While surfing You Tube, I came up with this interesting video called "Prove that Jesus is Imaginary in Less than 5 Minutes."
As one who loves to see proof, when offered, I watched the video. Before going on, I suggest you watch the video, if you so desire, as I am going to reiterate the basic premise.
Premise of the Argument
The author’s premise is this:
- Jesus appeared to Peter, the 12, 500 others and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
- Jesus proved his resurrection by appearing to appear to people
- It is okay for Jesus to appear to people
- Appearing does not take away free will or harm faith
- If two agree on earth about anything, it will be done for them (Matthew 18:19-20)
- Jesus is already here amongst us
- God will do anything we ask
The video author then asks us to grab a friend and ask Jesus to appear bodily in front of us. He then sums up the argument.
- Jesus is already here
- It would be trivial for him to appear to us
- It is OK for him to appear to us
- He has promised he will appear in response to our prayers
We must also assume that the passages mentioned in the bible happened literally as stated by GIIVideo, as this is the crux of his proof against God. Any reading other than a literal reading holds his argument completely worthless and we want to, from a logical standpoint, give him the benefit of the doubt.
A normal intelligent person comes to the conclusion "Jesus is Imaginary." Anyone who does not believe this way is just making excuses.
What GIIVideo has offered us sounds logical, but is it? Does it completely conform to the rules of logic in all of its assumptions? Before going on, let’s look at two hidden assumptions not mentioned by the author.
- That Jesus must act in the same manner today as he did then
- The conditions in the test (grab a friend and ask Jesus to bodily appear) fit the conditions in 1 Corinthians (Jesus appearing to Peter, the 12, 500 others and Paul).
Now we have a full argument, with its hidden assumptions uncovered.
First a Core Assumption of Our Own
Before going into the counter argument, we need some assumptions that we can deal with. I will use "if" in front of these statements, as they are not proven. Just like GIIVideo’s hidden assumptions, these assumptions are key to our argument. It is basically one assumption with two examples of the assumption.
- If there is a God, he would at least have the same abilities as man, in particular
- The ability to logical assess a situation
- The ability to change basic reactions over time
Even if you are not a believer, the above assumptions should be acceptable if there is a God, as described in the New Testament of the bible (the region from which GIIVideo’s (quotes are taken).
Now, let’s crack at GIIVideo’s hidden assumptions, as they are foundational to his argument. IF these assumptions fail, it does not mean he is incorrect, of course. It merely means he did not offer evidence to support his conclusion "Jesus is Imaginary". Examining whether or not Jesus is imaginary or real is not germane to this particular post.
Jesus must act in the same manner today as he did then
On the surface, this sounds like a logical assumption. After all, a man stepping off a very large cliff in 30 AD would be injured or die just like a man today. This is called gravity. A man buying one loaf of bread and then an apple would have two items then as now, although the word used for the concept 2 might be different.
The problem is easily summed up by looking at human behavior. While humans are not God, it is applicable as a study for two reasons.
- Much like animal testing for medicines, human beings can be shown to be a fairly accurate proxy for higher level behavior, such as the ability to change one’s mind due to circumstances
- The subject in question, the human incarnation of God, is biblically stated to be in God’s image, making him the closest proxy
A great number of people have shoplifted something in their early life, whether a piece of gum or perhaps something more substantial. When asked why, we might state "I needed it but could not afford it" or "it was fun".
Today, as adults, a great number of us who stole something (tiny or large) no longer shoplift. Why not? If the rules for God, if He exists, are not flexible, why would it be any different for humans? If asked, we might say "I no longer shoplift, as I now have money" or "I have other ways to have fun that are less risky."
In order for GIIVideo’s assumption to stick, there must be something further to support this hidden argument. Perhaps it is "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). The question now is whether or not we are talking Jesus’ character here (as a Christian would assert) or a literal reading of the text, which means Jesus would always react in the exact same manner when approached with by the same people with the same line of reasoning.
In Jesus’ reactions to the Pharisees, we see one venomous argument and a few acts of reasoning. We also have one dodging conversation recording in all books (Jesus condemned) and one of Salvation (Nicodemus), but we will get rid of these, as one is under duress and the questions of the other are genuine. If Jesus being the same is a literal statement, he should have acted the same way in each conversation.
Of course, there is room for one to see Jesus responding differently and still be required to act the same way today. The argument has been weakened however, requiring some strengthening of why Jesus must act the same today as yesterday, or why Jesus must be constrained when a) man is not and b) he was not constrained to identical actions in similar situations.
The conditions today are the same as 30-40 CE
I give this timeframe as 1 Corinthians is considered to be an authentic letter of Paul’s written some time around 55 CE. It is one of his earlier epistles. The dating is sound using the approximate dates of the death of Jesus, the human being and the dates in the epistle to the Galation church.
1 Corinthians 15 is considered to be an early creed of the church. The reasoning is accepted by most biblical scholars, liberal or conservative, and goes like this.
- The style of the creed is different from the bulk of the epistle, suggesting it was copied from another source
- The phrasing, in Greek, is much like other early creeds (from other sources)
There is more, but whether one believes this to be a creed or not is more important when offering evidence for the burial and resurrection of Jesus, from a historical/philosophical standpoint, than defeating the present argument. For the argument, we need only look at the passage.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance [or to you at the first]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
If we want to get technical, we should examine the text in Greek, but there is no need here, as we can dismantle the assumption without resorting to Koinè Greek.
Let’s see if we can find things that are possible different than today. I come up with three things that are different:
- Jesus voluntarily appeared to people he is stated to have appeared in 1 Corinthians. The test conditions require that Jesus appear if he is real, taking away the voluntary aspect of the test.
- The bulk of the people that saw the resurrected Christ were believers at the time they saw him. I say the bulk, as there is no evidence Paul saw the bodily resurrected Christ, other than this passage. Acts 9 speaks of a light in the sky, not a bodily resurrected Jesus.
- The need for bodily proof was greater at the moment to set up a witness for the resurrection and is not a requirement for faith today, as there are already witnesses. Judaism is, historically, a religion based on "witness testimony".
If this were science, #1 would be a bad argument, but then science cannot conclusively, by itself, prove that Abraham Lincoln existed. And, when I say this, I am not just talking quantum physics, which can be used to question whether or not you were even around five minutes ago. Science can prove that someone today comes from the same DNA line as Abraham Lincoln. Then, historical evidence must be used to establish how this person is related to Lincoln to "prove" Lincoln is in the tomb. History must also be used to "prove" he was President, not science. In essence, over time, witnesses become the greater proof for living creatures.
In this section, I have not destroyed the possibility that there are enough conditions similar today and in the first century CE to void GIIVideo’s argument, but there is now a need for him to strengthen what conditions are the same that would necessitate an identical response from Jesus.
In addition, one must either show how voluntary appearances and testing prayer appearances are identical, or at least similar enough to require that Jesus appear to two people asking him to appear to them. There is more on this thought process when I examine Matthew 18 later.
GIIVideo’s Assumptions, as Stated in the Video
Now, let’s go back through the assumptions, but add the reasoning behind the arguments
- Jesus is already here
There is no problem with this assumption. If there is a God who is the creator, he would have made four dimensional time-space. This means he would have to exist outside of the trappings of four dimensional time space. If he is eternal, the same would be true.
- It would be trivial for him to appear to us
This is also an acceptable assumption, as a multi-dimensional, eternal being would have no problem with this.
- It is OK for him to appear to us
This assumption is fine, on the surface, but GIIVideo conveniently leaves out an unproven assumption "It will not alter free will or faith", which we will cover in a bit.
- He has promised he will appear [bodily] in response to our prayers
This assumption is also fine, although GIIVideo’s interpretation is subject to questioning.
It will not alter faith or free will
This is not a proven assumption. Jesus’ appearance may have interfered with faith and free will when he appeared to the groups stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3-15. It may not have interfered with the free will decision to accept Jesus as Christ, which the passage states had already been decided for all but perhaps one of the people spoken about (namely Paul). It added evidence to their decision, perhaps, but did not take away the decision, as it had already been made.
If the New Testament is accurate in Paul’s case, which most scholars believe, we see a dramatic turn in his life. Prior to this point, he is stated to have been a rabid persecutor of Christ followers; afterward, he is an avid follower and one of early Christianity’s best evangelists. Please note that I am not saying all scholars believe Jesus appeared to Paul, but rather that they believe Paul believes Jesus appeared to him at this time.
The events most certainly took away the decision to un-believe, as there was now enough evidence, if this did happen, to make their non-belief as stupid as believing one can grab some green cheese off the moon simply by jumping from a high enough object.
As for faith, Jesus’ appearance was faith altering as well. Prior to this point, if the accounts are correct, most of the apostles were downtrodden. Their Messiah had died rather than conquered. Despite the fact they were told this was going to happen, if the scriptural accounts are correct, they had a faith crisis. After this point, the early Christians became well known as the ones who would die before they recanted. This fact is written about by a few Roman writers.
This means the idea "It is OK for Jesus to appear to us" is correct, but the assumptions that lead him to this core idea are incorrect, as he has not proven that Jesus’ appearances do not alter free will.
He has promised he will appear [bodily] in response to our prayers
The crux of this argument is the word anything, which I underlined just as GIIVideo has. There are a few issues with GIIVideo’s analysis of the passage.
The audience for the talk was disciples
When one examines Matthew 18, in toto, we see a complete discourse of Jesus to the disciples that begins with the question "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." It is not a general discourse to the masses, but a talk with his closest followers. There were, undoubtedly, others who heard or overheard, as Jesus
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
The passage GIIVideo highlights follows verses on forgiveness and is considered part of that segment of the discourse by most scholars. This is not as important as the audience (disciples), but it does frame what types of anything the disciples should be asking for.
Compare the following (out of context):
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
to a saying given to a more general audience (more in context) [From Matthew 7:9-12, part of the Sermon on the Mount]:
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
In the more general passage, it tells us that God gives us good gifts, but does not state he is a mystical vending machine, as the Matthew 18 passage seems to state when one ignores the audience.
The disciples were well aware of the proper attitude for prayer and the purpose for prayer. They knew the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) was not focused on things God could give us or action God could perform for us.
When I first started this exercise, I was convinced I would have to break out my Greek New Testament and get into the meaning of words, but looking at the above section, I have dismantled the argument enough with an English translation, making the effort of boring you with Koinè Greek completely useless. 🙂
Justification and Excuses
Per the site www.godisimaginary.com, any of these are just excuses:
- Jesus never promises to answer prayers
- It is not Jesus’ will to appear
- Thou shalt not test the lord
- It would destroy our free will if Jesus appeared to us
- Jesus does appear to people – He appeared to a dozen people at the XYZ church last week
- Jesus does appear to people – He appeared as an image on my breakfast toast this morning
- Jesus does not appear to me, but he does speak to me every day and guide me in everything I do.
I will have to take time to show the logical fallacies in the page that contains these later. As a teaser, here is one. From the site
Excuse #7 – Jesus does not appear to me, but he does speak to me every day and guide me in everything I do.
To rational people, these are called hallucinations.
Since Jesus is an all-knowing being, if he were actually talking to you, he would be able to tell you things that no one else knows. You, as a person channeling Jesus, would be the smartest person on earth. You would ace every test you took. You would never make mistakes. You would know what the winning PowerBall numbers would be next week. You would be able to solve world hunger. Etc. The fact that none of these things are happening shows us that you are hallucinating.
Here are some logical problems with the rebuttal seen above.
- The author has not established that rational people cannot hear God. Despite my personal feeling that many, if not most, people walking around stating they hear God as a voice in their head are either lying or irrational, their is a much greater burden of proof than merely stating they are irrational.
- Jesus telling you something, if it does happen as a voice in the head, is not equivalent to Jesus telling you everything.
In the above, you can find the following logical fallacies presenting themselves.
- Begging the question – First statement and last. Conclusion proves the initial statement, which proves the conclusion. This is also known as circular reasoning.
- Non Sequitur – The fact one talks to you does not mean he tells you everything he knows. The same should also be assumed of a deity. Thus, the fact that one does not have godlike powers in no way proves he is not hearing from God.
One can also see hints of appeal to ridicule and hasty generalization, if one digs a bit deeper.
Note that the conclusion is not necessarily incorrect. It may well be true that people who hear God in their head are hallucinating. In fact, there is certainly a bulk of negative evidence that some people who hear voices commit dastardly acts. The Son of Sam and Andrea Pea Yates (the woman who drowned her children in a bathtub in Houston) come to mind. I would say it is safe to state that both of these individuals were hallucinating. With research, I can come up with many more. But, it is not a representative sample, making it scientifically null and void for anything other than anecdotal proof.
Am I Writing Excuses Here?
I would say no. First, I have done nothing to attempt to prove anything other than GIIVideo has not proven his own assertions to be true. Dismantling an argument is not equivalent to an apology (in the sense of "reasoned defense", not "I’m sorry").
In addition, we must understand that excuses, compared to justification, are explaining away things we know to be untrue (or at least feel are untrue). You do not hear a child making excuses for eating his peas. He might give a valid reason for eating peas "they taste good", but the excuses will be made up when he gives the peas to rover: "my sister made me do it".
Using the word excuses illustrates that GIIVideo holds people who give an answer, satisfactorily or not, in contempt. From his statements, it appears he believes there is no God, rational people know there is no God, these people know there is proof for God, yet they make it up anyway to feel better about themselves. And, in some case, perhaps many or even most, this is true.
Is it possible for a rational person to believe in God? Ah, a question for another post.
Am I Writing Justification?
Perhaps. Although I have focused on weaknesses in the arguments presented by GIIVideo, it is impossible not to add evidence that justifies belief.
Is it wrong to justify? Certainly not. Justification is a valid practice even when one is telling the truth. Like excuses, you do not see justification when there is no opposition, real or imagined, and one would not find opposition for good deeds ("Now please explain why you saved the lady’s life?") … at least not normally. One can imagine being asked to justify good actions, however, as in the parable of the good Samaritan.
But, GIIVideo, in his writings (provided the site is his) and videos is justifying his own beliefs, even if it is through an attack on the beliefs of others. Thus, we both sit accused of the same crime.
Despite years of argument, there is no firm conclusion on whether or not there is a God. Science is impotent to accurate test the supernatural and philosophy leaves too many different ways to reason out the subject.
We have certainly shown that some views of God appear irrational (the Santa Claus God) through experience. But we have not shown that all views of God are irrational.
When the subject is broached, there are generally a large number of straw men and ad hominems thrown around, along with a sprinkling of many other logical fallacies.
I have not set out the evidence for my belief in God as I do not think it is important at this time. What I feel is important is the following:
- All belief systems should be examined objectively. This means starting from a neutral stance and even questioning one’s own beliefs, prior to drawing conclusions.
- People of other belief systems should be treated with respect. This means dropping ridicule and sarcasm from theses on the subject. It also means examining one’s own work for logical fallacy and striking them out or dropping the subject.
Point 2 is most critical for me. If you cannot state something without resorting to some form of fallacy or ridicule (which is a fallacy), you simply do not have a strong enough case to state your case. If you do not have a strong case, then you thoughts are no more rational than those you are "debunking". Conversely, if the opposing side has stated an argument without resorting to fallacy, he has presented a better argument. This does not mean his argument is true, just that it is more rational.
Truth is truth, regardless of someone else’s ability to adhere to it 100%. Truth is the that which corresponds to reality. It exists despite your feelings about it. It exists despite your ability or inability to defend it properly. If one must make short cuts in logic to make a point, then the point is less likely to correspond to reality. A good argument, one sans fallacy, need not be true, but it is at least properly reasoned.
Am I guilty of logical fallacy at times? Absolutely! In this post? Probably, as it is a bit knee jerk!
I am not stating personal perfection, but rather that a statement is true to the extent it corresponds to reality, not to the extent it can be lived. We are, unfortunately, all hypocrites on some matter. In many cases, if not most, it is something on which our own advice is good despite our own practice not living up to that standard.
Peace and Grace,