Wednesday, 18 June 2014

From Science to Jesus - Part III: Science and Jesus

I highly recommend you read Part I and Part II of this blog series if you haven't already, as the following will be a continuation of their lines of logic.

I hope my Christian friends will forgive me for coming at this not as a Christian but as an individual objective thinker.  I may say things that will seem a bit "off" to you.  Rest assured, I may not fully believe the things I say.  As a Christian in a relationship with God, I have an understanding that only those inside relationships can have.  A person may become famous and have many books written about them and be analyzed by fans and critics alike, but only someone who is in relationship with them has the deepest understanding about the way they are.  I have a relationship with God, but I am choosing for now to relate to those who don't, and so the very way I approach this topic may seem a bit unorthodox.

Many people have a hard time believing in the Bible as an infallible source of truth, and understandably so.  After all, all one has to do is pick up a Bible and look at the bottom of the pages underneath the main text to see all the notations describing how some manuscripts say include "this," while others don't.  Discrepancies between manuscripts show more than the expected inadequacies of the current language to transmit the text's meaning in its original language.  It shows that throughout the passage of time, not every single word of the Bible is exactly the same as every single word of the Bible earlier.

I'll address this current doubt of the Bible's inerrancy at a later date, as it's something that I mean to study further.  However, in the case for Christ, we do not have to believe that every part of the Bible is as it originally was.  We only need to believe that Jesus Christ is a real person, and he is who he says he is. 

Truth From Action 

It has been said that if a man rose himself from the dead, this would prove everything he has said beforehand was true.  This might not necessarily be correct.  Perhaps this man had contact with a highly evolved alien and gained knowledge and power from them, but chose to convey something other than truth for his own purposes.  This seems rather science-fictiony, does it not?  Yet let's look further at this hypothetical situation in regards to the ground we have already covered.

If someone performed a physically impossible feat such as rising from the dead (and of this death there could be no doubt, they weren't just in some super deep state of meditation or a temporary state that only looked like death to the viewer), it would prove not that they always had told the truth, but that they had access to a knowledge or technology that far surpassed our own.  Like we discussed earlier, this would mean that this man had closest access to the truth, for what is the truth to us other than our best guess according to what we can see and observe?

If Jesus really did raise from the dead, then that would prove that he had access to knowledge that we didn't.  He would be closer to the truth.  The things he taught, as far as the listener is concerned, were closest to the truth.  You’re more likely to learn from a doctor rather than an artist about the workings of the human body, particularly if the doctor proceeded to bring healing to a person when all the artist could do is paint a picture of what he could see.  The doctor may be lying about what he says about the body, but his works shows he knows what he is talking about.

So, did Jesus really rise from the dead? 

Validating Christ’s Claims

If one wanted to verify if a past event happened, one would likely look for multiple pieces of evidence to prove it.  The nature of the resurrection of Christ is different than that of a global flood in that we would not expect to see a great deal of impact on the physical world because of it; unlike the people who claim the Loch Ness monster exists, we aren’t able to look for a physical body because it is said that Jesus ascended into Heaven afterwards.  In order to know if Jesus rising from the dead was historically accurate, we are left on relying mostly on the testimony of historical people.

This is where the unbeliever goes “ah-ha!  Got you!  There’s no way to physically prove Jesus rose from the dead just like there’s no way to prove that there are invisible undetectable unicorns flying around in our atmosphere!”

I would like to remind the reader that the way we go about scientifically proving the supernatural is different than the way we go about proving the natural.  One does not scientifically study the stars with a microscope, or a culture of bacteria with a telescope.  I am not saying that we cannot physically prove the existence of the supernatural using readily available means.  However, like I alluded to in Part I, any observable things that seems to point to the supernatural may later be explained by natural means.

We cannot look into a lens and peer into the past like we can the present- for all we know Aristotle and other historical figures could be completely fictional.  When one wants to know if a historical person such as Aristotle existed, we look to historical documents that this person either wrote or was written about them, and see if there are multiple accounts telling the same story.  If at all possible, we also look to physical objects verifying their existence, such as the pyramids tell the story of the ancient Pharaohs.

Most historians- regardless of their world belief- will admit that this person, Jesus of Nazareth, existed.  For the most part, it is his actions and words that on are trial today, both in the arena of historical accuracy and in the individual’s mind.

There are a number of religions that hinge on the accuracy of the integrity of an individual.  Did an angel really visit so-and-so, or were they lying or deceived by an evil spirit?  Did this person have a genuine “spiritual” encounter, or was it merely the result of an altered state of mind?  The account of Jesus is different than these religions, as it is the testimony of many people that support his actions, and thus lending to his actions' historical accuracy. 

Working Our Way Backwards 

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) have admittedly been shown to have been written a respectable number of years after the events that they describe transpired.  However, the New Testament is written in such way that portrays multiple eye-witness accounts both of Jesus and of his actions.

Here’s what it says in the first verses of the biblical book of Acts (it is generally agreed upon that the same person who wrote acts also wrote the book of Luke, which contained many of Jesus’ miracles, the greatest of which was his resurrection from the dead):
1In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

The book of Acts is the account of the beginnings of the early church of Christ.  From this documentation, we can see that the church is not based on merely one person’s convincing teachings, or from a single person’s spiritual encounter, but from many people’s eyewitness accounts of physical actions.  Even if the gospels such as Matthew were written in a genre that adds divinity to an individual according to a specific Jewish template (which some historians argue), the book of Act does not fit the description of this genre.

“Okay, Stephen, so you’ve proven that Jesus is who he says he is… if the book of Acts can be trusted.  It, like the rest of the bible, was written by man, not God.”

The book of Acts is not the only book of the bible outside of the gospels that accounts Jesus’ words and actions.  I am not a scholar (partially due to me being too lazy to do large amounts of research while writing a paper – I’ve done enough research out of general interest of the subject beforehand.  Plus, by presenting all of my evidence, that would greatly increase the length of this already lengthy group of blog posts.  However, I can be convinced to produce more data if I am prodded enough), but I know there are documents outside of the Bible depicting accounts of Jesus words and deeds.  A there is even a bit of historical literature that conflicts with the Biblical account.  But let's look at what we know.

The church of Christ exists.  We can see that today.  A history of the church must therefore exist as well.  And who would best know the history of any organization than those who not only resided in it, but those who presided in it?

The Catholic Church recognizes (St.) Peter, disciple of Jesus, as the first "Pope."  Although it is not written in the bible, it is commonly accepted that Peter died by being hung upside down on a cross.  If anyone would know what happened in the real church history, it would be Peter, right?

Here's what Peter says in Acts 10

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Again, Acts is written in the genre to be read in a matter-of-fact way, simply telling the history of the church.  To prove this point (and also because it's where the man who I was named after first made his debut), see this passage from Acts 6

1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

In addition to appearing in Acts, Peter writes two books (or letters) of his own which appear in the New Testament.

What about those aforementioned literature that disagree with the books of the New Testament?  Weren't you paying attention?  History is verified by a number of sources, and the integrity of these sources are pitted against each other.  So therefore, the validity of the conflicting literature should be pitted against other literature such as Acts and Peter's words, as these are written as a real history of a real church that still exists to this day.

So now, in addition to Jesus, the integrity of Peter is on the line in order to reach the validity of Jesus and his claims.

Recall how I discussed that in order to know if Jesus knew what he was talking about, we had to evaluate his deeds?  Remember the doctor and the artist?  We know one knows more than the other one because he shows an ability that he wouldn't have had if he didn't know.

In the book of Acts, Peter and the other apostles (including Paul) performed miracles which caused the small group of Jesus followers to grow into a rapidly expanding Church.

The reason I am still "using the Bible to prove the Bible" is this:  to the unbiased eyes, the Bible isn't one big book but rather a group of mostly independent pieces of literature from the far past combined into an acceptable canon by a group of early Christians.  Just because they are all combined into one religious book does not mean they are not also historical documents with historical significance.  We are studying events that happened in history, and so I am referring to historical documents. 

In Conclusion 

In Part I, I showed scientifically how there must be a supernatural force.  Part II revealed how the most prominent supernatural force is the Christian God, and so He must be the one with the most truth to offer.  Part III revealed how we could validate Jesus' claims and actions.

"You like mentioning the word science, but I didn't see a whole lot of it here, Stephen."  What is science but coming to a problem with an unbiased questioning mind and searching for the most logical conclusion?   Over and over again I showed examples of coming to the most probable conclusion given the data.

This whole topic is hard to tackle with a scientific mind because we all are biased to a degree.  It is quite simple to study and accept the relationship between electrons and protons because it likely won't impose a necessary life change on our part as a result.  However, it is impossible to study the relationship between the supernatural, God, Jesus, and us, without the result implying major life altering reactions on our part

We want the answer to be one thing or another, and so we tackle the question with at least a minimal amount of trying to fit the evidence to our beliefs, instead of the other way around.

I hope you aren't thinking something along the lines of "by your own admission, new truth is constantly being learned, and so I will hold onto the belief that you will eventually be proved wrong."  If I have presented the most logical explanation given what evidence we have today, it should therefore be believed as truth, for what is truth to the scientist but one's best guess given the data? 

I assure you as someone who believes in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, that once you come to believe this, so much about what you see in the world just makes sense.  The pieces of the puzzle fit together.  It is a valid explanation that works, and so the logical mind should accept it as truth until a more logical explanation can be given.

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