Antifragile Apologetics: The Physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Biblical Worldview


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The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the very center of the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Apologists for the Christian faith thus defend the reality of the resurrection of Christ by way of offering historical evidences a skeptic might be persuaded to accept. The trouble with such an approach is that it fails to account for the nature of Scripture’s own testimony to the resurrection of Jesus within the context of a Christian view.

Again, Paul, himself a skeptic, was moved by the word of the risen Lord (Acts 9:4–5). And Abraham, according to that same Savior, would similarly say of unbelievers regarding the word of God in Moses and the Prophets, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The apostle Peter, testifying to the recent events of Christ’s resurrection, makes a plain appeal to the word of God in the Psalms, proclaiming, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). This confident assurance is based not merely upon the evidentiary events surrounding the miraculous works of Christ on earth, but mostly upon the prophetic word of the patriarch David concerning the resurrection (Acts 2:30–31).

Antifragile Apologetics

Appeal to the explicitly Christian context of the word of God to defend the reality of the physical resurrection of Christ does not, of course, preclude extrabiblical apologetic evidences and arguments. We expect corroboration of the resurrection in historical accounts and practices of the early church. But a stronger, more explicitly biblical approach to an apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ simply affirms that Christ is raised, on the basis of apostolic testimony, and then highlights the utter folly of resisting the reality of his resurrection. The best apologetic arguments for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ all share in common that the more they are resisted, the stronger their persuasive element becomes. Both Christian apologists and skeptics of the physical resurrection of Christ should recognize these apologetic arguments based in the Bible are “antifragile.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.”[1] Antifragility is easy enough to understand in contrast with fragility; Taleb clarifies that “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”[2] I want to address a handful of evidentiary arguments for the resurrection from the angle of antifragility. The more objections one raises in relation to Scripture’s account of resurrection, the stronger the apologetic for the resurrection actually becomes.

1. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (Harlow, England: Penguin, 2013), 3.

2. Ibid.

The Empty Tomb

For example, the earliest opponents of the apostles’ message should have been able to point out the body of Jesus in his tomb, and thereby disprove his resurrection. Yet despite the tomb being easily identifiable and local to the city of Jerusalem, they could not. The enemies of the earliest believers suggested the body was stolen away (Matt. 28:13). This apparent possibility places stress on the resurrection account insofar as it produces uncertainty regarding an explanation for the empty tomb. But what the enemies of the resurrected Christ meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20).

In offering this explanation for an empty tomb, these enemies of Christ attested to an empty tomb. We know the tomb of Jesus is empty, not merely through the words of Christ’s followers, but through the fact that the earliest opponents of the good news of Jesus thought it necessary to try and explain it away.

A child does not lie about the dog eating his homework unless he needs an explanation for missing homework. So also, the earliest enemies of Christianity would not need to lie about the disciples stealing the body of Jesus away unless they needed to explain why they could not produce it. The argument for an empty tomb does not get weaker in the face of opposition, but stronger. In that sense, the argument exhibits a measure of antifragility.

The Risen Christ

In similar fashion, suggesting the disciples of Jesus lied or hallucinated in relation to Christ introduces uncertainty regarding the resurrection appearances. However, this hypothetical is answered by numerous accounts of the Apostle Paul’s experience of the resurrected Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9:4–6).

Paul was a persecutor of the early Christian church, and certainly no friend of religious fanatics (Acts 22:4). He was a skeptic of skeptics on whether Christ actually rose from the dead. And yet, in an instant, he went from persecuting the faithful to preaching the faith he once tried to destroy (Gal. 1:23). What accounts for this change? Paul had no societal motivation to lie, as Christians were the target of beatings, imprisonment, and mob execution (Acts 5:17–8:3).

Moreover, Paul makes constant and consistent exegetical and logical arguments in his letters pertaining to the nuances of both Jewish and Greek faith and philosophy (Acts 17:32–34). Saul’s skepticism giving way to Paul’s preaching is the most explicit and inexplicable end of objecting to the resurrection of Christ along the lines of the disciples being deceivers or deceived. The best objections to the appearance of the risen Christ only make the argument for the resurrection stronger.

Miracles and Skeptics

A final antifragile argument for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is found in the meaning of a miracle itself. The Scottish skeptic David Hume famously claims, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.”[3] With this definition, an argument against miracles is easily made by virtue of the very definition of “miracle.” Hume continues, “As a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”[4] This definition, and Hume’s inferences from it, is questionable at best. But Hume’s primary objection to the miraculous, and to the physical resurrection of Jesus in particular, is epistemological. That is, Hume would say that even if God does exist and miracles actually do happen, we cannot know that they do.

3. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding And Selections From A Treatise Of Human Nature (Illinois: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1963), 126.

4. Ibid, emphasis added.

We are not eyewitnesses like the early disciples (2 Pet. 1:16). What we know of Christ, we know by way of testimony. Much of human knowledge comes about by way of testimony. Hume agrees, “there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that which is derived from the testimony of men, and the reports of eye-witnesses and spectators.”[5] However, for Hume, miracle reports create reasonable doubt of the conformity between testimony and reality. Hume explains,

5. Hume, Enquiry, 122.

The reason why we place any credit in witnesses and historians, is not derived from any connexion [sic], which we perceive a priori, between testimony and reality, but because we are accustomed to find a conformity between them. But when the fact attested is such a one as has seldom fallen under our observation, here is a contest of two opposite experiences; of which the one destroys the other, as far as its force goes, and the superior can only operate on the mind by the force which remains.[6]

6. Ibid., 125.

We draw inferences from empirical experience as we find the same types of events together again and again. Likewise, we typically receive testimony because it is so often found together with the actuality of the events it describes. Thus, testimony to particular events is accepted by custom or habit, just like other matters of fact. But when it comes to testimony of the miraculous, this epistemology presents a problem. The reason reports of miracles are not to be believed, according to Hume, is that a testimony to a miracle can only be based upon the “uniformity of nature” that the report itself undermines.

However, the argument for resurrection grows even stronger at this very point. One cannot argue against the miraculous without already having the concept of the regularity and predictability of nature in mind, and those who disregard God and his word have no basis for such a concept. Theologian and apologist Cornelius Van Til quotes A. E. Taylor regarding uniformity in nature.

The fundamental thought of modern science, at any rate until yesterday, was that there is a “universal reign of law” throughout nature. Nature is rational in the sense that it has everywhere a coherent pattern which we can progressively detect by the steady application of our own intelligence to the scrutiny of natural processes. Science has been built up all along on the basis of this principle of the “uniformity of nature,” and the principle is one which science itself has no means of demonstrating. No one could possibly prove its truth to an opponent who seriously disputed it. For all attempts to produce “evidence” for the “uniformity of nature” themselves presuppose the very principle they are intended to prove.[7]

7. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., ed. K. Scott Oliphant (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 125, emphasis added.

Hume is helplessly lost as to inductive inference, as are those who question the Christian worldview. The laws of nature are difficult to posit apart from a divine law giver. Van Til thus argues,

Our argument as over against this would be that the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs. But the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world.[8]

8. Ibid. For more on God’s relation to laws of the universe and its epistemological and apologetic implications, see Christopher Lee Bolt, The World in His Hands: A Christian Account of Scientific Law and its Antithetical Competitors (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2019).

The strongest philosophical objections to the Christian account of resurrection then, whether by way of miracles only making sense against the backdrop of regularities in nature, or by way of testimonial epistemology requiring such regularities, only serve to further bolster the biblical view of divine providence in relation to laws of nature and miracles.

The Antifragile Nature of the Resurrection

In the end, the best arguments from Hume highlight the antifragile nature of our Christian claims. If there is no God to give us laws of nature, then there is no reason to assume a uniformity of nature, much less a rationale for drawing general and specific inductive inferences that allow us to exclude something like the resurrection of Christ, for in a view without regularities in nature, everything is essentially miraculous. The very ability to object to miracles like the resurrection already assumes God sustains an order in his creation.

Thus, a philosophical argument of this sort for or against the resurrection of Jesus Christ presupposes the Christian story is true. The argument gets stronger the more stress is placed upon it. Regularities and once-in-a-lifetime anomalies depend on the concurrent activity of an all-wise God who governs and guides his creation so regular seasons and irregular signs show us his glory (Gen. 8:22; Ps. 19:1–2; Matt. 12:39).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is also an example of metaphysical antifragility. No greater example of antifragility—gaining by losing—can be found than God’s constant examples of bringing out of the worst evils the greatest goods (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:28). This is true, not only of those biblical events which precede and predict the resurrection, but also regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how we are thus to live our Christian lives as those in union with him (Rom. 6:5; Matt. 16:25; Phil. 1:21).



  • Chris Bolt

    Chris Bolt is Pastor-Teacher at Elkton Baptist Church, Elkton, Tennessee, and Professor of Apologetics at Birmingham Theological Seminary, Birmingham, Alabama. He earned his Ph.D. in Christian Philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Bolt has written for American Reformer and Founders Ministries, and is the author of The World in His Hands: A Christian Account of Scientific Law and its Antithetical Competitors (Wipf and Stock, 2019).

Chris Bolt

Chris Bolt

Chris Bolt is Pastor-Teacher at Elkton Baptist Church, Elkton, Tennessee, and Professor of Apologetics at Birmingham Theological Seminary, Birmingham, Alabama. He earned his Ph.D. in Christian Philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Bolt has written for American Reformer and Founders Ministries, and is the author of The World in His Hands: A Christian Account of Scientific Law and its Antithetical Competitors (Wipf and Stock, 2019).