Trilemma Dilemma

(Note: An additional link added at the bottom.)
After writing my last blog, I started looking around for info on C.S. Lewis. I only really know a smattering about him. Was a Christian, became atheist and well known as a skeptic, then converted to Anglican after years of research and discussions with close friend JRR Tolkien. He’d written several Christian texts in addition to fiction such as the Chronicles of Narnia.

That’s all I knew. So, I found this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C_s_lewis

And on that site I found this section:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C_s_lewis#Trilemma
It’s regarding something called the Trilemma, which is a “logical arguement” which leads to the conclusion that Jesus must be divine, or else our concept of maorlity is invalid…or something.

The trilemma argument is as follows:

Most people are willing to accept Jesus Christ as a great moral teacher. However, the Gospels record that Jesus made many claims to divinity, either explicitly (“I and the Father are one”) or implicitly, by assuming authority only God had (“The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”). Assuming that the Gospels are accurate, we are thus left with three options.
Jesus was telling falsehoods and knew it; so He was a liar.
Jesus was telling falsehoods, but believed he was telling the truth; so He was insane.
Jesus was telling the truth; so He is divine.

Thus one cannot argue Jesus is only a great moral teacher. If He was a liar or insane, this would invalidate His moral teachings. If He was divine, He is more than just a great moral teacher.

This “logical argument” is completely flawed for two big reasons:
1)(Which is a two-parter really,) After it goes ahead and concedes it assumes the Gospels are accurate, it ignores the fact that inaccurate Gospels are an option. Which actually IS the case. (Again, I point to: http://www.coppit.org/god/contradictions.php, and these three examples: Which two differing accounts of creation in Genesis is right? Which two intermingled Noah accounts is right? What exactly happened on the day Jesus arose from the dead? Who was there, was the tomb open or closed, who did they see, what was said, what did they do afterward? All the differing accounts CAN’T be right, so we already know that the Gospels contain differences and errors.

Which leads to the 2nd part of this fallacy, the 4th option in the argument: Jesus didn’t actually say what he is supposed to have said because either a) the writers of the Gospels have it wrong/made it up/got it from sources who made it up, etc. (After all, even the earliest Gospel was written by someone who did not have 1st-hand experience of the events, and wrote through the filter of about 40 years.) Or b) Jesus didn’t exist (at least as the Bible makes him out to exist.) There is a lot of evidence that he didn’t actually exist, but is an amalgam of stories about Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Greek heroes, and this fellow whose name escapes me but lived about 20 years before Jesus was crucified. I’ll relook it up and add it to the blog later, but unlike Jesus who aside from the Bible, the only other documentation we have of his existence is two sources that we can trace back as being forgeries, we have Roman chronicles of this other fellow having a cult following and his followers claiming he’d performed miracles. This other fellow was stoned and then hung from a tree (and according to HIS followers arose from the dead.)

So, Jesus may not be divine, because he may not have said what he said at all or may not have even existed.

2)The other fallacy is the idea that if he was telling falsehoods but believed them and was thus “insane” that that invalidates what it was he said regarding morality. Why does it follow that just because he believed he was divine, his teachings about peace, love, and understanding is invalid?

We know it’s not because the majority of the world today is not Christian and yet value peace, love and understanding. As I babble on a couple blogs ago, Christian values are not unique to Christians. So option 2 in that argument could very very easily be true but that would not negate the value of the message.

I am not a Christian, and yet I say unto you, value love above all else. Be forgiving, patient, and without pride or arrogance. Help your fellow human and respect all of God’s creation. I believe that 100%. Now, because it was spoken by a non-Christian, does that mean what I just wrote is invalid? Lies? Ridiculous or wrong?

So, I really want to read more from CS Lewis. Because I can’t imagine anyone who is truly a reasonable skeptic could possibly use that flawed line of reasoning as a cornerstone to their newfound faith.

I still can’t find the name of that fellow that pre-dates Jesus that was remarkably similar to the Biblical Jesus, but here’s this:
http://www.atheists.org/christianity/didjesusexist.html
That other fellow may be mentioned in there…I need to reread it.

Edit: Here’s another link regarding errors and contradictions in the Bible:
http://www.bidstrup.com/bible2.htm.
At least scroll down about halfway to the “Crucifixion” section. It’s alone is pretty compelling. What does it say when the most important event in Christianity, the crucifixion and the ressurection, have dozens of factual contradictions among the four Gospels?
My point is not to say that the MEANING and MESSAGE of the Bible is faulty. Granted, you can find more than ample content in the Bible to validate ANY message. From extremist pacificity and mercy to facist and psychopathic vengence and God approved amorality. So it’s really up to the individual reader and their PERSONAL communication with God. Not through the dogma of what some pastor/scholar/priest/rabbi tells you the meaning is.
My point is to illustrate that the Bible is not inerrant. It’s not divine, it’s not holy in and of itself, it’s not perfect. It’s a book. A book written by many human beings with many point of view and all of them from an ancient, Middle Eastern patriarchal culture. The Bible is THEIR interpretation of their faith and beliefs, as much as the Koran is of a Muslem’s and the Talmud and Torah are of a Jews as…I dunno, Stranger In a Strange Land is to a New Ager or something.

It should never EVER come down to “I’m right because it saus so in this chapter and verse.” Because I will garauntee you that I can find at least one other verse that will refute and present the exact opposite message. And then it will come down to matters of interpretation, translation, context, etc.

How inerrant is a book that has factual contradictions within it AND has been argued and debated for centuries and probably forever due to interpretations, translations, context, etc? Can’t we just accept that and move on?

7 thoughts on “Trilemma Dilemma”

  1. Liam,

    Logic is an interesting thing. It is kind of like math (I only say “kind of” because I’m terrible at math!) in the sense that you can check your work.

    Your comment:
    “This “logical argument” is completely flawed for two big reasons:
    1)(Which is a two-parter really,) After it goes ahead and concedes it assumes the Gospels are accurate, it ignores the fact that inaccurate Gospels are an option.”

    It does not ignore that inaccurate Gospels are an option. Lewis’ whole argument is that you cannot declare Jesus a good moral teacher, based on what history has recorded about him. Now if you throw out the Gospels, you only enhance his argument (Neither Tacitus nor Josephus (nor the early church fathers) suggested that he was a good moral teacher.

    Logic does not allow you to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. Hmm. If you throw out the Gospels, you have nothing about Jesus. Both references Tacticus and Josephus wrote have been traced back as to being forgeries. Even if they weren’t, they only mention Jesus vaguely. Nothing of his teachings. So outside the Bible, there’s no historical evidence of what Jesus believed or taught or thought about himself and his divinity.

    So, the basis of this arguement demands that you accept the historical accuracy of the Gospels, that Jesus did say what they say he said. That’s all well and good ONLY within the context of ONLY this trilemma. Which serve no usefulness outside of it as there ARE other options. So, In my opinion, it’s silly to use this very limited arguement as a basis for any foundation of belief.
    (I’m not saying that Lewis DID do this…as I have not read any of his non-fiction and really have NO idea WHAT his foundations were. I’m just dealing with this trilemma as it was presented.)

    And, EVEN if you do go ahead and accept the limited conditions of the tilemma, that the Gospels are historically accurate transcripts of what Jesus said (*nurk!*) (I have to digress…read the red writing in the four Gospels side-by-side and note how many passages are in one and not the others and worse, in more than one but say something different. Anyway…) Even if you grant the limits demanded by the trilemma, 2nd option that he was “insane” and thus what he says is invalid is unduely harsh and draconian.

    The Pope believes as do all the Cardinals and who knows how many Catholics, that the Pope is the near-divine human agent to God on Earth. And what he says and proclaims is from God himself.
    Now, does that mean, as a Protestant who does not believe this, that means the Pope is insane? A raving lunatic? That everything he says is invalid and wrong?

    Again I say I am not Christian, yet I say outloud and proudly that love is the most important thing humans can value and it is the root of peace and understanding, and is a gift from God. Now, because I deny Jesus’ divinity and maybe even existance, does that mean what I just said is invalid?

    Granted, if a crazy, insane man on the street came up to me and said “Aliens are coming to eat our spleens!” I am seriously going to consider the invalidity of that statement. But if he said “2 plus 2 is four!” I know that’s a fact and even though it came from the mouth of a lunatic, it’s not wrong. And if that same lunatic were to say “love is the most important thing humans can value and it is the root of peace and understanding, and is a gift from God,” I might freak out for a second that he was able to quote me…but I accept that what he just said is true and valid.

    This is an unfair arguement probably, but Jim Jones, David Koresh, and hundreds of other cult leaders who are argueably insane use the Bible to fuel and justify their crazy ideas. Does that invalidate the Bible (for you)?

    The message of love and forgiveness and humility are in my opnion, messages from God*. IF they were spoken by a crazy Jesus, does that make the message any more invalid than the Bible would be to you even though schitzos use it for schitzo reasons?

    *I must clarify because it’s important to me that yes I do believe God is the giver of love and all those good things…and is STILL not a human-like humanoid creature sitting in a throne passing judgment on flawed humans which HE MADE flawed and willing to send us to some eternal punishment as payment for only several decades of flawed behavior…which he created in us.
    Gifts from God I don’t believe is incongruous with the Deist belief of a Creator “god” that is not a creature being currently playing a sentient role in the universe.

    1. JC, will there be pre-paid parking available for SHU season ticket holders?How many season tickets has SHU sold?How many five-game plans packages has SHU sold?What are the Devils doing to give the place a Pirate Blue look on SHU game days?When will SHU get to practice on their floor?

  3. Liam,

    Logic is an interesting thing. It is kind of like math (I only say “kind of” because I’m terrible at math!) in the sense that you can check your work.

    Your comment:
    “This “logical argument” is completely flawed for two big reasons:
    1)(Which is a two-parter really,) After it goes ahead and concedes it assumes the Gospels are accurate, it ignores the fact that inaccurate Gospels are an option.”

    It does not ignore that inaccurate Gospels are an option. Lewis’ whole argument is that you cannot declare Jesus a good moral teacher, based on what history has recorded about him. Now if you throw out the Gospels, you only enhance his argument (Neither Tacitus nor Josephus (nor the early church fathers) suggested that he was a good moral teacher.

    Logic does not allow you to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  4. Hmm. If you throw out the Gospels, you have nothing about Jesus. Both references Tacticus and Josephus wrote have been traced back as to being forgeries. Even if they weren’t, they only mention Jesus vaguely. Nothing of his teachings. So outside the Bible, there’s no historical evidence of what Jesus believed or taught or thought about himself and his divinity.

    So, the basis of this arguement demands that you accept the historical accuracy of the Gospels, that Jesus did say what they say he said. That’s all well and good ONLY within the context of ONLY this trilemma. Which serve no usefulness outside of it as there ARE other options. So, In my opinion, it’s silly to use this very limited arguement as a basis for any foundation of belief.
    (I’m not saying that Lewis DID do this…as I have not read any of his non-fiction and really have NO idea WHAT his foundations were. I’m just dealing with this trilemma as it was presented.)

    And, EVEN if you do go ahead and accept the limited conditions of the tilemma, that the Gospels are historically accurate transcripts of what Jesus said (*nurk!*) (I have to digress…read the red writing in the four Gospels side-by-side and note how many passages are in one and not the others and worse, in more than one but say something different. Anyway…) Even if you grant the limits demanded by the trilemma, 2nd option that he was “insane” and thus what he says is invalid is unduely harsh and draconian.

    The Pope believes as do all the Cardinals and who knows how many Catholics, that the Pope is the near-divine human agent to God on Earth. And what he says and proclaims is from God himself.
    Now, does that mean, as a Protestant who does not believe this, that means the Pope is insane? A raving lunatic? That everything he says is invalid and wrong?

    Again I say I am not Christian, yet I say outloud and proudly that love is the most important thing humans can value and it is the root of peace and understanding, and is a gift from God. Now, because I deny Jesus’ divinity and maybe even existance, does that mean what I just said is invalid?

    Granted, if a crazy, insane man on the street came up to me and said “Aliens are coming to eat our spleens!” I am seriously going to consider the invalidity of that statement. But if he said “2 plus 2 is four!” I know that’s a fact and even though it came from the mouth of a lunatic, it’s not wrong. And if that same lunatic were to say “love is the most important thing humans can value and it is the root of peace and understanding, and is a gift from God,” I might freak out for a second that he was able to quote me…but I accept that what he just said is true and valid.

    This is an unfair arguement probably, but Jim Jones, David Koresh, and hundreds of other cult leaders who are argueably insane use the Bible to fuel and justify their crazy ideas. Does that invalidate the Bible (for you)?

    The message of love and forgiveness and humility are in my opnion, messages from God*. IF they were spoken by a crazy Jesus, does that make the message any more invalid than the Bible would be to you even though schitzos use it for schitzo reasons?

    *I must clarify because it’s important to me that yes I do believe God is the giver of love and all those good things…and is STILL not a human-like humanoid creature sitting in a throne passing judgment on flawed humans which HE MADE flawed and willing to send us to some eternal punishment as payment for only several decades of flawed behavior…which he created in us.
    Gifts from God I don’t believe is incongruous with the Deist belief of a Creator “god” that is not a creature being currently playing a sentient role in the universe.

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