BSR 19: Jesus Was Just a Man

BSR 19: Jesus Was Just a Man June 4, 2020

Summary of reply: The Caesar of history doesn’t need supernatural tales, but Jesus is nothing without them. And that “You’re biased against the supernatural!” charge doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

(These Bite-Size Replies are responses to “Quick Shots,” brief Christian responses to atheist challenges. The introduction to this series is here.)

Challenge to the Christian: Jesus was just a man

Christian response #1: “If you trust what history tells us about Caesar (who was just a man), why wouldn’t you trust what history tells us about Jesus (who was described as God incarnate)?”

BSR: An account of Julius Caesar as a man isn’t surprising. We know of many men in history who did remarkable things. That he conquered Gaul or was on the winning side of a civil war or was the Roman Republic’s dictator for life are facts that every student of history will agree to. By contrast, claims about the supernatural are never universally agreed to.

The Roman historian Suetonius reported that Caesar, pausing before taking the monumental step of crossing the Rubicon river with his army, saw a divine messenger urging him to cross. Historians scrub supernatural claims like this from history. Give historians the gospels, and they’ll do the same.

How do we know about Julius Caesar? Unlike the gospels, it’s not just copies of ancient documents that refer to him. We have copies of books he wrote. There are inscriptions mentioning him. There are coins, busts, and statues with his likeness. There’s a calendar and even a month named after him! Remove the supernatural from the Caesar story, and you’re left with the remarkable Caesar of history, but remove it from the gospels, and you’re left with just the story of an not-particularly-interesting peasant from a distant culture. Jesus is nothing but his supernatural story.

If a claim is believed because it’s dogma rather than because evidence has convinced the historians, it’s not worth believing in.

Remove the supernatural from the Julius Caesar story, and you’re left with the remarkable Caesar of history, but remove it from the gospels, and you’re left with just the story of an uninteresting peasant. [Click to tweet]

Christian response #2: Why trust the gospels when they say that Jesus existed but not when they say that he was a god?

BSR: Because reports of humans are common and typically trustworthy. Reports of gods are fiction, legend, or mythology, not history. If there is an exception in the case of Jesus, you need a mountain of evidence to support this remarkable claim. Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, Alexander the Great, and other historical figures from two millennia ago often have supernatural tales in their biographies, but historians accept none of them as history.

Even the part about Jesus existing isn’t certain. Some religions were started by a real person, and some weren’t. Either is possible in the case of Christianity.

This is a bias against the supernatural, though not an exclusion of that possibility. It’s a bias because the supernatural is unnecessary to explain anything about religion—not its origin, its affect on people, or its growth. Sure, I have a bias against the supernatural. Who doesn’t? List the supernatural claims of Hinduism, Scientology, or Mormonism, and the Christian will be as skeptical as I am. My bias for the plausible natural explanation is no different from the Christian’s . . . in every domain but Christianity.

Sure, I have a bias against the supernatural. Who doesn’t? List the supernatural claims of Hinduism, Scientology, or Mormonism, and the Christian will be as skeptical as I am. [Click to tweet]

(The Quick Shot I’m replying to is here.)

Continue with BSR 20: Christianity Is Anti-Science

For further reading:

Virtually every major technological advance
in the history of the human species—
back to the invention of stone tools
and the domestication of fire—
has been ethically ambiguous.
— Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

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Image from Vidar Nordli-Mathisen, CC license
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