Having doubts and questions about one’s faith is not a sign that one is not a true believer. After all, even Jesus’ disciples themselves still harboured doubts even after witnessing first-hand the miracles of Christ.
As believers, we owe it to ourselves to take much effort to know the truth about what we believe.
That was the work cut out for for the father-son Christian apologist duo – Josh and Dr Sean McDowell – and what they shared about at this year’s Reasonable Faith Conference that took place from 16-17 March 2018 at the Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church.
They were in town to promote the updated and expanded edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World – a book that explores the reliability of the Christian faith through the lens of ancient historical records and modern science.
The contents of the book formed the backdrop of the Conference where the McDowells made a case for the validity, reliability, and veracity of the Biblical claims surrounding the identity of Jesus, His death, and His resurrection.
Intelligent design versus natural selection
“Today, Darwinism has become more than just a scientific theory, it has become a basis of an ideology in conflict with the Christian story,” said Dr Sean McDowell (henceforth referred to as Dr McDowell).
Dr Sean questioned whether evolution can be a sufficient theory to explain the complexity of the created world. Furthermore, naturalistic evolution actually reduces diversity to a blind, purposeless process. But the world that we see around us is more consistently understood as one that has been designed, premeditated and created by a purposeful, loving God.
Drawing the audience’s attention to biochemistry, Dr McDowell showed several examples bearing irreducibly complex characteristics that point towards the “presence of a fine-tuner”.
“Darwin was once quoted that if ever it could be demonstrated that a complex organism existed which could not have been formed by numerous incremental modifications, his theory on natural selection and evolution would break down,” said Dr McDowell.
He referred to Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe, who delved into cellular structures that were previously inaccessible to scientists. He discovered that cells, which are scientific black boxes (entities that have unknown inner workings), were actually more complex than was previously thought. It was Behe who first coined the term ‘irreducible complexity’. The most famous example of ‘irreducible complexity’ was the bacteria flagellum.
The bacteria flagellum is a ‘motor’ at the back of certain bacteria that helps propel it through watery substances. What makes the flagellum amazing is that it contains some 40 kinds of essential proteins, and if one of them were missing, the flagellum would not function. Thus, a simpler but non-functional version of the flagellum would have been weeded out by the very process of natural selection, and would not have had the chance to develop into the current complex state.
Did Jesus really die on the cross?
Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection is one of the central tenets of our faith. If either were false, then, as the Apostle Paul said, our faith would be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).
According to Josh McDowell (henceforth referred to as Josh), crucifixion was so brutal that it was only meted out on non-Romans, and only for the most heinous crimes such as treason. There are no formal records of anyone who has ever survived a full Roman crucifixion, not even Jesus Himself in His mortal shell.
As a final step in crucifixion, the criminal would be nailed through the wrists (not the palms as commonly depicted – those would not be able to bear the weight of the body) and their feet. When nailed on the cross, breathing becomes laborious and difficult as the victims would be forced into an inhaling position. Victims would have to constantly push themselves up using their nailed feet in order to exhale, temporarily. This set of motions would continue until the victim became completely exhausted and therefore, unable to push up and breathe. Death was inevitable.
With no doubt that Jesus had died on the cross, Josh listed several further reasons supporting the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection:
- Women found the empty tomb
In Jesus’ days, women did not enjoy high societal standing and were not considered to be credible eye-witnesses in courts. Yet, the Bible credited two women as the first persons to discover the empty tomb of Christ.
It is clear that the writers of the Gospels were not trying to make the account more palatable to readers by altering the genders of the first witnesses – instead they told the story as it was.
- Burial clothing left behind
A common argument that the Jewish authorities used to explain the disappearance of Jesus’ body was that it was the work of tomb robbers. Josh rubbished these claims by reasoning that had it been so, it would not have made sense for the robbers to undo the complex burial wrappings. It would have to be a ‘grab and go’ kind of heist.
- Numerous sightings of Jesus
After Jesus appeared before the disciples, He made other appearances in full view of individuals who may or may not have been believers. One of the most famous appearances was before 500 eye-witnesses who both saw and heard Him (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Through the years, skeptics have been arguing against the possibility of such an appearance. The main argument – that it was a mass hallucination – has been discredited as a near medical impossibility. In the case of the disciples themselves, they touched, spoke, and even ate with Jesus.
- No solid counterarguments from the Jewish authorities
After the resurrection, the Jewish religious authorities just could not find a better reason to explain away the empty tomb. Strangely, there were no records of any one disciple or follower being charged with grave robbery, despite that being the main narrative pushed by the Sanhedrin.
Faith and Reason
Christianity, according to the McDowells, demands that believers exercise a faith that is based on reason and evidence. It is not anti-intellectual and certainly not to be based upon blind conjecture. The McDowells demonstrated through testimonies, design, and credibility, what ‘reasonable faith’ was about.
But could there ever be a day when evidence for God will be so overwhelming that people will be forced to concede that God exist? Dr Sean thought otherwise.
He said, “There can be many reasons why people will still refuse to believe. Firstly, they may refuse to live in the moral ways of Christianity. Secondly, there can also be volitional factors as echoed in the lyrics of the Bonjovi song, ‘It’s My Life’. The third reason is emotional as some individuals may have been hurt by Christians or view Christianity as bigoted or intolerant and they want no part of it.”
“God has made Himself known to those with eyes to see and ears to hear but to believe in God requires sacrifice, and for many, despite compelling evidence, that may be too much to ask,” Dr Sean concluded.
Jason Woo –
is Methodist Message’s Editorial Executive. When not working on the latest articles, he enjoys long jogs and cuddling up with his cats along with a good book.