Your Kids Need to Think Critically About the Resurrection…Because Secular Media Does Not

Can Your Kids Think Critically About the Resurrection? This month’s issue of Scientific American magazine features an article by atheist Michael Shermer entitled, “What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?” It’s boldly subtitled, “How to think about claims, even the Resurrection.”

Wow! This article in a popular magazine says it’s going to teach us how to think about the resurrection. I couldn’t wait to read it.

It was even worse than I thought it would be.

Every year at Easter time, secular publications feature articles on the resurrection, and every year they’re cringe-worthy.

In this post, I’ll highlight two key ways this particular article actually teaches bad critical thinking, then provide a three-point framework for helping your kids think more logically about the subject.

By the way, if you have time for Easter baskets, egg hunts and egg dying, you have time to have these conversations with your kids. Seriously. This is important.


Bad Thinking 1: Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

Shermer stakes his argument against the resurrection on a favorite motto of skeptics: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

If you haven’t heard this before, it’s a standard line skeptics throw out as an attempted conversation stopper. It’s meant to wave off any supposed evidence for a miracle as inadequate for demonstrating that something as improbable as a miracle actually occurred.

This idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, however, falls squarely in the category of things that sound good but don’t hold up to logical scrutiny.

While much could be said here, the most important point is this: Why must extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Extremely improbable—“extraordinary”—things happen every day, and ordinary evidence is often sufficient for demonstrating that they happened. It’s extraordinarily improbable, for example, that a terrorist attack would happen in a specific place at a specific time. But when investigators evaluate the scene, they look at perfectly ordinary evidence to determine what happened—security footage, weapons at the scene, and the word of eyewitnesses.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is not a test we apply in any other area of life. Skeptics use it to subjectively set the evidential bar for miracles so high that no miracle could ever be believed.

That’s not critical thinking…that’s simply maintaining one’s presupposition that miracles don’t happen.


Bad Thinking 2: Proposing Explanations Without Considering Evidence

After saying that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, one might expect Shermer to lay out the evidence for the resurrection and demonstrate how that evidence fails to meet his (extraordinary) standard.

He does not.

Without considering any evidence for the resurrection, he simply lists possible reasons the Bible would even report such a thing:

Maybe the eyewitnesses were “superstitious or credulous and saw what they wanted to see.”

Maybe they reported “only feeling Jesus in ‘spirit’ and over the decades their testimony was altered to suggest they saw Jesus in the flesh.”

Maybe accounts of the resurrection “never appeared in the original gospels are were added later.”

Each of these hypotheses can be strongly refuted, but because I want to focus on Shermer’s proposed method of thinking and not his specific hypotheses, I won’t go into that now. Instead, I want to simply point out that rather than look at historical data and consider what hypotheses best explain the historical facts, he looks at no evidence, lists three hypotheses anyway, then concludes any of these is necessarily more likely than the resurrection…because they don’t involve miracles.

So, to recap, a popular and well-regarded magazine has suggested that the way we should think about a claim like the resurrection is to:

  1. Identify it as a miracle claim.
  2. Accept that any natural explanation is more probable than a miracle explanation.
  3. Reject the miracle claim.

In other words, we’ve just been taught that the way to think about miracles is to assume they aren’t possible. Brilliant!

Sorry, Scientific American, but I’m not impressed.


Please Teach Your Kids to Think More Critically Than This

Parents, we need to do better than this. Our kids need to learn to think more critically than the world around them because they will encounter this kind of poor thinking everywhere. And I assure you they won’t learn this in Sunday School, so the responsibility falls to you. Here’s a 3-point “miracle evaluation” framework every kid should understand. (I talk about this subject in multiple chapters of Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, so I’ll reference those chapters for each point if you want to read more.)


1. Are miracles possible?

Shermer, and many skeptics like him, simply presuppose supernatural miracles aren’t possible. They effectively say, “Miracles aren’t possible, so the resurrection didn’t happen.”

Circular logic is not good logic.

Here’s better logic to learn: The possibility of miracles depends on whether or not God exists.

If God exists, supernatural miracles are possible because the supernatural exists. If God does not exist, the natural world is all there is, and supernatural miracles are therefore impossible by definition.


2. What are the facts surrounding a given miracle claim?

Unless you’re simply throwing out the possibility of miracles because of your prior commitment to atheism, miracle claims must be investigated on a claim-by-claim basis.

In the case of the resurrection, there are four facts that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, including the skeptical ones. Drs. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona lay these out in their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Because this is a blog post and not a book, I’m only going to explain each fact briefly. See Habermas’ and Licona’s book for a comprehensive discussion, or chapter 21 in Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side for a summary.

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.

Jesus’ crucifixion is referenced by several non-Christian historical sources, including Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, and the Jewish Talmud.

  1. Jesus’ disciples believed He arose and appeared to them.

Habermas explains, “There is a virtual consensus among scholars who study Jesus’ resurrection that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his disciples really believed that he appeared to them risen from the dead. This conclusion has been reached by data that suggest that 1) the disciples themselves claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them, and 2) subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion his disciples were radically transformed from fearful, cowering individuals who denied and abandoned him at his arrest and execution into bold proclaimers of the gospel of the risen Lord.”

A skeptic may claim there are natural (as opposed to supernatural) explanations for what happened to the disciples, but very few deny the disciples experienced something that led them to willingly face severe persecution and death.

  1. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.

Paul seriously persecuted the early church (Acts 8:3; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6). But everything changed when he had an experience with whom he claimed was the risen Jesus (Acts 9). After that experience, he converted to the Christian faith and tirelessly preached Jesus’ resurrection, eventually being martyred for his claims.

  1. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.

James was not a believer in Jesus during Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:21,31; 6:3-4; John 7:5). However, 1 Corinthians 15:7 says Jesus appeared to James, and after this alleged resurrection, James was described as a leader of the church (Acts 15:12-21; Galatians 1:19). He, too, was martyred for this belief, as recorded by both Christian and non-Christian historical writings (Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, and Josephus).

Again, these are the facts that virtually all scholars agree on…facts which require explanation and facts which weren’t even considered by Shermer.


3. What is the best explanation for the facts?

In chapter 22 of Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, I lay out seven theories people have offered to explain these facts:

  • Jesus only appeared to die.
  • The disciples lied or stole Jesus’ body.
  • Someone other than the disciples stole Jesus’ body.
  • Witnesses went to the wrong tomb.
  • The people who saw Jesus were hallucinating.
  • People invented Christianity based on pagan myths.
  • As Jesus’ teachings spread, they were embellished with supernatural details.

As I show in the book, not one of these explanations fits all of the known historical facts. A supernatural resurrection, however, easily accounts for them.

There’s good historical reason to conclude that a supernatural resurrection is the best explanation of the facts if you don’t have a prior commitment to atheism.

As theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg concludes, “The historical solidity of the Christian witness [to the resurrection] poses a considerable challenge to the conception of reality that is taken for granted by modern secular history. There are good and even superior reasons to claiming that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event, and consequently the Lord himself is a living reality. And yet there is the innumerably repeated experience that in the world the dead do not rise again. As long as this is the case, the Christian affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection will remain a debated issue, in spite of all sound historical argument to its historicity.”


I don’t expect Scientific American to come to the conclusion that a supernatural resurrection best fits the historical facts, because it’s a secular publication. But I would challenge them in the future to present a more thoughtful approach to considering such issues.

I won’t hold my breath for that to happen.

In the meantime, if Christian parents spent as much time talking about these issues as dying Easter eggs, it might not be as much of a concern.

Can we make that happen?

17 thoughts on “Your Kids Need to Think Critically About the Resurrection…Because Secular Media Does Not”

  1. I read your post to my husband Ray, who shook his head and said, “They really ought to call the magazine “Atheist American” now that Shermer is a columnist.

    Love love love your book!

  2. Great and awesome post as usual.

    I was just telling someone that the more I read the Bible and study Christian apologetics, the more I have come to understand how deep and historically grounded Christianity is and how it differs substantially and significantly from virtually any other faith.

    What’s sad to see is how church present Christianity as a collection of fair tales or pithy sayings. I once asked kids at my church how do they know Christianity is true and they said it was just a matter of belief and everyone has to choose something to believe in. Another said science and religion don’t mix. Another stated that they think that God came out of the dirt or earth or something. All of these kids were raised in church from birth. Let that sink in.

    I love this post because it highlights the sound historical basis and rational underpinnings of our trust in God in general, and specifically the resurrection.

  3. Good job on the article. Perfect timing as I’m right about to teach my students about the evidence for the resurrection.

  4. Scott Drysdale

    I used to respect Scientific American until about 2005……a newer generation took control of the agency bringing new ideas and beliefs…..Sadly they have lost their ability to reason correctly….

    When i confronted them about the fact that natives in Alberta’s Athabasca region pulled bitumen pitch from the riverbanks to waterproof their birchbark canoes…..they seemed confused. And when i provided evidence that the oil sands were discovered due to oil, bitumen and tar seeping from beneath the river they had no effective counter argument. Truth is that bitumen contamination in the river and on the earth surface has always existed……even before mining operations………..But Bitumen extraction no longer disturbs the earth’s surface due to SAGD process…..much cleaner than ever before……Scientific American is hypocritical and a US protectionist propaganda rag now….

    1. While I don’t know much about the subject you speak of, I certainly agree about the *blatant* bias of mainstream science media. Because I do a lot of podcast listening, I often include NPR’s “Science Friday” with Ira Flatow. (Actually, I’ve listened to it for quite a long time…. on the radio before there was podcasting.)

      While I enjoy the science content, and much of it is interesting, it has become hard to stomach in the last several years. Ira takes every opportunity (and invents many) to get some kind of slam in on religion or non-compliance with the Science™ narrative. And, they often have guests and whole segments aimed at poking at anything that doesn’t fall in line with the mainstream.

      Controversy aside, that isn’t even good science! Many (most?) scientific discoveries and changes come from the periphery and have been mocked/challenged until the evidence became overwhelming. One of the biggest debates in the philosophy of science is regarding the ‘demarcation problem’ of how we determine what is and isn’t science. Yet, these folks seem quite confident in saying they not only know, but draw the line far from where any philosopher of science ever has.

      But, even worse, as Natasha’s article highlights, many of these ‘skeptics’ don’t even know how to think properly in the first place. You can take the very smartest people, and if you teach them incorrectly, give them a false foundation, or don’t think correctly along the way… you’ll simply end up with the most brilliantly devised misinformation.

  5. Excellent post Natasha. You offer such sage advice to parents. Even though my son is about to go off to college next year, it’s still very necessary for me to have these conversations with him. Even older kids need help to remain on the correct path – having the proper tools available to them when tackling the world on their own. Thank you for the reminder.

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  9. Thank you so much for this brilliant, reassuring post. As a doubtful person myself, I can understand how these sceptics think. I’m trying hard not to judge them because I know, once I do, I’ll be horribly hypocritical. Science and religion just don’t seem to mix. Even after experiencing my own miracles, a part of me still sees religion and the supernatural as ‘unrealistic ‘. I feel really stupid while I’m writing this. It’s like eating and tasting a slice of bread, then denying it.

    I’m really grateful for posts like this that put my doubtful thoughts to shame. I’m also grateful for these thoughts. By fighting them, I end up building my faith. God feels more real to me than ever. He’s not just some fairy tale, Santa Claus-like genie. He’s not just some unrealistic thing that people put their hope in to make themselves feel better (I can’t believe I believed that once) . He’s the Holy Creator of this Universe. Every logic was created by Him. Science doesn’t debunk His existence…rather, it proves it. At least, that’s what the non-skeptic, Holy-Spirit-transformed part of me believes.

  10. Hi Natisha. I am Christian photographer with a blog site and a Facebook page to go along with that blog site. I posted a link to your article on my Facebook page . At the time of my writing of this reply, that post on my Facebook page received 2,777 likes, 43 comments, 1,350 link clicks to your site and 489 Shares!

    I was really surprise when I saw those kinds of numbers. I hoped many signed up for your email list!

    You can check out the comments on the article on my Facebook page “God’s Art by Photographer Pasquale Mingarelli” When you get to the page scrolled down to the posts made on Saturday, April 15.

    1. Wow, thank you so much Pat! I really appreciate you sharing the article and encouraging so many people to think more critically about this foundation of our faith. Thank you for sharing, for being a loyal reader, and for the kind words! Your photography is beautiful. I would like to escape into one of those pictures. 🙂

      1. You’re welcome! It’s awesome that many new people were exposed to your writing. I didn’t expect so many shares and likes.

        Feel free to escape into my photos anytime you want!


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