Dawkins, Lewis and the meaning of History

glassbreakJust recently had to write on the role of Constantine at the council of Nicaea and what an arduous task that was ! Though rewarding in a sadomasochistic sense of which all learning should be, some just more tasking than others. One particular issue I found in most of the ancient literature on the subject was just how unashamedly bias most of their accounting of history were. All had an axe to grind, a purpose for their writing which could be seen plainly. Judged from a modern lens, their accounts are far from objective. Objectivity however is a modern issue that though we claim to always be aiming for cannot always reach. And again this is not giving in to hard postmodernism but to point to the simple fact of the questionable objectivity of reports, news reports as a really good example. What are your aims for writing.

With that said I point your attention do a video of the eminent Biologist and public hater of Religion, Richard Dawkins. In it he discusses History, particularly History as witnessed by the Bible. The conclusion seems to be almost everywhere during the course of the conversation with John Huddlestun that, most of what we find reported in the Bible cannot have happened. The reasons given for such conclusions was simply that there is no evidence outside of the Bible of the events recorded by the Bible. Therefore, the events recorded by the Bible did not happen. Well, someone failed basic Logic !

C.S Lewis as a writer for all times had anticipated this in an essay* written years before this video was recorded. In it Lewis lays out six definition of what might be meant by the use of the word, ‘History’:

  1. It may mean the total content of time: past, present and future.
  2. It may mean the content of the past, the past as it really was in all its teeming riches.
  3. It may mean so much of the past as is discoverable from surviving evidence.
  4. It may mean so much as has been actually discovered by historians.
  5. It may mean that portion, and that version , of the matter so discovered which has been worked up by great historical writers.
  6. It may mean that vague, composite picture of the past which floats, rather hazily, in the mind of the ordinary educated man.

One of the fallacies of Historicism which can be seen in plain sight in the video, is to claim that just because that bit of History as reported in the Bible is uncorroborated, then it means that it [most probably] did not happen. Huddlestun wants to say, 2, yet 3 seems to be the reality of the matter and so ends up with a dubious 4 or 5.


* The essay, Historicism appears in a published collection, Fern-seed and Elephants and other Essays on Christianity“.


2 thoughts on “Dawkins, Lewis and the meaning of History

  1. Just a little food for thought. I think it a bit odd that no one in all of history ever accounted for mass amounts of people coming out of graves and returning from the dead after Jesus rose. Other than the writer of Matthew I mean. Also, it seems odd that no one in history wrote of all the dead the disciples were said have been raising from the dead. I agree, simply because something isn’t corroborated in outside biblical historical records does not make it false or fiction. But when things are said to have happened as big as this, it is somewhat impossible to believe that absolutely no one would report on it, no matter how biased historians were. At the very least they’d write a reason for it the same way atheist writers come up with excuses for supposed miracles of today.

  2. Its easy to just look up how others have dealt with this and give you an ‘answer’, but then again I think a lot of what we expect of Bible is coloured by a modern perspective. There can’t be a terrorist attack in Nigeria without a news agency reporting on it, right? I think logically the best you can say is “I don’t know” even if its seems to be too incredible to believe that it actually happened.

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