Independent Variables

Independent Variables April 9, 2016

Historicity and Divinity of Jesus

Pliny the In Between has illustrated what most mythicists seem unable to grasp. Accepting the existence of a historical Jesus is not about accepting a miracle working human, much less a deity.

But in another sense, mythicism is much worse than mainstream historical criticism for those whose aim is to disprove the existence of deities. Historical study shows that, in our earliest Gospels, Jesus is a human figure and not a deity. But if one rejects that result of historical study, what is one left with? Disproving the existence of purely spiritual entities is notoriously difficult, if not indeed inherently impossible.

 

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  • Matthew Green

    James,
    I am convinced that most modern day mythicists are simply secular fundamentalists. I am an co-administrator of a few FB groups that are devoted to counter-apologetics. We have a number of militant mythcists who are former Christian fundamentalists. I have tried pointing out that these mythicists are very often just mirror-image fundamentalists. Back in their Christian days, they believed that everything in the Bible was literally true. However, now that they have renounced fundamentalism, they haven’t grown that much. Instead of seeking what I consider to be more mature forms of faith, such as progressive Christianity, they have switched teams. They now bat for the very team that they once opposed. They once believed everything in the Bible was literally true and now many of them believe that everything in the Bible is false. They once worshipped Yahweh, now they worship nature. The Bible was once their sacred holy book, now science textbooks are. They used to believe that Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jesus were holy prophets. Now, Richard Dawkins and others are their prophets of science.
    I am convinced that for all of these people who are dedicated to science and rationality, they are anything but scientific and rational. They cannot honestly and objectively investigate historical arguments for Jesus because that would be admitting that Christians are at least right about *something*, which is unthinkable to them. They have resurrected the old “Conflict Thesis” of Draper and White. They think religion and science are very hostile enemies and would love to see religion go the way of the dodo.

    • J

      There are no historical arguments for Jesus.

      • I should have realized that what was needed to settle this matter once and for all was not the overwhelming consensus of historians, but an unsupported yet confident assertion to the contrary anonymously offered in a blog comment. You can all go home now. The discussion is apparently over.

        • Matthew Green

          I find the smug confidence of many of these mythicists quite amusing. You’re right to compare these people to young-earth creationists. Everyone else is dead wrong and these folks are a small yet extremely enlightened minority. I once challenged one mythicist to write several scholarly papers about the nonexistence of Jesus and submit them to reputable academic journals so he could enlighten them. As expected, he refused to do so. This same “enlightened” individual also celebrated the death of over a hundred people who were the victims of a terrorist attack; some Muslims were the intended targets of another Muslim group. He was cheering the death of “religitards”.

      • Matthew Green

        Really? So all of this time, scholars have never given reasons for why they believe that Jesus was real? Perhaps you mean that there is no historical evidence for Jesus. If that’s what you meant, I’d have to ask: how do you know this?

        • J

          If he is alive then where is he? If he is dead then show us the body.

          • This is not a place for trolling. If you can show me the remains of any corpse from 2,000 years ago that is still identifiable as that of a specific individual, I may not ban you, but otherwise it is clear from this comment that you have no interest in thinking or speaking seriously about this topic.

          • Matthew Green

            Where his body is or is not is irrelevant to whether he ever lived or not. I don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead; I believe that he was buried and then reburied elsewhere. I am convinced that Jesus was ultimately buried in a graveyard owned by Romans, which is why the family of Jesus never received the bones of Jesus one year after he was buried. This graveyard probably doesn’t exist anymore and was probably destroyed after 70 CE, making the discovery and identification of Jesus’ body practically impossible.

      • Mark

        “There are no historical arguments for Jesus.”

        Just keep repeating it, maybe the actual history of the planet will change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4pOopkDBko

  • David Evans

    Most atheists accept that we can’t disprove the existence of deities in general, or of particular deities that might choose to hide from us. What we can do is point out the lack of evidence for particular deities, and that task would surely be made easier, for the Christian God, if it were shown that Jesus never existed.

    • Matthew Green

      The same goal can be accomplished by showing errors in the Bible and that there are other explanations of Christian origins than the resurrection of Jesus.

    • J

      Of course we can: why would something be able to exist without proof that it does?

    • If, as Earl Doherty and others after him have claimed, the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was a purely celestial being, and this teaching was later altered to make Jesus a historical figure, then how exactly would demonstrating this be an argument against the Christian God? Would this not, in fact, make Earl Doherty a reformer of Christianity (assuming he were correct, which he obviously is not).

      • David Evans

        How would that work? Would the gospels have been written in the knowledge that Jesus never existed as a human being on Earth and that the crucial events in them never happened? If so, why should we regard them as evidence for anything but the beliefs of the earliest Christians?

        • Well, mythicism is a very poor and unpersuasive viewpoint, as you know. But my point is that, if the Gospels are intended to be allegories about a purely celestial Christ, then it isn’t clear how one today would disprove the existence of that Christ. A historical approach to the Gospels, on the other hand, can make a strong case that Jesus was a real individual who did not claim to be God, and who did predict the dawn of the kingdom of God in the lifetime of his hearers and thus was demonstrably mistaken. And so my question is why anyone interested in arguing against Christianity would prefer the former approach to the latter, especially when it fits the evidence so poorly, as well as being less useful in arguing against conservative Christians.

      • Matthew Green

        It wouldn’t; at best, it would be an argument against Evangelical and other conservative forms of Christianity. If Doherty and gang could prove this beyond reasonable doubt, I suspect that some Christians would construct a theology devoted to recovering the teachings of this celestial Jesus. If Jesus was a celestial being who was never human, wouldn’t it make sense for some Christians to try to discover what this celestial Jesus revealed to human beings about God, heaven, etc?

  • psriter

    When I saw the title I was hoping for a discussion about Carrier’s assumptions that variables are independent.

  • J

    “Disproving the existence of purely spiritual entities is notoriously difficult, if not indeed inherently impossible.”

    Nope: Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If you don’t a priori suggest that God exists then he pretty much vanishes.

    • Mark

      Nope.

    • Scott Paeth

      Of course, if you take the premise of the Ontological Argument, that the existence of God is self-confirming — that God exists by definition, then not only is there not an absence of evidence for the existence of God, but the fact that anything at all exists serves as confirmation of the existence of God (connecting the Ontological and Cosmological arguments).

      • J

        Nope: Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If you don’t a priori suggest that God exists then he pretty much vanishes.

        • Scott Paeth

          See, here again is the problem that you get when people who really don’t understand philosophy think that they do. Absence of evidence is neither evidence for or against anything.

          But you missed my point with the ontological argument, which is that it IS an a priori argument for God’s existence, saying that the very concept of God necessitates God’s existence).

          But here again, this leads to the question of the Cosmological argument, namely that the fact that there is anything at all rather than nothing can be construed as evidence for the existence of God. Of course, it could be evidence of other, non-God explanations, but unlike the argument from design, which has been fairly thoroughly dispensed with via the theory of evolution, the Cosmological argument continues to raise evidential issues around the possibility of God’s existence that antic-theists have not effectively disposed of.

          However, even in such a case, if you could find an incorrigible argument against the cosmological argument, and thus nothing could be advanced that would rationally constistute “evidence” (in the narrow and cramped sense usually required by skeptics in this kind of argument), it still wouldn’t constitute “evidence of absence,” it would simply constitute a lack of evidence in either direction.

          • J

            *…the fact that there is anything at all rather than nothing can be construed as evidence for the existence of God.*

            No it can’t.

          • Scott Paeth

            Well I guess you told me! Look, I know you’re merely a troll, and don’t really have anything to add to the discussion, but you could at least make an effort. It is in your power to resist your trollishness.

          • J

            If I am a troll, may god strike me dead this instant.

            (Be back in 5 minutes)

          • Scott Paeth

            You seem to have confused God with your personal murder-valet. But regardless, you are most certainly a troll. So, here’s my deal with you: If you can offer anything resembling a decent argument in response to what I’ve said above, I’m happy to continue the conversation. Otherwise, here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.