Ep 5 | Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?



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’re talking about the question, Did Jesus rise from the dead?, a very crucial question. And we’ve got two world-class philosophers with us. They are Dr. Antony Flew, considered by many to be the world’s foremost contemporary philosophical atheist. A man who has authored more than 23 books, including Hume’s Philosophy of Belief, God and Philosophy, Introduction to Western Philosophy, The Presumption of Atheism and Other Philosophical Essays on God, Freedom, and Immortality.
My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, a renowned Christian philosopher and historian, who is considered by many to be the foremost expert on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. And Gary has authored 21 books, including The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, In Defense of Miracles, and Why Believe? God Exists! Gentlemen, we are so glad that you are here.
What we want to talk about in this section is a question that comes up time and time again and that is, “Hey, my mom, my sisters, my family members, my friends, they might want to, Tony, believe in the resurrection, but doggone it, we don’t see resurrections happening every day.” Okay? All the funerals I’ve ever gone to, Dr. Habermas, I have yet to see any of those guys come back out of the grave. So my experience, all of my experience says “dead men stay dead” and you want to take me from “Ground Zero” here of saying, you know, dead men stay dead, all the way up to a miracle – not just a little tiny miracle but the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and I’ve got no experience, no background on that baby. Now, help me out.
Habermas: Well, that’s good. I mean, I think you’ve just explained well the issue that philosophers call “antecedent probability.” And I would guess that is probably the single biggest issue on the miracles – not resurrection but miracles issue. I think there’s two ways a theist could go after this. One is to say your view of the world is wrong. It’s not that we’re here and the resurrection is Mount Everest. This world here needs to be adjusted. Now, this isn’t a debate on some of these other things but if this were an extended debate, and I would say, “Well, what’s our world look like?,” I would want to talk about data for God’s existence. I would want to talk about near-death experiences. And because, see, if God exists, the playing field rises up quite a bit or some would say, like this, I mean, my colleague here, Dr. Flew, said in our 1985 debate, he said, “If we have some reasons to think that God exists, the resurrection becomes enormously more likely.” And I think those words “enormously more likely” are his words. So God would change that picture.
If there are miracles at present, I’m thinking about the study that was done with 400 cardiac patients at a San Francisco hospital a few years ago in which they had a double-blind experiment. Half the people were prayed for; half the people were not prayed for. And they monitored these patients in 26 categories and the ones that were prayed for were statistically better – now that’s significant: not just better but statistically better – in 21 out of 26 categories. So this was published by Moody Monthly? No. It was published by the Southern Journal of Medicine. Nothing against Moody but I mean, the peer reviewers of the Southern Journal of Medicine thought that this was medically significant that the people who were prayed for were better in 21 out of 26 categories.
As I said, near-death experiences. If life after death is true, and I think near-death experiences are a great argument, the playing field comes up. So one way you can do it is object to the playing field and say there’s other things going on here, too.
Ankerberg: Let’s get a response from Tony in terms of, let me give you an illustration, Tony. There was a farmer that grew up on the farm all of his life. Okay? The only animals he had ever, ever seen were chickens, cows, and horses. And then one day he went to the zoo and, lo and behold, he walked around the corner and he saw a giraffe. And he looked at it, and he looked at it again, and he told his wife, “There ain’t no such animal!” It was outside of his experience. Now, aren’t you kind of like the farmer who is saying, “You know, I’ve got no resurrections in my experience here,” but you’re avoiding the very evidence that is standing in front of your eyes?
Flew: I don’t think this will do, because the idea of a miracle is parasitical on the idea of a law of nature. To show that something is happening all the time and there is no reason to think it’s impossible is not to produce anything that’s going to change people’s religious or other beliefs, you know. The whole point of arguing that this resurrection occurred is to say that it was impossible and could only have been brought about by a supernatural power. You know? If you, you know, as we all know that giraffes are possible; very worthy creatures. So finding that…and there was never any good reason to think they were impossible anyway. So, this is not going to prove anything exciting. I think this is the crucial point: that the idea of a miracle depends absolutely on the idea of natural law and physical impossibility. It’s only because there are laws of nature, there are things that are impossible for human beings that it becomes exciting to say, “Here! has something impossible been done?” It’s not possible for human beings. It’s only possible for a supernatural power.
Ankerberg: Alright, if I hear you right, let’s say that I had the privilege of, it was a sad privilege, but I was asked to do a funeral. And I had known this lady and so about a month ago, I flew down to Florida and did the funeral. About three weeks later I came back to that area and I was speaking and the family was there again. And so I used the illustration and I said, “What would happen if the daughter, who was lawyer, came to me and said, ‘You know…’, now, this was four weeks after her mother had been buried, she said, ‘You know, I saw Mom and had lunch with her yesterday.’”
Now, I think what you’re saying is, none of us would immediately, even if she’s a lawyer and even if she’s a credible testimony, we would say, “You know what, now that you’ve told me that, I need to put your mother’s phone number back in my phone book.” We do not assume that dead people come back from the dead. So let’s stick it to Gary over here. How do we get to the point of coming to accept the fact that there could have been a resurrection in past history, namely, Jesus Christ?
Habermas: Well, like I said, there are two ways at least. One is to say we have experience in nature of incredible things: answers to prayer, healing; or near-death experiences: near-death experiences arguing that life after death is true. On the other hand, you could argue that if she just said that, if the lawyer just said that, you’d say, “No, that’s not sufficient.” But what if she kept going and giving you other data. Now, that’s where I use my so-called Wal-Mart illustration.
Ankerberg: Tell us about it.
Habermas: In my Wal-Mart illustration, let’s say that I bumped into somebody here. Now, we like to go to the store, and as you push your cart down the aisle you say “Hi” to this friend and two aisles over another friend and two aisles over and three friends are talking together and you join the group. What if I saw somebody at Wal-Mart and we chatted, and maybe I shook hands. And went a few aisles over and somebody else was talking to this person and a few aisles over and five people were talking to this person and I got into the conversation, but along the way there were other signs. Let’s say the person was tracking mud on their shoes. Let’s say I reached over and touched the person and shook hands, patted him on the shoulder. Let’s say I paused for a photograph. Now, what if – this is what’s missing – what if we saw that person the last time at their own funeral three days or a week earlier? I’d say to myself, “That’s not the person we buried. I mean, I’ve seen the medical examiner’s report. I know this person is dead.”
Okay, what are my options? It’s a twin brother; and… whatever. These are called naturalistic theories. But let’s say the person says, “No. You know I was injured in a serious car accident. Well, here’s the scar. It’s not a twin brother. It’s me.”
“Well, maybe you’re not here.”
“Well, pinch me. Pinch me.”
And I’m saying, after a while, the mud on the feet, the pat on the shoulder… there’s going to come a point at which you say, “Boy! I don’t know what to do here but I have a medical report, I was at your funeral, I saw the car accident, there’s the scar on your head. You’ve been my best buddy for three years.”
And now, as you ask the other people, “Did you see him over there? Did all of you see him? Did you see him singly?” Well, it might have been hallucination.
“Did you see him in groups?” Okay, now, “Did anybody else touch him?”
I’m saying, the second way to go after this is, there reaches a point at which you say, “This doesn’t fit my experience but it seems to be the same person.”
And I think that’s roughly the same way that, he likes the case of Thomas. I think that’s Thomas’ point. There’s no way this guy is walking around at Wal-Mart. So he says, “Check it out.”
And Paul says, “I’m going to kill all of them.” Well, he sees Jesus.
James says, “No way.”
I’m saying that the second way to go after it is to say there can be so much data that it overrides what we think the natural scheme of nature is.
And I’ll add this about the laws of nature. The laws of nature are not some Humean or, let’s say, some Newtonian principle. And Hume is better than Newton, but they’re not some thing to keep things from happening. Laws of nature are statistical descriptions of what usually occurs when nature is left to herself to quote Lewis. Since they are statistical descriptions and not rock walls, not cement walls, statistics can be overridden and therefore I’ve got to be open that the guy at Wal-Mart was the same guy at the funeral. I at least have to be open to that.
Ankerberg: What do you think, Tony?
Flew: Well, I don’t think it’s the thing to go on about here, but I radically disagree with this idea that laws of nature are merely statistical.
I want to go back to the point that a miracle is an overriding of a law of nature, or if you like, doing something that is known to be practically impossible for human beings. And I think there can be evidence for this, but it depends on your having justified prior beliefs, not merely about the existence of a supernatural power, but a fair amount of supplementary belief about the nature of and the intentions of that supernatural power. Just to say, “Oh, there must have been a sort of personal force at the beginning that set off this…” What is really wanted and is available surely in this particular case that we’re arguing about is the whole tradition of Mosaic theism. It’s not just God as a super power, omnipotent power. It is the God of the whole tradition of Mosaic theism, the God of the Old Testament. And it is the belief in that that I think is going to make belief in these miracles rational belief.
Ankerberg: Okay, Gary.
Habermas: I agree. I agree. But in the last segment we were talking about Jesus claiming, plugging in to the God of that tradition, saying, “I am the Son of God. I am the Son of Man.” Then He rises from the dead with all this evidence. It’s precisely plugging into that tradition, which is the strongest argument for Jesus being who He claimed to be.
Flew: Yes.
Habermas: So if He is raised, you’ve got somebody who claims to be the Son of God and God doesn’t raise heretics from the dead.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re debating the topic, did Jesus rise from the dead?, and when we return, we’re going to talk some more about this and we’re going to talk about other evidence that might push you over the edge in terms of belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: We’re talking with Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Antony Flew. And Gary, what other evidence would you bring into this picture in terms of those that are naturalists that say there’s got to be a naturalistic explanation? Tony doesn’t seem to know how to explain this stuff, the evidence, the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that you’ve presented so far. But his concern is, “Hey, just in the ordinary experience of things, it couldn’t happen.” Now, what would you say to that?
Habermas: Yes, the other way I said, one is just overpowering evidence for the resurrection, but the other way to go after it is to say, this world admits other exceptions. Now, near-death experiences, to give an example, would not be a miracle. However, if near-death experience is evidence of afterlife, Jesus’ resurrection would still be unique. But if people are living after death, now that makes you take a whole new look at the resurrection. So, my interest in near-death experiences is not the tens of thousands, if Gallup is right, almost 8 million Americans that have had near-death experiences. My interest is not the tunnels and the lights because that could be temporal lobe; it could be lack of oxygen.
To me, since 1972 I’ve collected almost 100 cases of near-death experiences where something evidential happens two blocks, or in some cases, two miles away. Now, if I just give one example, this is a real recent one. But the medical doctor, a cardiologist, Michael Sabom, in his 1982 book Recollections of Death: A Medical Perspective, he said, “When I wrote that book we only had near-death experiences. Now we have post-death experiences.” In his most recent book called Light and Death he gives the case of a Southern mother in her 30’s who had a brain aneurysm and they had to fly her out to Arizona for a special technique. And I’m given to believe that only one doctor in the world does this, but it took 30 doctors and technicians in the room, and what happens is, he opened up her skull and if the aneurysm is right there, you repair it. But if it goes down deep, they put into effect what they call “Operation Standstill.” And this is crazy because they basically kill their patient.
Now, this lady went out to Arizona. He cut open her skull. Went down and found this thing was way too deep, so they had to kill her. And what they did was cool her body temperature down to 59 degrees, get all the blood out of her head. They stopped her heart; they stopped her brain. These were stopped for hours. And he’s doing his work and to make a long story short, if you’re interested in the end result, he got the vessel, he repaired it, and she is doing fine today. Okay? But what the interesting thing is when in her testimony, when she heard the saw turn on, she said she was out of her body and as it were, looking over his shoulder at the top of her head. Now, she’s getting near to this point where they’re going to kill her and she gives six points of corroboration. And one of the things she says is, she said, “I had this idea of a drill looking like a pizza cutter or something, but,” she said, “it looked like a pen with a little tiny… where did you get that?”
And she said, “You had a socket wrench next to you.”
And the medical doctor said, “What do you mean socket wrench?”
And he’s wanting her to give evidence. He said, “Well, there was a box that sat open with all these interchangeable parts.” He said, “Draw me a picture of the drill.”
She drew it.
“Draw me a picture of the socket set.”
She drew it. And then she tells things that went on in the room. They couldn’t find her artery. They had to go to the other side. She identified which doctor made the decision, which doctor couldn’t find the artery. It’s in her medical report. But during the experience… and then they kill her. I mean, she’s dead for three hours and she has all these points of memory and I could go on and give others.
In one other case, real briefly, a girl who was drowned. She was under water for 19 minutes. She reported what her parents were doing at home that night, what her mom did for dinner, where her dad was sitting, a G. I. Joe that her brother played with, a doll that her sister played with. She talked about a popular song that came on the radio and she gave… she had no brain activity, comatose. She came to three days later, looked up and told the doctor, “You’re the one that resuscitated me.” Told this big long story and he checked the data from just three days earlier.
Now, I think these are some hard cases and there’s dozens of others like them. Now, if this is true and there’s life after death, this isn’t Jesus, but if there’s life after death, it allows us to understand a model for what we call resurrection.
Flew: Is that supposed to show life after death?
Habermas: Well, I think it, okay, not extenuated life, not heaven/hell, but what I would argue is minimalistic life after death. By minimalistic life after death, I mean minutes, sometimes hours, minutes after cessation of heart or brain waves.
Now, to me, if a person is recording something, if it’s in my medical report that I flat-lined at 3:02 and I had no brain wave at 3:15 and I report something that happened a few minutes after that or an hour later, and I can tell you what went on, say, a police report and it’s after the event. No, I don’t think life after death in the traditional view of heaven/hell but in the sense of having data from minutes after death, and I would think life after hours of death would be tough for a naturalist.
Ankerberg: Tony, does that open up the door in terms of the possibility of more than naturalism?
Flew: Hum? Not really, I think, but this is another subject. It’s one of my favorite subjects actually. I’ve written a lot of literature about a possibility of a future life.
Ankerberg: What would you say happens in terms of those cases then, naturalistically?
Habermas: They report something miles away when they have no heart or brain activity?
Flew: This is the sort of thing that’s normally called “out of the body” experiences, isn’t it?
Habermas: Except in OBE the person’s not anywhere close to death. In an NDE, they are close to death. In the case of this lady from Alabama, I think, or Georgia, she’s post-death, by all accepted standards. You know, 59 degrees blood, no blood in the head, no heart, no brain for hours. She shouldn’t be reporting anything, should she?
Flew: No, but if she was really dead, she shouldn’t be recovering in this way.
Habermas: This is intriguing evidence for somebody who has no brain activity. She was on a lung machine. By the way, her doctor gave her a 10 percent chance of living and a one in 10,000 chance of living with all her faculties. Three days later she comes to spontaneously and says, “You’re the guy who resuscitated me. Where’s the tall guy without the beard?”
He said, “I’ll get him for you.” And this guy is an agnostic and I’ve talked to the doctor myself. Guess what. He’s no longer an agnostic. He’s a theist. He’s not a Christian, but he’s a theist.
Flew: Well.
Habermas: So it’s evidence for something.
Flew: Yes. I mean, this is the sort of thing that societies for psychical research, or nowadays it’s called parapsychology, investigate, and it seems to me one begins to start talking about not psychokinesis… extrasensory perception and so on.
Habermas: But you don’t believe in ESP.
Flew: No.
Habermas: So what does a naturalist do with reports from miles away when there is no brain or heart activity?
Flew: I don’t know about this one. I know what to do with most ESP reports because basically people again and again try to establish evidence for this and the only way we’ll demonstrate this is a repeatable demonstration.
Habermas: But, of course, all these people have functioning brains and hearts.
Flew: Yes. Yes. This new angle….
Habermas: But with no brain and heart, this is quite extraordinary.
Flew: This is a new one to me, yes. This is certainly a new one.
Ankerberg: Alright, we have to wrap this up. Gary, in terms of all that we’ve been talking about, fit near-death experiences in. Where does it fit? What is the evidence showing you so far?
Habermas: Well, what I’m saying is, something we haven’t even talked about, but Christians want to talk about a theistic world view. As Tony said, it’s not just God out there, it’s the God of the Old Testament. There’s a whole tradition here. So if we’ve got good arguments for God’s existence and we have evidence for God writing Scripture, if we have evidence for Him acting in time, if Jesus does miracles, then He rises from the dead. And if today we see cases of double-blind experiments where a medical journal publishes answers to prayer, where 21 out of 26 categories the person is statistically better; we see some healing examples for which I wish we had time to go into; near-death experiences; and then we talk about the evidence for the resurrection, I think the Christian’s point is, the resurrection is not isolated, it’s part of a big picture, what we would want to call a theistic world view. It’s part of a big picture and in that picture, the fact that God raised Jesus is extraordinary, it’s one of a kind, it shows Jesus is who He said He is, but He is alive and God is working in other ways in the world, too.

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