The Christological argument
for the existence of God
is based on certain claims about Jesus
. The argument
, which exists in several forms, holds that if these claims are valid, one should accept God exists. There are three main threads:
- Argument from the wisdom of Jesus
- Argument from the claims of Jesus as son of God
- Argument from the resurrection
Argument from the wisdom of Jesus
The essential structure of this argument is as follows:
- The character and wisdom of Jesus is such that his views about reality are (or are likely to be) correct.
- One of Jesus' views about reality was that God exists.
- Therefore the view that God exists is (or is likely to be) correct.
Discussion of this argument generally focuses on point 1.
Modern evangelism often takes this approach. Potential converts are introduced to Jesus as a historical character and the merits of Jesus' teachings are discussed. In such a context, the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is a crucial factor in assessing the argument.
The principal objections to (1) are the suggestions that:
- The reports of Jesus' character in the Bible are not reliable.
- Jesus' views about reality are not (or not likely to be) necessarily correct. Bertrand Russell, in his essay "Why I Am Not a Christian", criticized Jesus' personal character and philosophical positions on various grounds.
Argument from the claims of Jesus to divinity
A related line of evangelical argument addresses the notion that Jesus Christ was a great philosopher and ethicist, but not God. It draws on the Trilemma
as postulated by C. S. Lewis
, which argues that Jesus claimed to be God, and either this claim was true and Jesus was in fact divine, or else he was a charlatan
or a madman
. Assuming the trilemma to be accurate, the argument proceeds in stating that neither a charlatan or a madman could be considered a great moral teacher and that therefore the possibility of Jesus being merely
a great moral teacher is excluded.
The argument conditionally argues for the existence of God; it relies on the premise that Jesus was a great moral teacher. The structure of the argument is as follows:
- Jesus claimed to be God
- Jesus was a wise moral teacher
- By the trilemma, Jesus was dishonest, deluded or God
- No wise moral teacher is dishonest
- No wise moral teacher is deluded
- By 2 and 4, Jesus was not dishonest
- By 2 and 5, Jesus was not deluded
- By 3, 6 and 7, Jesus was God
- By 8, God exists
Suggested reasons for disputing the premises
Those who dispute these premises may suggest that:
- Disputing premise 1: Jesus was indeed a wise moral teacher, but his reported teachings have been distorted or misrepresented. For instance, he may not have actually claimed to be divine; this claim may have been added by later writers. Many modern New Testament scholars argue that Jesus did not, in fact, claim to be God.
- Disputing premise 4: A person can be a wise moral teacher despite lying. Jesus could have believed (as some later philosophers have held) that religion is false but beneficial to society, and that by establishing a new religion (or a reform of Judaism) he was doing a good deed nonetheless.
- Disputing premise 5: A person can be a wise moral teacher despite being delusional. Granting credence to some, or even most, of someone's claims does not require that we give credence to all of them. Someone can believe Socrates' philosophical claims about justice without also believing Socrates' theological speculations about the Greek gods, or accept Aristotle's views on poetry without also accepting his claim that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones.
Another form of attack (similar to the Argument from inconsistent revelations) which does not directly dispute the premises underlines the applicability of this argument to other historical religious figures, such as the Buddha and Muhammed, each of whom is revered in their faith as a wise and moral teacher, and each of whom made specific claims regarding their interaction with the divine.
Argument from the Resurrection
The final argument in this cluster is that Jesus' resurrection occurred and was an act of God, hence God must exist. Proponents claim there is historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection; this is, of course, a matter of great debate.