Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Italian court to decide if Jesus really existed

Well, it wouldn't actually make that decision but it will decide whether or not the Roman Catholic Church is breaking the law by teaching if Jesus really did live about 2000 years ago. This case is truly a strange one:

::::::::The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.

The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is slated to get his day in court later this month."I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Mr. Cascioli said.

Mr. Cascioli says Father Righi, and by extension the Roman church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" ("Abuse of Popular Belief"), meant to protect citizens against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona," or impersonation.

The impersonation charge comes from the allegation by Cascioli that the Church has basically constructed Jesus from the life of a real person, one John of Gamala.

Now, I have to say that even my 1st paragraph is still very premature. The case is going to an evidentiary hearing on 27 January to decide if there's enough evidence to proceed to trial. Cascioli, of course, is talking confidently that he's laid out enough proof to sink the Church. There is plenty of proof, including historical documents from outside the Church, that says Jesus existed. That's not my primary beef with Cascioli's next statement, anyway.

::::::::"In my book, 'The Fable of Christ,' I present 'proof' Jesus did not exist as a historic figure. [Father Righi] must now refute this by showing proof of Christ's existence," Mr. Cascioli said.::::::::

Ahhh, no. He doesn't. The art of argumentation is the application of logic. While one can refute an argument by showing that the antithesis of the argument is true, rather than the original argument itself, that's not the only way to get the job done. An argument is comprised of premises (facts or proven conclusions) and a conclusion. In order for the argument to be compelling or held true, the premises must be true and the construction of the argument must be valid.

Here's the classic example: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. The premises (men are mortal and Socrates is a man) are statements of fact and are true. The argument's construction is valid because each item in the premises is contained within a larger class, also mentioned in the premises. Socrates is a member of the class "man" and that class is a member of the larger class "mortal." The argument contends that members of sub-classes are also members of the larger class. This works.

Now it should almost go without saying that if the premises of an argument are untrue or insufficiently proven themselves, any argument relying on them is similarly flawed and my be rejected out of hand. However, if you goof up the argument's construction the conclusion becomes unacceptable even if all the facts are true. Here's an example of that: Mark Spitz is a good swimmer. Sharks are good swimmers. Therefore, Mark Spitz is a shark.

Obviously Spitz isn't a shark. This argument construction alleges that a member of 1 sub-class is also a member of another sub-class because both sub-classes belong to a larger one. That makes no sense and the conclusion of an argument so constructed is not compelling.

So in order to refute Cascioli's argument (and dismiss the case) all that needs to be done is to call his argument into question. I haven't read his book so I can't speak to what his actual argument is at this time. I would imagine we'll hear about it soon enough. I'll be looking for the Italian court's decision after the hearing on the 27th and will pass along what I find.