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Do people deny that Jesus existed because it makes the case for atheism stronger?

It seems like there isn’t any logical, conclusive way to deny that Jesus existed. Do people say he didn’t just because if he did it would cause problems for the prerequisite belief that there is no God?

Posted: July 20th 2009

Eric_PK

First of all, “deny” is a loaded term – someone who denies is asserted to do it for some ulterior motive. So it’s a bit rude to use that term. For example, one could refer to christians as “Odin deniers”, but I don’t think it would be a civil thing to do.

I agree there is no way to prove that Jesus didn’t exist, just as there is no way to prove that Tom Sawyer didn’t exist.

I think it’s an interesting question because the existence of Jesus is a bedrock belief, and few people have ever considered that possibility that he didn’t exist. The historical evidence outside of the bible is slim to slimmer, though I haven’t done enough research to have a strong opinion.

Or, to put it another way, the question of whether a Jewish carpenter existed 2000 years ago is not an important issue to my life.

Posted: July 22nd 2009

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George Ricker www

“Atheism is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them.” Godless in America

That quote from my book sums up my answer to this sort of question as well as anything.

Questions of the historicity of Jesus are, at best, side issues. While it’s certainly true, there is no ironclad proof he did not exist, it is also true there is very scant evidence that he did.

Please note that questions about whether Jesus really existed have nothing to do with assertions of his divinity or claims about miracles performed by him or stories of his resurrection. There is no reliable evidence for any of that, at least none that any rational person is bound to accept.

But whether or not a historical Jesus existed says nothing about whether or not a deity might exist.

Posted: July 22nd 2009

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flagellant www

Although it can be argued that Jesus never existed, atheism does not depend upon that argument. Indeed, the case against God can probably be better made by accepting Jesus as a historical figure.

However, there is no reason to think of Jesus as literally divine. He wanted to give Judaism a human face and move it away from the vicious, highly prescriptive religious law of the Torah (early part of the Old Testament), particularly in books like Leviticus. (Many modern Christians use such Torah pronouncements to justify slavery, sexism, and opposition to homosexuality. See this polemic for some examples )

Modern, progressive Christian scholars, while seeming to believe in God, accept the fact of Christ’s existence, but deny his divinity. They argue that there is no supportable evidence from the scriptures to make one believe seriously in the notion of Christ as the son of God. Their position is that his early followers, in their enthusiasm, wanted to make his advocacy of brotherly love all the more meaningful by doing two things: firstly, enhancing his message to make it appear that Jesus was fulfilling Old Testament prophecies and, secondly, to appeal to the universally prevalent superstition of the time. They did this by describing miracles, resurrection, and virgin birth. We might call this 'gilding the lily’ or, more cynically, 'overenthusiastic marketing’.

Finally, you might be interested in this picture of a famous atheist wearing an Atheists for Jesus T-shirt . You may find the accompanying essay informative, too. As far as I can see, Richard Dawkins doesn’t argue that Jesus never existed.

Posted: July 22nd 2009

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Reed Braden www

There’s no logical, conclusive way to prove that Jesus never existed, nor is there any logical, conclusive way to prove that Medusa never existed either.

Those who make the claim that something exists or does not exist need to supply the evidence to support their case, and thusfar, all of the evidence for a living Jesus is shoddy and no extra-biblical evidence exists showing that he was who the Bible said he was.

It’s lost to history because the Jews didn’t take good enough notes. Sorry, Christians.

Posted: July 22nd 2009

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brian thomson www

As already pointed out, there are two questions here, which Christians often seem to conflate: the existence of a human being named “Jesus”, and the supernatural qualities that are claimed for this “Jesus”. A “yes” to the first question does not guarantee a “yes” to the second question: it’s quite possible he was an ordinary person who was turned in to a legend, just like King Arthur or Robin Hood.

Another important point you need to understand about atheists: to us, the Jesus story is just one of many religious claims. It might get more attention than others in the USA, because of the prevalence of Christianity, but it’s a different story in other parts of the world. An atheist in Iran – and yes, there are some – is more aware of Islam, but what about someone in Japan who does not practice Buddhism or Shinto? It’s a-Theism, not mere a-Christianity. There are bigger fish to fry.

Posted: July 22nd 2009

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SmartLX www

Before I start, atheism does not require a belief that there is no God because 1. atheism is not simply a specific rejection of the Abrahamic deity and 2. it is merely a lack of belief in any god. Positive belief in the absence of gods is something more, known as “strong atheism”.

There’s no conclusive way to deny categorically that Jesus existed. I’m with you there.

There are logical avenues for arguing that there isn’t sufficient evidence that he did exist to simply assume it as fact, for example the complete lack of surviving physical evidence or contemporary (i.e. pre-crucifixion) accounts or likenesses.

The arguments against the certainty of Jesus’ existence are largely responses to apologists such as Lee Strobel and Gary Habermas who assume as a given not just his existence but his every major non-supernatural act as claimed in the Bible. Some of the arguments amount to, “If everything in the story except the resurrection definitely happened, then the resurrection must have happened too.” Support for Jesus, let alone his specific actions, is not good enough to work from this premise without at least having to defend it.

I’m comfortable with the idea that there was at least a man on whom the story of Jesus was based. Most atheists are, in fact, because those who argue the most strongly against a historical Jesus figure are often derided by other atheists as “Jesus mythicists”.

The reason most atheists are comfortable with the possible existence of Jesus is that if he existed it does not mean he was divine, or even claimed to be, or actually performed any miracles. Just because there may be some truth in the Bible doesn’t mean the whole thing’s accurate.

Posted: July 21st 2009

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