Thursday, January 23, 2014

Myths and timelines...

I've been thinking over some apologetic lines of reasoning recently. I'll deal with them in more detail in future posts, but for now consider the following two statements:
  1. Thirty years ago Perseus tamed and rode the flying horse Pegasus.
  2. Yesterday Hercules captured the three headed dog Cerberus.
According to some lines of apologetic reasoning, the second of those statements is more likely to be true and accurate than the first. Apologists think that the closer the writing of the story to the date of the alleged event, the more likely it is that the description of the event is true. 

Well that sounds reasonable, at first glance, but I think if you consider the example given above, the line of reasoning is quite clearly flawed. Neither of those events happened (at least not in recent history!), so neither is more likely than the other. The timing of the writing about the event is entirely unrelated to the factual accuracy of the story. Or in other words, a mythical event remains a mythical event even if it is claimed to have happened in very recent history.

The same, presumably applies to eyewitness claims:
  1. Thirty years ago I saw Perseus taming and riding Pegasus.
  2. Yesterday I saw Hercules capturing Cerberus.
Which of those is more likely to be true?

So when it comes to the gospels, the apologists think they have won the argument if they can demonstrate that the (eyewitness?) gospel writers were doing their writing within a generation of the resurrection of Jesus. Surely a document written in 60AD, a mere 30 years after the resurrection, is going to be pretty accurate, certainly more accurate than a late document written in the early 2nd century? Well, not if the document describes an impossible or mythical event. If the resurrection didn't happen, and a book was written one day after the claimed date of the resurrection, then such a book would be no more likely to be true than one written yesterday.

All this basically to say that arguments for an early dating of the gospels prove nothing. 

All our experience tells us that in reality people can't walk on water, transmute water into wine, kill fig trees with a single word, and that executed men do not come back to life after being dead three days. All our experience tells us that these things can happen in fiction. A very, very early date for the gospels can never be sufficient evidence to prove that the impossible happened.