Evidence, miracles, and science: An argument against the existence of Jesus considered


In a recentish post, Arkhenaten advances two theses, one concerning the philosophy of science, the other history:

A) Sometimes science can test for and falsify supernatural phenomena (philosophy of science).

B) Jesus of Nazareth never existed (history)*.

More specifically, he writes:

If the theist wants the atheist to change – and aren’t they compelled to spread the Word? (sic) – then simply provide evidence that demonstrates the sincerity of their objective and the veracity of their claims.

At least provide the evidence that convinced them to become Christian.

Ah … but then we are back to things supernatural which cannot be tested by scientific means as they fall outside the natural world. Right?

Well, yes … and no.

Yes, he[Jesus] was a regular bloke. Except for miracles. The miracles he did. Not least of which was raising Lazarus from the dead.

And this is where we should expect to find evidence. Some independent attestation of the wondrous deeds he did. After all:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

John 21:25

It’s in the bible, and the bible is the inspired Word of God, right?

And, yet, what do we have?

Not a word, not a whisper.

A god who lived among humans as a human and as a god for over thirty years and left no trace outside of a story?

There is absolutely nothing that can be checked. Nothing to back a single claim.

In this case absence of evidence is most definitely evidence of absence.

Evidence of miracles? Hmm …. I don’t think so.

And under such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to draw the only logical conclusion.

The biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth is simply a work of fiction.

There are several things to be noted here:

1) Why must the Christian provide evidence to prove the “sincerity of their[sic] objective”? Why assume that when a Christian is evangelizing to the non-Christian he is doing so with nefarious intent? Perhaps this Christian knows nothing of apologetics and the rational case for the Christian worldview. Yet, when he recites John 3:16 to someone he’s proselytizing, what is there to suggest he’s doing so disingenuously and not with the belief that it’s for non-Christian’s best interest?

This Freudian slip suggests there is no “evidence” that will give Arkenaten cognitive pause because he is already convicted not to mull it due to prejudice he has about its source. Whether this prejudice is rationally justified, I’ll let the reader decide. For those who have met him online, I think the answer is readily apparent.

2) Arkenaten doesn’t flesh out the “scientific means” he has in mind to test the supernatural—also undefined. The supernatural, being super-, must be beyond the natural, which itself refers to what I’m interpreting as what the spacio-temporal exhausts. So, miracles from Jesus, Moses, or whoever are supposedly of the supernatural and workings not of this spacio-temporal realm. Indeed, according to Hume, miracles are by essence violations of observable natural laws. If science only operates within these observable natural laws of the spacio-temporal, then any miracle is beyond the reach of science to corroborate. To wit: Any miracle X that seems in violation of some natural law Y doesn’t provide prima facie evidence for the existence of X, but throws into question the veracity of Y as being a bonafide natural law.

So, it’s not clear what’s applicable for the natural can verify the supernatural. Though Arkenaten admits the difficulty here, he also thinks there is a way to get around this problem, vaguely appealing to “evidence.” However, it’s not obvious how science—understood as the empirical method that seeks knowledge of the physical spacio-temporal universe via continuous stages of observation, hypothesis, and experimentation—can provide evidence about whether a proposed historical figure existed (How do you test that?). The past isn’t empirical; why assume the “evidence” strictly is too?

Perhaps what Arkenaten means by “evidence” are archaeologically gathered artifacts, like contemporaneous manuscripts from the first century Roman Palestine. Well, deriving conclusions about the past from writings of a bygone era is not science but something closer to the discipline of history, which can be informed by science but not actually be of science as defined above.

So, Arkenaten seems to be stretching the bounds of empirical science in order to make a historical argument about whether Jesus existed. This either stems from a commitment to scientism, the incoherent view that the only genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge, or confusion about what science does and what constitutes its evidence. Regardless, both undermine his claim A) that science can test for and falsify supernatural phenomena. It also is unrelated to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. These are separate issues.

3) As for Arkenaten’s historical argument for the non-existence of Jesus, it seems to be the following:

  1. If Jesus did exist, then there is independent attestation of his miracles.
  2. There is no independent attestation of Jesus’ miracles (indeed, nothing at all “outside of a story”).
  3. Ergo, Jesus did not exist.

As a modus tollens, the argument is formally valid, but that itself is not a guarantee of soundness. Indeed, I think both 1 and 2 can be rejected as false.

For premise 1, there isn’t a strong reason to think independent attestation, meaning contemporaneous references to Jesus’ miracles not from his disciples or their followers, would have much bearing on the question of Jesus’ existence. Either Jesus, as a mere man or the incarnated Son of God, did or didn’t exist; whether Roman historians or others of the time cited miracles attributed to him is logically irrelevant to the matter at hand. For it’s possible, even likely, that Jesus’ miracles wouldn’t be widely written down in the oral tradition-driven society of first century Judea. As for the occupying Romans, it’s probable they wouldn’t even be aware of Jesus until he would be leveraged as a symbolic figurehead for Jewish insurrection. The antecedent of 1 does not imply its consequent.

Moreover, Arkenaten provides no argument for this criterion of independent attestation found in the consequent. He just posits it as plausible and definitive. But why assume this? I mean, most of what we know about Socrates, a man who was amazing in his own right, comes from his followers. They’re not independent either, yet, while some might doubt some parts of Socrates’ life, no one doubts that Socrates even existed. That’s because there are other means historians use to establish the historicity of an event or person that this dogged insistence on independent attestation of miracles as what determines Jesus’ historicity precludes by seemingly capricious fiat. So, what is gratuitously asserted—if there was a historical Jesus, his miracles would be confirmed by contemporary independent sources—can be gratuitously denied.

Likewise, premise 2 can be regarded as false. Let’s grant Arkenaten’s call for “independent attestation,” albeit modified. While there isn’t a contemporary non-Christian reference to Jesus or his miracles (Tacitus and Josephus are later), it’s simply not the case that there is “Not a word, not a whisper … absolutely nothing that can be checked. Nothing to back a single claim” about Jesus. It’s not “In this case, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.” The Christian faith did not emerge from a vacuum. There are particular facts established by historian-developed methodologies in need of explanation which apologists use to make an abductive case for the Resurrection, the miracle upon which Christianity is erected, and, ipso facto, the historical Jesus.

For example, at least a few of Jesus’ apostles died espousing Jesus as Lord and Savior. Martyrs make terrible liars. It seems the likes Peter and Paul really believed what they were preaching. Well, it’s possible they hallucinated Jesus or were just plain crazy. But isn’t it much more likely they knew a person (or in Paul’s case, knew people who did) upon whom to base their radical new religion? As it so happens, the same sort of argument, mutatis mutandis, is used to claim the Resurrection as history.

So, it’s not enough for Arkenaten to declare victory here. These kinds of arguments from apologists have to be refuted, the historical facts explained better in terms New Atheists would accept, before justifiably dismissing Jesus’ existence, and thereby Christianity, not to mention the many secular accounts of the Gospels’ narratives in which Jesus is a historical figure.

4) Now, I’m sure this reasoning has little pull on Jesus mythicists, who occupy quite the redoubt on the internet when it comes to this area of New Testament scholarship. They’ll find this answer too speculative. After all, they’re demanding a “smoking gun” in a discipline where practitioners, more often than not, don’t possess one and must piece together what they do have to draw conclusions about the past. History is not a hands-on science.

Nevertheless, I suspect Arkenaten and company will treat it as such if it suits their ideological fancy. In my experience, “evidence” can be whatever they need it to be, hence the adamant Jesus mythicism in spite of the evidence that convinces the vast majority of academic historians, many of whom have no theological axe to grind, that Jesus, at least as a mortal, walked the earth two millennia ago.

Why do New Atheists cling to this benighted view about Jesus? My estimation: It’s not enough for Christians to be wrong—they must be hopelessly irrational too. Christianity, in their minds, is not merely false, but ridiculous. And those who believe in and live by the ridiculous in an increasingly secular society deserve ridicule from their more enlightened peers.

These anti-Christian beliefs form a cock-sure attitude. Neither falsifiable nor open for negotiation, they are dogma founded more in vitriolic politics than dispassionate reason.

For potential further evidence of it, read the comments.


*I’m not being uncharitable about Arkenaten’s position either. He’s maintaining it’s not merely the Christian conception of Jesus Christ that is the myth, which allows the possibility of a historical person known as Jesus who’s merely a man, not divine. It’s Jesus wholesale. Note that Arkenaten expresses skepticism about even the seemingly most mundane details of his life, writing, “Jesus was born, lived – and one can presume he slept, ate and used the toilet just like regular people – and of course he died. Or at least this is the claim [emphasis mine]. He’s also said as much in previous comments on another entry of this blog.
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“Clump” theory Kant buy an abortion


Perhaps you’ve heard this feminist folly about a human embryo shrilly pronounced in defense of abortion: “It’s just a clump of cells!”

Well, I mean, so are you, dear feminist. If we assume a strictly materialistic and naturalistic account of human beings, each woman, whether pregnant or not, is also “just a clump of cells,” only bigger. Hence, why does a woman, as a clump of cells, have the right to terminate an embryo or a fetus, whom too are clumps of cells? Mere difference in size between “clumps” seems to be an arbitrary reason. For the naturalist and materialist advocate of abortion, the issue is not just how one gets the immaterial goodies of rights and value solely from the material cellular composition of bodies but also why only women-as-clumps (WAC) have them and the unborn-as-clumps (UAC) don’t, much to their lethal expense.

I will now consider some possible responses to these problems implicated by this “clump” theory:

A. WACs are rational beings; UACs are not.
Immanuel Kant famously held within one of his formulations of the categorical imperative that we ought never to treat rational beings only as means but as ends in themselves. So, in a Kantian deontological framework, the hurdle of human dignity and personhood must be overcome to justify abortion. Bifurcating between WAC as rational agents and UAC as non-rational agents accomplishes this as it allows the latter to be used solely as a means — in this sense, subjects to abortion — in service of the will of the former. Under this interpretation of Kant, UAC are not persons and thusly don’t possess rights, such as the universalizable right to life.

I see some troubles with this move:

  1.  It fails to take into account the potential for rationality that inheres within a freshly formed, normal human zygote, that, as being a member of the sort of natural kind that it is, if left unabated in the womb would likely further develop, be born and actualize that potential for rationality over time. This actualization of latent rationality has been, as a matter of common experience, if not scientific observation, readily justified a posteriori. Following from this, it’s arguable (as Bill Vallicella does here) that this inherent potentiality for rationality, “confers a right to life”and thereby Kantian personhood. Thus, treading on this right, as abortion certainly does, given this case, is a moral evil and violates Kant’s categorical imperative.Moreover, Vallicella also notes another issue to which I find myself concurring: The “post-natal,” the newly born, can’t be considered as rational agents. They are utterly helpless and dependent on adults to make judgments on their behalf. Several years must pass before they become apt for rationality and develop the cognitive faculties for reasoning, moral decision-making and the like to the extent they incur the mantle of rational agent. Yet, they are ascribed as persons and possessors of the right to life before all this occurs. This fact seems problematic for the proponent of abortion, especially given any time during pregnancy, say even in midst of labor, the pre-natal baby is still a “clump of cells” with no rights — as per the official platform of the Democrats — but somehow a second after birth becomes a person, fully fledged in inviolable dignity. Both the uterine wall and vaginal canal seem to be very thin membranes constituting the special threshold between personhood and non-personhood. But how and why? Why does the act of being born result in a sudden transformation in ontological status for the fetus-clump?
  2. Secondly, it errs in that Kant is neither a naturalist nor a materialist. Hence, it’s not at all obvious as to how his ethics are compatible with “clump” theory. This all goes back to the first part of the issue — how naturalists and materialists get the immaterial out of the purely material. They would have to provide a compelling materialist basis for rationality as well as value and goodness. These are challenging metaphysical and metaethical quagmires that go far beyond the scope here, and in my opinion, typical attempts at solving them are rife with difficulties. But once again, addressing those attempted solutions is not within the purview of this post.

B. UACs are inside of WACs, violating the latter’s bodily freedom to control their own inner physiological processes, thereby threatening their greater autonomy.
I believe there’s two ideas here: (A) There’s a right to control one’s bodily processes, and prohibiting abortion limits said right; (B) Given the nine months of physical and psychological demands of pregnancy and the years of responsibility caring for a new human person, unwanted fetuses hamper women from actualizing their aspirations, goals, desires and otherwise curtail their abilities to achieve economic and cultural parity with men. In other words, their autonomy — which literally means self-legislation — is diminished…

  1. …Or so the narrative goes. Implicit within A, there’s the assumption that the UAC don’t have the right to life, which is the matter of contention, and begs the question against the Pro-Life movement. It’s undoubtedly uncontroversial that people, regardless of sex, have the right to do with their individual bodies as they please. It’s also true that most everybody accepts there are legal and moral limits with what one can do with one’s meat suit. For instance, murder often involves using your body, whether it’s enacted with hands bare or wielding weapons, but both morally and legally, murder is an impermissible use of one’s body. Furthermore, it’s evident that abortion terminates life, i.e kills. So, once again why does the UAC’s size and location inside women’s wombs make abortion permissible and not murderous? A woman’s rights trump a fetus’ (that is if it’s even recognized as a person)? But that changes nothing, as both are clumps with only relative location and size differentiating the unborn from the woman. Isn’t it arbitrary to favor the woman, especially in lieu of  we often consider the innocent and defenseless — both of which the fetus instantiates — especially warranting special recognition and protection? Well, the fetus isn’t a person with rights. Yet, once more this begs the question against Pro-Lifers and takes us back to the post’s original dilemma about clumps.
  2. As for B, I don’t see how pregnancy impairs or — to borrow a currently infamous term — causes an “undue burden” on feminine autonomy. Women are CEOs, high-ranking government officials, academics, entertainers and all manner of active and successful contributors to society outside of the home. Taking away abortion as a last resort likely wouldn’t “relegate” the fairer sex to domestic servitude in the kitchens. With the mass accessibility of varieties of birth control, including abstinence, pregnancy can be forestalled, parenthood planned. Admittedly, everything doesn’t often occur as planned, but whose fault is that? If you play fast and loose and or gamble with the action that creates life, why should it be unjust that responsibility actually comes a’knocking to collect on that semen deposit with interest? Alas, this is the sort of moral dereliction and accompanying depravity that manifests when you sever freedom from personal responsibility.
  3. Lastly, how does A and B not violate Kant’s principle of universalizability? Is it not the case that aborting a fetus disrupts permanently its control of its bodily processes that grows more independent daily? Moreover, abortion doesn’t just ruin the UAC’s days. It rather definitively puts the kibosh on the greater future autonomy that belongs to the fetuses, many of whom are female. Thusly, A and B seem to be self-vitiating. There’s always the response UAC have no rights, but I hope it’s obvious now there’s a theme of begging the question and continual not moving past Go in such a such a retort.

See, abortion supporters who happen to be materialists and naturalists want morality and rights without invoking God, the supernatural or the transcendental. They love their Kantian dignity, autonomy and equality; that’s why I brought up der Alles-Zermalmer. Pity their precious social justice also faces pulverization but not from Kant. Their mores just are not very compliant to their preferred metaphysics. Atheism, let alone New Atheism, struggles to alchemize blood from this stone.

Clumps get in the way,

Modus Pownens

Atheism is still NOT a “lack of belief”: A polemical WilliamLaneCraigdum (addendum)


I’ve already written a refutation of the “atheism is a mere lack of belief” ploy abused by the New Atheists and their acolytes. However, I’ve conceived of another way to demonstrate and thereby lay bare this intellectually disingenuous tactic. And it’s going to mine deeper levels of irritation and gnashing of teeth by those married to deploying such rhetorical subterfuge. How so?

I’m about to invoke the Devil…

…at least the Devil for New Atheists: THE WILLIAM LANE CRAIG.

Yes, the mild-mannered philosopher, Christian apologist, debater and research professor at Biola University — who takes douchebaggery to whole new plane of existence, as he evidently doesn’t abide by the bro maxim of “sun’s out, guns out” — is such a Beelzebub-type archdemon in the collective conscious of online New Atheists. Their fermenting distaste for Craig and his arguments, in many respects, resembles a quasi-religious fervor and aversion that many hosts of the “deluded faithful” reserve for the malicious supernatural figure or forces that occupy some prominent adversarial role in their respective theologies.

Well, take heed of his baby, THE SPAWN OF CRAIG, his presentation of The Damien–I mean Kalam cosmological argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

It’s simple, almost demure, making it both great for popular apologetics and easy to scoff at.

Now, for another plot twist, I have no interest in defending Kalam here. Nor am I about to make a case for the aforementioned cause as being what the theist affirms as God, like Craig eventually does. My prevailing intention is to dissuade you, good atheist, from ever adopting or resorting again to the “lack of belief” meme, which is typically used as follows:

  1. Atheism is merely a “lack of belief”
  2. One can’t argue for or prove a negative or a “lack of belief”
  3. Therefore, atheism does not require justification;
    is the default position in the debate;
    doesn’t have to provide any account for other phenomena like morality;
    isn’t a comprehensive worldview or ideology like that of religion;
    the burden of proof is solely for the theist; etc.

Well, I exclaim this will do you no good, atheist, especially if you’re one of those types who is so passionate about secularism, humanism and fending off oppressive religious dogma from infiltrating education, government and infringing on the non-religious’ liberties that you feel compelled to provide regular diatribes denouncing Christianity and its followers’ beliefs and actions as threats and functions of pernicious superstition. Conversely, I wholeheartedly concede and acknowledge there are atheists, who aren’t this noisy and just don’t believe in God, not giving the matter much thought in their daily affairs. So, my thesis here is not referring to these uncritical atheists, nor am I arguing about what makes one an atheist. I’m instead referencing the self-proclaimed “anti-theists,” often New Atheists, who are at least critical in voice if not critical in mind, as I’m about to show, and their definition of atheism as a mere “lack of belief.”

See, in addition to their tirades against religion and insistence that atheism is a “mere lack of belief,” I guarantee these atheists can be and have been observed doing a particular behavior when stimulated by an argument for God’s existence. They vehemently deny one or more of the premisses, especially if the argument is structurally valid. Or in the case of Craig’s Kalam, for example, they reject as false either of the syllogism’s premisses: 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause and 2) The universe began to exist. Hence, they are committed to some if not all of the following negations of the claims advanced in Kalam’s premisses:

  1. Everything that begins to exist doesn’t have a cause, i.e., some thing begins to exist without a cause
  2. The universe did not begin to exist, i.e., the universe has always existed
  3. The universe does not exist

Undoubtedly, these atheists would disregard 3, as so deduced here, making it of no further consequence. Nevertheless, they are stuck with 1, 2  or the combination of the two; and as such, their atheism no longer merely consists of a lack of belief in God. In addition to their alleged absence of belief, they at least uphold one positive belief in order to diffuse Kalam and its theistic conclusion. By the very act of arguing, they do show their noggin is indeed empty but certainly not in the sense they purport it to be. Simply, they doth protest too much.

Nor is this problem exclusive to Kalam. Sure, you might be an atheist invested in showing the folly of religious belief via your YouTube channel where you “refute” all the arguments for God’s existence in videos, yet your repudiation of any of those efforts’ premisses entails your subscription to some positive epistemic and or metaphysical proposition to maintain your atheism. As one of my philosophy professors, an open atheist, said once during lecture — and I’m paraphrasing: “For every solution to a philosophical problem, there is a cost.” Let’s explore said cost.

Again, referencing Kalam, to subvert the proof is to profess that some thing begins to exist without a cause and or the universe has always existed. Assuredly, there are atheists who do assert that something can begin to exist without a cause, citing that matter cannot be destroyed and utterly rejecting Aristotelian forms. I imagine even more believe the universe is eternal. Personally, the latter undermines causality, which, in turn, makes their precious science worthless, as the discipline utterly relies on matter interacting with other matter and causing new material states of affairs to appear that are empirically accessible. They would have to formulate some other causal principle that makes scientific investigation possible while remaining sterile for logical armament in cosmological arguments — not a trivial challenge, to be sure. Moreover, in regard to the former, it’s also difficult to justify the necessity of the universe and the existence of a quantitative infinite, which an eternal universe would be. Additionally, notions of causality, necessity and quantitative infinity are all metaphysical issues, thereby, demonstrating that metaphysics is not just theistic bullshit disguising mysticism but is inevitable for anyone treading in these waters.

Anyway, it’s not so much whether these naturalistic metaphysical theses can be stomached, but rather they are the sort of pills that must be swallowed. Admittedly, for the New Atheist, none of it is appetizing. If you actively reject the premisses in the arguments for God’s existence, then atheism is not a mere “lack of belief.” Otherwise, you don’t really believe the reasons as to why you find the cosmological, moral and ontological proofs flawed, essentially lying, which is dishonest. Or you can be true to character, dismissing my argumentation and stubbornly retaining that you can rebuff the premisses in the arguments for God’s existence and simultaneously affirm atheism as a mere “lack of belief,” which is dishonest. Ignorance no longer has any utility as an excuse. The only option is to forfeit the notion that atheism is a mere “lack of belief” in God.

It frankly is by no means an expensive concession to make. It has no bearing on whether or not atheism is any less true or false. The God-question is very much up for grabs. All it does is reset the game board and ensure that the deck is not stacked heavily in the atheist’s favor. What I have argued for is so modest of a proposal that it ought not have been a point of contention — simply fighting for a fair debate.

Undoubtedly, in doing so, however, I will have incensed many of the incorrigible New Atheists out there. They take their lack of beli–I mean positive belief in the purely natural and physical world very seriously. Old habits die very hard indeed. In fact, I would say their devotion can be characterized as spiritual in nature. Not only have I, the deluded Christian theist afflicted by “mind-viruses,” described their dislike for Craig as being so zealous, which is repulsive to them, I have struck at the veritable heart of their anti-theistic enterprise.

In their polemical sorties against religion, New Atheists love to attack from both the moral and cognitive high ground. They pride themselves on their understanding and application of reason and science, their open-mindedness and how tolerant they are. Well, I have stung their pride and impugned their self-indulgent romanticism. At least in this case, it’s been strongly implied but now will be explicitly stated that they are anything but superior, instead being dogmatic, dishonest, intellectually facile. Their self-ascribed righteousness is a resolute parody worthy of contempt.

Their abuse of philosophy to buttress their ideology is abominable. They have no respect for it and it’s purposeful quest for the truth. Instead of honest inquiry, they wield philosophy as a blunt instrument, denying causality to defend their hollow “lack of belief,” for example, all the the while negligent to the absence of their own foresight to determine that such a denial leads into utter Humean skepticism. It’s true that everyone who enters the struggle between theism and atheism is at once a neophyte. But, at some point, it behooves that person, regardless if they align philosophically with ranks transcendental or physical, to mature and be mindful of not only what they belief but how they believe it.

With their persistence in the “lack of belief” meme and other gauche conduct in discourse, I cannot perceive any such humble introspection from the New Atheists and other anti-theists: The Dawkinses, the Graylings, the Dennetts, the Barkers and the Thunderf00t’s of the world. Despicable, the lot of them and what amounts to their anti-philosophy. Of course, there are thoughtful and erudite atheists I admire, but the New Atheists and their disciples are not among them when it comes to philosophy of religion. Oh, I know I’m not making any friends here. Yet, one must first be a friend of Truth first before one can have a productive and amicable discussion with someone whom one diametrically disagrees with. If we are to personify Truth, then she is a fair maiden to be courted.

The New Atheists are unsavory, rapacious and ungentle in pursuit of her,

Modus Pownens