REDLANDS – Pastor Greg Wallace of First Lutheran Church will preach an Easter message Sunday with full faith that a man from Galilee rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.
"As far as the physicality of the resurrection, as Christians that’s a non-negotiable," Wallace said. "If the resurrection isn’t real, then the whole basis (of Christianity) is a sham and not worth much more than platitudes."
He may hear hallelujahs from what some would consider unlikely sources: scientists.
Frank Tipler, professor of mathematical physics at Tulane University in New Orleans and author of the book "The Physics of Christianity," maintains that belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a matter of faith founded on scientific fact.
"Believe in the laws of physics and they will tell you Jesus rose from the dead," he said Thursday.
According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus rose early on the first day of the week and appeared first to Mary Magdalene. According to Tipler, the body of Christ was a "glorified" body capable of de-materializing at one location and materializing in another.
Modern particle physics provides a mechanism for de-materialization, Tipler said.
Tipler said that’s the conversion of matter into neutrinos, which are elementary particles that interact very weakly with normal matter, and thus would be invisible.
Reversing the de-materialization process would result in apparently "materializing" out of nothing.
Tipler believes if this was the mechanism of Jesus’ resurrection, there are tests that could demonstrate it.
The image of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin has certain features that would arise in the neutrino de-materialization process, according to Tipler.
"What happens is, the matter of Jesus’ body was converted into neutrinos," Tipler said. "To a person standing by, he would see exactly what Mel Gibson pictured in (the movie) ‘The Passion of the Christ."’
Alan J. DeWeerd, an associate professor of physics at the University of Redlands, said he is a Christian who believes in the resurrection.
DeWeerd hasn’t read Tipler’s theory, but doesn’t believe it would necessarily be a boost to his faith in the resurrected Christ.
"I guess my take on it would be the claim is, it’s a miracle, so you’re not looking for a scientific explanation," DeWeerd said.
One Christian apologist agrees.
Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute in Charlotte, N.C., said Friday that Christianity presupposes the supernatural.
"Miracles are not only possible, but are necessary to make sense of the world in which we live," Hanegraaff said.
He said whereas philosophical naturalism posits that "nothing created everything," reason forces one to look at a supernatural designer of the cosmos who intervenes in his creation.
"If someone is truly open-minded in an age of scientific enlightenment, they allow for natural and supernatural (explanations) for what happens in the world," he said.
Regardless of the explanations, some skeptics say the resurrection account is a big stumbling block to faith.
Among them is Dan Barker, a former pastor who graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in religion.
He preached throughout Southern California before embracing atheism, and is now the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis.
"What I like to say is, I threw out all the bath water and found out there is no baby there," Barker said.
Barker believes that a natural explanation of the resurrection would make the event less impressive, and maintains there are too many contradictions in the gospels to believe it happened.
"It’s ludicrous," Barker said. "It’s hogwash to think that scientifically and even historically that the resurrection story holds up."
Barker believes the resurrection is a legend that has grown for 2,000 years. He’s issued a challenge for Christians to come forward with a coherent harmony of the gospel texts.
On Easter morning, the former preacher has visits scheduled to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
"I will be visiting the Darwin exhibit," he said. "Most atheists on Easter Sunday are doing their taxes, mowing their lawns or planting their gardens."