Tuesday, April 3, 2012
How do you respond to someone who says something like this? It might be helpful simply to talk about what science really is. Many people do not really understand it. They often look at science as though it can answer all questions. For some, science has become their god.
Science is observation and interpretation. Scientists observe events in the natural world and then try to explain them. Their explanations are never perfect. They are always a matter of probability. For example, scientists have observed something as simple as boiling water and have come up with an explanation that has a high probability of being correct. We can be quite sure about our understanding of H2O molecules. However, have we come to the end of our understanding of H2O molecules? One hundred years ago many scientists would have said, "yes." As late as 1957, British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell made this statement: "Physical science is thus approaching the stage when it will be complete, and therefore uninteresting” (Why I Am Not A Christian, p. 49). But there are not many scientists who would dare make a statement like this today. We are not approaching a stage when our understanding of the world will be complete. In fact, just the opposite is true. The more we learn, the more there is to learn. There is an infinite amount of knowledge and complexity in this world. Therefore all scientific explanations are in need of improvement as we learn more and more about the universe.
What does this have to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Science only works when you can make observations. Science works best when we can observe something happening again and again. Each time we observe it we can take a different angle, improve our resolution, or try to isolate certain variables. This works fine for repeatable events. But not all events are repeatable. Follow me on this progression: 1. There are some natural events that are very repeatable - the revolutions and rotation of the earth or photosynthesis in plants. 2. There are some natural events that repeat less often - earthquakes or hurricanes. 3. There are some natural events that are very rare - the birth of quintuplets or the occurrence of certain comets. Following this progression we could propose that there are singular events, events that only happen once. If there are such events, they are beyond our ability to properly observe and explain them.
The Bible tells us about such events: The Creation, The Resurrection of Jesus, and Miracles. Because they are singular events, we cannot observe them repeatedly to develop explanations that have a high probability of being correct. Science simply cannot prove or disprove them. So if a person would say, "The resurrection of Jesus is scientifically impossible," you could correct them and say, "Actually, the resurrection of Jesus is unobservable and therefore beyond the scope of science."
The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of science but of witnesses. There were many witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. What were they like? Ordinary people. How credible were they? They promoted morality and were not afraid to tell the world about their own faults and failures. They were very honest. What did they get out of saying "Jesus has risen from the dead?" Many were driven from their homes, others were put in prison, and still others were killed. Another important witness of the resurrection is the empty tomb. There were many people in high places who had a great interest in making sure Jesus stayed dead. There were also witnesses who lived long before Jesus' death and resurrection. These were the prophets who promised a Messiah who would die and yet overcome death.
In the end, the question for all of us is not a question of science but a question of witness. What will you do with the witnesses to the resurrection? Do they have a high probability of being correct?
The children in our school love to read the "Who Would Win?" books. These books pose imaginary battles between a scorpion and a tarantula, or a rhinoceros and a tiger, or a polar bear and a grizzly?
Allow me to pose another battle: Who would win in a battle between a modern Navy Seal and a first century Roman Centurion? Using the weapons of the first century, I would have to vote in favor of the Centurion. History shows that Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. They were highly disciplined soldiers who led their troops in battle. They were especially chosen because of the valor they displayed on the battlefield.
The Centurion at the Cross in Mark chapter fifteen has always interested me. His confession, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (15.39) makes me tremble every time I read it. Here was a man who was truly the "hard-core" of the "hard-corps." Yet, his heart was taken captive by the love of God - a different kind of strength! Centurions had their approach to bad men. They made them bleed and die. But Jesus had a different approach to bad men: He bled and died for them! Centurions annihilated evil, Jesus redeemed evil. Which is stronger? Who ultimately wins? Of course it is the love of God in Jesus Christ.
The crucifixion of Jesus brought about several conversions on the first Good Friday. If you're interested, you can read about the others in my Palm Sunday sermon (April 1, 2012).