Christianity is a strange religion, one full of very supernatural claims, but these claims are not purported to have taken place in isolation from its adherents, in a cave or some esoteric experience, but these claims are well attested and took place in front of large gatherings, these miraculous claims seem to authenticate a messenger of God and the message itself. Christianity puts itself on very shaky ground by making its central message/theme so Christ-centered and miracle based. If these key components, in the Bible, were removed, we would at best have a good book on history imbued with superstition, and perhaps a book on moral ideas. The most likely case is that we would end up with a very disjointed belief system and such is not the case with Judaism, or Christianity, which are both very comprehensive and systematic paradigms, which invite us to question or challenge them.
This stands in stark contrast to other major world religions, where the central figure, such as Buddha, can be removed and the message remains the same. With regards to Christian cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where Christ is relegated to being an exalted angel, the message becomes distorted and focus becomes less focused on God, but more on serving the WatchTower for the sake of serving the WatchTower.
If one were to begin a quest for truth and wanting to explore the buffet of world religions and ideas, where would be the best place to start? It would be reasonable to start with the worldview that can be tested and swept under the carpet easily, so we can get on with things. In the case of Buddhism, one would never be able to confirm the truth claims of this view, because one only finds out after they die if their actions returned positive, after following the eight-fold path. In the case of being on a quest for truth and wanting to eliminate possible candidates quickly, Christianity would be the best place to start. Why!? Because Christianity is driven by a key component, which if falsified, takes the entire religion down with it. Christianity sits on a very delicate premise, which is, “Is Jesus God and Truth incarnate, did He die on a cross and rise again!?” Christianity purports events which took place in time and space, just like events which take place today. These events are still accessible to us, even though history is not directly accessible or repeating itself. One may examine the evidence supporting the life, ministry and, ultimately, the death and resurrection of Jesus and if this evidence is insufficient one may stop looking for ultimate truth within Christianity and move onto the next thing. This should be a pretty straight forward quest, because predicating a religion on a dead guy coming back seems pretty precarious.
This vital component, within an idea, which delineates between an idea and its antithesis is what makes it falsifiable. Defining what ‘falsificationism’ seems in order.
Philosopher of Science, Karl Popper, popularized this idea in his book, ‘The Logic of Scientific Discovery,’ that an idea was not meaningful unless it could be falsified, that it should have some component that can be added or removed and it would be false. Take for instance ‘gravity,’ if one were to explain the attraction of objects in terms of invisible and undetectable fairies that get mad when we let go of things and they throw them to the ground, it doesn’t matter if this is true or not because this theory cannot be tested–we have no way of accessing these fairies in any empirical way to substantiate the notion. A falsificationist would say that there are no totally established laws of nature and that we should be trying to disprove our ideas, not prove them–if these ideas of ours stand up against our rigorous testing we are left with ideas that are more well established than they were before. A falsificationist would say the statement “there are no mermaids in the ocean,” is not a totally certain, or apodictic, statement and that to increase our certainty, we would have to drain the entire ocean and for every rock we turn over and fail to find a mermaid, the statement is known with a greater degree of certainty.
This position is not without its fallbacks, as JP Moreland notes in ‘Christianity and the Nature of Science,’ given falsification is not essential to science, nor is it exclusive to science. He notes, however, falsificationism saves us from resorting to a ad hoc hypothesis.
While it certainly true that an idea being falsifiable is not a key ingredient to an idea being meaningful, it certainly provides a negative test for truth, or a way to further establish our cherished ideas and is one way to ensure we are dealing with a meaningful claim and not some intangible idea.
As mentioned, Christianity hinges on a delicate premise, it is well established that dead people do not rise again, this is a well known regularity that we can bank on. David Hume, in his argument against miracles, rightly notes that a wise man proportions his beliefs according to regularities, but where he fell short is that probabilities do not determine facts, facts determine facts, no matter how unreasonable. While Hume is right and his argument presents an excellent challenge for Christians to respond to, but he also presents a check against blindly accepting anything as a miracle. If falsificationism is a valid test, then, even though we would be out of our minds for believing someone has come back from the dead, if someone has come back from the dead, we must proportion our beliefs according to the evidence, not the probability.
Some may object to this by saying that Christianity does not invite challenges to its propositions, that faith is being certain of what is unseen and we believe the world to be created out of what we cannot detect. (Hebrews 11).
This passage is not telling us to have some sort of blind, esoteric, faith, which throws reason to the wind. The Greek word for faith, here, is “Pistos,” which is confident trust in a reliable source.
This passage uses words, foreign to blind faith, such as “certain,” or “conviction.” Such a faith is examining the source, then placing trust in it, much like we do when we drive a vehicle, not all of us understand its inner workings and components, or the braking system which saves our lives, but eventually we go out, with our limited knowledge or its workings, and exercise faith in it as we navigate traffic. Furthermore, this passage cites people who exercised faith in God when they had prior experience in His goodness, not after. Faith, here, is not a blind leap into the darkness, but a step into the light. In verse 19 it says that Abraham had reasoned in his heart that God was able to raise people from the dead, as he faced the, seemingly contradictory, challenge to sacrifice his son.
QUESTIONING SCRIPTURE IS A BIBLICAL MANDATE
The Bible is full of passages exhorting us to question it, and to hold it for good reason. One might even say it gives us the scientific method, of testing and peer review. Scripture, far from setting itself above examination, gives us these commands:
Deuteronomy 19:15 says a single witness is insufficient to build a case against an individual, but requires two or more. This gives us a premise that God is not interested in establishing truth on the opinions of one individual, but wants truth to be multiply attested.
Deuteronomy 18:22 says that if a prophet speaks and his words fail to pass, or come true, that we are not to take them seriously and that they are not a legitimate messenger of God. Claiming to be a messenger of God is insufficient, if the words are not authenticated by an actual event, which makes orthodox Christianity stand in stark contrast to contemporary counterfeits, like Islam or Mormonism, which ask their adherents to blindly accept what was spoken to the founder in a private experience.
There are many other passages, like these, encouraging us to use our minds, so that we may love God with our hearts. These two Old Testament passages give us insight into an important passage on the resurrection, where Paul gives us encouragement to examine the case for the resurrection and that it is an event, which if falsified, leaves us without a Christianity.
1 Corinthians 15 tells us that if Christ has not been risen, our hope is in vain; eat and drink for tomorrow we die. in other words, go join the pagans, because they don’t believe Christ has risen either. Without the hope of immortality, life only has a relative significance, not an eternal one. Furthermore, Paul says there are witnesses, at the time, most of whom were still alive at the time, who saw the risen Lord and invites his contemporary audience to go question them and ask. If these events, surrounding the life of Christ, did not happen, go find something else to do on a Sunday, like sleep in or watch football, but do not go to church.
Christianity is hardly predicated on the notion of blind faith, and it is safe to say that this strange religion is not something someone would contrive, nor is it a religion that is resistant to challenges, but invites them. It is even clearer that it is a religion that never would have survived an identifiable tomb containing the corpse of Christ.
This paper is not intended to defend the evidence for the resurrection or miracles, but is merely stating that Christianity is built on events which are purported to have taken place in time and space, so if one were on a sincere quest for truth and in a hurry to eliminate unlikely candidates, Christianity contains the most accessible information and is the best place to start, Buddhism’s eight-fold path can wait.
Popper, Karl – The Logic of Scientific Discovery.
Moreland, JP – Christianity and the Nature of Science.
Craig, William Lane – The Son Rises.
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING:
Lewis, CS – Mere Christianity.