Dawkins and Hewitt on the Historical Jesus

Hewitt and Dawkins debate Jesus and history. I’ve posted a segment below:

HH: On the person of Jesus Christ, did He exist?

RD: I suspect He probably did. I suspect there are lots of itinerant preachers, and one of them was probably called Yehoshua, or various other versions of Jesus’ name, but I don’t think that a miracle worker existed.

HH: How do you rate the evidence for Christ’s existence, manuscript evidence, eyewitness evidence, things like that?

RD: As I said, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a man called Jesus or Yehoshua existed. I would say the evidence that He worked miracles, He rose from the dead, He was born of a virgin, is zero.

HH: Well, you repeatedly use the analogy of a detective at a crime scene throughout The Greatest Show On Earth. But detectives simply can’t dismiss evidence they don’t want to see. There’s a lot of evidence for the miracles, in terms of eyewitness…

RD: No, there isn’t. What there is, is written stories which were written decades after the alleged events were supposed to happen. No historian would take that seriously.

HH: Well, that’s why I’m conflicted, because in your book, you talk about the Latin teacher who is stymied at every turn, and yet Latin teachers routinely rely on things like Tacitus and Pliny, and histories that were written centuries after the events in which they are recording occur.

RD: There’s massive archaeological evidence, there’s massive evidence of all kinds. It’s just not comparable. No…if you talk to any ancient historian of the period, they will agree that it is not good historical evidence.

HH: Oh, that’s simply not true. Dr. Mark Roberts, double PhD in undergraduate at Harvard has written a very persuasive book upon this. I mean, that’s an astounding statement. Are you unfamiliar with him?

RD: All right, then there may be some, but a very large number of ancient historians would say…

HH: Well, you just said there were none. So there are some that you are choosing not to confront.

RD: You sound like a lawyer.

HH: I am a lawyer.

RD: Oh, for God’s sake. Are you? Okay. I didn’t know that. All right. I will accept that there are some ancient historians who take the Gospels seriously. But they were written decades after the events that happened, and they were written by people with an axe to grind, written by disciples. There are no eyewitness written accounts. The earliest New Testament…

HH: I understand you believe that, Professor. I do. But what I don’t understand is how you can use the analogy of the Latin teacher or the detective, when it breaks down given your dismissal of evidence you don’t see fit to deal with squarely?

RD: I think that’s a very, very specious comparison, because the Latin teacher is dealing with enormous numbers of documents. Remember, my Latin teacher is supposed to be confronted with skeptics who don’t even think the Latin language was ever spoken. And there’s huge amounts of documentary evidence of the Roman Empire. We’re talking about the entire Roman Empire here. There’s enormous amounts of eyewitness accounts written down at the time. It just is no comparison.

HH: Actually, it is. It’s actually a very persuasive…in fact, the arguments for the manuscript evidence of Christ and His doings is much stronger than anything, for example, Tacitus or Pliny wrote. It’s just much stronger. Now you might counter with Cesar’s Gallic war commentaries, and you do mention those, and those are contemporary accounts by an eyewitness, but so are the Gospel evidences, say, of Luke accompanying Paul about. And yet you’re dismissive of the miracles that occurred in there. So I’m just wondering…

RD: They may be. The accounts of Luke accompanying Paul may be real, but Luke never met Jesus.

HH: But again, I’m not arguing that point with you. It’s just that you dismiss that all without dealing with it serially, which would not be, I think, consistent with your detective argument, or your Latin teacher argument, because…

RD: I cannot believe that you’re doing more than just trying to score points. You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.

HH: That’s not what I’m saying at all. I didn’t say that. I said that your argument, by analogy, to a Latin teacher being harried by people who deny certain things, but especially your idea of a detective using evidence at a crime scene, that it doesn’t comport with your dismissal of the evidence for Christianity and the historical Jesus.

HT: Vox Day

2 thoughts on “Dawkins and Hewitt on the Historical Jesus

  1. Interesting whole interview…Am not a scientist (so can’t deeply analyze the scientific exchange on the gaps, etc…) but I think I see a pattern. (having read/heard a few other Dawkins debates/interviews)
    Dr. Dawkins is a brilliant man–but he’s nut used to being pushed hard(however graciously as Mr. Hewitt did here) on the weak or fuzzy or undocumented points in his book and in his beliefs…He’s like the soldier who rarely is under any real fire—and who has set up camp under the general’s reviewing stand. He will RARELY come under major fire—
    Mr. Hewitt – as a Christian (and also quite intelligent & well-read) is used to being “shot at” verbally
    …thus, he seems to be more up on Dawkins’ book/Dawkins’ views, etc. than Dawkins is on the arguments made by persons of faith…
    Mr. Hewitt—is used to being on the verbal battlefield…and it shows.
    One can see Dr. Dawkins get flustered under the very mild questioning of Ben Stein — in the EXPELLED DVD of 08.
    This doesn’t prove anything…pro or con, except that maybe Dr. Dawkins needs to show the respect for his serious ideological/scientific/historical opponents that they show for him…and Dr. D needs to do more research into their counter arguments!

  2. See also a 2007 summary by Dr. Alistair McGrath on Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.
    My impression from McGrath is that he also thought Dawkins did not seek to really understand his “opponents” i.e. the religious.
    McGrath also mentions some other atheists who were embarrassed by weaknesses in parts of The God Delusion.
    Quote from A. McGrath from a 2007 post on AlterNet…
    “…Dawkins seems to think that saying something more loudly and confidently, while ignoring or trivializing counter-evidence, will persuade the open-minded that religious belief is a type of delusion. For the gullible and credulous, it is the confidence with which something is said that persuades, rather than the evidence offered in its support…’
    The gullible might include many college students, young adults…who don’t know basic history—much less ancient history. And many who have no concept of religion…
    (PS disclaimer—I offer up this counter view but I have not read the full text of either Dawkins’ or McGrath’s books…Am going to be hunting used book stores for both!!!)

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