Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 23, 1955

Debate On Resurrection Of Christ

Bill J. Humble, Kansas City, Missouri

The Illini Auditorium, located on the campus of the University of Illinois, was the scene of a unique debate (May 10, 11) when Pat Hardeman and Dr. Harry Tiebout discussed the proposition: "Resolved that there is good historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Christ." Dr. Tiebout teaches philosophy in the University of Illinois, and Bro. Hardeman, 'who has studied under Dr. Tiebout, expects to receive his Ph. D. in philosophy this summer.

Bro. Hardeman argued that the same canons of historical evidence which establish any fact of ancient history can also establish the fact of the resurrection. The evidences for the resurrection were presented under two main divisions: (1) the silent testimony of the empty tomb, and the failure of every alternative explanation, and (2) the credible testimony of eyewitnesses who saw Christ, talked and ate with him following the resurrection.

Dr. Tiebout, who is a neo-orthodoxist, argued that the occurrence of the miraculous is so highly improbable that it would require a tremendous amount of historical evidence to establish a miracle such as the resurrection, and he asserted that the evidence for the resurrection is so small that it is "idiotic" for modern students to accept it. Thus, the question of "probability" became one of the principal issues of the debate. Bro. Hardeman agreed that if a miracle were considered as an isolated historical event, it would be highly improbable; but he pointed out that when the resurrection is considered as part of a system of thought (the Christian faith), and when the character and claims of Christ are studied in the light of Christian theism, the resurrection becomes much more probable and reasonable.

Dr. Tiebout (who teaches comparative religion in the university) asserted that all religions have their "miracles," and he produced a story from Buddhist writings about a man who was reincarnated in the form of a pig, which was taught to pronounce the name of their god. Dr. Tiebout asserted that here was "as much historical evidence" for this reincarnated pig as for the resurrection. Yet, when the story was examined carefully by Bro. Hardeman, it was found that the pig had "grunted three times," and a Buddhist monk had assumed that when the pig grunted, it was pronouncing the name of their god. This point became quite embarrassing since Tiebout had claimed that there was as much historical evidence for this "miracle" as for the resurrection.

The first night Dr. Tiebout virtually denied the possibility of proving the miraculous, and he used the same arguments which David Hume used two centuries ago. The second night, Tiebout took a more moderate position, and he asserted that he would accept the miraculous if the evidence met certain standards which he outlined These standards were so high they eliminated the resurrection, but they also eliminated all ancient history. When bro. Hardeman asked, "According to your criterion of evidence, what facts of ancient history could you accept?" Dr. Tiebout replied, "I don't know."

The disputants included a wide variety of subjects in the debate: the general possibility of the miraculous, miracles attributed to the virgin Mary, miracles claimed in Buddhism, the two-source theory of the gospels and the general credibility of the gospels. The latter part of each session was conducted informally, as the two speakers directed questions and answers to one another, and Bro. Hardeman was especially effective in this give-and-take discussion.

The most impressive aspect of this debate was the high scholarly plane on which it was conducted and the deep friendship which characterized the two disputants. Bro. Hardeman and Dr. Tiebout have been friends for several years, and the debate was completely free of the personalities and bitterness which have sometimes characterized religious discussions. The two men defended their convictions vigorously, but despite their differences, they parted the best of friends. Debates of this type will always do good! The audience of several hundred each evening included university students (many of whom were liberal Jews), teachers from the university, and many members of the church from that area.

The resurrection of Christ has rarely (and possibly never) been the subject of scholarly public debate. Bro. Hardeman is eminently qualified for discussions of this type; his affirmative arguments and his analysis of Dr. Tiebout's arguments were both outstanding. Plans call for publication in an inexpensive paper-back edition, so that the debate may be distributed widely.