Somebody needs to redeem the phrase, “doubting Thomas.” I googled the definition and the first thing that came up said, “a person who is skeptical and refuses to believe something without proof.”
I think this is totally legitimate, in fact, such an attitude seems quite reasonable and worthy of respect. Particularly when we place this attitude within the context of an extraordinary claim.
Should we believe that someone saw the ghost of their dead Aunt just because they said so? Should we believe that someone saw an Angel just because they are totally convinced that they did?
A desire for evidence is wonderful. This is because good people, yes, even very smart people, can be mistaken. Richard Feynman has a great quote, he said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” How can we best guard against deception and error? We need evidence. Good old fashioned hard evidence.This should be especially true in light of highly unlikely or extraordinary claims.
The further away in history that we get from an extraordinary claim, the harder it is to discern on good grounds whether it was a credible event in history. This seems especially appropriate to bring up with regard to the resurrection of Jesus. I can’t tell anybody that it for sure didn’t happen, and I especially can’t tell anybody that it did.
This claim appears to be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” issue. You’re damned if you do claim that a historical person named Jesus rose from the dead because miracles are highly unlikely, if not, virtually impossible to put forth as reliable. In the interest of guarding truth and avoiding error, miracles need to be redeemed from their reputation of being either totally unreliable or unknowable as an explanation.
You’re damned if you don’t think that Jesus rose from the dead primarily in the minds of many believers who are convinced. Their reasoning is such that a risen Jesus would seem to fit best with explaining why early Christianity seemed so unified and took off so quickly. Granted, I think we can all think of it as not improbable that early Christianity could have quickly formed and grew apart from Jesus resurrecting bodily.
I’m more inclined to side with the idea that miracles are highly improbable. Which means I’d venture to guess that Jesus died and is still dead to this day. Miracles should have to earn their place in the world of probable explanations. I put them in the least reliable category. Right along with those who claim to see ghosts and angels. Claiming a higher number of witnesses also doesn’t make it so.
It may be thought that there were many early witnesses, perhaps hundreds who claimed to have seen Jesus after his death, but jumping to conclusions about something as unlikely as a miracle may not be the most rewarding way to invest oneself, at least not with regard to best reflecting what is true.
Part of honoring what is true is to recognize when we can’t make a clear call on the truth of a matter. I would recommend to those who believe that the resurrection happened to not speak about it as if you know without a doubt that it is true. Truth as a concept deserves more respect than that. It deserves more weight than that.
People don’t know if a resurrection happened, they just know that they personally believe it. We all must decide what is most likely to trigger belief in the resurrection. Is there clearly good evidence that can aid us in that regard? Evidence that miracles can be put forth as reliable explanations?
This is for all of us to decide and as a reminder of what David Hume once said, “a wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.” If by some extraordinary means the resurrection is true, doubting Thomas had just the right attitude. He withheld belief until the evidence presented itself. I’m inclined to think that this was the best way for even a Gospel narrative to present the merits of having a critical mind. Even if that wasn’t the overall goal of the story.