“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17)
As the apostle Paul declared without hesitation, if Christ was not raised from the dead, Christianity is a deception. If Christ was not raised, His predictions of returning to life (Mark 8:31; 9:31; Matthew 27:63; John 2:18-22) are false, the preaching of the apostles (e.g., Acts 3:11-26) is an illusion, and every Christian’s hope from the first century until today is in vain. Thus, the truth of the resurrection is indispensable to the truth of Christianity, and it is the historical status of this event that Gary Habermas and Antony Flew spar over in Did the Resurrection Happen?
For those unfamiliar with the participants, Dr. Gary Habermas is a professor of philosophy at Liberty University and a leading expert on the resurrection, while Antony Flew was, until recently, the most renowned atheist philosopher of the twentieth century. In 2004, Flew declared that he had abandoned atheism for belief in an “Aristotelian God,” and now considers himself a deist. The present debate, however, took place one year before Flew experienced this change of mind.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part is the transcript of what will likely be the last debate between Habermas and Flew, which took place in January 2003 at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The transcript also includes the Q&A session that followed the debate.
Part two contains two articles that were originally published in the journal Philosophia Christi: An interview with Antony Flew conducted by Gary Habermas in 2004 that focuses on Flew’s conversion to deism, followed by Habermas’s review of Flew’s book on the same subject entitled There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.
In part three, editor David Baggett, professor of philosophy at Liberty University, assesses the discussion, responds to several skeptical challenges to the resurrection, and explains why he believes Flew should be more open to the evidence for the resurrection than he currently appears to be. He also includes an appendix explaining how Bayes’s theorem can be used to calculate one’s view of the probability that the resurrection occurred.
As Baggett notes in the introduction, this is actually the third time that Flew and Habermas have debated the historicity of the resurrection. All three debates have been published (the first here, the second here). The subtitle describes this meeting as a “conversation” rather than a debate, and the description fits. It’s evident from their interaction that Flew and Habermas are friends (as they have been for 25 years), and it’s interesting to note the change in tone from the first debate in 1985, which was more aggressive. In this case, the discussion is civil and respectful, though both are clear about the points they disagree on.
It’s clear from the debate that Habermas has a masterful grasp of the historical evidence for the resurrection, and Flew seems to be impressed by the cumulative case. In fact, in There is a God Flew admits that “the resurrection is more impressive than any by the religious competition” (p. 185; cited by Baggett, p. 155). Yet, he still retains a strong Humean bent, and also claims that “the occurrence of miracles cannot be known from historical evidence, and this discredits the claim that the resurrection can be known as a fact of history” (p. 186; Ibid.). While claiming that he could be persuaded, in principle, that the resurrection happened, it would take “overwhelming confirmation” since such an event “seems to me so wildly inconsistent with everything else that happens in the universe” (p. 45). At the same time, Flew is willing to concede that belief in the resurrection is rational for Christians, who already believe in a “transcendent God” (p. 51).
In his review of the debate, Baggett makes the point that now that Flew does believe in a transcendent God, he should be much more open to the evidence of the resurrection in light of this new background information. However, in addition to his Humean concerns, Flew is also greatly troubled by the problem of evil and has considerable reservations about the doctrine of hell and human freedom in Christianity (in light of biblical texts that teach predestination) (p. 165).
Did the Resurrection Happen will prove beneficial to anyone looking for a well-reasoned and up-to-date defense of the resurrection (covering both historical and philosophical issues) and also provides a fascinating glimpse into Antony Flew’s transformation from an incorrigible atheist to a believer in God, who still struggles with God’s intervention in the world and the doctrinal claims of Christianity.
Many thanks to Adrianna at InterVarsity Press for this review copy.