Christianity and Circumstantial Evidence

Christianity and Circumstantial Evidence

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Above Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What Teens Notice

Over the years, as I taught Jr. High, I have taken the opportunity to ask my students questions that would encourage them to think. One of the questions I have asked repeatedly over the years was, “If you could ask God any one thing, what would you ask him?” One of the more common replies has been, “How long will the human race last?” Notice it was not IF they will last, but how long. This reply gives us some insight into how teens view the world. Despite their obsession with how they dress in the morning, or how well their favorite sports team did in the playoffs, some do have an insightful understanding of the plight of our civilization. 

This reply has not come from students attending Christian schools but Jr. High students in public schools. It has become evident to them that something is broken, and despite adults’ efforts to fix it, there is not any light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a few years since I have taught Jr. High, but the broken world has become even more evident to anyone who pays attention to the world around them. 

It is true, many teens may not know who the current vice president is. However, as they read their history books, hear, and watch about our current world state of affairs, it has become apparent that humans, on the whole, are in a downward spiral that will only have one possible outcome. That much should be evident for anyone who looks at the world around them. 

Yet, over the years, in some Christian circles, there seems to be the belief humanity is getting better. Some believe that Christians will usher in heaven, and without our efforts to create some utopia or heaven on earth, Christ will not return. This view is called Postmillennialism and is an in-house debate among Christians, but it is fair to say that theologians and those who study Eschatology don’t agree. 

Most teens and young adults probably don’t think about it in these terms, but they are simply making a prediction to determine an outcome using evidence they have seen or experienced.

Types of Evidence

When you find yourself on a jury, the judge may take a few moments and explain the difference between the two types of evidence you might encounter. Direct and circumstantial evidence are types of evidence you have probably heard of. People often think that circumstantial evidence is weak or somehow less valid than direct evidence, but many successful criminal cases have been prosecuted with circumstantial evidence alone. 

The metaphor “smoking gun” refers to circumstantial evidence and is more powerful than many give credit. An example of circumstantial evidence would be if you walked into a room and saw a man holding a bloody knife, standing over another man who happened to be dead on the floor due to stab wounds. Of course, you did not see him murder the man on the floor, but the placement of the standing man and his knife suggests it. 

On the other hand, direct evidence would be if you walked into the room and actually saw the man with the knife stab the man on the floor. Obviously, the direct evidence is more powerful, but cumulative circumstantial evidence can, in some ways, be just as compelling. 

Say the two men had a history of violence, and the man with the knife had threatened the dead man the day before, which was witnessed by others; now you have significant circumstantial evidence. 

You may remember two well-known cases which were successfully prosecuted with circumstantial evidence. Timothy McVeigh, who was found guilty of bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City, and Scott Peterson, convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son in Modesto, California, in 2002. 

Circumstantial evidence can include fingerprints, tape recordings, video recordings, photos, letters, documents, and many other types of physical evidence. In some ways, circumstantial evidence can have an advantage over direct evidence since it can come from multiple sources, which fortify each other. If the case relies on a single piece of direct evidence that is discredited, the case is lost.

Evidence for the Resurrection

The evidence for the resurrection is circumstantial but powerful. So powerful that millions have dedicated their lives to Christ, and some have even given up their life for Him. 

Nevertheless, I don’t think that being a martyr is evidence for the truth of a religion. Martyrdom is just evidence that the individual believes wholeheartedly in their cause. Indeed, the Muslims who flew into the twin towers believed in Islam and believed they were on their way to paradise, but that does not make it true.

Some brief evidence that points to the truth of the resurrection would include:

  • The first witnesses of the risen Christ were women. That in itself is amazing since women were 2nd class citizens; a women’s testimony was not even considered admissible in court in ancient Jerusalem.
  • For centuries, following the resurrection, tens of thousands gave their lives to Christ and were willing to die for their belief. As I said above, this is not evidence for the truth, but what is significant is that the disciples were eyewitnesses. They were the eyewitness to the truth of the resurrection and were willing to die for what they had witnessed with their own eyes. That cannot be emphasized enough; the disciples were willing to die for what they saw, not just what they believed to be true.
  • We have testimony from multiple independent eyewitness sources. The New Testament is compiled from 27 different documents and nine different authors.
  • The testimony contains events or details that are embarrassing to the authors. If the resurrection event were a story that some made up, then most often, those telling the story would include false information that would put the authors in a positive light. The opposite is true, as the authors document events that show how they acted stupidly, selfishly, and cowardly.
  • Do we have any enemy accounts? Yes: Josephus’, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and several other offer historical reports.
  • New Testament writers include divergent details. For example, Matthew says one angel was at the tomb while John says there were two. How would this strengthen an eyewitness account? Like any event with multiple eyewitness accounts, they do not necessarily agree on the details. Had the authors of the New Testament collaborated to match their accounts, it would have been obvious and damaged their testimony.

The list above is far from complete, but it should give you an idea that the evidence for the resurrection is quite powerful. 

Evidence from Real Life Stories

We use evidence every day, every hour, every moment of our lives, and how we weigh the evidence presented determines our actions, from opening the fridge to get the cold milk for our cereal or opening the freezer to thaw the ground beef. Some of you may have experienced opening a refrigerator that was not working; the stench can be overpowering and hang in the air for hours, something not soon forgotten. However, if we did not have the consistent, day-to-day experience of successfully using the fridge to keep things cold, we would not use it. 

Sometimes the evidence we have is a singular life-changing event. So impactful, nothing is the same after the experience. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is an extraordinary story of a World War II bombardier Louis Zamperini, shot down and captured by the Japanese. His distinct, permanent, transformative event occurred after his horrific experiences as a Japanese prisoner during World War II. 

It is truly amazing what humans can endure by willpower alone, but what is even more awe-inspiring is the healing power and saving grace of our Lord. Zamperini suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese, but one particular Japanese prison guard, nicknamed “The Bird,” was the worst of all. The Bird’s beatings, whippings, and inhuman abuse to Zamperini lasted till the end of the war.

When Louis returned home, his life began to fall apart as he drank himself into oblivion, suffering from horrible flashbacks and nightmares. Louis was on a mission to hunt down and kill the Bird when his wife talked him into attending a Billy Graham crusade. It was there that Louis Zamperini gave his life to Christ and experienced nothing short of a miraculous healing; he never suffered from another flashback or nightmare, he stopped drinking, and God healed his marriage.

Louis had no prior experience to base his miraculous healing. When he gave his life to Christ that night in a hot sweltering tent, it was not like opening the fridge for the umpteenth time with an expectation of pulling out a cold soda. He had no expectations at all, only a compelling notion that he had to walk forward and accept Christ in his life. Unlike the old T.V. show, Let’s Make a Deal, where constants had to choose what was behind door number 1, 2, or 3, knowing something was behind those doors, Louis had no such anticipation. He only knew he had to walk through that door but was oblivious to the instantaneous, miraculous healing behind it.

Louis’s experience is direct evidence, unmistakable because of his transformed life, and his is not the only story of an altered life. The 2017 movie The Case for Christ is just one more example. The evidence is there; you don’t need blind faith or to take a leap of faith. All you need to do is follow where the evidence leads you. 

While we are often willing to spend time reading the Bible, praying, or participating in church programs and services, few of us recognize the importance of becoming good Christian case makers.― J. Warner Wallace, A Homicide Detective and author of Cold-Case Christianity.

…there are highly intelligent, eminent scientists, such as Professor William Phillips (Physics Nobel Prizewinner 1998), Professor John Polkinghorne FRS (Quantum Physicist, Cambridge), and the current Director of the National Institute of Health and former Director of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins (to name just three) who,…without either embarrassment or any sense of irrationality or absurdity, affirm their belief in the supernatural, and in particular in the resurrection of Christ, which they regard as the supreme evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview. – John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University.

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Circumstantial Evidence by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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