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Dawkins’ argument against Scripture – external contradictions

October 5, 2010

It has been a while since posts, but we’re ready for the next part of our analysis of Richard Dawkins’ argument against Scripture as presented in The God Delusion. We’re planning to determine if his conclusions are truly evidence based. We’re now assessing his next assertion…

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

Evidence presented: Dawkins presents some evidence to support this assertion; again (like his argument for internal contradictions) most of it centres around the narratives of Jesus’ birth. He presents two main contradictions as his evidence. These contradictions are:

1. The requirement of Mary and Joseph to return to Bethlehem to register for the census. Dawkins suggests this requirement would be historically, ‘complete nonsense’. He quotes the historical work of A.N. Wilson and Robin Lane Fox as authorities on this issue and compares this ‘nonsense’ with the requirement that he should trace his ancestry back to the days of William the Conqueror.

2. The dating of the census under Quirinius. Dawkins suggests that historians are capable of independently checking the date of the census under Quirinius and Luke has screwed up his dating.

Analysis: There are two key questions here. Is the evidence presented convincing? And is this evidence enough, to demonstrate the Gospels as recording inaccurate history. I would venture to suggest that he has presented some, but it is not conclusive.

The two contradictions mentioned do pose difficulties for Christian scholars to reconcile. The census of Quirinius is a most perplexing puzzle (and can’t be dealt with completely here). The two contradictions mentioned do lead us to question Luke’s historical credibility.

Yet difficulties also emerge with Dawkins’ assertion when, in other places, Luke is completely consistent with external history. Just a few verses on in Luke 3:1-2 Luke records some detailed historical details and he cannot be criticised for inaccuracy – he even (correctly) identifies the obscure Lysanias of Abilene. This again opens up the question of Luke’s credibility as an historian – yet here he is completely accurate!

This issue may highlight the fact that there are gaps in our understanding of ancient history. There may be a plausible yet unknown reason for why Luke describes the census in the way he does. It cannot be denied that Luke may have got it wrong, but given Luke’s accuracy elsewhere, it would be premature to insist on error.

Is the evidence Dawkins presents enough to prove the assertion? Again, Dawkins hasn’t produced enough evidence to show consistent and thoroughgoing inaccuracies with the Gospels and external history. The evidence presented is enough to cause questions to be asked and further research conducted, but it is hardly enough to draw firm conclusions that Luke is therefore completely historically unreliable.

Conclusion: In conclusion Dawkins has presented some evidence to support his assertion but the evidence he has produced is not convincing to to reject the  Gospels as historically unreliable.


From → New atheism

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