Monday, January 10, 2011

Self-foot-shooting scepticism

Take this counter-example in Robert Price's newest book The Case Against The Case for Christ:

[…] 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. (98-99)

Unfortunately for him, this tactic involves a tradeoff: if Price going to allege that our MSS of Scripture are unreliable, then he can't impute error to Scripture. For, according to him, our extant MSS don't correspond to the autographa. 

In addition, he can't indulge in his parallelomania about dying-and-rising savior gods, for even if that method was otherwise sound, he'd only be drawing parallels from untrustworthy MSS.  


  1. This is possibly the most inept argument against scriptural reliability I've ever seen printed. Does Price think that if we had 5,000 copies, or parts of copies, of the same photo, each with a small blemish, dot, processing mark or copying artifact somewhere on it, there is really no way to tell what the original looked like?

    He doesn't actually seem to know the first thing about textual criticism. I can tell, because I know next to nothing about it, and yet the fallacy of his argument is harder to miss than the side of a barn.

  2. I was going to say that he appears to be dismissing the science of textual criticism, but maybe Dominic is right; maybe he's just ignorant of it.

    He would have us believe that we could not possibly know what Abraham Lincoln looked like, because we haven't personally seen him in order to compare his likeness to all the pictures we have?

    This would cut us off from all historical knowledge whatsoever. How can we be sure that say, the French Revolution really happened, if we don't have first-hand knowledge that it happened the way the history books say it happened?

  3. The argument works against ancient history generally -- how can we trust the works of any ancient writer, using this stringent criteria?

    It's unbelievable how some militant atheists cannot see past the materialist mote in their philosophical eye.