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Dawkins’ case against ‘the argument from Scripture’

May 24, 2010

In Chapter 3 of the God Delusion Richard Dawkins deals with many of the ‘proofs’ advanced by theists for the existence of God. The most crucial argument he deals with is the ‘argument from Scripture’. This is a crucial argument for unlike some of the other ‘arguments’ he refutes e.g. the argument from beauty or the argument from admired religious scientists, the argument from Scripture forms a significant component of the evidence many theists advance for the existence of God i.e. Jesus was God: the Bible tells me so; or look at the miracles of the Bible: these are only possible with God.

If the Scriptures were demonstrated as historically reliable then this would seriously dent Dawkins’ case that religion (and particularly Christianity) is irrational. Dawkins claims that the gospels are ‘ancient fiction’ and hence can’t be trusted. The question we’re investigating is the evidence Dawkins advances to support his allegations.

Before we look at the evidence we need to assess the assertions Dawkins’ makes about the Gospels. Dawkins proposes six main assertions which if correct would lead the evidence based reasoner to conclude that the  Gospels were not historically trustworthy. They are:

1. Internal contradictions between Gospel accounts demonstrate them inaccurate at recording history.

2. External contradictions between the Gospels and known history demonstrate them as inaccurate at recording history.

3. The Gospel tradition was transmitted unreliability – both oral and written tradition.

4. The Gospels were simply reverse engineered to conform to the Old Testament.

5. Ancient people were naive and ignorant and hence can’t write accurate or trustworthy history.

6. The Gnostic Gospels were equal competitors in describing the historical Jesus and the canonical gospels were simply chosen arbitrarily from this greater pool of ‘Gospels’.

Dawkins also makes one tentative suggestion that  a plausible case can be made that Jesus never even existed. This claim will be discussed, recognising that Dawkins does suggest that Jesus ‘probably existed’.

These factors all combine to suggest that the canonical Gospels are unreliable. It is a pretty comprehensive list. It covers not only the actual history recorded (points 1 and 2) it covers motivation for writing (point 4) and the transmission of the historical material (point 3) and the agents who were employed in the task (point 5).

It is acknowledged that if these assertions were all true, then it would indeed be reasonable to conclude the Gospels as historically unreliable.

Over the coming weeks we will investigate the evidence Dawkins advances to support these assertions. Then at the conclusion of our exploration we will see if Dawkins’ conclusion is the result of evidence based reasoning.

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From → New atheism

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