Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Proving the Existence of JC

There is an individual claimed to have lived close to the first century, of whom books were written and monuments made.  We have accounts of the deeds he did and how they changed the course of history in Europe, and much of the known world.

Yet how do we know that this man existed in fact?  How do we know he was not invented by a group of men seeking to force a view on the world?  How do we know the words he said, the deeds he did were not taken out of context or even invented?  After all, we have no original copies of the works written about him… the only existing copies were written centuries later.  So how do we know the things attributed to him are true and were not added later?

Yes, how do we know Julius Caesar really existed?

On Knowledge of the Past

The case I presented above is of course ridiculous, yet it is an argument used by some atheists against a different JC, namely Jesus Christ.  Of course the atheist would object by saying: We have works speaking of him and monuments of him, and reports of his actions as a military and political leader.  Yet if we apply the burden of proof insisted on establishing the truth of Jesus Christ to Caesar, we cannot prove Julius Caesar even existed.

Yet we would consider it obstinate and willful ignorance to deny the existence of Caesar under these circumstances.  History attests to the accounts of people who existed in time and point to the time they existed.  Yet we have works attesting to Christ too.  Yet why do we behave so skeptically here?

The Circular Argument

One of the objections against the accounts of Christ is that the miracles either demonstrate the falsity of the accounts or else that the miracles were added later.  It is a circular argument here.  The texts are doubted because of the miracles, and miracles are doubted because one believes they cannot exist.  Because miracles cannot exist, texts which mention them must be doubted.

Thus we have a claim that assumes something not proven, and passes judgment on the texts as not being proven because they make assertions which go against the unproven premise.

Again, I would remind the reader, this is not an argument from silence or a God in the Gaps claim.  We are now merely looking at the idea of the claim against the historicity of the accounts of Christ.

On Legend and Myth

When the accounts of Christ are considered, sometimes myth and legend are terms used.  The analogy made is that Accounts of Zeus are myths, the Gospels are accounts of God.  Therefore accounts of the Gospels are myths.

This is a false comparison.  Accounts of Zeus tell us of things long ago with no historical dating.  We have no accounts of when Heracles lived historically, no link to real historical figures if when Mithras was supposedly on the Earth.  In contrast, Luke tells us, of who was the governor of certain provinces when Christ was born, with names of places and events which can be verified outside the gospel accounts.

So unlike myth, which cannot be tied to history, the accounts of the Christians about Christ are specifically tied to a place and time.

The idea of legends is also raised as an objection.  We hear of the example of the unicorn mentioned in medieval times and legends of the first century saints in places like England etc.  Is this not the same thing?

The answer is no.  In investigating a legend, the thing to be done is to trace back how far the reports go.  In regards to the story of, for example St. Martha in France, we do not have accounts from those times of these people going there (or rather the accounts of the times do not mention them). but only accounts written centuries later.  So to argue X was a myth so the accounts of Christ too were a myth does not follow.

On Doctored Texts

The next question is how we can discern altered texts.  If we were to find an account of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars claiming he was walking on water, how would we tell if this were true or false?  By looking at other copies from varied areas and seeing if the accounts remained consistent, or if glosses were added.  If we found one account of Caesar performing a miracle and ten not even mentioning such events, it would be reasonable to assume an addition from a later time.

However the accounts of Christ remain consistent.  Copies found in the West as well as in the East attest to the same facts and the same words of Christ.

In the time of Xeroxing and Cut-and-Paste this does not seem so amazing, but prior to the printing press, all writing was manually done, and every copy was done by hand.  The fact that accounts in Greek and Hebrew, and translations in Latin and Syrian all make the same statements of Christ and attest to the same miracles.  We have no accounts of this time which removes these miracles.

Yes, we occasionally find glosses in single instances of manuscripts, but we do not believe these glosses are part of the authentic text.

So whether or not one believes these texts to be factual, there is no evidence of "miracles added later."

On Non-Christian Accounts

Josephus, a Jew who lived in the time of Christ gives an account of Jesus in two places.  The first, found in Antiquities 18, Chapter 3 mentions a description of Jesus.  Admittedly certain words are debated as to whether they are authentic, but even the removal of those words and we have an account of Jesus (The debated phrases are put in brackets and in red):

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed it is lawful to call him a man], for he was a performer of wonderful deeds, a teacher of such men as are happy to accept the truth. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Christ, and] when Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not forsake him; [for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as the prophets of God had foretold these and ten thousand other wonders about him]. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.

Even if we accept the text in red as added in later, what is agreed upon as authentic speak of many of the tenets of the Christian faith: That he existed, that he performed wondrous deeds, was crucified by Pilate and his followers continued to follow him after his death.

Josephus mentions Jesus again later on in Antiquities [Book 20: Chapter 9], in a passage experts do not dispute the authenticity of, saying:

Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent.

Notice in this account, we have some secular confirmation of what the Christians were saying of Christ, identifying James as the brother of Jesus, that Jesus was called the Christ (Messiah) by them and that he was executed during the time after the governor Festus died and before the successor Albinus had arrived (about AD 62), and some Jews were appalled by the action of Ananus.

Other pagan accounts exist (Pliny, for example) which, while denying the divinity of Christ, attest to his existence.  We have other accounts (such as Celsus in the early third century for example) of people trying to write defamatory things about Christ seeking to explain away what was attested to about him.  The thing is, an attempt to debunk [Celsus' claims were not even factually correct] acknowledges what was said and believed.

Will Men Die for a Lie?

[Consider this a placeholder here.  The discussion of the reliability of witnesses deserves fuller treatment.  I merely put this here to acknowledge objections based on whether the witnesses were credible]

The accusation of doctored texts and the like also need to consider this: Of the apostles, eleven of them were martyred for their beliefs, which they refused to recant from.  If they spoke falsely, why were so many of them willing to die rather to deny what they claimed?

When witnesses are found for a topic, of course they must be investigated as to what they claim.  Even setting aside whether or not what they claimed was actually true, we can see that they believed it to be true, as whatever they experienced, motivated them to carry out tasks of great hardship.

The Circular Argument redux

The objection rises again that the apostles and others must have been deceived, but on what is this objection based?  On what evidence can this be claimed?  There is none.  But we are back to the circular argument of the texts being doubted because of the accounts of miracles.

The argument is that Miracles cannot exist, therefore the actions of these disciples must have a natural explanation.  But the problem here is that this is not based on seeking to discover what happened, but rather on the assumption that there cannot be a God, so accounts about this God must be false or have a natural cause.  The atheist then seeks to find some natural phenomena which could theoretically be mistaken for a miracle.

Looking with Reason at the Objections of Natural Phenomena

The problem with these natural phenomena is that the people of the time were aware of them too, and yet did not consider them to be these phenomena.  Manna in the desert, as described, for example did not look like the sugary substance of beetle excretions sometimes offered as an alternate explanation.  Fishermen in the Sea of Galilee would not find a person walking on a sandbar to be miraculous.  Boats were expensive after all, and a sailor would not want to risk wrecking it.  So attempts at explaining away accounts of miracles with natural phenomena needs to account for the knowledge of the ancients.

Indeed, these sort of actions are actually a form of "chronological snobbery," thinking that the ancient knew less than we do because of the progression of Science.  We assume the man of the twenty first century knows more than the man of the First Century.  However, this overlooks practical knowledge.  A farmer of the first century knew more than a "desk jockey" of the 21st century about how the weather and climate will affect his crops.  A first century fisherman would know more about how to sail a boat in a storm or to find fish than a 21st century anthropologist.

Oh yes, they might not have had the same knowledge as we do as to why the weather behaves as it does for example and of course this knowledge would have benefitted them, but they knew more as to how to interact with the weather than the city dweller of today.

Unfortunately today, we look to the past with a view of "ignorant savages," failing to remember that what we do know of science depended of the practical knowledge of the past.  Also we need to remember that in the Roman Empire, skeptics and atheists existed then too.  The "ignorant savage" argument assumes a belief that all ancients were superstitious and had no knowledge whatsoever about nature.

Not an Argument from Silence

Again this does not prove the existence of God in a scientific way.  However, we have again shown problems with modernistic thinking, which assumes claims which need to be proven.  So while this article does not prove the existence of God, we have removed an objection used to claim the belief in God is unreasonable, by looking at the underlying assumptions the atheist accepts without scrutinizing them.

In this case, there is no evidence to justify their objections which cannot also be used against the secular figures of antiquity.  We have sources of writings which attest to the claims made of Christ, and have looked at some of the objections to them.  These objections are not founded in the texts or the times, but on an application of 21st century assumptions of what can and cannot be possible.  Yet these assumptions need to be proven and not accepted as a given before they can be considered a refutation of the authenticity of the texts.

So we do have a problem of credibility with the claims of the atheist who states that it is "proven" the texts were altered.

So What We Have So Far

However, what we have now are reasonable grounds to reject two assumptions made by certain atheists:

  1. Science "proves" God does not exist
  2. Accounts of Christ are "myths"

In both cases the atheist's claims are based on a priori assumptions which need to be investigated in itself.  Since the assumptions have not been established, the argument made by them have not been proven true.

From this, it cannot be said these claims "prove" religion is irrational

No comments:

Post a Comment