The Consequences of Being Fake: Plato v Jesus

When questioning the historical case for Jesus it’s clear that there is zero evidence that he existed, other than the claims early Christians made, which later Christians simply repeat, often thinking that the more people believe a lie the more truth it gives to the claim. Non-Christian scholars that investigate the Historicity of Jesus are relying on no additional evidence.

The stories in the gospels are all we have. Other so called independent claims about Jesus, such as those from Josephus, are no more than hearsay. Josephus merely states what he was told by Christians, or by others repeating what Christians told them. The stories about Jesus may be based on a singular real man, or the mix of a number of stories of one or more of the many prophets of the time, or they may be entirely fictional, or any combination. There is zero evidence of any asserted miracles: making a blind man see, turning water into wine, … the resurrection – all fiction, because there is never any evidence to support the supernatural claims for any religion. At best, we might act as if a mortal fake prophet existed, who might have been called Jesus, but even then it is probable that any factual truth was embelished; and the ‘miracles’ are pure fantasy.

The Christian response to this is often a complaint that this point of view is far too sceptical and biased, because we would not be as sceptical about the existance of Plato, for example, or any historical figure from the past for which there is no direct record.

What’s your take on Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Were they fictional too?

https://twitter.com/Rightysneedlove/status/1493614371414712326

But it is not the case that philosophers don’t question the existence of anciant philosophers. We can be just as sceptical about the existence of Jesus and Plato. The crucial point is, what are the relative consequences of such scepticism, or specifically, what are the consequences of both Plato and Jesus not having actually existed?

Doubting The Existence of Plato

Taking Plato first, what would it mean had he not existed at all? Well, it would mean all the works attributed to him were not his, but were authored by one or more other people. Even if Plato was responsible for compiling the works attributed to him, perhaps he plagerised the work of others. So one way or another, Plato, as a living person, might have been a fiction or a fraud.

What would be the consequences of this being the case? Very little. Suppose evidence came to light, some unearthed documents, that made it highly likely he did not exist. Some historians might have to revise their texts in light of this evidence – not an uncommon occurrence in history. Nevertheless, to philosophers it wouldn’t mean much at all, because the body of work attributed to Plato stands alone, whoever the actual author or athors were. But this is nothing new. Philosophers already accept that there can be doubts about the real source of much ancient philosopy. Worse case is that the term ‘Plato’ is no more than a label for a body of work, the ‘Platonic’ work. The philosophy contained in that work is what is important.

Doubting the Existence of Jesus

Now, apply the same scepticism to Jesus. Suppose it came about that new evidence revealed the the religion built around a fictional Jesus was made up by some very mortal Jewish revolutionaries. What would be the consequences?

They would be catestrophic for Christianity. It would show clearly that it was a cult. No Jesus, no miracles … no Christian God! Every Pope, every bishop, priest, nun, monk, pastor for 2000 years would have been living a lie, no matter how much they believed it ti be true. Every church and cathedral would be monuments to a man and a god that never existed. Every child indoctrinated into Christianity would have been raised on lies.

Even without such evidence it’s easy to see the consequences of an ever decreasing number of religious believers over generations. Church congregations dwindle, churches decline into a state of disrepair.

But try to imagine what would happen to the Vatican, today, if evidence emerged that completely repudiated the Christian story.

First there would be denial of the evidence. If they can cover up the abuse of children by priests, for the sake of the good name of the church, imagine how far they would go to bury this news.

And, believers need to believe. Islam claims Jesus was a prophet, not the son of God, not Christ. But even the Muslim religion would be damaged, since Islam relies on at least Jesus being a prophet. If the new evidence disprove this, Islam would be damaged, because Mohammed could no longer be trusted. Nevertheless, some Christians might turn to Islam, ignoring this difficulty, or perhaps to Scientology, or Buddhism, Hinduism, who knows.

But I suspect many Christians would just ignore this revelation of the falsity of Christianity. The cost of giving up would be too much.

My mother, raised as a child to be a Catholic, converted to Protestantism when she married my father, had many conflicts with the two churches, and eventually gave up on organised religion. But she never gave up praying, to a God she could not be sure was what she had been taught. When I questioned her, should could not, woukd not, explain what she actually thought this God entity was. He amounted to no more than a sky fairy she thought was listening to her prayers. She wasn’t even sure shexwas a Christian in any meaningful sense – it became a label she used on official forms that asked for one’s religion.

So, if it could be shown Christianity is fake, academically it would destroy the religion’s credibility … if it’s possible to have any less cerdibility among atheists.

But Christianity as a religion would likely live on. Too many professions rely on it.

We have seen many ‘Christian’ scholars make hilarious claims about how the Jesus story need not be literally true while being true in some other mysterious sense all the same. Surely this is how the bishops at the First Council of Nicea fooled themselves while trying to figure out what the Trinity really meant.

Remember, in living memory, a failed science fiction writer stated he would start a religion, did so, … and still Scientology has believers. There are serious flat earthers. There are 9/11 truthers (“it was a false flag job, the towers were not brought down by planes but by explosives”, etc.) There are many crazy beliefs in the world. Christianity is merely the biggest. One has to be the biggest, and one day that may be Islam. But the argumentum ad populum fallacy is strong among the religious.

Plato v Jesus?

If Plato did not exist, then no big deal, no consequences of any consequence at all. Just a shrug of the shoulders of philosophers, and some book editing by historians.

If Jesus did not exist, it would mean the total collapse of any Christian claims about Jesus.

But in reality, many if not most Christians would keep on following the lie, the fantasy; and children would continue to be indoctrinated. The many failed ‘End of the World’ prophecies didn’t make the next prophet pause to think it through.

Perhaps the realisation of that last point will make some Christians pause and think about how gullible they are being. Christians KNOW how gullible are Muslims, Hindus and other believers of other fake religions.

What does it take to make YOU wonder how gullible you are?

Happy Christmas Santa; Bah Humbug Jesus

The Skeptical Teacher has a post on Santa.

In it he refers to Barbara Drescher’s post on An Argument for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and (gasp!) Even Jesus.

I’d agree with Barbara Drescher’s positive view on Santa, as echoed in one of the comments, where the Lahurongirl’s son realised there was no Santa, but still wanted to maintain the story for his younger sister. I’ve seen the same insight and intention from children I know – which is just spoiler avoidance. There’s the implicit assumption that their younger siblings will get to the end of the Santa ‘novel’ too, one day, so why spoil it for them now.

But Barbara seems to take the point too far. Does Richard Dawkins really not like fiction for children? This seems more like Barbara is jumping on a journalistic bandwagon picking up on a simple quote, attributed to Dawkins:

Guardian:
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/oct/27/richard-dawkins-childrens-literature]
Quotes Dawkins: “…looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.”
And the author, Jean Hannah Edelstein, goes on to say, “Dawkins sounds to me not unlike the fundamentalist Christian mums who tried to get Roald Dahl’s The Witches banned from my primary school for fear that it would undermine what their kids had learned at Sunday school rather than acknowledging that sometimes, stories are just stories.”

Telegraph:
[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/3255972/Harry-Potter-fails-to-cast-spell-over-Professor-Richard-Dawkins.html]
“I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know,” he told More4 News. (a reporting of a reporting then)

Double Think Online
[http://americasfuture.org/conventionalfolly/2008/10/27/richard-dawkins-scourge-of-fun/]
“Looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.”

All sadly similar. Seems like some quote mining has been going on.

But I’m not sure what the controversy is here. Dawkins is expressing a good scientific response to the question of the effect of stories on children – i.e. he doesn’t know, and would be interested in any research to that effect. I don’t think he’s claiming there is an effect. Unlike someone like Susan Greenwood, who has been the butt of Ben Goldacre’s ire for some time for her claims, without evidence, about the effects of some modern media, such as computer games.

Much fiction for young children, such as the Santa myth, is expressed as truth, knowing full well that as older children and as adults they will grow out of it, hopefully learn something positive about the susceptibility of humans to gullibility, and, in the mean time, enjoy some magical fantasy for a while. There minds are malleable enough to learn and later unlearn, so what’s the harm? How many adults do we know that still believe in Santa to make that fiction worth worrying about?

The significant difference with religion – and this is where I see Barbara as being wrong – is that these fictions are carried on seriously into adulthood. In a religious family and social environment there is specifically, usually, no opportunity or encouragement to challenge the religious dogma, and indeed the prospect some traumatic ostracism for doing so. In fact the strength of belief instilled in children by adults, and seen by children to be genuine beliefs in adults, is what does the long term damage and causes serious disability when it comes to applying critical thinking to those beliefs.

And, it doesn’t matter that “Religion is not a barrier to science literacy”, as Barbara puts it – Francis Collins and Ben Miller show this; as long as you limit the science that we are being ‘literate’ about. If you do apply the usual requirement for evidence to everything then the only rational conclusion about the source of the universe beyond what current science shows is, we don’t know. Now, that certainly does allow, as metaphysical speculations, some passive ‘natural’ explanation, or even some active ‘agency’ explanation – though the latter then needs explaining too. But none of this speculation is sufficient to warrant the subsequent claims by any of the main religions. So, in that wider scientific sense, deeply instilled religious belief is a barrier to science.

So, if the Jesus story was to become an acknowledged myth, like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, then that would be fine. But as yet it isn’t. The story of Jesus is a whole other industry, with a drive to capture the child’s mind (and the adult’s) as insidious as any capitalist behemoth advertising to children in order to sell the company’s wears; or, for religion, to buy the childrens souls.