Friday, December 9, 2016

Do We Have More Evidence For Jesus's Existence Than For Socrates's?

iconA popular claim by Christians towards atheists who are skeptical that Jesus was a historical figure is that we have more evidence for Jesus's existence than for Socrates's, and that would mean that anyone who accepts Socrates as historical figure but not Jesus is being inconsistent by unjustifiably applying a higher standard for Jesus.

So is it the case that we have more evidence for Jesus's existence than for Socrates's? The answer is no. Here's why.

First it's important to note that Jesus and Socrates share many similarities as figures. Both are highly revered. Both were considered fathers of important movements (Jesus of Christianity, Socrates of Philosophy). Both never wrote anything themselves, and for both their knowledge was spread through their disciples.

But here are the important differences:

1. Unlike with Jesus, we have dozens of eyewitness accounts who wrote about Socrates and whose names we know. In some cases we have the titles of the books and quotations of them from later works. In two cases the books survive. From Plato and Xenophon we have whole books preserved. We have nothing like that for Jesus.
2. We have eyewitness accounts from critics of Socrates. The Clouds by Aristophanes is a play written specifically to make fun of Socrates that Socrates even attended. We have nothing like that for Jesus.

So much is preserved of what Socrates said and so little of what Jesus said, despite Jesus founding a great church that became dedicated to preserving everything written about him. It's amazing that we have no written eyewitness accounts of anything about Jesus at all given that mission of the church. You'd think we'd have volumes of eyewitness accounts, but we have none.[1]

And that's why we actually have more evidence of Socrates's existence than Jesus's, and why it is not being inconsistent to think Socrates was a historical figure and Jesus was not.

For more information on this I highly recommend reading On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier.

[1] The New Testament is not an eyewitness account: Paul never saw Jesus in person, and the gospel writers weren't eyewitnesses either.

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