Dawkins’ arguments against Scripture – unreliable transmission process
The next part of our analysis of Richard Dawkins’ argument against Scripture as presented in The God Delusion looks at his third assertion…
Assertion #3 The Gospel tradition was transmitted unreliably – both oral and written tradition hence this demonstrates the Gospels as an unreliable source of history.
Evidence presented: Dawkins claims the Gospels were copied and recopied through many ‘Chinese Whispers generations’. However unfortunately he presents no evidence to support this assertion.
In many ways this would be a fairly straightforward claim to prove. All one would have to do is to produce the manuscript evidence, show how the Gospels had been altered and changed over the years. Perhaps Dawkins’ thinks that Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus does this, but the difficulty is that Ehrman’s book only deals with a number of small isolated alterations in the text, which were not universally accepted i.e. the reason Ehrman can do the work he does is because we can work out what the original text most likely said and this has often been preserved in an alternative text elsewhere.
The main difficulty with Dawkins’ claim is that the evidence actually points in the opposite direction – that the Gospel tradition was preserved accurately and with a high degree of fidelity.
The F.F. Bruce classics, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? and The Books and the Parchments highlights the overwhelming numbers of extant manuscripts and their closeness, relative to other ancient historical documents, to the time of the events they purport to record. These offer formidable arguments towards the reliability of the New Testament transmission process. Furthermore Bruce notes that ‘[t]here is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament. Bruce concludes, ‘if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt’ (Bruce, The New Testament Documents, 15).
Conclusion: Dawkins needs to present evidence to support this assertion – mere assertions don’t prove anything. The difficulty with Dawkins’ assertion is that the evidence actually points in the other direction – towards the accurate preservation of the Jesus tradition in the Gospels. Hence Dawkins’ assertion is unconvincing because he fails to present any evidence to support it.