Ep 6 | Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Questions and Answers Session 1



Today we invite you to hear a debate between one of the world’s foremost philosophical atheists, Dr. Antony Flew, former professor at Oxford University, and Christian philosopher and historian Dr. Gary Habermas, current chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Liberty University, on the topic “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?”

Dr. Antony Flew: For a person like myself confronted with an apparent miracle, the rational thing is to think that there must be some mistake here. Though I could be persuaded that a miracle occurred, it would need something really very spectacular.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Probably the single most important fact is that the disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus.
Dr. John Ankerberg: “The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.” Well, obviously, you’re taking that in a naturalistic way. So give me your theory, how did that happen? I mean, something happened, is what everybody is saying.
Flew: I take it these were grief-related visions and there was nothing there that anybody else could have seen.
Ankerberg: What do you think, Gary?
Habermas: I think Tony is getting himself in a lot of hot water. Number one, he’s got an empty tomb with no cause ventured for the tomb. Secondly, he’s got hallucinations for the disciples that don’t work for the half dozen reasons I gave earlier: groups don’t see hallucinations; they weren’t in the right frame of mind. You have different times, places, people, gender, doing different things. The empty tomb, it doesn’t transform lives. James, Paul. All reasons.

Christianity stands or falls on Christ’s resurrection. If Christ has risen from the dead, then Christianity is true. If He did not, then Christianity is false. Even the apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is groundless, your preaching is useless, and you are still in your sins.” We invite you to join us for this important debate on The John Ankerberg Show.

Ankerberg: Welcome. We have a very special debate going on: Did Jesus rise from the dead? with two world class philosophers: the very famous Antony Flew, who every student that’s taken Philosophy 101, they know his name. And he’s a philosophical atheist that has written many, many books and many articles. And Dr. Gary Habermas, a renowned Christian scholar, just kind of considered by many, many people across the world to be the expert in the evidence concerning the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Guys, we’re glad that you are here. And this is always a fun time when we have questions from the audience to see how they’ve been picking up on what you say. So here’s our first question.
Audience: This is for Dr. Habermas. Dr. Habermas, in order to give Dr. Flew some evidence for a biblical worldview, can you give a scientific or philosophical argument for the existence of the Old Testament God?
Habermas: Okay, let me try to do both. I think there’s two parts here. Is this a theistic universe? And is Jesus who He claimed to be in that universe?
This is not a debate on God’s existence, but if I were to identify the arguments that I like the best, probably my favorite arguments right now are the complexity, the scientific complexity arguments that are sometimes indicated or identified as scientific teleological argument. I’m impressed with arguments from the complexity of life, people like Behe, Hoyle, and Wickramasinghe. People like that at Enzyme.
Also, some of the cosmological arguments for God’s existence and in particular I think the Kalam argument has some promising things to say. If God exists, you want to know that He’s the God of the Bible and if I think there is one such Being – and I think that’s part of the philosophical argument – if He has the characteristics the same as in Scripture, then they’re the same Being. But I think you could continue to follow this right down the line. In the Old Testament I think we’re told that the Messiah is going to be divine and that’s a tough one. But Isaiah 9:6 calls Him God; Micah 5:2 says His goings forth have been from everlasting; Daniel 7:13-14 might be my favorite because we’re told about the Son of Man, He is coming in the clouds, and He’s not God because He’s there with the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7. So I would argue that the resurrection ties Jesus in with the Old Testament hope and with the God of the universe to have precisely this line that Tony is talking about. I agree with him that it’s got to be a whole picture, not snippets here and there.
Ankerberg: Tony, what do you think?
Flew: Well, I’ve been insisting on the difference between the rational approach for someone who does not believe in the Mosaic Deity and someone who does. And I’m relatively happy with the idea that people who believe in the Mosaic Deity think that the resurrection occurred and so on.
Ankerberg: Let me ask you a question, then. In the debate with Craig, I listened to that and you said something about the Big Bang. Craig was arguing that scientists seem to say there was a start and so philosophically he was saying there’s a Starter. Now, you didn’t seem to like that. Tell me how you got out of that one.
Flew: Well, it would seem to me that, if the physicists can go no further than the Big Bang, this is not any sort of positive reason for believing in a Creator. It’s a reason for saying it is beyond the capacity of human beings to discover what, if anything, produced the Big Bang. This is where investigation has to stop. This is all we can find out.
Habermas: Well, Tony is a friend of mine but it seems to me that when the going gets tough, Tony opts for “no evidence.” “We just don’t have enough.” If science says there is a Big Bang and everything that begins to exist has a Beginner, I don’t see how the universe is an exception. We get to the resurrection and he agrees with the facts, bails out a little bit on hallucination, and says, “But we don’t have enough evidence.” But we do, because we’re debating about facts we both believe.
Near-death experiences. Here’s a tough case. And I’m just saying every point we get a little too close… it seems to me the table has turned on naturalists. For a few decades I think the table has turned against them. And I’m not used to naturalists of great repute saying things like, “I’ll opt out of the conversation at this point because I can’t go any further.” And I’m saying they can’t go any further because that’s the state of the evidence and we must decide on the evidence in front of us.
Audience: My question is for Dr. Flew. One of your fellow countrymen, C. S. Lewis, came to Christ late in life, as you know, and he came there because he got tired of listening to himself point out that Evil existed in the world and realized if there was Evil, he had to have a referent that was Good, an ultimate Good from which to contrast Evil. I’m wondering in listening to you talk tonight and answer these questions, Sir, whether or not you’ve wondered or worried about putting yourself into a sort of metaphysical straightjacket over the years? And if not, what evidence would it take to be presented to you to give yourself to Christ?
Flew: Uh, well, I’m not sure how one goes from there, but it may be of interest to you to know that I was acquainted with C. S. Lewis in my time at the University of Oxford, both as a student, and graduate student. I went frequently to meetings of the Socratic Club, an organization which he founded and for certainly through most of the 40s and 50s chaired. You might also be interested to know that in his later life, he became very distressed about Evil because basically he was confronted with the choice: Are things good because God says so, or does God approve of them because they were good? And he couldn’t see the way out of any way other than saying that absolute power is its own justification, as Calvin and others said.
And in view of the fact that the traditional religion is committed to the idea that most of God’s creatures are going to be tortured forever for the things that He makes them do, the whole of Christian theism is a nightmare to me! And one of the reasons why I am so concerned about these arguments is because I see the existence of the creator as a nightmare because far from being good, on the actual record – and if you say only Calvinists believe this, I can refer you to the passages in Aquinas where he says that God created people and is the ultimate cause of and including all the behavior for which He is proposing to torture them forever.
Ankerberg: Yeah, but you still didn’t answer the question, though, and that is, what would it take for you to cross the line? Because you did have a guy show up in history and you do have the historical evidence that He was killed, put into a tomb, and He appeared to His disciples. And the fact is, you are not doing anything with the evidence. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t believe it.” That’s an assertion. It’s another thing to say, “Here’s evidence to back up my assertion to knock your assertion.”
Flew: I regard all these things that the evidence of what was going on in Jerusalem as baffling and inexplicable, but I only think that I would have reason to believe that the explanation is that the resurrection actually happened if I accepted the background of, well, basically what at least the Sadducees and the Pharisees believed, the whole tradition of the Old Testament, and I don’t.
Ankerberg: Gary, do you want to respond to that? Do you have to be a Jew to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead?
Habermas: No. And I think a number of people have come to believe, I mean, I won’t give the biographies but there’s a number of people, C. S. Lewis was one, who have come to believe because of the evidence. I think, back to the question, I think Lewis was correct that the biggest problem on the issue of evil, on morality, and I was serious when I said this man is a very moral person. But Lewis’ problem was, “What is your ground for, if you have a problem with evil, these evil things are going on, why are they going on?” you can’t say that unless you have an absolute moral standard of good. At least I think so. And I think that’s a problem on the moral thing. As far as him coming to Christ, I don’t know, I can see that happening. He’s a pretty good guy. Look, if it can happen to Paul and James, you folks just keep praying for him. Keep praying for him.
Ankerberg: Well, what I was saying is, the basis for the evidence kind of pushing you over the line. In other words, we’re not talking about mathematical equations here where you just put two plus two equals four because then you’re putting in the ingredients because history is probabilistic, isn’t it?
Flew: Yes.
Ankerberg: So the fact is that when you… probabilistic is like going into court in a sense, when you get enough testimony, you, beyond a reasonable doubt, not a hundred percent certainty, but the fact is, you should intellectually be over here and come kicking and screaming to Christ.
Habermas: As Lewis said he did. He said, “I came kicking and screaming, the most reluctant convert in all of England.”
Ankerberg: Look, Tony, you got married. You were telling about your wonderful marriage and it sounds delightful. But you know, in analyzing how people get married, that’s not an absolute mathematical certainty. Boy, you’re projecting; she’s projecting, and you’re gathering evidence on that woman and you’re saying, “Does she really love me?” You can’t get inside of her mind a hundred percent. You can only take the data that you’re getting. And you made an ultimate commitment to her in the sense, “I’m going to marry you,” and you said “I do.” And you did that I think on far less evidence that you’ve got for Jesus rising from the dead.
Habermas: Keep praying.
Audience: My question is for Dr. Flew. Dr. Habermas says he has given quite an enormous amount of evidence for the resurrection. Do you have any evidence as far as books or claims of people in early centuries disputing the resurrection and if not, then why not, seeing that the disciples were going around at the very same time saying He did resurrect?
Flew: Well, presumably the majority of the people in Jerusalem at the time didn’t believe it. And that’s one of the great shortages of evidence which I pointed out at the beginning. One of the reasons I think the whole thing is so difficult to be sure of, we do not have anything at all from the non-believers in Christianity. We don’t have any explanation as to why they were not converted.
Ankerberg: Well, it seems to me that Paul was a skeptic and was against it, and James was a skeptic and against it, and it seems that Thomas was a skeptic and against it, and they all got converted.
Flew: Yes, they did, but these are the people we have heard about. But there wasn’t a great sweep in Jerusalem. After all, there were a lot of opponents, and persecutors and so on. They were not persuaded. And again, if the earthquakes and so on that are recorded in the Gospels and the darkening of the skies did occur, we need some explanation as to why people were not persuaded by these dramatic things.
Ankerberg: Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the non-Christian historical sources all mentioned that earthquake, didn’t they Gary?
Habermas: Two. Thallus in about 52 AD and Phlegon a few decades later both mention the darkness. Phlegon mentions the earthquakes. And this is an example, I mean, I want to be kind to him but this is an example as I said earlier, when he gets real close to the evidence, he pulls away. The question was, what first century evidence do we not have… why don’t we have any first century evidence? And he said, “Well, that’s a great question. We don’t have any first century evidence.” And I’m thinking, then how is this position established? If the Christian can be asked to give first century evidence – we’ve had three hours of testimony on first century evidence – the critic should be able to produce some first century evidence. But he said that’s a big gap. There isn’t any. But that’s the problem, there isn’t any.
Flew: Say, wait a minute. The question is, we don’t have any evidence about what the people in Jerusalem… the date, we don’t know. It was clearly around about 30 AD. And why they didn’t accept this.
Habermas: But there is no contrary evidence to the resurrection, except for the lone report: the Jews said the disciples stole the body, which he doesn’t hold.
Flew: No.
Habermas: But there’s no first century data… see, what I’m saying is, we could be asked, Christians can be asked to produce first century data. And by the way, Josephus not only records the disciples’ belief that He was raised from the dead, so does Phlegon, the same guy that records the earthquake and the darkness. A freed man of Emperor Hadrian says, “Jesus appeared to His disciples and showed them His wounds so He could be touched.” That’s a non-Christian source about the end of the first century, 70 years later.
Ankerberg: And doesn’t Tacitus, isn’t he the one that documents this happened under Tiberius Caesar and Pilate?
Flew: How is this man at the end supposed to know what was happening in Jerusalem at this time?
Habermas: He wrote a book called Chronicles and he was an ancient historian or chronicler and he thought there was enough data to record that. But I mean, my point is, there’s no contrary data and since there’s no contrary data, if we’re talking history now and not philosophical world views and biases or not bias, then what first century data is there?
Flew: What do you mean by contrary data here? It is alleged that someone rose from the dead. What contrary data could there be other than a direct investigation of that particular case?
Habermas: That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?
Flew: Yes, it would be. But….
Habermas: But you can’t argue from the absence of evidence.
Ankerberg: The other thing is, what would motivate people like Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus to put it in there?
Flew: They didn’t put in “My goodness! A resurrection occurred there.”
Habermas: Josephus does, the belief in it.
Flew: Oh, yes, he said that people believed it, but that’s quite a different thing from producing evidence that it occurred, isn’t it?
Habermas: Plus, Phlegon says “He was raised and showed Himself to His disciples.” A freed man of Emperor Hadrian. He wrote the Chronicles. He was born about 80 AD.
Ankerberg: Yes. And to argue that it didn’t happen but they put it in there anyway would be saying that non-Christians are in on this conspiracy. In other words, what’s the motivation for them to include it?
Flew: Well, the motivation I would presume to be that they believed that this was said at the time….
Ankerberg: And why would they believe it was said?
Flew: Well, they may have had some contact with people who were there at the time.
Ankerberg: Now, Tony, isn’t that evidence? I mean, you take that for Tiberius Caesar. You said in the Craig debate that, you know, what we really need is something as strong as we have for Tiberius Caesar. We need something like that for Jesus Christ but we just don’t have it. And I’m saying, what’s different for Tiberius Caesar? Do you want to say that Tiberius Caesar didn’t live, or Alexander the Great didn’t live and do the things that he did? Because the data for Christ is actually better than Tiberius Caesar or for Alexander the Great.
Flew: Yes, but data about these chaps is not data about a miracle, is it?
Ankerberg: But it’s historical information that is better in the sense of recording what took place.
Habermas: By the way, the Roman historians, he’s right: on Tiberius Caesar you’ve got four sources; on Jesus you’ve got basically four major sources. A historian named Paterculus wrote about Tiberius and he lived in his own lifetime. That’s a great source. But the only problem is, he wrote about Tiberius military exploits; nothing about him being Caesar.
Alright, the next source for Tiberius is Tacitus, and it jumps 80 years.
The next best one is Suetonius: jumps 90 years.
And the fourth source for Tiberius is Dio Cassius, 212 AD, almost 200 years later.
The best sources for Alexander are three to four centuries later and yet we turn around and say Mark’s too far away at plus 40; Matthew and Luke are too far away at plus 50; John is too far away at plus 60. And we’re not playing the same game rules for evidence here.
And by the way, you say they don’t record miracles, but they do. They do. In Suetonius’ account of Tiberius Caesar he ends his chapter on Tiberius Caesar by talking about these miraculous prophecies and portends of coming things. And nobody shrinks back and says he must be a loser and the history can’t be history. But we do have stuff with Jesus. I wonder why the rules aren’t the same?
Ankerberg: And didn’t Tony’s old professor on ancient history, Sherwin White, tell you about all of that, Tony?
Flew: No. The one thing he was producing some evidence about was something to do with Herod, wasn’t it?
Ankerberg: What did he say about this, Gary?
Habermas: Well, when he and I were dialoguing in 1985, I was talking about Sherwin White and in his excellent book, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. He was a specialist not only in Roman history and a world renowned specialist, but a specialist on Roman law. And that book, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, reads like F. F. Bruce or something. He’s talking about all the points in which the New Testament is true and I just brought this up in the debate to Tony in 1985 and I said, “What do you say about Sherwin White?” And I was surprised when he said, “Far be it from me to disagree with my old Oxford tutor.” And I had no idea he had studied under him at Oxford.
Audience: This is for Dr. Flew. You had mentioned earlier that you were not giving a naturalistic explanation for these things, but could you give me in a nutshell your case for philosophical naturalism?
Flew: Well, I don’t think this is something that really needs to have a case for it. This is the history of science and the achievement of science and I don’t need to produce some argument to show that a great deal has been discovered about the world.
Audience: So you would agree with Emmanuel Kant or a Kantian world view or something like that, to that effect?
Flew: Well, I don’t know.
Ankerberg: Right along that line, though, the fact is, what do you, again, do with history that on a probabilistic basis seems to suggest it will break this world view? Again you go back to my illustration with the farmer, you know. It’s outside of our experience but you’re looking at evidence. I think of the folks that looked at the world at one time and thought the evidence said it was flat. If you start with that view, how could you ever get to it being not flat? It was evidence. Our world in medicine, in science, the leaps that we have taken, putting a man on the moon. People did not believe that at one time. But there have to be strides. You can’t come and say, “This is how the universe is” a priori and simply say, “It’s this way.” Seems like you have to investigate whether this took place or not and be open to going with the flow, don’t you?
Flew: Well, in a sense if one found that resurrections were going on left, right and center, then clearly one would have to revise one’s view about this.
Ankerberg: Do you think that’s right, Gary? That you have to have resurrections going left, right and center?
Habermas: No. It’s all the better that there’s only one. I agree with Richard Swinburne that the best case for a miracle is a one-time event that the laws of nature could not be expanded to accommodate. And that’s truly the case with the resurrection and that’s why I think left and right that the resurrection is taken so seriously because it is an exception which would seem to indicate God’s hand if it occurred.

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