God Talk: Debates and Discussions with Believers
These are actual conversations that have taken place between religious believers and myself, through forums, email, dialogue, etc. The arguments in this discussion may no longer reflect my views. For my more recent take on the matter, see the article on The Extrabiblical Sources on Jesus.
Jesus and Lincoln
Christian: I personally have never seen any evidence of Abraham Lincoln, but the history books say Lincoln lived, and most people seem to agree on this, so since the evidence of these facts has been passed on by written word and word of mouth, the evidence is considered irrefutable (again by most).
Rebuttal: If the only reason you believe in Lincoln is because a textbook talks about him, then I'm sorry, but that's not enough evidence. We do have photos of Lincoln though, writings of speeches he delivered, letters he wrote and letters written to him by different people, we know where his gravesite is, we have quite extensive historical records of his actions, we have documents tracing his family heritage, and so on. For these reasons, Lincoln's existence is considered irrefutable, not simply because one textbook you read claimed that he existed.
If all we knew about a person named Lincoln came from one source, or one textbook (comparing this to the bible obviously), then it would need to be seriously analyzed for historical accuracy. The bible is where we get most of our information on Jesus from, and there are few other accounts from the time that even mention him (and these are questionable authenticity). When one source gives us all our knowledge of a person who is repudiated to have been the son of god and saviour for all mankind, that source's validity must be critically examined with utmost scrutiny. The absence of other sources of information on Jesus means that we cannot rely on the stories being historically accurate.
Christian: There were a few hundred people that saw Jesus alive after his death and burial (the first two chapters of Acts mention a minimum of 120 people) and in today's court, it doesn't even take that many people to convict someone if they are witness to a crime. These are witnesses of His resurrection.
Rebuttal: Do I really need to point out the error in using the bible to prove the authenticity of what the bible says? Where are the non-biblical accounts of all these witnesses to the resurrection?
Christian: This was written down during the time period it happened in and that written record has been passed down to this day.
Rebuttal: Please cite your sources. The earliest manuscripts of the gospels that we have are from around 125 AD (1), nearly a hundred years after Jesus supposedly died (the common story I've heard is that he died in 33 AD), and even these are fragments, not complete copies. I have this problem with wanting to verify the accuracy of a book like the bible before I accept it's word on anything like the resurrection of the savior of the world who threatens to damn all who disagree with him to an eternity of agonizing pain.
Christian: It doesn't take any more faith (religious or otherwise) to figure that something must have happened back then to cause so many to spread the news of His resurrection even to the point of torture and death than it does for me to believe that Lincoln existed. All of these are recorded facts with plenty of witnesses back then to back up the need to write it down for posterity.
Rebuttal: The problem is that the bible is not just a standard recorded account of history. It makes very extraordinary claims about our existence and purpose in this life, claims that demand verification, like any other religious text. As Carl Sagan once said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". It is circular reasoning to argue that this evidence to verify the bible comes from the bible. Whether or not Lincoln really existed would also have little to no impact on most people today, especially compared to a character like Jesus who claimed he was the only way to salvation, and that all who oppose him would suffer eternally.
Christian: You mentioned a few things I didn't think to include at the time such as photos, letters, and speeches, family heritage and gravesite. These are all great points. Not to mention the fact that this occurred a lot more recent in time than when Jesus lived. Of course, none of this disproves Jesus. I never put the existence of Jesus up as the question. I was figuring you were doubting the supernatural elements surrounding Jesus, but as I've read you comments back to me you seem to even be implying that Jesus never even existed. So using your standards of proof for Lincoln beyond what I had mentioned, I'll use that for Jesus.
Rebuttal: Good luck matching Jesus to those standards. I wondered why you chose Lincoln, since he lived much more recently, but even in the case of the existence of someone like Julius Caesar, the issue of that person's physical existence is not really something that matters. Whether or not Julius Caesar existed doesn't diminish the value of the stories told about him or the culture that developed around him, and I'd say the same is true for Jesus Christ. The main difference is that Julius Caesar is not considered to be the son of god, and no one is seriously claiming that belief or disbelief in him could mean an eternity of paradise or an eternity of damnation and torment.
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