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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?

Ray has posted an article entitled For Atheists Only wherein he posts a few verses from the New Testament about believing in Jesus and God will go to Heaven, asks us atheists to read it without the notion of whether or not God exists, and then builds up to his question:
Here's the build-up to my question: Some say Jesus of Nazareth was a great teacher. Others say that He was crazy, while others (a few) think that He didn’t exist at all.
I indeed read it with an open mind and, once finished, I reread it again before seeing what it was all about. I am sure there are much better answers to this question than I am about to present (which I will include some links to at the bottom), but here's why this has failed to convince me...

Firstly, I would like to point out the part of "while others (a few) think that He didn’t exist at all." How does Ray know this? Isn't this what he lambasts everyone about? When we speak of the scientific consensus that evolution is supported by over 99.9% of the scientific community (which it is), isn't his first response: prove it. Or, in fact, let me post his exact words he said to an atheist:

To say an absolute statement such as only a few thinking He didn't exist at all means that you are omniscient. You are not God, Ray. He is omniscient.

But I digress. To the point: do I believe Jesus existed as a historical figure? Since there is a scientific consensus (to my understanding, there is) that he existed, then yes, I believe he existed. This area is tenuous, though, because historians' opinions would be influenced by their pre-existing belief that he existed. From what I have studied, it seems there is historical basis for this. But of course, as Ray would point out, it's foolish for me to say I believe Jesus existed as I do not have absolute knowledge.

But I digress... again. To the point of his question.

I think that "great" teachers don’t say the sort of weird things He said (believe His words and you have everlasting life, that His voice would raise the billions of the dead human race, etc.), and if He didn’t exist, who said these amazing words? So, I think that there are only two reasonable options. He was either a crazy liar, or He was the Son of God. Am I wrong?
The first thing I would point out is that it does not matter if He existed or not. We have irrefutable evidence that Joseph Smith indubitably existed. Joseph Smith is of course the founder of Mormonism. His account of the origins of the Book of Mormon is that an angel came down and gave him some gold plates on which ancient prophets had written. The Book of Mormon is much longer than the Qur'an. There's many outlandish claims in there as well

So, Ray, what have you? Was Joseph Smith either a "crazy liar," or He was the recipient of divine revelation? If he didn’t exist, who said these amazing words?

We can move on to the Qur'an next. The origin of the Qur'an is that the angel Gabriel revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad from God. Muhammad memorized it and began reciting it. It was eventually written down and spread. Plenty of outlandish claims here. So what have you, Ray? Was Muhammad either a "crazy liar," or He was the last prophet sent by God? If he didn’t exist, who said these amazing words?

We could continue to do the same with all religion. This is one of the main reasons this argument it is unimpressive.

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. -- Stephen F. Roberts
To another point in Ray's post:
[I]f He didn’t exist, who said these amazing words?
By the own biblical account, He didn't. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did. The Gospels were written after Jesus was dead and they didn't even know him. That would actually explain why they have such eratic and conflicting accounts. Since you, as a Christian, reject the Qur'an as the Word of God, then obviously you reject that the angel Gabriel revealed it to him for the Lord. So, if it wasn't divine word, who said it?

This ties in with him now leaving us with a false dichotomy:
He was either a crazy liar, or He was the Son of God. Am I wrong?
As illustrated, there are plenty of other options available. Let me outline some of the ones I see:
  • He could have been misinterpreted or misunderstood by his followers.
  • He likely never even spoke the words (for reasons outlined above).
  • He (or those who wrote it) may have been insane -- just look around at all the people today who continuously sprout up claiming divine revelation.
  • Yes, He (or those who wrote it) may have even been a liar, another likely explanation so as to compel people to follow their religion.
  • Also, he gives some pretty bad advice, so that reinforces the idea of liar or lunatic.
  • The texts may have been compromised.
  • Another great possibility is that of legend status. Since the four men did not exist until after Jesus was gone and buried (so to speak), he would have been that of legend by then. They could have been writing just what they've heard people tell, which as an account goes around, it is inherently subject to change as it passes from person to person. This would also explain the eratic and conflicting four accounts. So with this, the four men aren't lunatic or liars, but simply fools for believing what they've heard.
  • The list goes on...
Other answers to this question:

* The Trilemma -- Lord, Liar, or Lunatic? by Jim Perry
* Lord, Liar, or Lunatic: C.S. Lewis and the Jesus Trilemma by Austin Cline
* Philosophy of Religion 4: Lord, Liar, or Lunatic by Peter Smith
* Lord, Liar or Lunatic? An Analysis of the Trilemma By James Still
Beyond Born Again-- Chapter 7: A False Trilemma By Robert Price

This is a wholly unimpressive argument. Is this the best argument to be mustered for Christianity? If so, I expect all other arguments for it to be equally as underwhelming.

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