McGrath’s suppression of Doherty’s arguments: Ignatius

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by Neil Godfrey

I had half hoped that by posting an outline of Doherty’s arguments in chapter 6 ahead of James McGrath’s review of that chapter I would be encouraging him to be honest with the content he claims to be reviewing. Unfortunately, it appears I have misjudged him. For example, the first specific criticism refers to Doherty’s reference to Ignatius. Here is McGrath’s criticism:

Doherty also [sic] notes that Ignatius knows biographical details about Jesus, even though he does not show clear signs of knowing written Gospels such as those that made it into the New Testament (pp.57-58). That these considerations might themselves provide reasons for drawing a conclusion different than the one Doherty is heading for is never considered. (“Also”? McGrath has not stated any earlier argument or point Doherty makes about Ignatius at all, but has only given his own irrelevant argument that Ignatius’s attack on Docetism does not necessarily mean a rejection of historicity.)

All McGrath can bring himself to argue here is that Doherty fails to consider that Ignatius’ reference to biographical details of Jesus might be an argument for historicity! Well, when Ignatius speaks of Jesus’ biographical details, it is understood he thinks Jesus is historical. Doherty is addressing the contrary evidence that McGrath complains Doherty does not address, but faults him for not using it in a way that would support McGrath’s beliefs.

What McGrath actually wants Doherty to say here is left unsaid. McGrath’s own rebuttal of Doherty’s point is nonexistent. The bottom line is that McGrath faults Doherty for arguing mythicism and for not using Ignatius to argue for historical Jesus. But how McGrath would use the evidence of Ignatius to overturn Doherty’s argument is left a mystery.

And Doherty is addressing the way Ignatius writes about those biographical details. But more than that, Doherty actually takes the wording of Ignatius into account and leaves room for a more complete understanding of what Ignatius is addressing: he is addressing the physical or flesh and blood reality of Jesus in contrast to the Docetic view that Jesus only had an appearance of flesh. Naturally that implies a default presumption of historicity.

What McGrath hides from readers of his review is the reason Doherty has introduced this historical claim by Ignatius. Doherty’s whole point is to demonstrate that there is no first century evidence for a knowledge of the Gospel narratives outside the Gospels themselves. Of the evidence of Ignatius, Doherty sums up his main point:

He does not seem to be familiar with a written Gospel, for he does not appeal to one to support his claims.

But McGrath has either completely failed to let Doherty’s argument register in his consciousness or he is carelessly so intent on refuting Doherty that he is careless with his presentation of Doherty’s actual argument. McGrath has completely ignored Doherty’s argument in relation to Ignatius. He has dragged one of his old themes he has been intent on pursuing since he ever took up his ignorant attacks against mythicism: that mythicists supposedly don’t consider alternative arguments.

Far be it from McGrath to let facts get in the way of what he has argued before he even knew Doherty had written a book. He will continue to make the same accusations while claiming to be reading Doherty’s book, yet he will simply suppress the evidence that belies his prejudices.

I may address more of McGrath’s pseudo-review later, but till then, I am reminded of a post about a study explaining why facts fail to change some people’s minds: How Facts Backfire (Why Facts Don’t Change People’s Opinions)

Interestingly, McGrath referred to my own summary of Doherty’s arguments as putting a “positive spin” on Doherty’s case. In McGrath’s mind it seems that to actually present the arguments that you wish to critique is called “spin”.

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Neil Godfrey

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One thought on “McGrath’s suppression of Doherty’s arguments: Ignatius”

  1. Interestingly, McGrath referred to my own summary of Doherty’s arguments as putting a “positive spin” on Doherty’s case. In McGrath’s mind it seems that to actually present the arguments that you wish to critique is called “spin”.

    It should be common courtesy to present an opponent’s argument in its strongest form and then refute that version. Anything less and you might be considered knocking down a strawman. Plus, how much stronger will your argument seem if you refute the strongest version of the opponent’s claim?

    What’s ironic for McGrath is that Creationists are known for consistently not presenting the evidence and arguments for evolution in their strongest form for rebuttal but in fact do the exact opposite. They present evolution in the most insipid and/or misunderstood form and then refute that version. McGrath doesn’t seem to be doing anything better than the Creationist equivalent of “if evolution is true, then why are there still monkeys?”.

    Worse, once the strawman is pointed out, Creationists never update their “idea” of what the ToE entails. They keep on keepin’ on with refuting their misinterpretation as though the correction was never made.

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