To be or not to be Jesus

Yesterday, I ran across this AP news item from Italy:

ROME - An Italian judge has dismissed an atheist's petition that a small-town priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed, both sides said yesterday.

Luigi Cascioli, a 72-year-old retired agronomist, had accused the Rev. Enrico Righi of violating two laws with the assertion, which he called a deceptive fable propagated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Turns out that the two men were former schoolmates, never something to stop a dedicated litigant, I guess. Cascioli didn't expect to win in Italy, but plans to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The scheme was to get a court to rule that Jesus did not exist. What standing a court has to determine a historical and theological truth is beyond me. In a fraud case, you must prove that a claim is not true. But how can you prove, to a court's satisfaction, that Jesus did exist -- because you don't believe he did?

Bizarre as it seems, Cascioli's case poses a problem: how would one prove the existence of Christ? For that matter, how would one prove the existence of Aristotle, or Pythagoras, or Genghis Khan? All we have left are writings, art and legends. Maybe other people wrote these things and claimed that fictitious A, P and GK wrote them! But if we can't make reasonable conjectures based on remaining evidence, it would hard to prove much of anything we had not seen with our own eyes.

And with that, we would be left with little indeed.

If we can't use our reason to make informed conjectures about seemly-disconnected facts, then the entire basis for science collapses. It was after all, Newton's insight that the same force was behind the fall of the apple toward the ground and the pull of the Earth on the Moon. Without our ability to see pattermns in Nature, we would not know that the sparrow and the chicken are related or that water and ice are two forms of the same material.

Mr. Cascioli is not nearly as clever as he thinks.