A Scientist Asks, 'Is There Evidence for Easter?'
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Editor's Note: This is a very long illustration, so here are two suggestions: First, you could use the opening and closing quotes from Dr. Swamidass' testimony. Or, second, you can use the opening and closing quote and then select three or four of his most compelling points to back up his belief in the Resurrection of Jesus.
Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass M.D. PhD, is a physician, scientist, and Assistant Professor of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine at Washington University in Saint Louis. He recently wrote of his convictions as a scientist and a Christian:
I am a scientist. Still, on Easter, I celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead about 2,000 years ago. This event, in first-century Palestine, is the cornerstone of everything. In the same way that trust-like faith in science is connected to evidence, so is the faith I have in the Resurrection.
What is the evidence from which grew my trust? A brief and incomplete outline is included here. This evidence is not an answer, but it raises the question. All we need is curiosity.
- Without the physical Resurrection, two thousand years of history are left begging for explanation, like a movie missing a key scene. No other event in all recorded history has reached so far across national, ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, political, and geographic borders. The message spread with unreasonable success across the world. During just the first few centuries, it spread without political or military power, prevailing against the ruthless efforts of dedicated, organized and violent opposition. How did a small band of disempowered Jews in an occupied and insignificant territory of ancient Rome accomplish this unequaled act? What happened so many years ago that reframed all human history?
- With dates established by radiometric analysis, prophecies from centuries before Jesus' birth predict his life, death, and resurrection. These prophecies include specific details that Jesus and His followers could not control. For example, before the Romans invented crucifixion, Psalms 22:16 described the piercing of Jesus' hands and feet. Is this evidence of an Intelligence outside our time confirming Jesus' authority?
- Jesus was a real person in history who died. Several manuscripts from multiple sources, including Jewish historians, describe a man named Jesus who lived and was executed.
- The early accounts of the Resurrection and prophecies predicting it were reliably transmitted through history. As of 2014, more than 66,000 early manuscripts are known, orders of magnitude more than other ancient texts. We see accounts nearly unaltered in the earliest manuscripts. A pattern of consistency emerges. There are variations in the manuscripts, but nothing invalidates the reliability of the Resurrection accounts.
- Accounts of the Resurrection include inconvenient and unflattering details, that make most sense as attempts to reliably record what had happened, free from embellishment. They do not fit expectations of a fabricated account. For example, women are the first witnesses of the Resurrection. In a culture that did not admit the testimony of a woman as valid evidence in court, this detail is surprising. Likewise, all the disciples, the leaders of the early Church, flee as cowards when Jesus is taken.
- After Jesus' violent death, His followers were frightened and scattered. Then, something happened that grew a strong, bold, and confident belief that resisted sustained, murderous opposition. Unlike other movements with executed leaders, once they came back together they did not replace Jesus with one of his family members. Their resistance was entirely non-violent and devoid of political power. Yet they were all suddenly willing to die for what they saw. What changed them? Why was there not evidence at the time to undermine their belief? What convinced them that Jesus was inconceivably greater than his family?
- More than just a fact about our past, the Resurrection creates a connection to God that is perceived by people from all times, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, personalities, and metal capacities, across the last 2,000 years of history. Its reach includes some of the most famous scientists: Blaise Pascal, Johann Kepler, Robert Boyle, Gregor Mendel, Asa Gray, Michael Faraday, James Maxwell, Santiago Ram"n y Cajal, and Francis Collins. Is this unmatched reach and influence a sign of a living God working His purpose in history?
Dr. Swamidass concludes:
The question of the Resurrection is more like an opportunity to fall in love than a scientific inquiry. There is evidence, but the Resurrection cannot be studied dispassionately. If Jesus really rose from the dead, it reorders everything. Just like falling in love, it changes our view of the world.
The final verdict, for me, is that the Resurrection makes sense through the lens of history. I find the Creator of all that science studies comes to us in this way. The evidence is compelling, but not definitive. Faith in Jesus is reasonable and is certainly not without evidence.
Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass, "Is There Evidence for Easter? A Scientist's List," The Veritas Forum (4-15-17)