“Philosophy of evidence”
“Philosophy is thinking logically and systematically about the things that matter most.” – Dr. Doug Groothus (lecture on What Philosophers wish Theologians knew about Philosophy)
Before we begin looking at the evidence that convinces the majority of historians that Jesus Christ was a real person, we need to take a step back and examine how we process the evidence we’re presented with.
If we start with an overly skeptical presupposition on the issue, no amount of evidence will satisfy. Rather than trying to talk through the different levels of skepticism, I want to give 3 illustrations that will make the point. The issue is in the methodology and philosophy we bring to the table when understanding any topic.
I’m going to use this overly skeptical approach on 3 subjects. The first is on the reliability of the existence of Alexander the Great. The second subject I’ll show that World War 2 never happened and the third I’ll show that no present day court records can be trusted.
Before you read any further I want to make this very clear. I do not agree with any of the methods I’m about to use nor do I agree with the understanding that comes from using them. I flat out reject them and hope that you will too. Atheists when dealing with the subjects of Jesus or New Testament reliability typically use these methods. You’ll see how each subject will look more and more unreasonable. Hopefully, you’ll be able to spot these methods and learn that sometimes it’s the problem of the way the evidence is being understood and not the evidence itself.
Alexander the (not so) Great
“Alexander the Great is just a mythological composite of the ultimate emperor warrior king to keep the newly conquered “Greeks” in line so they didn’t try to revolt. This would be necessary in an illiterate and ignorant world where they still thought kings were a good idea. This is a necessary tactic used to scare off the Persians from retaliating and to keep the Jews in place. Fear, manipulation, and control of people are best accomplished in such ways. That is all this myth was about! He was not a real person, so just get over it!” - Statement by an overly skeptical person.
So many people blindly follow this myth that they never even bother to look at the “evidence” about Alexander the not so Great. Here are some of the more common proofs that are given.
First are the so-called pictures and statues of Alexander. None of them look alike. If you showed them to a 5 year old, even a child would think you were showing them pictures of different people. People are still doing mosaics and paintings today in ancient styles, just like they did 2,000 years ago. We can’t even be sure of when they were made.
Next are the “historians”, such as, Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus, and Justin. All except for one wrote 300 years later than when it is said that Alex lived. The one exception was written 400 years later! There’s no way they were eyewitnesses and hearsay just doesn’t cut it as evidence.
They all claim to be referring to writings of people who were there, but how many of those writings do we have to check them by? None. Zero. I guess they just weren’t important enough to keep around or maybe they disagreed with the image these historians were trying to portray. They were probably burned so nobody would know these Roman historians were traitors trying to bring back the Greek empire.
Any semi-intelligent person can realize that there is no proof at all that a person named Alexander the Great even lived. The myth was so powerful that cities were named after this guy and money was made with his “likeness” on it. The great part about this is that nobody knew what he looked like so any image would do. In the ancient world if you spread money around people would get their information from them. Whoever’s face was on them must be the king.
I trust that you can see in this first illustration the lengths I must go to prove Alexander the Great didn’t exist. It really does look and sound like a conspiracy theory. I am being overly critical with the evidence and not allowing the evidence to point to the most plausible explanation of the facts at hand.
The Atheist equivalent would be in regards to the reliability of the New Testament a priori (prior to examination).
“World War who?”
World War II could never have occurred because it is numerically impossible. Basic mathematics states that the numerical sequence raises one unit of measurement when an equal amount, to that of said concept of one, is added only after the preceding has first been established. Simply put, 2 follows 1.
First, we need to ask ourselves, what are the details of World War I. When did it begin? This seemingly renowned fact is a matter of debate. Nobody knows when it started! People will say, “When Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were assassinated.” Others would say, “Well, when (insert country here) got involved.” You will never get a straight answer from anyone.
This next question is the real nail in the coffin. Ask them if the whole world was involved. If the whole world was involved then we would see evidence of this in every countries historical records. Yet amazingly what we find is that there are people who have never heard of this war and even more amazing is that some countries would claim that they weren’t even involved!
So, the conclusion is as simple as it is obvious, if you don’t have a first “World War” you cannot by any means have a second. World War II could never have happened.
As you can see with this example World War II wasn’t even dealt with. This is called a red herring. What this type of argument does is divert attention from the main topic to an irrelevant topic.
- Topic A is under discussion
- Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A. (When topic B is actually not relevant to topic A)
- Topic A is abandoned
Theologian and President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, Michael Patton, tells a story to illustrate a similar point.
“I play this game with my daughter where I will smack her on the arm real fast so she doesn’t see me. She’ll turn and ask why I smacked her arm? I tell her it wasn’t me, even though we’re the only 2 people in the room. She doesn’t believe me. I tell her somebody ran in and did it and ran back out without her seeing them. She still doesn’t believe me. I say to look at the door. It’s unlocked isn’t it? She looks at it questioningly. I say see it is possible. All I have to do is prove the door is unlocked to prove that my story is true.”
The Atheist equivalent would be to say that if the Genesis account of creation doesn’t follow the modern scientific understanding then the entire bible is wrong.
“I write what is stricken from, I am the stenographer”
This is all hearsay, your Honor. Unless you have a witness to the event telling you directly what happened you can’t be sure it did. This very point is what convicts or acquits someone in a court of law. Eyewitness testimony. A detective can be bias and therefore cannot be trusted (Mark Fuhrman ring a bell?). Would you really believe somebody who wasn’t there that says they know what happened? You would be admitting that you’re relying on second hand evidence for the facts.
What if it’s not you asking the detective the questions? How would you ever know what he said? The court stenographer? Give me a break! Now you’re telling me that an event that is being talked about by somebody who wasn’t there, recorded by someone who wasn’t there (and probably doesn’t even care), and I’m being informed of this information by you? This is fourth-hand information. If I wanted to tell anybody about this event then why would they ever believe me? It can’t possibly be true.
In this illustration truth is subject to time and reference. The longer the time between when it happened and when we know about it, combined with the number of people who relayed the information, render the event less true the further removed we are from it.
Historical events are static and while the ideal situation is to have eyewitnesses reporting the events themselves, investigators of the time can be relied upon for accurate information. This doesn’t make things less true. On the contrary, it shows them more likely to be true, because of the amount of time and effort that went into researching the events shows that knowledge of said events had meaning to those in proximity to them. The issue is not how far away we are but what is the time gap between the events and the record of them.
An Atheist equivalent would be on the transmission of the New Testament manuscripts.
The logical equivalent, when used in any other forum other than religion, is clearly seen to be illogical and irrelevant. To honestly deal with the evidence we have to honestly deal with it. Is it more plausible then not that what happened is what occurred?
With all this in mind I think we’re finally ready to look at what evidence tells us that Jesus was a real person. I’ll start with the latest (closest to our time) and end with the earliest (closest to the time of Christ).