This is not an article claiming that Jesus’ body has been discovered. But imagine if it was. How would you react to the announcement that a team of archaeologists had discovered the body of Jesus Christ?
I know how I’d react. There are a million good reasons to be highly skeptical of such a claim, and I hardly think it necessary to list them, but here are a few that spring to my mind:
- We have no idea what Jesus actually looked like.
- Even if we did somehow know what Jesus looked like, we couldn’t know that the remains we had looked like that.
- Even if we did somehow know the remains belonged to a person who looked just like Jesus, it might have just been a doppelganger.
As well as all that, dating methods are surely not accurate enough to know that the remains belonged to a person who died around 30AD and not, say, 10 years later. Even if a sign was discovered next to the body saying “This is Jesus of Nazareth, who was buried here on Easter day, 30AD”, you would be pretty naive to take it as conclusive proof – anyone could have written such a sign. The only thing we really know about Jesus’ body is that he was crucified, but so were loads of people in that time. Even if remains were found of a body that had clearly been crucified, and dated to about the right time, there would be no reason to suppose it was Jesus.
The truth is that even if Jesus’ body really was discovered, it would be pretty much impossible to reliably conclude it was him. I definitely wouldn’t believe it, and I certainly wouldn’t expect any Christian to believe it.
Right, so what’s the big deal? Well, a friend of mine shared a blog by Robin Schumacher, entitled What Would Change Your Mind about Christianity?. Go and have a read if you like. Robin speaks of an important question he has asked many non-Christians:
If I’ve asked it once of a skeptic, I’ve asked it a hundred times – what would it take to change your mind so that you become a Christian? I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten an honest and direct answer. Instead, I’ve gotten smiles, flippant statements of seeing a thousand-foot Jesus, and assertions that there is no evidence for Christianity (with acute attempts at avoiding what constitutes “evidence” for them).
For the Christian, it’s easy to say what would evidentially crater our faith and worldview. But for many skeptics, there almost seems to be a deliberate attempt to not take the question seriously, which is unfortunate.
So, what is it that would “crater [the Christian’s] faith and worldview”? In an earlier section, entitled The Single Torpedo Needed to Destroy Christianity, we read (with my emphasis added):
For Christians, there is only one piece of evidence needed to convert every church into a vacant building and stop printers from producing additional copies of the New Testament. Find the body of that Jewish carpenter, and Christianity is undone.
Yes, it really is that simple. And really that hard.
Well, as I’ve discussed above, I doubt it would be possible to reasonably convince anybody – even a staunch skeptic of Christianity – that “the body of that Jewish carpenter” had really been found. So, even though Robin seems to think it is the non-Christian being evasive (and I’ll get to this claim later), it seems to me that it really is him giving an impossible answer. It’s practically the same as me saying “I’ll become a Christian if God appears to me and proves that 1+1=3”.
What would it take to change my mind?
So let me take Robin’s question seriously:
[W]hat would it take to change your mind so that you become a Christian?
Well, first, of course, I’d like to see some evidence that Christianity is true. To answer Robin’s concern, I don’t really know the best way to define “evidence”, but that doesn’t stop me from accepting various other things based on what I’d intuitively think of as evidence. I’d like to be presented with something that ought to convince me. I can’t say in advance precisely what would be the minimum that would convince me, but I can certainly dream up plenty of things that Robin and other Christians would have to admit are within the realms of possibility for the Christian God. Here are a few:
- I meet a man who claims to be Jesus, and he then caused the Pacific Ocean to part (like Moses is said to have done in the book of Exodus).
- While I’m staring at the sky at night, I see the stars move themselves so that they form the words “Christianity is true”.
- A legitimate scientific study shows that prayer actually works.
- Amputees grow back limbs as a result of prayer.
- I hear a message directly from God as a booming voice from Heaven.
- A really solid case for the resurrection is made, and loads of critical biblical scholars, historians, philosophers and leaders of other religions convert to Christianity.
I could think of many many more such situations, and I’d be happy to give Yes/No answers to questions like “Would you believe if…?”.
I’m not saying that these kinds of things are required before I would be convinced – I’m just saying that they are among some of the things that would do the trick. In other words, I’m saying they are sufficient conditions for me to believe, though they are not necessary conditions. It is my opinion that when people ask questions like Robin’s, they are often thinking in terms of necessary conditions (“what would you need to be convinced?”), whereas people typically answer it in terms of sufficient conditions (“well X,Y,Z would do the trick”). I think the wording of the question could support both the following interpretations:
- What would be necessary for you to believe in Christianity?
- What would be sufficient for you to believe in Christianity?
While I feel I can give plenty of answers to the second one (such as those above, and many more), I don’t know where to begin with the first one. Surely it would be foolish of me to say “I’d need to see Jesus part the Pacific Ocean”, because then what would happen if this never occured, but I did see the stars in the sky tell me that Christianity is true? Should I still continue to disbelieve because I hadn’t seen the ocean part? Surely not.
So I can’t give any necessary condition for me to believe in Christianity other than the fairly vague (but perfectly honest) answer of: Some good evidence, whatever that might turn out to be. I think it is much wiser to evaluate the evidence that is actually available to me, rather than specify the type of evidence that I’d need in order to be convinced. By way of analogy, I can’t say what evidence I’d require in order to accept String Theory, but I could certainly evaluate any evidence that was put forward in its favour.
And the crucial thing for me is that, at the moment, I don’t consider that I have any good evidence to believe in Christianity. It’s as simple as that.
What DID it take to change my mind?
But, interestingly, I have changed my mind.
No, I haven’t changed my mind to become a Christian. Rather, about three years ago, I changed my mind and became a non-Christian. I had been a Christian for nearly 18 years (or 30 years, if you count my “pre-born-again” years where I still believed that Christianity was true). And, although I had never seriously attempted to give (necessary or sufficient) conditions under which I would become a non-Christian, I came to consider that there were good reasons for doing so. It would take me miles away from the main point of this post to flesh out these reasons so, for now, I’ll just briefly list some of them:
- None of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God could (in my opinion) withstand my critical scrutiny,
- The historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus could not (in my opinion) withstand my critical scrutiny,
- I had not seen any convincing cases for Christianity made by any of the apologists I read,
- I had caught several apologists distorting the truth, sometimes even fabricating it altogether, and
- my personal religious experiences could, in theory at least, be explained by psychology.
Although the fourth point doesn’t rank as one of the most important points against Christianity (since it counts directly against proponents of Christianity, rather than Christianity itself), it was one of the things that helped to wake me up in the first place. Interestingly, one of the works of Christian apologetics that I read during that time, and found to be entirely unsatisfactory, was written by Josh McDowell, who features prominently in Robin’s blog.
I was a strong believer for many years, and I was also a fairly outspoken apologist for my faith. I remember debating a cousin of mine, an atheist, about the reliability of the Gospels. And I remember my arguments were not doing so well. I decided it was time to refresh my knowledge of the apologetics works I had read in the past, and I did so with the view to finding arguments that couldn’t be honestly refuted. To cut a long story short (and save it for another day), I emerged from that research convinced that I had not seen any good arguments for Christianity. Keep in mind that this was all done while only reading Christian sources, and with absolutely no desire whatsoever to change my mind about the truth of Christianity, which I firmly believed in.
This of course did not immediately lead me to believe that Christianity was not true. But it did cause me to accept that I now believed Christianity was true even though I didn’t have anything I could call a good reason for believing. And this made me a bit uncomfortable, to put it mildly. What other things did I believe with that much conviction, even though I knew I had no good reason to believe them? And what would I do if I discovered that such a belief was entirely unsupported? Then and there, I decided that I would have to do some much more serious research. Over the ensuing months, I devoured Christian and non-Christian books, watched dozens of lectures and debates, participated in plenty of debates myself, and eventually came to the conclusion that there really was no reason to believe Christianity was true.
That’s what it took to change my mind.
What would it take to change YOUR mind?
So let me now ask Robin’s question to my readers, both believers and non-believers:
What would it take to change your mind?
I’m particularly interested in hearing Christians offer a better answer than the one given by Robin. If it was granted that Jesus’ body could never be positively identified, is there any other way you could imagine changing your mind about the truth of Christianity?
In light of the limitations I’ve discussed above, the above question should probably be taken somewhat rhetorically, and it should really just stand as an exhortation to do some serious thinking about your beliefs and assumptions, and the reasons you have for holding them. Maybe you’ve done such serious thinking – I’m sure many or even most of my readers have. But if you haven’t, it might be fun to give it a try. If you’re interested in doing so, but don’t want to devote huge slabs of your time to reading lengthy books, here are a few debates you could watch to get you started, featuring top scholars on both sides of the argument:
- Did Jesus rise from the dead? – William Lane Craig vs Bart Ehrman
- Does the New Testament misquote Jesus? – Bart Ehrman vs Craig Evans
- Is God real? – William Lane Craig vs Michael Tooley
- Is religion a poison or cure? – Alister McGrath vs Christopher Hitchens
- Is God necessary for morality? – William Lane Craig vs Shelley Kagan
- Theodicy, God and suffering – Dinesh D’Souza vs Bart Ehrman