• The ‘New’ Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don’t Hold Water?: A Refutation, Part 5

    Chapter 5: Ancient.doc

    A5 ‘…Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code…is indeed fabricated from start to finish: invented, made-up fiction. In that respect, it is exactly like the gospels.’

    [Maimonides, a great Jewish scholar] ‘fell into the same error as do the Christians, in assuming that the four Gospels were in any sense a historical record.

    Finally, the author decides to defend at least some of the arguments he put forward about the reliability of the bible as a historical source.

    Poole cites both Dawkns and Hitchens as dismissing the bible as a reliable source of information, and even chides Dawkins by pointing out that he failed to cite any scholars who agreed with this view. (41-42) Of course, I have given several references by several noted biblical scholars who’ve come to this conclusion, more or less.

    Next the author disputes a few minor complaints about the bible and the place of Jesus’ birth by Dawkins and Hitchens. Since it’s such a minor point I won’t bother to address it. However, Poole further argues for the existence of Jesus and argues that the authors of the bible must have known Jesus personally. He argues that “there appears to be good evidence that the fourth gospel was the work of the apostle John, who was closely involved with Jesus.” (44)

    It’s highly unlikely that the author of John knew Jesus since the gospel of John has been dated to around 90-120 A.D., a century after the events they describe. [1] Given the fact that most people only lived to about the age of 46 it does not appear likely there are any eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life. To quote Richard Carrier,

    In the ancient world, the average life expectancy (for anyone who survived to age 15) was 46 years, while fewer than 1 in 20 would live to 70, and fewer than 1 in 200 would live to 85. Any witness, who survived the war and was at least fifteen years old by 35 A.D. (and thus could recall events of previous years with any kind of reliability), would probably be dead before 75 A.D. (having only a 34% chance of survival, even without an intervening war and persecution), and would almost certainly be dead by 100 A.D. (with only a 1.5% chance of survival, and that’s again without an intervening war and persecution, which would have reduced the probability of survival a great deal more). […] Likewise, Josephus himself says 20 years is enough time for witnesses to no longer be available to rebut a story (Life 360; cf. Jewish War 1.15 & Against Apion 1.55). [2]

    Poole cites the same authorities he did earlier but in his attempts to bolster his case by citing these individuals he inadvertently weakens it. He writes,

    John Montgomery (p. 31), in his paper ‘A Lawyer’s Defence of Christianity’, comments that

    In a court of law, admissible evidence is considered truthful unless impeached or otherwise rendered doubtful. This is in account with ordinary life, where only the paranoiac goes about with the bias that everyone is lying.’

    Montgomery mentions how Professor Simon Greenleaf, referred to in Chapter 4,

    ….applied to these [New Testament] records the “ancient documents” rule: ancient documents will be received as competent evidence if they are “fair on their face” (i.e. offer no internal evidence of tampering) and have been maintained in “reasonable custody”… He concludes that the competence of the New Testament documents would be established in any court of law. (45) [emphasis mine in bold]

    As the authorities Poole just cited said, if the documents can be shown to have been tampered with or were shown to be doubtful that could cast serious doubt on the reliability of the gospels. Well, as I’ve explained already, the gospels have enormous contradictions between them [even between the resurrection accounts, which Poole fails to mention (42)], science has proven much of what the bible says to be inaccurate, and there is clear evidence of tampering. One example is in the gospel of Mark. Mark 16:1-8 is the earliest version of the resurrection story, where women discover the empty tomb, and an angel tells them that the disappearance of the body means that Jesus has risen. In the earliest and best manuscripts the gospel ends there, then later on a scribe adds Mark 16:9-20, which speaks of his disciples seeing Jesus after he has risen. [3] Right here is iron clad evidence of “internal evidence of tampering.”

    Poole finishes out the rest of this chapter by citing more “experts” as to the reliability of the gospels. He quotes F.F. Bruce as saying,

    …if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. […] Somehow or other, there are people who regard a ‘sacred book’ as ipso facto under suspicion, and demand much more corroborative evidence for such a work than they would for an ordinary secular or pagan writing. […] (46)

    Once again, more statements without any evidence. The fact is that scholars check the reliability of other ancient documents as well and don’t just blindly trust what they say. This is often done through archeology. The reason the bible is seen with “suspicion” is precisely because of the work done by archeologists in piecing together fact from fiction regarding the bible, and showing how in numerous cases it is historically inaccurate.

    Ending this chapter Poole cites F.F. Bruce and Eric Ives as arguing how the New Testament has many more manuscripts than most other ancient documents (yes, this old canard again…), thus (somehow) proving these documents are reliable. (46-47) Just because there are many copies of something does not mean we can trust what the documents say, since we do not have the original documents to compare with the surviving copies. To quote John Beversluis,

    […] Since the autographa have not survived and nobody has laid eyes on them for 2,000 years, how could anybody possibly know what was in them – much less, which copies approximate most closely to them? Since there is nothing to which existing manuscripts can be compared, the very ideas of the original manuscripts and which manuscripts approximate most closely to them are useless ideas and should be abandoned. I can judge that a photo is a good likeness of you if and only if I have seen you and know what you look like. If I have not, then I am the last person on earth to ask. The situation is not improved by assuring me that there are thousands of photos of you. The fact is that I have never seen you, so tell million photos would not help. [4]

    Throughout the majority of this chapter we saw Poole use nothing more than arguments from authority without any evidence to back up his claims. Either that, or his claims contradict the facts outright as I’ve shown.

    1. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ – accessed 6-8-13

    2. Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False?, by Richard Carrier, Chapter 7, Footnote # 31 – accessed 6-8-13

    3. Jesus is Dead, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2007; 4

    4. The Case Against The Case for Christ:A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2010; 98-99

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist