matter’. The problem here is that theoretical calculations of the mass of the universe don’t match those that arise from observation. For this reason, the notion of dark matter was proposed. Basically, it is material that is believed really to be there (indeed, it would make up the vast bulk of the universe); it’s just that it can’t be seen. We are caught up in a firefight between those who defy reason and those who deify it. Reason, when all is said and done, is an excellent critical tool but an inadequate foundation for securing reliable human knowledge. To be rational is not to be limited to the severely truncated and inadequate world of what human reason can allegedly prove; it is to recognize the limits of reason and work within them, while at the same time trying to work out ways of transcending them.”-Alister McGrath, Enriching our Vision of Reality: Theology and the natural sciences in dialogue



Professor Jerry Coyne: “One day killing newborn babies will be widespread, and ‘it will be for the better”

If you aren’t familiar  with Jerry Coyne, he is a staunch atheist who has written books such as Why Evolution is True and Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. Christian philosopher Ed Feser reviewed the Faith vs Fact book here, and says: “Faith versus Fact is some kind of achievement. Biologist Jerry Coyne has managed to write what might be the worst book yet published in the New Atheist genre.”

Sadly, Coyne has recently said ” “If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?” Coyne wrote. “I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral.” See the entire article here: 

This is tragic and really reveals the fundamental difference in a theistic worldview and Coyne’s materialistic worldview. In Coyne’s worldview, all reality is reducible to matter and chance. Biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism says that impersonal/physical, valueless processes produce valuable, rights-bearing persons. Humans can assign people value by choice. They don’t appeal to any transcendent source. It is purely subjective.  In contrast, to a materialistic worldview, in a theistic worldview,  all human beings enjoy, the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Humans have a right to human dignity, i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, race or rank or any other way. We have a responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others. Rights are linked to personhood. Because humans are made in the likeness of a personal God, they are intrinsically (essentially) valuable. Rights come by virtue of who we are by nature (or essence), not our function.

Robert Spitzer sums up the issue of personhood in his book Ten Universal Principles:

With respect to life issues, this principle is important because a theory of human personhood that treats a person as a mere individual physical thing (materialism) does not explain the data of persons being self-conscious or having transcendental desires (such as the desire for complete and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being). Therefore, materialism’s explanation of many acknowledged human powers and activities, such as empathy, agape (self-sacrificial love), self-consciousness, the desire for integrity and virtue, the sense of the spiritual, and the drive for self-transcendence, is, at best, weak. Theories that attempt to account for and explain these data, such as hylomorphism or transmaterialism, should be preferred to ones that do not, such as biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism. There is another more serious consequence of the underestimation of human personhood, namely, the undervaluation of real people. If we consider human beings to be mere matter without the self-possession necessary for freedom and love, without unique lovability, or without spiritual or transcendent significance, we might view human beings as mere “things”. If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification”. The principle of most complete explanation has a well-known corollary, namely, “There are far more errors of omission than commission”, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors. This adage is related to the moral saying that “there are far more sins of omission than commission.” In the case of the underestimation of human personhood, history has revealed how close the relationship between errors and sins truly is.”- Ten Universal Principals 


3 reasons I’m not an atheist (and I’m still a Christian)

If you aren’t familiar  with Justin Brierly, he is the founder of the Unbelievable Podcast which has hosted many debates between Christians and atheists/skeptics. Justin has now released a new book called Unbelievable? Why, After Ten Years of Talking with Atheists, I’m Still a Christian.

Here is a short article at Christianity Today where  Justin discusses why he is still a follower of Jesus. 

Atheism and the Burden of Proof by Paul Copan

By Paul Copan

In conversations with atheists, they may challenge us: “You’re claiming that God exists. Therefore, the burden of proof rests on you, not me. So … where’s your evidence?”

Atheist Michael Scriven insists “we need not have a proof that God does not exist in order to justify atheism. Atheism is obligatory in the absence of any evidence for God’s existence.”1 Or perhaps someone has told you that belief in God is just like belief in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Where do we begin to respond to such assertions?

First, define your terms — especially atheism. Understand the terms you are using. You can clear up a lot of confusion here and keep the conversation with a professing atheist on track. Ask your friend, “How do you define atheism?” According to theEncyclopedia of Philosophy, the historic definition of “atheist” is one who “maintains that there is no God, that is, that the sentence God exists expresses a false proposition.”2

The late atheist-turned-deist philosopher Antony Flew, defined atheism as“rejection of belief in God” — not merely the absence of belief in God.3 Likewise, Julian Baggini, in his book Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, asserts that atheism is “extremely simple to define.” It is “the belief that there is no God or gods.”4 By contrast, central to theism is that an infinitely good, wise, self-existent, and powerful personal Creator brought into being a creation separate from himself, though He sustains all things in being. This creation is comprised of things visible and invisible. And God uniquely made human beings with distinctive moral, spiritual, intellectual, and relational capacities.


To read on, click here:

Revisiting the Minimal Facts Argument: A Hypothetical Discussion Between a Skeptic and a Christian

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by [Habermas, Gary R., Licona, Michael R.]

This is a hypothetical discussion based on a discussion of the Minimal Facts argument that has been put forward in the book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona and Gary Habermas.

Please note I have already discussed this topic a bit in a post called The Metaphysical Hurdle and The Minimal Facts Argument.

A Hypothetical Discussion:

Professing Christian: “Do you agree that if God wants humanity to know his plans and purposes for them, it makes sense He would communicate to us somewhere within the context human history?”

Skeptic: “Yes, I think that does make sense. But where in history has he done this?”

Professing Christian:  “He has communicated to us through the work of Jesus of Nazareth. Our central claim is that he rose from the dead to confirm He is the full revelation of God to humanity.”

Skeptic: “What’s your evidence Jesus rose from the dead?”

Professing Christian: “Have you ever considered what is called the “Minimal Facts Argument”

Skeptic: “No, I’ve never heard of it.”

Professing Christian:  “There are certain aspects of the resurrection of Jesus that many critical scholars agree on. This includes atheists and historians who are not Orthodox Christians etc.”

Skeptic: “Are you saying just because a bunch of scholars agree on these things, that I should just accept it. That seems like an appeal to an authority.”

Professing Christian: “Do you think that majority of scientists accept the Neo-Darwinian model is an appeal to an authority?”

Skeptic: “Well, I guess not. The reason they accept it is because there is strong evidence for the Neo-Darwinian model.”

Professing Christian: “Okay, well we can debate the evidence for the Neo-Darwinian model another time. But for now, may I show you the evidence for the minimal facts argument.”

Skeptic: “Okay, I am willing to listen.”

Professing Christian: “Okay, here are the minimal facts”

Minimal Fact #1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion

“One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.” Bart Ehrman (Agnostic)  [1]

“Jesus’s death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Yeshua had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” John Dominic Crossan [2]

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” Gerd  Lüdemann (Atheist) [3]

Skeptic: “Okay, so I see agnostic scholars think Jesuswas crucified. But why are they so sure of their position?”

Professing Christian:  “Historians like numerous and early sources to be extensive in scope. In an ideal situation, the various sources that discuss a figure or an event should corroborate what each other’s had to say, at least on the major points if not all the details. Let’s look at the sources for the crucifixion of Jesus.”

  1. All four Gospels (written before the first century) say Jesus was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate. The gospels are not always independent of each other. Matthew and Luke, for example, are likely dependent on Mark. To see evidence for the Gospels, see here: To see evidence for the Pilate Inscription, click here: 
  2. Paul’s Letters (written from AD 48 to AD 64) speaks of the death of Jesus  and that He was crucified (1 Corinthians 1:13, 23, 2:2, 8, 2 Corinthians 13:4, Galatians 3:1, Philippians 2:8 Romans 5:6, 8, 106:3, 5, 9-10, 8:34, 14:9 15, 1 Corinthians 8:11, 11: 26, 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Galatians 2:21 Philippians 2:8, 3:10, Colossians 1:22, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 5:10). There is little doubt that Paul authored Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon—the “undisputed” epistles. To see evidence for the reliability of Paul’s Letters, see the section with the heading Paul and the Earliest Records for the Jesus Story
  3. The Book of Acts (dated 62-65 AD): Jesus  was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23) and that He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:2). To see materials on the reliability of Acts, see the heading,  Reliability of the Gospels: Canon Issue/The Book of Acts.
  4. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian who was employed by the Romans and wrote during the time of Christ. He would write, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified . . .” (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.63–64. 10.). To see common objections to Josephus, click here: 
  5. Tacitus, who is generally regarded as the greatest of the Roman historians. He was the proconsul of Asia from AD 112 to 113. His last work, The Annals, was written circa AD 116–117 and included, “Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” (Tacitus, Annals, 15.44). To see common objections to Tacitus, click here: 
  6. Roman source Lucian: He was a second-century playwright who wrote, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.” (Lucian of Samosata, The Works of Lucian of Samosata, trans. H. W. Fowler (, 472.
  7. The collection of Jewish teaching known as the Talmud reports that “on the eve of the Passover, Yeshua was hanged.” Yeshua is “Joshua” in Hebrew (translated “Yeshua” in Greek). Being hung on a tree was used to describe crucifixion in antiquity. ( Jacob Neusner, trans. The Talmud of Babylonia: Sanhedrin).
  8. The apologetic work called Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (2nd century): Justin Martyr, the Palestinian Christian debates Trypho the Jew. Trypho is not persuaded Jesus is the Messiah. In one part of this work, He replies:“It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer. . . . But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and be subjected to so disgraceful and shameful a death. . . . We find it impossible to think this could be so.” [4]

NOTE: For an evaluation for sources for Jesus outside the NT, see R. V. Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000); F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament ( London: Hodder & Stoughton Religious, 1984); G.A. Boyd and P. R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case for The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007).

Minimal Fact #2 “The birth of the early Christian/Jesus movement wouldn’t exist without the resurrection of Jesus.”

Professing Christian: “You know it is highly improbable that any Jewish person would have kept following Jesus and spread his message if Jesus had only died by Roman crucifixion.”

Skeptic: “What do you mean?”

Professing Christian: “Jewish people knew from their own writings that anyone what was crucified and left hanging on a Roman crucifixion stake was considered to be cursed by God. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives specific instructions concerning one who has been executed on account of a capital offense:

“If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”

In the context of the covenant of Israel, the Near Eastern pattern was of both blessing and curse.  The blessing was for those who obeyed the stipulations of the covenant:

“Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God” (Deut. 28:1-2).

For a Jewish person, to be blessed was to be in the presence of God, enjoying His presence and all the benefits it entailed. The blessing was to experience God’s shalom in one’s life. In contrast to blessing, the curse was upon those who violated the stipulations of the covenant. So, for them, for Jesus to be crucified was not something that would motivate them to follow him.

Furthermore, it has been documented that Jewish people who led messianic revolts such as Judas the Galilean, Simon, Athronges, Eleazar ben Deinaus and Alexander, Menahem, Simon bar Giora, and bar-Kochba were all defeated. [5] Faced with the defeat of their leader, followers of such figures would either be rounded up as well or melt away into the undergrowth. So if Jesus  only died, why would any Jewish person in the first century continue to follow him?” N.T. Wright says the following:

If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Yeshua, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth. [6]

Minimal Fact #3: “Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus  had been resurrected and had appeared to them.”

Let’s observe the list of appearances:

  1. Jesus  appears to Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:14-18)
  2. Jesus appears to several female disciples (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11)
  3.  Jesus  appears to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5; John 21:1-24)
  4. Jesus appears to James, John, Thomas, Nathaniel, and two others (John 21:1-24)
  5. Jesus  appears to the eleven disciples as a group (Matthew 28:16-20; John 20:19-29)
  6. Jesus  appears to Cleopas and one unnamed disciple (Luke 24:13-35)
  7. Jesus appears to more than five hundred “brothers” at once (1 Corinthians 15:6)
  8. Jesus appears to James (a.k.a. “the Lord’s brother”) (1 Corinthians 15:7; compare Galatians 2:19)
  9. Jesus  appears to Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. Paul) (1 Corinthians 15:8).

Let’s look at what moderate and even agnostic scholars say about the resurrection appearances:

That Jesus’s followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. [7] —E.P. Sanders, New Testament Scholar and Former Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion at Duke University

It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death.  Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus , not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection.[8] — Bart Ehrman, New Testament Scholar and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Ehrman goes onto say:

We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.[9]

Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’s resurrection, since this is a matter of public record.[10]

Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this.[11]

It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ. It seems to be historically certain that Mary Magdalene experienced an appearance of the risen Jesus. The only thing we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’ death. These appearances cannot be denied. But did the Risen Jesus in fact reveal himself in them? [12] —Atheist Gerd Lüdemann, Chair of History and Literature of Early Christianity at University of Göttingen

I know in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Yeshua. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as an historian, that they must have seen something. The disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ, their relocation to Jerusalem, their principled inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles – all these are historical bedrock, facts known past doubting about the earliest community after Jesus’ death.[13] —Paula Fredrickson, Historian and Scholar of Religious Studies, William Goodwin Aurelio Chair Emerita of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University

The disciples thought that they had witnessed Jesus’ appearances, which, however they are explained, “is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree. [14] Even the most skeptical historian” must do one more thing: “postulate some other event” that is not the disciples’ faith, but the reason for their faith, in order to account for their experiences.  Of course, both natural and supernatural options have been proposed. [15] –— Reginald Fuller, Former Biblical Scholar and Professor Emeritus at Virginia Theological Seminary

 Skeptic: “Okay, so a lot of scholars agree the disciples had experiences that they perceived as the risen Jesus. But why do they all believe this? Do they believe this just because it is recorded in the NT?”

Professing Christian:  “Well, first, it is recorded very early. 1 Cor 15:3-8 contains a creed that is probably one of the earliest records we have of the resurrection appearances.

Here it is:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

Paul says the information about the resurrection was something he “received.”  While the word “received” can also be used in the New Testament of receiving a message or body of instruction or doctrine, it also means “to receive from another.” One of the clues as to where Paul got his information, is that, within the creed, he calls Peter by his Aramaic name, Cephas. Hence, it seems likely that he received this information in either Galilee or Judea, one of the two places where people spoke Aramaic. Therefore, Paul possibly received the oral history of 1 Cor. 15:3-7 during his visit to Jerusalem.

In Galatians 1:18 Paul says, “Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.1 Cor 15: 3-8 is dated 50-55 A.D. But Paul received this information at an earlier date.” To see more about the early creed, see here: 

“Second, the reason these scholars think the disciples all had these experiences that they perceived as the resurrected Jesus  is because they proclaimed it and were at least willing to be martyred for it. People lie for three reasons: 1) Money, 2) Sex, 3) Power. Do you see any evidence that the disciples, or apostles were motivated to lie for these three reasons?

Third, remember, historians want to know not only what happened, but what caused it to happen. In other words, historians look for cause and effect. In this case, they look for the cause of the early Christian movement in the first century. We already discussed the challenge of a crucified messiah. The resurrection appearances help explain why the disciples/Apostles continued to follow Jesus after he died.

 Minimal Fact #4 “Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul, was a harsh opponent of the early Jesus movement. But he was transformed into a defender of the faith after he believed he encountered the risen Jesus.”

 “There is no doubt that [Paul] believed that he saw Jesus’ real but glorified body raised from the dead.” – Bart Ehrman, (see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 301)

  1.   Paul saw a blinding light (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13; cf. 2 Cor 4:6), but equally he saw the just One and heard the voice from his mouth (Acts 22:14; cf. 1 Cor 9:1); “the Lord Jesus … appeared to [Paul] on the road” (Acts 9:17; cf. 1 Cor 15:8).
  2. There was no greater enemy to the young movement than him. For Paul, the crucified Jesus  was “accursed” (by God). When Paul knew of the messianic claims the disciples were making about Jesus, he must have immediately reached an opposite conclusion, that he was a false messiah. Imagine someone like Richard Dawkins coming to faith and becoming a champion for Jesus.
  3. Paul interacts with eyewitnesses of the ministry of Jesus and pass their testimonies on to us (1 Corinthians 15, Galatians 1 and 2). He described how he met James, the brother of Jesus – John; and Peter, where “I presented to them the gospel that I preach” (Galatians 2:2)
  4. Paul was willing to suffer and die for the movement he had previously persecuted. He was martyred by Nero in AD 64. Imagine Saul, a Roman citizen, willfully submitting to forgo an advantage that status gave him and volunteering to suffer the ultimate punishment of the death penalty all because he refused to deny that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead and, therefore, the promised Messiah. “This point is well documented, reported by Paul himself, as well as Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen. Also, see the post, “What did Paul See?” 

    Skeptic: “Wait a minute. So what’s the big deal about Paul?  Don’t people change their beliefs all the time?”

Christian: “Yes, people do switch beliefs. But Paul became a follower of Jesus based on his own testimony of encountering the risen Jesus. Two passages in 1 Corinthians are connected and are to be read together. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? (1 Cor. 9:1) and “Last of all, as to one untimely born he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Cor 15:8-9).  Paul implies a sequence of events: first he persecuted the church of God; then he saw the risen Lord; then he became and is the apostle who, along with other apostles, preaches the crucified, buried, and raised-up Christ (cf. 15:11). Also, see the article, The Resurrection of Jesus: a Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of Easter Joseph W. Bergeron, M.D. and Gary R. Habermas, Ph.D.

What is the Best Explanation for these Minimal Facts?

Skeptic: Okay, well these minimal facts seem to be strong. But none of us were there. Hence, we can’t be sure about what really happened.”

Christian: “Do you know the difference between direct and circumstantial or indirect evidence?”

  1. Direct evidence: Evidence that is simply unavailable to those of us who are studying historical events in the Bible: This is called “direct evidence.” We were not present to directly witness the events in the Bible.
  2. Almost all of historical evidence, science, as well as cold case investigations are built on “circumstantial or indirect evidence.”

Also, we must utilize what is called “Inference to the most reasonable explanation” (Abduction)

  1. Inference refers to the process of collecting data and then drawing conclusions on the basis of this evidence.
  2. We compare the evidence to the potential explanations and determined which explanation was, in fact, the most reasonable inference in light of the evidence.
  3. The best explanation will cover all the data.

 Potential Explanations other than the Resurrection Explanation:

  1. Remember, whatever someone proposes as an alternative explanation, it has to be able to adequately explain all the minimal facts (i.e., the death of Jesus the birth of the Jesus movement, the experiences of the disciples with the risen Jesus, Paul coming to faith, etc).
  2. Explanations can’t be ad hoc: People make up explanations, despite the fact that we have no real evidence for what they are making up. Remember, an assertion is the act of asserting something without evidence. Evidence is facts or observations presented in support of an assertion.
  3. Examples of assertions: “Aliens raised Jesus  from the dead.” “Maybe the disciples ate some bad mushrooms and freaked out.”

    To see some of the common naturalistic objections to these minimal facts, see out post,  Answering 15 Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus.


[1]. B. Ehrman, The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford: 2008), 261-262

[2].  John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper Collins. 1991), 145

[3].  Gerd Lüdemann,, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), 50.

[4]. S. J. Martyr, The Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas B. Falls (New York: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1949), 208, 291.

[5]. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 110. An extensive consideration of all these figures is given in. Wright’s book The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1992), 1:170-81

[6]. Robert  B.Stewart, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2006), 71.

[7].  E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books. 1993), 279-280.

[8]. B. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University. 1999), 231.

[9]. Ibid, 230.

[10]. Ibid.

[11]. B. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2009), 177.

[12]. G. Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?: A Historical Approach to the Resurrection, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent: Westminster John Knox. 1995), 8.

[13]. Fredriksen’s comments came during an interview with the late ABC journalist Peter Jennings for his documentary The Search for Yeshua, which first aired in July 2000. Emphasis added.

[14]. R. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Scribner’s, 1965), 142

[15]. R. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan. 1980), 181.