Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The impact of Jesus on history

I sent an additional response clarifying the extent to which the life of Jesus and his amazing impact on history can be regarded as evidence (that a scientist might accept - though not of course scientific evidence) for the existence of God:  
There are 3 religious leaders with more than 1bn followers today: Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. The spread of Buddhism and Islam are easy to explain and there is little controversy about the historical outlines.  But Jesus was executed in his 30s having written nothing and attained no political power, his handful of demoralised followers went into hiding and were persecuted by the authorities.  Yet within 350 years they had taken over the world’s greatest empire. The only explanation given for this astonishing transformation, which is consistently offered by all the sources from the people involved, is the Resurrection and subsequent divine inspiration of the growth of the Church.

I am not, of course, suggesting that there is no conceivable alternative explanation (maybe Thetans in UFOs manipulated the whole thing?) but simply that there is no alternative explanation that is remotely plausible. The only reason people reject the standard explanation is that it would have uncomfortable implications for them, and doesn’t fit in with their preconceptions about the world.

Extract from the questioner's response: As I discovered when I did an exhaustive study on it many years ago, the NT includes a set of precepts that together form the best possible structure to get human beings to work together with maximum effectiveness  (eg any commercial organisation that could set itself up in a way that ticked as many of the relevant boxes to the same degree would be a world-beater).

There is of course no doubt that whether or not of supernatural origin, and even stripped of its supernatural content, much of Jesus' teaching was that of a genius  (cf Mahatma Ghandi: "The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest piece of wisdom ever written.") and that quality no doubt added weight to the whole message.

Reply: Thanks. I’m glad you see the ethical teachings of the gospel as a work of genius and pretty much the optimum that has ever been devised.  But this leaves a big problem, because the same genius also made outrageous claims about his own cosmic importance, (Son of God, will judge the living and the dead etc…) and the same people who transmitted these claims were convinced that he rose again after he died.

Given the situation by say AD 150-200 of a pretty clearly articulated gospel message for which people are willing to give their lives it is not incomprehensible, though  still very remarkable, from a secular PoV that it prevailed. But the reason it got to this stage is that people knew people who knew people who had experienced the resurrection and the other phenomena described in the Gospel and Acts, and were indeed willing to give their lives for its truth.

No-one would give their life for something they knew to be a lie. Not only had Jesus’ body disappeared (which could have been the work of grave-robbers, although anyone who had come forward to the authorities saying they had done this would have been richly rewarded) but the disciples were utterly convinced that they had seen, touched and eaten with Jesus after his resurrection.

The only secular explanation that is remotely credible at the physical level is that Jesus somehow survived the crucifixion and then fooled the disciples.  But this requires the greatest moral genius to be a fraud and a liar who would knowingly con his closest friends into laying down their lives for a lie.

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