What is it that can make debates about our origins so bitter, not to mention ineffective at convincing one side that the other is "right" on an issue? It is not the different sets of beliefs. We disagree with numerous individuals on a regular basis without the slightest tinge of malice. That's not the problem. What is the problem is the ardent displays of disgust that come from defenders of both sides of an issue. This disgust expresses our contempt for the other's idea of what it means to "prove" something true or false. Each side is rendered speechless when their opponents do not automatically acknowledge errors and change their minds. Each side doesn't like the responses the other side makes to their arguments--what's new, right?
Minds grow apart in a debate the longer the proposition is disputed. Then attitudes show up and begin to hammer in the progess-halting and oh-so-common, "Sheesh, I can't believe you believe that crap!" mentality. We come to the table with unrealistic expectations. We want the man representing our side of the issue to "win" against his opponent. This is a bad outlook to have. It is no wonder such little progress is made in debates, which should be seen as opportunities, teaching tools to stimulate thought, rather than platforms for irresistible conversions: "You will be assimilated! Resistance is futile!"
It seems that we humans forget how diverse the human experience is. Both nature and nurture tailor-make how we see the world. We would be fools to think a few hours presenting logical syllogisms and advancing our take on ancient religious writings will undo a lifetime of contrary conditioning. This is painful for us to admit since we instinctively like to feel as though we are not only right, but able to convince someone else who has the necessary mental "hardware" to see reason. No one would want to believe this more than me, but I have come to learn that it's not quite that simple! People may have every bit the hardware required to comprehend a more logical belief system, but not the "software."
The mental software for accepting an opponent's position can only be acquired when our minds can see and apply a principle, which in turn, makes the position in question rational, permitting it's acceptance. For instance, if I am explaining to a Christian why Jesus did not rise from the dead, I will accomplish nothing by saying, "We have no evidence that a dead Jew ever rose from the dead." We could go back and forth on what we consider "evidence" for a risen Jew, but we haven't laid the foundation yet. The "software" to accept my naturalistic premise has not yet been installed. What is it? What undercuts debating the merits of a dead Jew being resurrected is basic philosophical naturalism; when this principle is understood and accepted, it explains for us why it is not rational to believe that a Jew living 2,000 years ago died and was resurrected; nature tells me such things don't happen, despite the fact that we'd like to believe more than anything that they do. If a believer cannot adopt an understanding of the naturalistic premise, then the likelihood of a fruitful discussion continuing is doomed from the start.
The naturalistic hypothesis cannot be swept under the rug as some rancid product of a prune-faced atheist with a frown, whose mind has been hardened without remedy by a life of misfortune and bad parenting. Naturalism belongs to no one camp of thought. It exists in every normal human being. The very reason the Christian is atheistic to every other god but their own shows this to be valid. Even before Christianity is considered, every sane man is ready to admit that if resurrections do happen, they certainly don't happen all the time! In fact, because we learn from living that everyone dies and does not come back to life, the religiously minded man or woman is more than prepared to accept that perhaps just one man ever came back to life and ascended to the right hand of God. This can only be attributed to rationality at work, however limited. The dead do not rise, we do not observe extra terrestrial beings among us, gravity is real, the sun has a certain number of effects on our global climate. Some would dispute one or two of these assertions, but even among those who would, they would be very selective about it. Why? Because to some extent, we must take these truths for granted to make any real sense of things. Since it is obvious everyone doesn't rise from the dead, the question arises as to who rises and who does not? Who has risen from the dead and who has not? What have we established? We've established that a resurrection, if possible, is a very rare event!
Now we can ask the question, "Did Jesus rise from the dead?" In order to do this, we would have to have an idea of what could possibly constitute proof of this sort of thing that long ago. Historical testimonies? Well, history and miracles just don't mix (how will you be able to tell what actually happened in history and what didn't if a naturalistic assumption is not in place?), but if we proceed anyway, we now have the towering task of ascertaining what type of historical testimonies and other "evidence" we have at our disposal to sift through. What do we find upon considering the evidence? Jesus wasn't the only one raised from the dead! And this is interesting because we have already established that if indeed resurrections occur, they do not occur very often at all. Julius Caesar was believed to have ascended bodily to heaven. The god Zalmoxis was said to rise from the dead. Herod thought John the Baptist had risen from the grave (Matthew 14:2). The Jews believed Elijah and other prophets were manifested in Jesus (Matthew 16:14). This list can become extensive. Suddenly, we run into an all too familiar problem; how do we determine which claims are legend and which are fact? Christians and skeptics can now begin to go round on the details as to which accounts seem to have the most credibility, but now the believer has an up-hill battle. It must be conceded that the first century atmosphere was ripe with believers of every slant and shade. Supporters of the supernatural were dangerously abundant (and I mean that literally)! This cannot be overstated. So in trying to determine if at least one first century man was raised to life, it is now very difficult to determine why it is more rational to believe so when it is far easier to accept that like all other superstitious people, we have just one more glorified myth--one that happened to make it to the top of the pile of beliefs in our day and time.
I say from the heart that I am overjoyed to know that reality operates by laws. It's nice to come home and find that my spaghetti doesn't jump out of the pan and onto the ceiling at random. It's wonderful to find that mosquito bites do not transform us into green blobs of protoplasm for a year until we can inexplicably morph back into ourselves. It's exciting to find that star's and the sun's rising is not based on what we humans do or do not do! The universe follows sets of laws that make it possible to be rationally understood. In a world without much comfort, it is at least nice to see that we can take baby steps towards understanding it.
My favorite prophets are astronomers. They can predict the moment of a sunrise, details of the weather, solar activity, eclipses, and to an ever-increasing extent, disasters and ways to avoid the perils they bring. Yes, I like a universe that can be rationally understood. Now I am perfectly prepared to accept that a great many things will come along that I will not be able to understand. This is not the problem. The trouble is when my fellow humans become so enraptured in a desire to believe a dead Jew rose from the grave for their own sake that they are no longer comfortable accepting that the likelihood of this happening is out-of-the-ballpark unthinkable. Reason tells us it did not happen. Nothing would enliven my heart more than to be able to accept that because a Jew died 2,000 years ago, I can and will see my loved ones, my dogs, and my dearly departed friends in an afterlife of paradise. The question now is, "Am I going to call for an exception to natural law just to preserve my own happiness?" As much as I'd love to, that would be selfish and self-deceiving of me.
Why should I deny reality in view of an afterlife? Why does it need to exist? Why should I even be concerned with the subject? Why should I assume for even a moment that my grim destiny is any different from that of the other animals? Fact is, I want to believe in a resurrection, I don't need to. Wanting to believe in something is not enough to get it consideration as a possible truth, especially when that something would turn everything we know about the natural world on it's head! That being the case, I am supplied with no compelling reason to fight common sense in support of the wishful belief that I am somehow reserved for a special destiny, one "beyond the sunset."
I suppose then that seeking justification to believe in a resurrection just boils down to whether or not we will override our selfishness to preserve a solid understanding of what we perceive to be the truth of the natural order.