Personally, I think that the historical validity of Jesus’ Resurrection builds the strongest case for Him being the Son of God, and all the basic stuff that Christians believe.
Over at ilovephilosophy.com (philosophy forums) I’ve heard a couple of atheists, agnostics, or non-believers (as some I’m not sure what they are) say the same things:
1) The Gospels and New Testament letters were written too far away from the original events, meaning they cannot be trusted (and are probably mythological).
2) The disciples made the whole thing up so they could have a following of some sort (usually forms into some conspiracy theory of how the apostles were power hungry).
Of course, I’m summarising the general views.
Most of these seem to get their ‘facts’ from popular media rather than studying it for themselves. One person actually thought that Jesus died in 0 AD, and that is why they thought that since the earliest letter in the New Testament (Corinthians) was written in 54AD it was too long from the original event.
But Jesus was crucified 29-32 AD, which means that the letter to the Corinthians was written only something like 22 or 24 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Why this is important is because Paul, in 1 Cor 15:6, claims that over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus and that many of them were alive at the time of writing the letter. In other words, there were many people around to validate the event.
Myths don’t take 20 years to develop. Therefore only 20 or so years after Jesus’ death people believe He was raised again. Why didn’t the Jews produce a body or something?
When challenging an agnostic on the fact that they thought that Jesus was crucified in 0 AD I was told that ‘history cannot be verified’ and ‘historians argue all the time’. Only that I don’t think there is one historian in history, save perhaps David Ike (okay, not a historian, but you get my point) who says Jesus was crucified in 0 AD. So what real reason do they have to believe this?
The point is that i’m often told that the ‘historical evidence’ is laughable, but when I challenge this thought I’m told ‘oh, but all the historians argue about dates anyway.’ This is suspicious reasoning. If historical evidence is ‘laughable’ then it means the person is placing some stock in historical evidence (that which we do have). But, of course, because many actually haven’t really done any actual study on the subject they’ll eventually write it off to uncertainty, or keep speaking nonsense about how the Gospels were written in 120AD and Jesus crucified in year 0.
If you don’t believe that Jesus was actually risen from the dead in history then why do you believe that? Saying “history cannot be validated” is dubious, and going on about what some pseudo-historian said on Discovery Channel intellectually lazy.
If Jesus really was raised from the dead you are forced to take Him seriously as the Son of God. Ignoring the historical studies is convenient, but intellectually dishonest.
According to a bio I read of a guy called Gary Habermas, who lectures on the resurrection, he spent several years studying the subject before he realised that the resurrection of Jesus was a real historical event. He almost became a buddhist in this time, but was convinced when he studied the resurrection from a historical perspective (so he had no bias or reason to become a Christian). His site is very resourceful around this subject – see it at www.garyhabermas.com.