My faith is grounded in history, supported by historical evidence. Therefore, my approach to history is critical. The modern approach precludes the possibility of the supernatural. I see that I must interpret history without prejudice, accepting God’s view as accurate, choosing to agree with God’s evaluation of the facts and refusing to believe my perspective as true. Evidence for my faith in Christ can be substantiated by the legal-historical method of proof.
Many skeptics say, “This is an age of science, and I don’t accept anything unless it’s proven to me. Prove the resurrection to me scientifically! The biggest problem with religion is that its followers want us to believe without any proof. If you can’t prove scientifically what you’re saying, then it’s just not true. If you’re going to be dogmatic about Christianity, let’s have some proof!”
The one who says, “I don’t accept anything until it’s proven to me scientifically,” faces a big problem. It would be very difficult (not to speak of inconvenient) to consistently live by that principle. The simplest things of life sometimes defy explanation. Fireflies, electricity, aging, digesting food, flying an airplane and even falling in love involve processes not altogether understood by even Pulitzer-prize-winning scientists!
Those who insist that scientific proof is the only “true” proof are those who do not understand what scientific proof involved.
I. Observe these two methods of proof.
The two basic methods used to arrive at proof are the modern, scientific method (scientific proof) and the legal-historical methods (legal proof). We need to understand the difference so that we may discover the two of evidence that supports our faith in Christ.
1. The scientific method.
Scientific proof is based upon demonstrating a fact by repeating an event in the presence of the person questioning the fact. It calls for duplicating the event over and over, noting and recording the results, before drawing a conclusion.
“The scientific method, however, it is defined, is related to measurement of phenomena and experimentation or repeated observation” (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Micropedia Vol. VIII, p. 985).
The scientific method demands the use of a controlled environment (such as a laboratory) where:
(1) observation can be made.
(2) data is drawn.
(3) a hypothesis is experimentally verified.
The scientific method involves:
* gathering of data
* verification of facts by repeated experimentation.
2. The legal-historical method.
Legal-historical proof is based upon showing that something is true beyond a reasonable doubt. That is, the truth of a matter is decided on the basis of the weight of the evidence. There must be no reasonable basis for doubt.
The legal-historical method depends upon three types of testimony:
(1) oral testimony
(2) written testimony
(3) physical testimony (exhibits).
This is the same type of evidence that is valid in a court of law. The exhibits admissible in a court case would include a gun, a bullet or an article of clothing; written testimony could include a letter or handwritten instructions or deposition; and an eyewitness report would be an oral testimony. The jury reaches a verdict on the basis of the weight of the testimony presented.
II. Limitations of proof
1. The scientific method.
Because the scientific method is based upon experimentation, it is severely limited in proving past events, and is useful only in proving repeatable events. Science cannot answer questions about a person or an event in history.
If the scientific method was the only legitimate method for proving something, you couldn’t prove that you went to work that morning or that you had your lunch today! There is no way you can repeat these events in a controlled situation. So the scientific method isn’t appropriate for answering questions that relate to past events.
2. The legal-historical method.
While the legal-historical method can provide convincing proof about the resurrection, the reliability of the Bible or the actual facts of the Christian faith, it does have its limits.
When the question is asked, “Can Christianity be proven with 100 percent certainty?” we must answer truthfully, “No.” But that doesn’t leave us without any proof.
The decisive question in historical research is, “What is the most probable explanation for the evidence at hand?” One cannot establish 100 percent certainty through legal proof, but probability puts the matter beyond any reasonable doubt.
This should not surprise us. We base nearly all our decisions on probability. A jury bases its verdict on the most logical explanation of the weight of the evidence. An auto accident or robbery cannot be repeated in a courtroom. No reasonable doubt must exist, but if the jury waited until it established 100 percent certainty before rendering a verdict, the case could not be settled!
Based upon the application of the legal-historical method, frequently heard statements by non-believers are:
“You can’t prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I won’t believe it until I have some proof.”
“If God is real, why doesn’t He just come down, introduce Himself and shake hands with me? Then I’d believe Him.”
“You can’t believe the Bible. Science has proven that miracles aren’t possible.”
1. Scientific proof.
The evidence supporting the faith of a Christian is based in history. Therefore, the scientific method of proof is not applicable. The scientific method can be used only to prove repeatable events, and is therefore not appropriate for dealing with matters of history.
2. Legal-historical proof.
The evidence for the faith of a Christian is based on the record of God’s acts in history and on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The legal-historical method of proof is designed to investigate matters of history. If we wished to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or other figures or history existed, we would apply the legal-historical method. Based upon this same method, the truth of Christianity can be established beyond any reasonable doubt. The weight of the evidence points overwhelmingly to the validity of Christ’s claims and the reliability of the Scripture.
As you grow in your faith, pray this prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I thank You for the written testimony of Your Word that has been so miraculously preserved for us and assures us of who we are and what You are. I’m grateful You have provided a way to be assured intellectually and spiritually of Your involvement in our world and in my life. You don’t leave us alone to guess but You provide adequate proof of Your individual love and concern for me. My faith is strengthened as I see You as a real person whom I can know better and better each day. Amen.”
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE
“Can Christianity be proved?” Read “Answers to Tough Questions”, pages 145-146.
Read “What About Science?” chapter 3 of “More Than a Carpenter”, pages 36-40, for a concise explanation of the scientific and legal methods of proof.
Note also the ineffectiveness of the scientific method in refuting the evidence for the resurrection in “The Resurrection Factor”, pages 21-22.
Apply the legal-historical method to the resurrection by reading “Evidence That Demands a Verdict”, pages 189-195.