UPDATE: Since P.Z. at Pharyngula has posted on this, implying that I might consider this scenario actual evidence for God, let me add that I don’t find this evidence even remotely convincing. I’m offering it merely as a specimen of the kind of evidence believers might adduce for God.
Okay, I said I was dropping this topic for the nonce, but I feel compelled to mention that, over at his Forbes blog Progressive Download, John Farrell—inspired by all of us—discusses “What would evidence for God look like?” I was supposed to give him my take on his scenario, but the press of work prevented me from a personal response. At any rate, he proffers a scenario that he considers “might offer the kind of evidence, or at least data, to make a skeptic take a second look.” Here it is:
Here is a scenario I’ve adopted from an idea that New Testament scholar Ben Witherington used in a recent novel. In terms of evidence for God it’s much less fanciful than a being accompanied by angels descending from the sky in view of hundreds of people, but:
An archeologist working in Israel, discovers an ossuary from the NT era: the inscription on the stone in Aramaic reads: “Twice dead under Pilatus; Twice born of Yeshua in sure hope of resurrection.” And the name corresponds to what in Greek would be Lazarus.
There are bones, so presumably with luck there may be some DNA that could be sequenced, but my main idea is that you have a clear physical candidate for an actual person written about in the Gospel of John. (There are some scholars who have argued that the author of the Gospel of John was Lazarus.)
Now, this isn’t evidence for “God” in his omnipotent sense, which I know is more what Jerry Coyne and PZ were debating. But, given most scholars believe the four gospels were composed no sooner than 70AD, and for that reason less likely to be reliable accounts, you now have evidence from decades before of a key character in one of the Gospels. And more: an inscription that, whatever we might think, clearly indicates whoever buried him knew of the miraculous story of his raising from the dead and believed it.
But could archeologists and geneticists go further? If this is the body of a man supposedly resurrected once before, could there be anything to look for to further ‘test’ the truth of the story? Is there a medical condition that could have fooled people of the time into thinking he was dead when he really wasn’t? And would any sign of that persist in the remains that we could find signs of?
What if the family members from the same ossuary showed a related genome (as expected for his brothers, sister, parents) except that cancer-causing mutations in all of them were…found to be missing from his genome. Or even more startling, found to be ‘corrected.’
Those of you who think that no evidence is possible, or that some evidence is possible, but Farrell’s isn’t good, have at this. If you agree with him, say why. I can’t resist adding that Jesus DNA wouldn’t have any sequence from the Y chromosome (no dad), and, given his origins, might even completely lack heterozygosity, since he might have been haploid (i.e., having only one set of chromosomes). The absence of cancer-causing mutations is not dispositive, since presumably they weren’t homozygous in his mother.