Arts book review

The resurrection as a case study in evidence versus faith

A philosopher argues against the main belief of Christianity in Atheism and the Case Against Christ


Atheism and the Case Against Christ

By Matthew S. McCormick

July 2012

In his recent book Atheism and the Case Against Christ, Matthew McCormick, a professor of philosophy at CSU Sacramento, takes issue with the most fundamental claim of Christianity: Jesus came back to life after being dead for three days.

But saying that McCormick “takes issue” with the resurrection claim is an understatement. He uses 288 pages to take the critical-thinking equivalent of a chainsaw against the poor claim, and what follows is not nice. I am not sure how a believer might feel when reading McCormick’s book, but for me, an open atheist, following his grinding argument against the evidence for the resurrection was like watching him beat a dead horse and then extract from the resulting pulp at least half a dozen different, compelling reasons to not just doubt but reject altogether the historicity of the resurrection on the basis of insufficient evidence. He then blows the remains in the faces of all other religions, since, he contends, they all contain equally fantastic and unsupported claims. McCormick, all the while, touts the moral advantages of atheism, particularly the benefit of being able to think through problems on the basis of facts, instead of wishful thinking.

From cover to cover, McCormick’s comprehensive refutation felt to me like overkill. Who, after all, takes the resurrection to be truly a historical fact? I did not have to wait for long to be reminded who.

Take the Pope, for example. In his latest book on Jesus, published last week in 20 languages and an instant bestseller, Benedict XVI asks, “is what we profess in the Creed true?” If you are not familiar with the Creed, you don’t know what you are missing. It is a public affirmation of a series of fundamental Christian beliefs, including Jesus’ birth from a virgin and his resurrection from the dead. “The answer is an unequivocal yes,” says the Pope: both the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus are historical truth. How does he know this? It is not because he has found sufficient historical evidence to support these extraordinary claims, but because these beliefs are cornerstones of his faith and are supported by scripture, which is taken again by faith as being true.

If you are wondering why you should care about other people deciding what is true based on faith instead of evidence, I submit this example for your consideration. This December’s issue of GQ includes an interview with GOP preferito Marco Rubio, with a Couric-style gotcha question: “How old do you think the Earth is?” Accordingly, Rubio answered in Palin-speak by distancing himself from science (“I’m not a scientist”), invoking Scripture as his reference (“I can tell you what the Bible says”), and declaring the subject beyond our reach (“It is one of the great mysteries”). In Christian circles, doubting the true geological age of the Earth is a proxy for doubting evolution through natural selection, which is itself a defense mechanism for affirming the existence of a Creator. So, when Rubio answers a question about the Earth’s age based on faith and ignoring all the scientific evidence, he is publicly affirming his Christian beliefs at the expense of scientific facts.

In a searing op-ed piece, Paul Krugman PhD ’77 characterized Rubio’s “inability to acknowledge scientific evidence” as “symptomatic of a much broader problem,” namely “the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party,” and urges us not to forget Rubio’s answer when the 2016 election comes. Such predilection of faith over evidence, of truthiness over truth, “may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline,” warns Krugman.

I agree with him. McCormick mounted such a formidable attack on the pivotal claim of the predominant religion in this hemisphere, because the case has to be made over and over again, until it sinks in, that faith-based policies should not be accepted by rational thinkers. The pressing need to stand this ground is the underlying reason for McCormick’s all-out defense of reason above faith. And I see it as a good fight. May his chainsaw stay sharp.