Sunday, July 27, 2014

Finishing Up My Thoughts

Sorry about my last post I suffered from an acute case of blogpostthoughtinterruptictis, and since that post I've been on vacation in Ohio and Michigan so I haven't had a chance to finish my thoughts.

I've talked about how foundational epistemology is dangerous both in my previous post and in this post where I talked about Descartes' philosophy of cogito ergo sum.  If we're to use foundational epistemology, the foundation has to be rock-solid.

This brings me back to the relationship between epistemology, conspiracy theories, and the Jesus myth theories.  Much of my interest in the topic of the historical Jesus started with my listening to Lee Strobel's book The Case for Christ on  I highly recommend you check it out since he puts the case for Christ so much better than I can especially in such a short space.

There are people out there that believe in crazy things and one of the craziest things someone can hold to is that Jesus, as described in the Bible didn't ever exist.  I forget where I read it and I don't remember the exact wording but Jesus the best documented first century person.  Now, many skeptics might say that that kind of statement is biased because it's based on the Bible, which they wouldn't/don't trust.  But, there are many problems in that kind of thinking.  First off, even with only a layman's understanding I know that it's foolish to throw out the Bible as a valid historical source.  The process of textual criticism has been thoroughly studied for so many years that it would be completely foolish to throw out that entire body of work.  And, according to textual criticism there are more sources for the Bible (as we currently have translated today) than ANY historical text.  This chart from describes the situation perfectly:
Earliest CopyApproximate Time Span between original & copyNumber of CopiesAccuracy of Copies
Lucretiusdied 55 or 53 B.C. 1100 yrs2----
PlinyA.D. 61-113A.D. 850750 yrs7----
Plato427-347 B.C.A.D. 9001200 yrs7----
Demosthenes4th Cent. B.C.A.D. 1100800 yrs8----
Herodotus480-425 B.C.A.D. 9001300 yrs8----
SuetoniusA.D. 75-160A.D. 950800 yrs8----
Thucydides460-400 B.C.A.D. 9001300 yrs8----
Euripides480-406 B.C.A.D. 11001300 yrs9----
Aristophanes450-385 B.C.A.D. 900120010----
Caesar100-44 B.C.A.D. 900100010----
Livy59 BC-AD 17----???20----
Tacituscirca A.D. 100A.D. 11001000 yrs20----
Aristotle384-322 B.C.A.D. 1100140049----
Sophocles496-406 B.C.A.D. 10001400 yrs193----*
Homer (Iliad)900 B.C.400 B.C.500 yrs64395%*
1st Cent. A.D. (A.D. 50-100)2nd Cent. A.D.
(c. A.D. 130 f.)
less than 100 years560099.5%*
*Not sure why there isn't a percentage of accuracy for all the texts.  The accuracy percentage was taken from comparing all the different copies and showing what percentage the copies agreed with each other.  The differences in the NT copies do not occur in major theological parts of the NT and do not affect the doctrines espoused by most Christian churches.

So, now that we've established the validity of the copies of the New Testament, let's examine how trustworthy a document of this type would have be in the light of the concept of conspiracy theories.

For these copies to be completely fake, dozens of people would have to all come together and collude to create a document over about fifty years.  They would have to get their stories straight, so they agreed, but not too much, because if the four Gospels were identical, it would be obvious that they were copying one another.  They would have to slowly, over time produce a variety of texts that don't sound like they're all written by the same people.  Then they have to all go out and convince others that what they're writing is a true, all the time knowing that it's a lie.  Think about the vastness of this lie.  The text says that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people at the same time (1 Cor 15:6), and remember these texts were written within 10-70 years of the events described and they even encourage people to seek out these people and seek the Truth.  So, if one really wanted to kill Christianity in its infancy, all one would have to do is point to a grave with a still buried Jesus and go, "Well, they're all liars."  Or, something more gruesome like put his body on display or something.  But no, early detractors from Christianity don't do anything like that.  In fact, according to scholars of ancient literature, the first century Jewish writings agree that there was indeed an empty tomb and they sought to explain away the issue with other stories like grave robbery.

This brings us to another important idea behind debunking the Jesus mythers.  Think about and compare people that believe in the moon landing conspiracy.  In today's day and age the people that believe such things are labeled nutjobs or crazy etc.  But, in all reality what does one risk to oneself by disbelieving in the moon landing or perpetuating a similar lie?  Nothing much, maybe a little ostracization for being abnormal, maybe derision from people who know the truth.  But, what happened to the people that perpetuated the story of Jesus?  According to this site it is highly likely that eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred.  Now, okay it does admit that some of the stories of their martyrdom are more speculative, but to say the least most of the disciples were killed for their beliefs.  Now again, we're talking about a conspiracy theory here right?  So, let's assume these apostles were the original source of this huge conspiracy, what happened to them after they spread this lie?  They paid for it with their lives.  So this conspiracy not only bears no benefit to the conspirators, it will most likely lead to their death.  This brings up an interesting question though.  Others will and have died for their beliefs so that doesn't prove Christianity as right or wrong.  However, there's a clear distinction that this objection misses is this: the many martyrs for various religions died and still die for things they believe with all their hearts as being true.  If they knew for certain that what they believed was a lie, they wouldn't have been as willing to go to their deaths.  According to Wikipedia Muhammad died of an illness, and Joseph Smith died at the hands of a lynch mob for apparently trying to set up a form of theocracy and trying to marry other men's wives.  Every martyr since these founders had set up their respective religions died because they believed the claims of the founders.

Still not enough?  Let's look at other sources.  Even if you still reject the Bible as historical at all, and hold on to the impossible theory that these men died for a huge lie.  There are other sources of evidence for the historical Jesus.  This site has a few of the non-biblical historical references for Jesus and according to the Strobel's book there are a number of things one can learn from non-biblical sources.  I don't remember the complete list as presented in the book, but here's what I remember.  He was born under questionable circumstances, He was considered from Nazareth, He performed signs and wonders, He was crucified, His followers continued to worship Him after the crucifixion claiming that He had risen from the dead, and these followers were regularly martyred for that belief.

So there you have it.  Still think Jesus was just a myth?  If so then you believe in the biggest most implausible conspiracy imaginable.  Hundreds of thousands of people had to be in on a lie and perpetuate that lie knowing that it would lead to their death.

View from Dobong Mountain (도봉산) Seoul S Korea