Long-time surgeon Thomas Miller carefully investigates the evidence of the resurrection, making a compelling case for the empty tomb from a scientific perspective.
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About the Author
Thomas A. Miller, MD(Temple University Medical School)has had a distinguished career in surgery spanning more than 35 years.Previously serving on the surgical faculties of the University of Texas (Houston) and Saint Louis University, he currentlyis Professor of Surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In addition to being an active clinical surgeon andeducator, he also has been involved in original investigation concerning various aspects of digestive function, much of it fundedby the National Institutes of Health for some 26 years. He is the author of more than 200 scientific papers and the editor of threetextbooks on surgical physiology.
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CAN A CREDIBLE SCIENTIST REALLY BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION?
I never intended to write a book on the resurrection. After all, isn't that a theological issue, and why would a person steeped in science all of his professional life write about something that is clearly outside of his field? And furthermore, we all know that if something can't be proved by science, it either can't be known or isn't worth knowing, including such things as God, the supernatural, and, of all absurdities, rising from the dead. Or might we be wrong, and might those religious types be right after all? What if a resurrection really did happen to a man named Jesus, as the Christian religion has claimed for nearly two thousand years? Wouldn't such an event be something worth knowing about? But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before dealing with these issues, you need to know something about me and how this all came about.
The Shaping of My Worldview
I grew up in a devoutly religious family with a strong Christian worldview. As such, I was exposed early on to the belief that the resurrection of Jesus had actually occurred and was not a figment of some theological imagination. The tenacity with which my parents embraced this belief rubbed off on me, and I too became a believer early in childhood. This belief was a borrowed one, however, and it was many years later before the reality of what the resurrection means became clear to me, not to mention the implications it would have on my own worldview. It was not until my undergraduate years at Wheaton College that I was exposed to any rigorous discussion of the resurrection.
Wheaton is a small Christian liberal arts college in Wheaton, Illinois, about twenty-five miles west of Chicago. Founded in the middle of the nineteenth century, its motto is "For Christ and His Kingdom." One might appropriately ask how I ended up at this school. Actually, it was quite logical. When a person is reared in the kind of family I was, a strong emphasis is placed on gaining one's education in a Christian environment. Hence, studying at a school like Wheaton would be quite consistent with that orientation.
Although Wheaton is sometimes maligned and accused of being anti-intellectual because of its religious underpinnings, my experience as a student at Wheaton was anything but that. I found the environment to be intellectually challenging, with an openness to a variety of thought processes, many in direct opposition to what Wheaton stood for foundationally. It is true that the Bible was taken seriously, but such commitment was never at the expense of free speech, open dialogue on controversial topics, or academic freedom. Although I was initially uncertain regarding which career path I would pursue, as most entering college students are, my early exposure to chemistry and biology quickly assured me that a career in medicine was the best fit. The premedical curriculum was excellent. While I majored in zoology and minored in chemistry, the liberal arts emphasis at Wheaton enabled me to take an abundance of courses in history, philosophy, and religion. It was the intellectual rigor with which these disciplines were taught that greatly impacted the Christian worldview that I ultimately embraced as my own. Further, an apologetics course I took as a senior absolved any doubts I might have had regarding the historicity of the resurrection. Thus, I became absolutely convinced that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.
My medical school training was obtained at Temple University in Philadelphia. It was during my Temple years that I met Janet, who became my wife and soul mate. We were married during Christmas vacation of my junior year. After acquiring an MD degree, I interned in surgery at the University of Chicago Hospitals, followed by a residency in surgery at the University of Michigan Hospitals. While at Michigan, I made the decision to pursue a career in academic surgery. This means I decided to forego the private practice of surgery and instead pursue my clinical responsibilities in the context of being a medical school faculty member. This would allow me to teach, pursue research, and use my surgical skills to train residents (i.e., trainees) who were desirous of becoming surgeons like myself. After formal training in surgery at Michigan, I did two additional years of specialized study in gastrointestinal (GI) research to better prepare for an academic career. Since my clinical interests involved the GI tract, such research training seemed logical. Thus, our family (Janet and I had three children by this time) moved from Ann Arbor to Texas. The first research year was undertaken at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the second at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, forty miles away. My reason for choosing these two institutions was that they were both powerhouses of GI research at the time. I have never been disappointed with the research training received at these institutions.
It has now been more than thirty-five years since this formal training was completed. During these three-plus decades, I have had the good fortune of pursuing a very satisfying career in surgery as a faculty member at three excellent medical schools. This has enabled me to be at the forefront of advances in my field, assist in the care of thousands of patients, and have an almost daily involvement in teaching medical students the principles of surgery as well as training hundreds of residents for careers in surgery. I have also experienced the pleasure and excitement of running a research laboratory that has been actively engaged for more than a quarter of a century in studying the mechanisms by which the lining of the stomach and other portions of the GI tract protect themselves from injury. Much of this research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the findings have been shared with colleagues through publications in numerous scientific journals.
The Inevitability of Death and Possibility of Resurrection
As I reflect back on this experience as a surgeon-scientist, many thoughts obviously come to mind, but two observations in particular surface that are directly germane to the reason for writing this book. The first relates to my continuous belief in the resurrection of Jesus. One might think that, having been immersed in science for these many years, I would long since have gotten over this "superstition." In actuality, the more I have reviewed and re-reviewed the evidence for this event, the more convinced I have become that it is not some theological myth but really did occur in our space-time world some twenty centuries ago. But how can one who calls himself a credible scientist accept a notion that clearly resides in the realm of the miraculous? And we all know that science has long ago disproved the validity of miracles. Or has it?
Before discussing this issue further, a second observation that requires comment is what I would call the inevitability of death. The older I get, the more certain the reality of death becomes. Not only have I observed this enemy of humankind with consistent regularity in the hospital setting, but I have also encountered it with increasing frequency among friends and relatives. While you may feel indestructible and currently enjoy excellent health, be assured that death will ultimately lay its claim. As Euripides, the Greek playwright, said many centuries ago, "Death is the debt that all men must pay."
At the risk of sounding morbid, people in the medical profession are really in the business of delaying death. This is especially true in patients with cancer and heart disease. While none of us can ultimately prevent it, we certainly use every means possible to forestall death, and in so doing we try to provide the best possible quality of life for our patients. We emphasize the importance of daily exercise and healthy eating and living so that disorders like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure are minimized, with the goal of slowing the aging process — recognizing unfortunately that one's own mortality will eventually win out.
While all physicians deal with death on a somewhat regular basis, surgeons belong to that unique breed of health care providers who are confronted with it in an "up close and personal" way. In the many years I have practiced surgery, I have been challenged with this scourge perhaps in excess of a thousand times. In my younger years in practice, I frequently took "trauma call," and it would not be unusual to be in the operating room for many hours, sometimes all night, trying to put a patient back together who had been the victim of a serious motor vehicle accident or gunshot wound — just from being "in the wrong place at the wrong time." Although we saved many of these patients, many did not survive. Breaking the news to the family that their loved one had died was always difficult, especially when the patient was young.
Although I have not taken care of trauma victims in any regular way for the past fifteen years, I still have to deal with death much more frequently than I would prefer. Many of my patients have some form of cancer that, despite my best efforts, will eventually shorten their lives. I may be able to remove the cancer's primary focus or "debulk" its adverse effects on surrounding organs to improve the patient's quality of life, but if it has spread to other parts of the body, its lethal effects will ultimately win out. Similarly, I may be able to remove a diseased gall bladder, repair a groin hernia that has been causing pain, or lyse adhesions that have caused a bowel obstruction, but if the individual subjected to one of these procedures has a diseased heart, difficult to manage diabetes, or an elevated blood pressure that fails to respond to conventional medication, complications from one of these disorders may ultimately supersede whatever skill I may be able to offer in attending to their surgical problem. The net result is a compromised life span and sometimes a very unanticipated death.
While it is not uncommon for a patient to want to know something about my surgical abilities before giving their consent for the operation, the simple question of survival is much more common. No matter how routine the procedure, they almost always ask, "What are my chances of dying?" Why? Because no one wants to die. No matter how serious their disease may be, they want to be alive to enjoy life when the operation is completed. Though not often, some patients even refuse an operation if the chance of dying is more than they are willing to risk. Sometimes the pain that could be corrected by the operation becomes less of an issue if the risk of death is more than they had bargained for. What does this tell us about life itself? It tells us that life is precious, and that each of us wishes to live as long as possible even though we know that someday the "grim reaper" will pay us a visit. In short, no one wants to die.
So what does this have to do with a resurrection? Actually, everything. The fact that death is the great leveler and will ultimately lay claim on each of us, despite the impressive strides that have occurred in medicine and surgery during the past fifty years, makes the possibility of life beyond the grave not just some interesting topic for academic debate, but exceedingly relevant and important for every human being. It is in this context that a man named Jesus cannot be ignored. While most people acknowledge that he was a great religious teacher who lived in the early part of the first century, the claim that he overcame death and actually rose from the dead after being brutally murdered by crucifixion is the most important assertion in human history. If he merely died and remains entombed somewhere in the Middle East, he is no different from anyone else who has ever died. Simply put, he was a man and he died like a man. On the other hand, if the resurrection really happened, as the Christian religion has preached for some twenty centuries, that puts a whole different twist on this event and on the question of who Jesus was. For now one is forced to conclude that he was more than a mortal man — indeed, that he was actually a superman! This would further indicate that somehow he had power or access to power that was more than natural; in short, he was supernatural. This being so, the fact that he conquered death equally suggests that he could conceivably exercise that power for others, perhaps even for you and me, and that there really is such a thing as life after death. If this is true, such information has ramifications that affect the entire human race, and it therefore needs to be widely disseminated. What is particularly stunning is the bold statement that Jesus made in John's Gospel when raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. In no uncertain terms he declared, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25–26). If this statement is really true, it means that not only did the man called Jesus conquer death for himself, but he conquered it also for you and me.
Scientific Truth versus Christian Belief
"But," you may say, "can anyone really believe this stuff in the twenty-first century?" Returning to the question that I left unanswered, "Can any respectable scientist really accept something as mind-boggling as a resurrection when we all know that miracles do not happen?" A considerable number in the scientific community would answer these questions with a resounding no. People like me who claim to be credible scientists but yet give credence to such a far-fetched idea as resurrection are clearly in the minority among our fellow scientists. After all, in this enlightened age, everyone knows that the "miraculous" simply does not occur. But is that really true? And on what basis? One need only go back to an earlier time in the history of science, when many of the great discoveries were made that have enabled present-day scientific advances, and a whole different mindset is evident.
Consider, for example, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Robert Boyle, and Michael Faraday. No one would dispute that these four men were some of the greatest scientists of all time. Newton's description of gravity and the laws of motion, Kepler's study of the planets and their rotational movements, Boyle's elucidation of the properties of gases, and Faraday's unraveling of the properties of electricity and electromagnetism clearly rank among the outstanding accomplishments in the history of science. What is often forgotten is that each of these men was a serious Christian and had no difficulty believing in the resurrection of Jesus, despite being a credible scientist. In fact, Newton wrote more about his religious beliefs than about his scientific observations! One might argue that had these individuals lived in our time, their religious persuasions would likely have been less important or would have been undermined entirely as they became aware of the ability of science to disprove things previously taken for granted. Obviously, the impact of modernity on their beliefs will never be known, but, perusing their writings, one quickly senses that these scientists did not believe that science was the be-all and end-all" that many scientists in our contemporary world think that it is. These earlier scientists understood that much of reality simply cannot be adequately explained using scientific methodology alone. For them, the universe and all of its wonder was the glorious expression of a magnificent God, and to study it was not only a high privilege and honor but a means of worshiping God's majesty. Thus, God's spontaneous and unpredictable intervention at times in the form of what we would call a miracle — the resurrection being the prime example — would in no way be in conflict with the usual orderliness of the universe and its laws, with which those four men were intimately acquainted.
This attitude of an earlier time is in marked contrast with what we observe today. Why? Because many modern scientists are so convinced of the ability of science to answer questions that, if something cannot be validated using scientific methods, it is viewed as either being unknowable or not existing at all. Perhaps the most visible example of this mentality presently is the evolutionary biologist and geneticist Richard Dawkins. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins makes it abundantly clear that, for him, scientific truth is the only truth, and anything not provable by science is unknowable. Anything that even hints of being outside a scientific explanation is laughable at best and intellectually absurd at worst. Using such logic (some would call it presupposition), he debunks any notion of the existence of God. He blatantly disregards any evidence that cannot be tested and verified using the tools of science, and because God is in such a category, for Dawkins he almost certainly is a delusion. Dawkins totally dismisses the idea of resurrection as academic rubbish, since to believe in such an event would require believing in a miracle, and obviously any legitimate scientist knows that miracles simply don't occur. For those who would even attempt to challenge this stance, Dawkins conveniently bypasses any serious discussion of evidence for a resurrection by insisting that modern scholarship has clearly shown that the New Testament Gospels (which are the primary sources describing the resurrection) are not reliable historical accounts about Jesus, since they were written long after his alleged death by individuals who clearly did not know him, making the possibility of myth and legend very likely. Dawkins derives many of these conclusions from a few selected sources that are clearly on the fringe and at odds with the thinking of most modern-day scholars. Notably absent is any discussion of the preponderance of contemporary New Testament scholarship, which offers an entirely different analysis of the Gospels. Not only does this scholarship challenge much of what is presented as the "final" word in Dawkins's book, but it also provides overwhelming evidence that the Gospels are very reliable historical sources, that they were written much earlier than originally thought, and that their writers either knew Jesus personally or were acquainted with those who did know him (more about this in the next chapter).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?"
Copyright © 2013 Thomas A. Miller.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Can a Credible Scientist Really Believe in the Resurrection? 15
2 Can the New Testament (and Especially the Gospels) Be Trusted? 37
3 Did Jesus Really Die by Crucifixion? 61
4 What's So Important about an Empty Tomb and Undisturbed Grave Clothes? 87
5 Are 500 Witnesses Enough? 103
6 Was a Bodily Resurrection Really Necessary? 119
7 What Does a Resurrection Mean? 131
8 Jesus's Death: An Accident of History, or Divinely Planned? 147
9 Epilogue: The Key That Fits the Lock 163
General Index 173
Scripture Index 176
What People are Saying About This
“Dr. Miller has powerfully and uniquely described the resurrection of Jesus Christ, making it intellectually tenable to the scientific mind.”
Carl E. Haisch, Professor of Surgery, Director of Surgical Education, Associate Dean for Faculty Development, East Carolina University
“While many books have been written about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, both pro and con, this work is one-of-a-kind. Most references cite evidence using both medical and scientific expertise. As an accomplished practicing surgeon and research scientist, Miller has approached this book methodically and comprehensively after devoting many years of study. This is an outstanding resource for anyone questioning the authenticity of the resurrection, or for those seeking to better understand the foundation of the Christian faith.”
Jeannie Falwell Savas, Associate Professor of Surgery, Virginia Commonwealth University; Chief of Surgery, McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center
“Miller has applied his knowledge of anatomy and physiology to bring the unspeakable reality of the crucifixion and death of Christ to our awareness as a prelude to applying the principles of scientific inquiry to a sound defense of the physical resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is pivotal to Miller’s comprehensible, reflective, and personal apologetics of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. Those seeking truth will be clearly directed to the Way. The wealth of physical and scriptural support for the crucified and resurrected Christ will reaffirm the believer’s convictions.”
Gordon L. Kauffman, Jr., Steven and Sharon Baron Professor of Surgery, Professor of Physiology, Humanities and Medicine, The Penn State University College of Medicine
“It is a distinct pleasure for me to highly endorse this book. I worked with Dr. Miller for many years when he was Professor of Surgery at the University of Texas Medical School. His educational credentials strongly validate him as an excellent clinical surgeon and as an outstanding researcher in the basic science of medicine. Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified as a scientist to write about the resurrection of Jesus because he is thoroughly familiar with the scientific method, which he uses throughout his book. All scientific analyses are documented and footnoted, and resources for additional investigation are given. As an academic researcher, his conclusions are stated carefully and accurately based on the data. This book is a ‘must read’ for those who are searching for truth and a logical, unbiased evaluation of the facts concerning the physical resurrection of Jesus.”
Bruce V. MacFadyen, Professor of Surgery, University of Texas Medical School Houston
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I never thought as a pastor I would end up reading a book by the author of more than 200 scientific papers and the editor of three textbooks on surgical physiology. Thomas A. Miller, MD has had a distinguished career in surgery spanning more than 35 years and he currently is Professor of Surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. His book, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead is a wonderful look at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the perspective of a modern day surgeon. Miller argues that many people might believe that Jesus was a man who actually walked the earth, but do they actually understand what it means to say that someone was crucified, dead and buried and then 3 days later came back to life? Even before beginning his argument, Miller asks whether the bible can be trusted as a historical source or whether credible scientists today would even consider a resurrection possible. Chapter by chapter, Miller takes the reader through the events of the final hours on the cross and overlays his scientific mind to what transpires. This is a wonderful book that I highly recommend for pastors, apologeticists or anyone who is looking for a more scientific approach to the cross. Each chapter is packed with real scientific data, and sometimes even detailed medical pictures that help the reader see not only the existing evidence, but the physical process of Christ’s crucifixion. Miller’s book is barely 170 pages and it isn’t hard to follow or read. Miller has a wonderful writing voice that makes this book a terrific find. I highly recommend this book. Thank you to Crossway publishing for providing me with a review copy.