Debating the Resurrection of Jesus

St Andrews University Christian Union hosted a debate entitled “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Andy Bannister author of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist, went up against John Richards who wrote his book Theist!: The dreadful consequences of thinking like a Theist in response to Andy’s book. On paper at least this looked to be a fascinating debate.

Andy began by addressing the accounts of resurrection on their own terms, looking at whether the sources could be seen to be trustworthy and setting up criteria for assessment (do we have multiple sources, how early are they, is there eye witness testimony etc), as well asking about the behaviour of the disciples following the death of Jesus and the questioning why a fake first century story would base itself of the testimony of women). As well as relying on a huge variety of sources from secular, Jewish, Christian scholars, Andy effectively laid out some of the key reasons for believing the resurrection is based on some level of evidence, rather than a blind misguided desire to believe that God is real.

Conversely John opted for three main strategies of attack, firstly by claiming that Resurrection often forms a key part of ancient mythologies (notably Egyptian and Greek). John then proceeded to argue that source material is inherently untrustworthy. Finally, he argued that we can only trust that which we can prove via the scientific method, meaning we cannot believe resurrection occurred because it goes against that which science says is possible.

Personally, I found most of John’s arguments to be weak and lacking academic rigour, with some obvious problems in his logic. For example, Andy roundly destroyed his idea that resurrection is to be found in many of the world’s religions citing Johnathan Z. Smiths work Dying and Rising Gods. John argued that Constantine doctored the New Testament writings in AD300 (a belief that I believe was made popular by the Da Vinci Code in 2003) but provided no source material (academic or otherwise) for why this would be the case. In addition, John failed to address the idea that resurrection is a supernatural event which is the very reason it’s important in Christian history (and that’s skipping over the issue that the only things we can believe and those that are empirically proven is in itself, a statement which cannot be proven). John did show his foresight in producing a list of academics he believed Andy would reference, Yet unfortunately he was unable to reference many world leading scholars himself to address Andy’s position, which given the debate was at one of the world’s oldest universities isn’t a strategy I would have adopted myself.

In the end however, both participants came down to the position that this is something that this does come down to faith. Andy told the audience about how his life was changed by the person of Jesus and essentially argued that this is a topic that is worth your time.

Looking back at the event, Annie, one of the leaders of the CU added:

One first year told me his friends from halls went in firmly against the claim of Jesus’ resurrection, but left almost convinced the other way! Two other members also spent an hour with a guy who’d come by himself having been given a flyer, who was convinced that science held all the answers to life and was stunned by the fact that there were rational and compelling arguments for Christianity. All in all, we are so encouraged and excited by the ways we’re seeing God using this event.”

If you are interested in watching the debate, you can find it on YouTube, although none of the important information on the screen was captured by the camera.

Jack Johnson is a PhD student at the university of St. Andrews in Divinity (specifically systematic Theology). he did a MLitt in Systematic and Historical Theology at St Andrews and a BA (hons) in Christian Theology and Politics at Liverpool Hope University, where he was also Student Union President. He is originally from Liverpool, but has lived in various parts of England prior to coming to Scotland.

To find out more about St Andrews University Christian Union click here.