Taken at face value, this is predominantly an objection against Christian doctrine rather than an objection against the existence of God. However, I believe that this objection often originates from the presumption that there is no God and that Jesus could therefore not have been the Son of God, but instead, merely a good man.
The life of Jesus is, however, an excellent place to start our search to find out whether or not God exists. The description of Jesus in the Bible is of a man who clearly considered himself to be the Son of God and who performed many supernatural acts. If this description is correct then Jesus’ life becomes a very significant piece of evidence.
A mere man who says he is the Son of God cannot be a great moral teacher
The four canonical gospels are the four books in the Bible that describe the events of Jesus’ life. In my topic, There is no natural explanation for Jesus’ miracles, I list Jesus’ references to himself as the Son of God within one of these gospels, the Gospel of John. There is no doubt that Jesus was convinced that he was the Son of God, something which is incompatible with the theory that Jesus was merely a good man. C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia stories and a Christian apologetic, demonstrated this using an argument, which is now known as ‘Lewis’ Trilemma’. He reasoned that the gospels describe how Jesus clearly saw himself to be the Son of God and that if he was anything other than the Son of God then he would have had to have instead been either a lunatic or an evil person capable of deceiving his followers. He certainly would not have been merely a good man or a great moral teacher. Here is a quote from Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity,
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Jesus’ actions and teachings aren’t those of an evil man
If the gospels are to believed then we can quickly discount that Jesus was evil. He taught his followers, amongst other things, to uphold the law, to love their enemies and that the reliance on the swearing of oaths to discern truth is rooted in evil and encouraged an honest ‘yes’ or ‘no’ instead. He put his ministry and ultimately his life in danger several times by healing sick people on the Sabbath, the Jewish religious day of rest, and he was particularly concerned about helping those rejected by society and had little or no concern about being accepted by the powerful and influential. To state whether someone is evil or not always requires a subjective assessment, but in Jesus’ case it is nonetheless one that is irrefutable; he cannot have been evil.
Jesus’ references to himself as the Son of God were not light hearted throwaway statements. They were repeated and calculated. It would have been obvious to him and his followers that to refer to himself in this way would have placed himself at great risk of being charged with blasphemy by the Jewish religious authorities. In fact, it was his claim to be the Son of God that the Jewish religious authorities used to convict him under their own law, which ultimately led to his crucifixion by the Roman authorities.
Delusions of grandeur or Miracle Maker?
So, if Jesus’ references to himself as the Son of God cannot be attributed to throwaway comments or to him being evil enough to deceive his followers can they be attributed to Jesus being, in Lewis’ words, a lunatic. Could he have suffered from, for example, delusions of grandeur?
Anybody today who claimed to be the Son of God would immediately be assumed to be suffering from delusions of grandeur. Even in the first century many of the Jewish religious authorities assumed his claims to be false, although this seems to be partly because they didn’t believe or didn’t know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – the prophesied birth place of the expected Messiah. If we were to make an assessment of Jesus’ identity based on nothing more than his character and teachings we too, by default, would have to assume that he suffered from delusions of grandeur.
However, the gospels record that Jesus performed a large number of miracles. Many of these would have been difficult or impossible to fake using natural means even if Jesus had knowingly been deceiving his followers. If Jesus was a mere human who genuinely believed in his own integrity then his miracles would have had to instead been the product of sequences of extraordinarily improbable natural events. This is not just implausible; it is inconceivable to think how even improbable natural events could somehow have been the real cause for some of the miracles in the gospels. To highlight just one example, what natural event could have rolled away the stone of the tomb in which Jesus had been born? It would be difficult enough to argue that Jesus had somehow survived not only his crucifixion, but also survived his preceding flogging (which was in itself life threatening) and the subsequent piercing of his heart with a spear. It would be impossible to then argue that the same mortally wounded man rolled the stone away from the entrance of his own tomb from inside, which was probably guarded on the outside by Roman soldiers, who would have been under pain of death to do their job properly. The miracles in the gospels and the extraordinary claims of Jesus clearly cannot be explained by saying that Jesus suffered from delusions of grandeur.
Can the gospels be trusted?
The only remaining reason to discount the gospel records of Jesus’ life as evidence of the existence of God would be if the integrity of the gospels themselves were substantially in doubt. They would have to be something other than genuine attempts to record the events of Jesus’ life. It could be speculated that the authors of these gospels were attempting to deceive their readers, or that the authors were confused in some way or that the gospels were some other kind of fabrication. In my topic, There is no natural explanation for Jesus’ miracles, I discuss every reasonable natural explanation for the miracles of Jesus that I can think of and, after finding serious flaws in all of them, I come to the conclusion that Jesus’ life can be treated as evidence for the existence of God.