Sunday, May 03, 2009

Establishing "Quite Clearly" That Jesus Didn't Exist

Yesterday, on the "Unbelievable?" radio program, J.P. Holding had a discussion with Ken Humphreys, an atheist who argues that Jesus didn't exist. Humphreys claims that Jesus' non-existence can be "quite clearly" established.

Holding decided to focus on one line of evidence, what we have from Tacitus, so a lot of the evidence for the historicity of Jesus wasn't addressed much, if at all. But some of the principles applied to Tacitus can be applied elsewhere.

As you listen, ask yourself whether Humphreys is "quite clearly" establishing that Jesus didn't exist. Ask yourself what would happen if his reasoning were applied more consistently. When he accepts historical claims about somebody like Julius Caesar, is his acceptance of such claims consistent with his skepticism of the textual transmission of Tacitus, for example? When Humphreys denies that he believes in "conspiracies", how does he reconcile that denial with his appeal to forgeries, textual corruption, and such? If only individuals, or even small numbers of people working as a group, were involved in such practices, then how would their efforts have the widespread influence that Humphreys' speculations suggest? I think J.P. Holding is correct in concluding that Humphreys' case consists largely of guilt-by-association. He doesn't connect his dots. He just tries to plant doubts in the audience's mind by suggesting something without establishing it. He expects the audience to fill in gaps that he doesn't fill in with argumentation. Christian A was dishonest and forged document B, so maybe Christian C was dishonest also and forged document D. Nothing Humphreys presented leads to his conclusion that Jesus didn't exist.

1 comment:

  1. The "Jesus did not exist" camp seems to be composed entirely of people lacking in a classical education and unaware of the kinds of evidence generally available for people such as those listed in (e.g.) the Imperial Prospography. It's an ignorant argument.

    It's also a malicious argument. The idea is that just by asserting it you can divert Christians from arguing about whether Christianity is true, and get them arguing about something which no-one really doubts and which, if they succeed, has no real consequence.

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