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Basic Worldview:
104 Why Christianity?


Introduction to Why Christianity Study

Introduction | Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3



Introduction

In this series of articles, it will be our task to examine why the Christian religion stands alone above all other religions as an accurate view of God, the universe, and man's relationship to both. As such, this article series will pick up where we left off with our article series entitled, "Atheism vs. Theism." In order to conserve time and avoid being redundant, we will not spend much time reiterating the conclusions of the "Atheism vs. Theism" study here. But, since the conclusions of the "Atheism vs. Theism" study provide the starting premises for this series of articles, we highly recommend reading the "Atheism vs. Theism" articles before moving on to this particular topic.

At the end of our "Atheism vs. Theism" articles, we list eight points summarizing the conclusions of that study. For the purposes of this study, it is only necessary to list 2 of those summary conclusions now at the start of this article series. (The two points below are listed as points No. 6 and 7 at the conclusion of our "Atheism vs. Theism" study.)

As a result of our "Atheism vs. Theism" study, we concluded the following:

1) Theism has been shown to be scientifically acceptable, while Atheism and Agnosticism must be rejected as unscientific. Theism is the only empirically supportable, scientifically acceptable theory for the origin of life.

2) The empirical evidence offered by science demands the acceptance of God's existence. Or put simply, with no other available acceptable theory to consider based upon the empirical evidence science tells us that God must exist.

Thus, the conclusion of our examination of Atheism and Theism is that God must exist. And with that firm conclusion in mind, we now turn to the next logical question: What view should we adopt concerning God? This question could be worded in a variety of ways, but answering this question is the primary focus of this series of articles.


Standard of Proof

"Philosophy - study of the ultimate reality, causes, and principles underlying being and thinking." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Religion - 1a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

It could be said that a "religion" by definition is simply a philosophy or worldview, which includes God as one of its premises. Since this article series is picking up where our "Atheism vs. Theism" study left off, it is most appropriate that we would turn our attention to an examination of all philosophies or worldviews that include God as a premise in order to determine the merits of each. A survey of human geography and history will quickly reveal that there is certainly no shortage of ideas and claims about God. So, how are we to know which ideas and claims are accurate and reliable, which have merit, and which do not?

Our goal is to determine 2 things. First, by what criteria can we judge if the claims of a particular religion are accurate and reliable? Second, using these criteria, which religions, if any, possess claims, which are accurate and reliable?

Of course, once we have determined what criteria we can use to assess the accuracy and reliability of religious claims, it will also be necessary to employ some standard of proof as to what does and does not qualify as "accurate and reliable."

This standard and how it applies to the main question of this article series will become clearer as we continue forward. But for now, it is important to state that we are looking for is the most reasonable assessment of the available evidence. Whether we are trying to determine the accomplishments of Alexander the Great, who killed John F. Kennedy, or whether or not Mohammed was a real figure, no one can go back in time to observe past events directly. Nor does any one of us possess the omnipotence necessary to observe and examine first hand all the figures and events under consideration.

As such, no one can declare any historic conclusion (religious or otherwise) with the kind of certainty that would come from knowing and examining all figures and events with first hand intimacy. Instead, because we are neither omniscient nor time-travelers, as examiners of human history, we must rely upon the most reasonable assessment of the available historical evidence. And that in turn, requires relying upon the historic accounts provided by observers who were there at the time - a concept that we will discuss in greater detail as we proceed ahead.

Regarding this standard of proof, it is important to state that it is not arbitrary and has not been invented to conveniently favor one religion over another. Instead, by "most reasonable assessment" we are simply applying an existing standard, which is already employed by historians and other members of the academic and scientific community when examining and verifying other historical and scientific claims.

In order to be clear we should also state briefly what is meant by "reasonable." We simply define reason (or reasonable) in the simplest, most basic terms. We mean reason as opposed to nonsense, madness, or absurdity. We mean the same type of reasonable standard that is commonly employed by scholars of history and the scientific community. (To deny the plausibility or utility of reason, defined this way, is to forfeit anything and everything that is claimed to be known or understood about anything by human civilization collectively or by us, personally as individuals, not only in the area of theology, but technology, science, history, and in our personal, practical everyday lives.)

And, using this common, reasonable standard of proof, we intend to test the claims of various religions. Essentially, we will be asking what does the most reasonable assessment of the available evidence tell us about the claims made by the world's religions?

In closing, we should also explain what we mean by "assessing the evidence." What evidence is it that we mean to assess in order to determine the accuracy or reliability of religious claims? Specifically, we mean to examine any evidence that each religion possesses or might offer to support the validity of its claims. After determining some of the criteria by which we can evaluate this evidence, the primary focus of this study will be to assess the evidence that could be offered to demonstrate the reliability and accuracy of each religion's claims.


Introduction to the Criteria of Assessment

The criteria for determining whether a religion is accurate or reliable involves assessing historicity.

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines historicity as follows:

"Historicity - n (1880): historical actuality." - Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition

Commonly defined, historicity is whether or not a person or event actually occurred in the course of human history. Something or someone that is not considered to be historic may be categorized as a myth or a legend. By contrast to persons and things, which are considered historic, persons and things, which are considered to be mythological or legendary are not said or cannot be said to have actually lived or occurred.

When we seek to determine a religion's historicity we can ask several crucial questions. Does the religion claim to have founder(s)? Do we have any historical evidence that the founder(s) of a religion actually existed? Does a religion claim origination within certain historical events? Do we have evidence from the historical record that these events actually occurred? Do we have evidence that the claims attributed to that person actually originated from them?

All of these questions are very important for providing us with evidence that we can evaluate to determining the accuracy, reliability, or validity of religious claims.

When it comes to assessing whether or not the claims of a particular religion are valid, we can address this aspect of the investigation on two levels. On the lower level, there is the question of "Where did this religious claim come from?" This question addresses the historicity of a founding figure or figures as well as the historicity of any events surrounding the formation of the religion and its claims. But simply assessing the historicity of founding figures and events does not in and of itself prove that the religion's claims are true. For example, the fact that Mohammed existed does not automatically demonstrate that Mohammed's religious claims are true.

Here we arrive at the higher level of this investigation. For, it may be the case that a religion was founded by a real individual who experienced certain real events. But do those historic realities in some way provide evidence or demonstration, which supports that religion's particular claims about God and the universe?

While this higher level of investigation is really where the heart of the assessment resides, it is not possible to arrive at this higher level in the case of those religions, which do not meet the criteria presented on the lower level. Or, in other words, for those religions, which for one reason or another cannot be traced to actual historical figures or events, it is impossible to assess whether or not those hypothetical historic events lend supportive evidence to the claims of those religions.

The result is that we are required to answer these two questions in this order. First, can a particular religion be traced to verifiably historical figures and events? And second, do those historical figures and events provide evidence in support of the claims of that religion? It is with these questions in mind that we now turn our attention to examining the historicity of the various religions. These two questions are the two criteria we will use to evaluate any evidence offered to substantiate the accuracy of a religion's truth claims.

It should be stated that we will be looking for evidence that can be evaluated in an objective (unbiased and reasonable) manner to see if it provides support for the acceptance of particular religious claims as valid. In order to assess the validity of religious claims, it is critical for us to be able to perform such an objective evaluation of any potential evidence. In order to do this we must attempt to find or identify what (if anything) is offered as the evidence or basis for the claims of each religion. This means that an evaluation of validity is only possible for those religions, which at least offer some sort of evidence in support of their claims.

Religions, whose origins are not available through historical documentation offer no evidence and therefore provide for us no means by which we might objectively (or reasonably) verify the reliability or accuracy of their claims. Since such religions are unavailable to a reasonable evaluation of evidence, we will be forced to reject their religious claims on the grounds that there is no objectively verifiable reason to accept those claims as accurate or reliable.

The simple fact is that any person can come forward and say, "God is like this," or "God is like that." But how are we to know whether or not their claims and ideas about God are accurate? Are they delusional? Are they just guessing? Are they sent from God? Are they pretending for personal gain? Are they just plain wrong?

Sure, we could just accept their claims without explanation or evidence. But if we want to determine what is objectively true about God then we need to perform a reasonable assessment of fact and reality regarding religious claims. We must be able to examine what rational evidence exists that warrants or even indicates that a person's ideas about God are correct. Otherwise we might accept a view of God that is without merit or that is not accurate.


The Criteria for Assessing Evidence and Reaching Conclusions

As we turn our attention to criteria used in this study, the first question we must ask is this. How do we determine if a person or event is, in fact, historic? How do we know whether a person accomplished the works ascribed to them by the historical record? How do we know that they said what it is recorded that they said or taught what they are said to have taught?

The lives, actions, and words of ancient persons are established for us through ancient documents. We can get an understanding of what it takes to establish the historicity (or historical actuality) of ancient persons and events by taking a look at some non-controversial and universally accepted examples. Through these examples we will learn what evidence is required and considered sufficient to establish that figures lived, did what they did, and said what they said.

The first example we will look at is Alexander the Great.


Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great lived between 356-323 B.C. During his short 33-year life he conquered a leading empire of his day in ancient Mesopotamia and established his own vast Macedonian (or Greek) Empire from Greece east to Iran and south toward Egypt. Quite an accomplishment for a man of any age. But how do we know of Alexander the Great? Why do we accept his life and accomplishments as historical facts?

The historic evidence for the existence of Alexander the Great and his accomplishments rests on five ancient sources. The first two provide the more complete documentation. The remaining three give shorter, less comprehensive information.

1. The History of Alexander the Great of Macedon, written by Quintus Curtius Rufus in Latin during the first century A.D.

2. Anabasis of Alexander, written in Greek by Arrian, during the second century A.D.
3. Diodorus Siculus, the first century B.C.
4. Plutarch, first and second centuries A.D.
5. Justin, the third century A.D.

On the basis of these five documents, historians confidently conclude that Alexander the Great is a real historic figure who conquered ancient Mesopotamia and established the Greek Empire that has influenced the development of western and world civilization for millennia.

Yet, if we take a close look at these documents we can see that none of them are anywhere close to being written near Alexander's lifetime or by anyone of personal acquaintance with him. In fact, the earliest, surviving record of Alexander the Great was written no sooner than 300 years after his death (by Diodorus Siculus in the first century B.C.) Additionally, the first comprehensive historical record available on Alexander the Great does not occur until over 400 years after his death (by Quintus Curtius Rufus in the first century A.D.)

Not one of these historical works constitutes a first-hand testimony of the person and life of Alexander the Great. Instead, all were compiled centuries after Alexander is said to have lived and died, by those who did not know him personally or directly witness his existence. Nonetheless, these records are considered sufficient to establish that there was a man named Alexander the Great, who lived during the fourth century B.C. and who conquered ancient Mesopotamia by the age of 33 and established the Greek Empire that has influenced the development of western and world civilization for millennia.


Socrates and Plato

Socrates was a Greek philosopher who lived and died in Athens between 469 B.C. and 399 B.C. He was accused and tried for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. Rather than defend himself in a manner that would have won the favor of the court, Socrates instead challenged the court defiantly resulting in his eventual conviction and being sentenced to death by drinking the poison hemlock. Instead of cowering to avoid his fate, Socrates boldly held to his convictions and complied with his punishment.

Plato was a student of Socrates who was born and lived between 427-347 B.C. He is the author of several influential works of classical literature on philosophy and government, including perhaps his most famous work, Republic. But, we must also note that it is mostly through Plato's writings that we have come to know of the life and death of Socrates.

Plato wrote Republic somewhere between 427-347 B.C. But the oldest manuscript copy that we have of this ancient document comes from nearly 1300 years afterward, in the year 900 A.D. The total number of manuscripts that we have for Republic from about this time is seven. Because of the late date, none of these manuscripts were penned by Plato.

Therefore, the case for historicity of Socrates and Plato is similar to that of Alexander the Great. The available records are considered sufficient to establish where and when Socrates lived, how he died, and what he said and taught. Likewise, we know Plato was a student of Socrates, who also lived in Athens, that he is the author of Republic, and we know a great deal about the philosophy he developed, which has also been greatly influential on the development of western and world civilization for several millennia now and counting.


Julius Caesar and the Gallic Wars

Julius Caesar, the first Roman emperor waged a campaign against Gaul between 100-44 B.C., which led to the subjection of Gaul as a territory of the Roman Empire. The historical record of these events comes from documents written by Julius Caesar himself. We accept the historicity of these events, that it was Caesar who wrote them, and that Caesar's description of them is accurate based upon ten ancient manuscripts of Caesar's work, Gallic Wars. The earliest copy of these was written at around 900 A.D., nearly 1000 years after Julius Caesar lived and fought against Gaul, and was copied by someone who was very far removed from the people and events described in the work.


Aristotle

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived between 384-322 B.C. and was a student of Plato. He is credited with a work known as Poetics, written in 343 B.C. There are five ancient manuscripts of this work available today, the oldest of which is from the year 1100 A.D. We accept these manuscripts, written at least 1400 years after the fact, as sufficient evidence for establishing Aristotle's authorship of Poetics as a historical fact.


Homer and the Iliad

With the exception of the shear number of available manuscripts the historical evidence that Homer wrote the Iliad is similar to that of Aristotle and Poetics and Plato and Republic. Though most of the 643 copies that we have of this work date from around 500 A.D. the oldest fragments are dated at only 500 years after Homer is said to have originally penned the work in 900 B.C. These 643 manuscripts are enough to establish Homer and his authorship of the Iliad and enough to make the Iliad the second most historically established work of antiquity.


Other Ancient Persons and Works

Besides those we have already mentioned above we might mention a few more examples. All but three of these examples are ancient historians from whom modern historians draw much of their information in order to create our understanding of ancient history.

Xenophon, was a ancient Greek historian and student of Socrates. He was born in 431 B.C. and died in 354 B.C. In between he wrote Anabasis (or March Up Country), which chronicles the events surrounding the Greek attempt to take the throne of the Persian king Artaxerxes between 401-399 B.C. The earliest manuscript of Anabasis that we have today is dated to 1350 A.D., nearly 1750 years after Xenophon lived and the events and persons he wrote about.

Herodotus also wrote a work entitled History. He lived between 485-425 B.C. and wrote of events that took place 50-125 years earlier in 546-478 B.C. Yet the earliest of the eight copies of his work that we have available today dates from 900 A.D., 1400 years or so after the life of the author and the events described.

Thucydides' work History was written between 430-425 B.C. The events that he describes took place 0-30 years before he wrote. But the eight copies of this work that we have today all date at around 900 A.D., 1300 years after the author and the events he described.

For Lucretius, a Roman poet and philosopher who lived between 99-55 B.C. we have just two copies of his work On the nature of the Universe. These copies were written between 1100-1400 years after his life and writings.

Polybius was a Greek historian who lived between 240 B.C. and 122 B.C. His work, entitled History records events that occurred between 220-168 B.C. The earliest copy of Polybius' History that we have today is from 950 A.D., nearly 1100 years or so after the persons and events that Polybius wrote about.

Tacitus, was a Roman historian who wrote a record of history between 56-120 A.D. His work, entitled simply History (or Annals) covers the period of world history occurring between 14-68 A.D. meaning that Tacitus was writing of events that took place 30-100 years before he recorded them. The earliest manuscript we have of Tacitus' History comes from 850 A.D., approximately 750 years after the events he describes occurred and after Tacitus lived and wrote the original text. There are a total of 20 ancient copies of this work available to us today.

Seutonius a Roman historian, lived and died between 70-130 A.D. He wrote a history of the twelve caesars from Julius to Domitian called the Lives of the Twelve Caesars. The people and events he describes took place between 50 B.C. and 95 A.D., 25-170 years before he wrote of them. The earliest of the eight copies that we have of his work are dated 750-1500 years after the events occurred.

Pliny the Elder, another ancient historian, lived between 60 and 115 A.D. Writing at around 110-112 A.D. he covered current events that took place between 97-112 A.D. in his work, Letters. However, the earliest manuscript that we have from Pliny is from 850 A.D., nearly 750 years after Pliny's life and the events he recorded. We have a total of seven copies of Pliny's Letters.

Plutarch, who lived between 46-130 A.D., was also an ancient biographer and historian. His work Parallel Lives of the Famous Greeks and Romans discusses persons and events from 500 B.C. to 70 A.D. However, the earliest copy of this work that survives into modern times is dated at 950 A.D., which is 850-1500 years after the lives and deeds of the persons Plutarch wrote of in his original.

Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian was born in 37 A.D. and died in 101 A.D. He wrote Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities about events, which occurred between 200 B.C and 65 A.D., 10-300 years before he wrote the record. The earliest copies of these two documents date from around 1000 A.D., 900-1300 years after the events described and the life of the author.

Sophocles the Greek poet who lived between 496 and 406 B.C. is known to have written several plays including Antigone and Oedipus the King. We have 193 manuscripts of his works, which date from 1400 years after his life and writings.

Euripedes, another of the ancient Greek poets, lived between 480-406 B.C. and wrote many popular plays. We have nine manuscripts, all of which are dated at least 1300 years after his life and writing, but all of which are attributed to him as the author.


Conclusions

The above examples demonstrate what is sufficient to determine that persons and events actually lived and occurred in history. All of these ancient figures, events, and writers are considered to have actually lived and occurred in history. They are taken to have said what is attributed to them, done what is accredited to them, and wrote what is ascribed to them.

Yet the evidence that compels us to accept the historicity of these persons, their words and works, and these events is pretty limited.

Therefore, from the examples cited above, we can determine if a religion is historic, and therefore open to objective verification, by assessing whether or not the person(s), event(s), and teaching(s) of a particular religious view are documented in history according to the following three requirements:

1. At least two copies of supposed original manuscripts must survive into modern times.
2. Surviving copies of the original manuscripts must be written within 1400 years or so after the figures and events they describe.
3. The supposed original documents can be written by people who were first, second, or third-hand witnesses to the events, or who were more than two generations or even five hundred years removed from the actual persons or events that they are describing.

We will revisit these three criteria for historicity later when we examine various religious views. But before we begin our evaluation of various religious views, we should first discuss a few views of God, which often play a role in the evaluation of that potential evidence.


Views that Cannot Be Used as Criteria to Evaluate Evidence

Theistic Agnosticism

In our "Atheism vs. Theism" study, we discussed the definitional form of Agnosticism. The Columbia Encyclopedia provided our definition of Agnosticism.

"Agnosticism - form of skepticism that holds that the existence of God cannot be logically proved or disproved...Agnosticism is not to be confused with atheism, which asserts that there is no God." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Having disproved this more "technical" form of Agnosticism in the "Atheism vs. Theism" study, we must now address a less "technical" but perhaps more common form of Agnosticism. Even though Agnosticism technically refers to the belief that "the existence of God cannot be proved," in modern society the term "agnostic" can also carry a different but related meaning.

The key to understanding the shift in meaning is first understanding the meaning of the word "agnostic." The word "agnostic" is derived from the two Greek root words "a" and "Gnostic."

"agnostic - ETYMOLOGY: a-1 + Gnostic." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

"a - PREFIX: Without; not: amoral. ETYMOLOGY: Greek." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

"Gnostic - ETYMOLOGY: Late Latin Gnsticus, a Gnostic, from Late Greek Gnstikos, from Greek gnstikos, concerning knowledge, from gnsis, knowledge. See gnosis." - The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

"Agnostic," from which we get the term "Agnosticism," simply means "without knowledge." As we have seen from the definition provided by the Columbia Encyclopedia, on a technical, definitional level, Agnosticism has traditionally referred strictly to being "without knowledge" concerning the specific question of whether or not God exists. However, many modern persons claiming the title of Agnostic have shifted the exact question for which they believe we are "without knowledge."

Instead of being "without knowledge" regarding whether or not God exists, some modern Agnostics instead use the term to refer to their belief that we are "without knowledge" when it comes to the question of what God is like. In shifting the "agnosticism" from a question of God's existence to the question of whether or not God can be known or understood, this alternate form of Agnosticism is able to survive even after God's existence is proved.

Furthermore, this alternate form of Agnosticism is asserted with just as much certainty as traditional Agnostics assert that God's existence is absolutely unknowable. Or in other words, this alternate form of Agnosticism is absolutely certain that we cannot know anything about what God is like in any way. Therefore, this alternate form of Agnosticism is opposed to any religion, which makes any assertions or claims about what God is like. Since this is the case, just as we dealt with traditional Agnosticism in the "Atheism vs. Theism" study, it is now necessary for us to deal with this alternate form of Agnosticism as we begin this series of articles.

And this alternate form of Agnosticism is easy enough to address. The first thing to note about this alternate Agnostic position is that categorically speaking it is a conclusion.

Consider this question: how does a person determine that God's attributes and character cannot be known or understood? Before reaching such a position, one would first have to examine the suggested evidence and conclude either that the evidence is contradictory or does not support any of the various existing claims.

For a person to assert that God is unknowable without consideration of the evidence is a completely irrational act. To examine evidence and determine that the evidence is lacking or contradictory would be a rational conclusion. But simply concluding that no sufficient evidence exists without an examination of suggested evidence is simply a groundless assumption and a textbook case of circular reasoning. Whether you are making assumptions about what God is like or assumptions about how well we can know God, assumptions are just assumptions and they have nothing to do with rational analysis or facts.

Like all religions or worldviews, Agnosticism must result from an assessment of the evidence. Therefore, because the Agnostic view must be a result of assessing the evidence, an Agnostic worldview cannot determine the results of the very assessment that leads to it as a conclusion.

If the suggested evidence is shown to be lacking or contradictory, then an Agnostic position might be warranted. But you cannot use the conclusion that the evidence is unsatisfactory as a basis for assessing that the evidence is unsatisfactory. As we have said already, to do so would be circular reasoning. The evidence must be evaluated or dismissed on its own merits without reinserting the Agnostic conclusion among the premises or among the criteria by which we make the assessment.

And because that is the case we must withhold reaching an Agnostic point of view until after we have examined the suggested evidence. And because we are withholding reaching an Agnostic worldview until after the assessment of the evidence is complete, we cannot use the tenets of the Agnostic worldview as a basis for dismissing evidence as we go about our assessment. To do otherwise would constitute forming our beliefs based upon unreasonable processes including circular reasoning.

So, as we continue forward to assess the evidence involved in the various religions of the world, we will not be able to discount evidence based upon the Agnostic grounds that "God is unknowable." Instead, we will have to let the evidence speak for itself. If all of the suggested evidence is found to be unsatisfactory based upon its own merits, then an Agnostic conclusion will be justified. But if evidence is found that is satisfactory, then we will be not be able to reach an Agnostic conclusion. Instead, we will have to believe and conclude what the most reasonable interpretation of the evidence requires.

We might also point out an additional problem within Agnosticism - an inconsistency regarding what amount of information is sufficient to generate an understanding of a topic. As we saw earlier our understanding of history is often built upon a very limited amount of information. Nevertheless, despite what is at times very scant evidence, Agnostics are comfortable adopting the popular understanding of history.

On the other hand, Agnostics adamantly reject any understanding of God, citing as their objection that we do not have sufficient information to generate an understanding of God. Given their acceptance of a very limited set of information from which we construct history it is hard to see how they could then automatically dismiss as absolutely insufficient the potential information about God that is available in that very same historical information.

It seems that the same standard should be applied consistently when we go about the task of understanding figures and events beyond our personal experience. If there is adequate information to provide us with a reasonably accurate understanding of history, then it must be at least possible that the same historical information is capable of providing an understanding of God. If the Agnostic cannot consider the possibility that sufficient information about God exists from the available historical documentation, then it seems that they must also reject any possibility of understanding ancient history.


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