Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The argument from outer space!

I was listening to atheist Dr Stephen Law in discussion with a Christian by the name of James Orr a few weeks ago (here). They were talking about why people believe strange things. The conversation then focused on the resurrection of Christ, and this is where Dr Law, in my humble opinion, needed to stop throwing stones or else get out of the glass house he was in, because hearing his reasons for denying God's existence and Christianity leaves him no room or right to talk about other people holding beliefs for inadequate reasons!

He told a story about a 1960's UFO sighting, and how there were many witnesses who claimed to see it, but it turned out to be the planet Jupiter or something. This supposedly parallels the evidence for the resurrection appearances of Christ, and should make us see how such a belief could have originated, but of course it does no such thing!

First, people in the story Dr Law told did see a UFO! It was an unidentified flying object! I gathered from the story that people just reported what they saw, and there was actually something objective to see. So, if this is some kind of parallel to the resurrection, or some sort of explanation of it, then what did the disciples see? Furthermore, remember that the disciples weren't claiming to see some far off, unknown, unidentified object in the night sky, they were claiming that they saw the Lord, and that they saw Him so closely they could touch Him, and saw Him for so long that they could have a meal with Him, on numerous occasions, in various groups and in different places.

Second, even if people thought they'd seen a space ship or something like that, it's understandable how they could have gotten that wrong, but here are these disciples saying they've met, handled and eaten with the risen Lord - how would you make a mistake like that? How do you get that wrong? What piece of information could possibly surface that would cause the disciples to say, "Oh, right! I see now! For the last forty days we had thought that we had been meeting with the Lord, we had thought we had conversations with Him, ate meals with Him and took instruction from Him, but now we see that we got it wrong! Oops!" I just don't know how you could make a genuine mistake of that nature.

Third, UFOs were a pretty popular subject on TV and in movies and stuff back then, it could be the case that people were mad keen on seeing a UFO, and would have made UFO sightings very quickly based on very little.  it was something that in in the cultural consciousness. But this certainly doesn't parallel with the situation in first century Israel! The Jews had no expectation of a resurrection out from amongst the dead. They only had a belief in the general resurrection on the last day. There was no anticipation of resurrection. When the tomb was found empty they suspected theft, when they saw Him they suspected it was a spirit! They took quite a bit of convincing that this was the Lord bodily risen from the dead.  It wasn't a conclusion they jumped to, but rather it was a conclusion they were forced to because of their tangible, undeniable experiences with Him.

Fourth, no one was putting their life in danger by reporting a UFO sighting, but that's what the disciples did by proclaiming the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They knew that their Master had not been terribly popular amongst the leaders of the nation (hence the crucifixion). I'm suggesting that sticking with their Master, and saying He had risen, was asking for trouble, and inviting unwanted attention. Yet this is what they did, why? Because the Lord had risen, and in His rising from the dead He robbed death of its terror and robbed the disciples of their fear.

Fifth, no one was putting their soul in danger by reporting a UFO sighting, but that is what the disciples were doing if it is they were making this story up. It's really neither here nor there what you believe about UFOs, but you'd appreciate that the Jews took very seriously what you believed about God - it mattered. Just think about it - Jesus of Nazareth had been hanged on a tree, the indication to the Jews that He had died accursed. If the Lord had not risen then it would mean that He had indeed been rejected by God, yet these disciples were promoting this very man, announcing Him as the Prince of Life, and Lord and Christ! It would mean they were proclaiming a false and failed messiah, and they were encouraging people to accept what would have been the most blasphemous claims - that this man had all the authority of God, that He was deity incarnate, and was the only way of approach to God! They were telling people that God had vindicated these claims by raising Him from the dead. These disciples no longer observed Jewish ceremonial laws, and we're abandoning things that symbolised the nation's covenant relationship with God (see this post for more on this subject). It really seems to me that if Christ had not risen then these men must have been convinced atheists, because they clearly had no fear of God by proclaiming and promoting such doctrines. So if they didn't believe that Jesus was living, they mustn't have believed God was living either, but who could ever believe that about these men?

Sixth, the sighting of a UFO would leave nothing tangible or testable behind it. You could claim to have seen one and who could really prove you wrong, but when it came to the resurrection things were a bit different! You can't claim a resurrection if the body is lying in the tomb! The empty grave stood as tangible evidence. The disciples publicly proclaimed the resurrection in the city of His crucifixion without any fear that someone would produce the body - they knew it wouldn't happen, because He was really alive!

Seventh, in the 1960s being different and having strange views was something that people were proud of.  It was cool to be your own person.  In first century Israel it wasn't cool to hold different beliefs! The survival and cohesion of the nation depended largely on them holding together religiously.  You didn't break away lightly, and when we find this small band of men standing apart from and against the religious hierarchy of the day, proclaiming the end of the old covenant, the fulfilment of prophecy, and the inclusion of Gentiles into the community of believers as fellow-heirs, this is major! It would have taken something astronomical (excuse the pun) to make them do this, something like the resurrection of one who claimed to be the fulfilment and finish of all the Old Covenant symbols and signs!

Eighth, believing you've seen a UFO doesn't make much of a difference in a person's life, but believing in the resurrected Son of God make such a difference in a person's life! Millions of people (going back to those first disciples, and Saul of Tarsus) could testify to the soul-saving, life-changing power of the risen Christ, lifting those in the gutter of sin, liberating those in the grip of sin, giving them power and peace that nothing else and no one else can give, transforming people immediately, completely, permanently and positively! He is a living Saviour whom you could, and should, meet today.

So hopefully you can see that Dr Law's UFO story, while interesting, is completely irrelevant!  This is not science fiction, this is solid fact - the Lord is risen!