Imagine, if you will, two thousand years in the future. Human civilization has collapsed and recovered, and a few scraps of literature from the early 21st century remain. They tell of a young man in New York who was bitten by a spider and gained superhuman abilities. A small group of people take these precious ancient scraps of paper and put together the story of Spiderman, claiming he was the incarnation of a god who used the spider to infuse a man with his power.
How might these people defend their holy scriptures? Let’s adapt some actual arguments that Christians have left on my blog. The only meaningful changes I have made are replacing God with Spiderman and the Bible with the Spiderman Chronicle.
“The Spiderman Chronicle is evidence of events; but you want evidence of the evidence to verify its truth. What I assume you are seeking to verify, are the claims made in the Spiderman Chronicle. Like any other historical document which is given as a recount of events – the text itself is the data upon which one infers a conclusion, or learns about the events and forms a judgement. You have to work with the data you have got and make an inference to the best explanation. The event occurred – and then was written into what would then become one of many writings of the Spiderman Chronicles. Just like any historical text; the event occurs, and is subsequently written. That is what history is based upon.”
“But what are the available body of facts / information (evidence) for the occurrences & events of Spiderman? That is what the Chronicle is. You are committing the fallacy of special pleading, essentially asserting “Okay, the Spiderman Chronicle is a historical text regarding said events; but let’s not use it as evidence of the events”. So you then ask for evidence of the evidence. Well; one can search for it; but to reject the claims of the Spiderman Chronicle because there is little evidence outside of it; that is simply an unfounded epistemological position regarding evidence, and making an inference to an explanation. You do know the Spiderman Chronicle is a compilation of evidence, right?”
“By your logic, you require an external source to the primary source of an occurrence, as the basis of accepting the primary source. But then it is inexplicable why not then also seek another external source of the second external source of the Spiderman Chronicles, etc. You are essentially looking at the data and asking for something other than it, in order to verify the first set of data regarding an event.”
“Much of what’s in the Spiderman Chronicle would have been very verifiable. Many cultures have myths and legends that may or may not be true, but there’s no way of checking. Either they’re very vague (like ancient Greek and Roman myths), or they rely on “Take my word for it that I saw a vision when I was alone” (like Islam and Mormonism). It’s not hard to imagine how an untrue idea could spread in either of those instances. But that’s not what’s going on with the Spiderman Chronicle. The events were public, and filled with details about time and place that would have made them easy to verify—or discredit.”
“First of all, the Spiderman Chronicle isn’t written like fiction, or myth, or legend. Apparently even the grammar of the English indicates that. There’s a different sentence structure. (I don’t know English, but that’s what I’ve heard.) But even apart from that, the level of detail sets the Chronicle apart. What ancient legends get so specific about time and place? That’s always very ill-defined in ancient myths. Also, you never get the impression that they’re written by eye-witnesses or to anyone close to the situation. The Spiderman Chronicle writers almost take it for granted that the readers will know something about what they’re talking about, even to details like giving the name and location of real places. Why would anyone bother making that up? And what would be the point of making up little details just to “sell” some big story?”
“I believe there’s ample evidence that the Spiderman Chronicle was written by who it claims to be close enough to the time to be reliable.”
“You can’t expect to get at the truth if you use strictly empirical methods to examine something that is by definition outside of our sensory grasp. Sure you can deny there is a world of “spirit” because you can’t see it or test it and you can claim there is no Lord Spiderman because he won’t dance a jig in front of you in your living room but you can’t prove your beliefs because Spiderman is neither provable nor un-provable by the means you limit yourself to.”
“Anything that seems too obviously false, like verses about Spiderman fighting a big green alien, can’t be false, because if it really meant that, someone would have noticed it long before now. The people at the time evidently understood it and similar passages to mean something other than what a cursory reading could suggest.”
All hail Lord Spiderman!
Obviously the point here is that all of these arguments are worthless if the document in question doesn’t actually portray real events. When I wrote my post about the simple reason Christian apologetic arguments fail, perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough that the arguments break down because they’re all predicated on the assumption that the bible is a reliable source of history.
What if that assumption isn’t true? When a document claims that impossible things happened, I’m not going to believe it unless there is sufficient evidence that those impossible things really could and did happen. The alternative, that people embellished the original story, is much more reasonable. Why? Because it happens all the time. You can observe it happening right now all over the internet…real stories are shared with fictional embellishments, or outright hoaxes are spread, and people believe them.
Even Christians will use this same argument against every other religion, somehow oblivious to the fact that it stands up against their own just as well. If you want me to believe the claims made by the bible are true, you have to first establish that the bible is a reliable source of truth, and you cannot do that while using only the bible as evidence.