I said that this was leading up to something, so here’s the point:
Examine the facial features and hair depicted in the Shroud of Turin carefully. It resembles the common depictions of Jesus as a thin white man with long, straight hair and a forked or pointed beard. There are no physical descriptions of Jesus in the gospels, or any other contemporary source, so determining what he looked like for sure is rather difficult.
I think it’s quite telling, though, that there are no descriptions of his appearance. If he looked radically different from those around him, it seems likely that it would have been mentioned. So, what did the people around him look like? Like first-century middle eastern jews, of course. It’s likely that Jesus didn’t look anything like the face depicted in the shroud.
The Argument From Atheism
The first argument against the historical Jesus and the resurrection is simply this: (1) If God does not exist, then Christ is not risen; (2) God does not exist; (3) Therefore, Christ is not risen. Premise 1 is obvious so I will not defend it here (maybe it’s possible that Christ rose naturally, but no one cares about that hypothesis). Regarding premise 2, this can be defended by the numerous arguments for atheism; most notably the argument from evil and the argument from divine hiddenness.
Now, some might argue that the historical evidence for Christ (HEC) serves as a defeater for 2 and for the arguments supporting 2, but this is not the case, simply because the evidence for the arguments supporting 2 is epistemically ‘above’ HEC. The type of evidence HEC is involves eyewitness testimony, anthropology, and textual criticism to support abductive reasoning. In contrast, the evidence for atheism involves deductive and/or inductive reasoning. These forms of reasoning should be given far more weight than the abduction HEC involves because they are far more reliable; we’re less likely to come to false conclusions with them.
In essence, the debate over Christ reduces to the debate over God, at least most of the time. The atheists’ confidence in the premises of arguments from evil and hiddenness is much stronger than his confidence in any historical observations or in any testimony given c. 2000 years ago. So the historical argument will be convincing only to people who already believe in a god.
Criticism of Lewis’ Trilemma
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56. )”
Lewis’ Trilemma is a false one. At the very least, he may have been a ‘lunatic’ or a ‘liar’ in a sense that is not necessarily something we would view as horrible. For example, his claims that he was divine could have been motivated by many things. It’s possible that Christ was tricked into believing himself divine by dissenters in order to undercut the religion of Judaism and/or the Roman Empire; or that he was lying for noble reasons – perhaps he believed that his moral message was so important that lying to facilitate its spreading was justified. Or perhaps it’s the writers who did so, making false claims about what he said regarding his divinity. Or maybe the character of Jesus is an amalgamation of several historical figures. There are many possibilities.
Furthermore, there’s the issue of what it means to be a great moral teacher. Despite being an atheist, I do regard Jesus as a good moral teacher, even though I don’t agree with everything he said. Even assuming that he was a lunatic or a liar, this does not mean that the teachings themselves have no value. He was right about things such as the importance of loving thy neighbor, despite any personal madness or badness he may have had. Possibly he was right by coincidence, but right nonetheless. I’m not going to automatically do the opposite of good teachings just because the speaker is of otherwise poor character.
Argument from UFOs
There is a great deal of analogy between the arguments made for the historical Jesus and arguments made for the existence of alien spaceships.
On Nov 7 2006, 12 airport employees (apostles) witnessed a metallic, saucer-shaped craft (Jesus) above the airport. There are other explanations offered by experts, such as that it was merely a weather phenomenon, an aircraft, or a weather balloon (swoon theory, hallucination theory, etc.), but the witnesses, and people who study their testimony, don’t buy these explanations. And of course you can even go interview these witnesses today if you want to (1 Corinthians 15:6). Airport employees are of course used to looking into the sky and correctly identifying what they see, it’s their job. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_O%27Hare_UFO_sighting_2006 and linked citations)
This event meets the criteria of multiple attestation (there were roughly 12 witnesses), multiple forms (various accounts from different locations and news reports), discontinuity (many alien sightings take place alone, on darkly lit backroads), coherence (the story itself doesn’t contradict anything internal or external), and embarrassment (people might think you’re crazy if you say you saw an alien ship).
Is it a good idea to believe that an alien ship actually visited an airport? No, of course not. That’s ridiculous. But of course this is just one sighting ‘event’. What if there were more, like there were for Jesus? What if there was a mass sighting, like the 500 claimed to have witnessed Jesus? Well, there are:
There are literally thousands of different events like these, going back for hundreds of years. Many of these stories meet multiple historical criteria. Some of these events even have pictures and video. And yet, we still don’t believe that aliens have visited us (at least, I would hope we don’t). But why don’t we? Simply because this sort of testimony is insurmountably weak compared to hard scientific evidence. And if we don’t believe in alien visitation based on this:
hundreds of independent events
thousands and thousands of eyewitnesses reporting what they saw
sometimes from experts
sometimes while it was happening, or only a few days after
sometimes with picture and video
some events happening within the past few years
then why should we believe in the resurrection based on this:
only a handful of independent events
500 and change eyewitnesses, sometimes secondhand reports
never from experts in identifying unknown phenomena
at best a few years later, at worst 50 or 60
no pictures or video at all, not even drawings
all these events happening roughly 2000 years ago