Outgrowing Jesus?

How Atheist Richard Dawkins' Recent Book Misleads Young Adults

Outgrowing God, the most recent book by famed evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, caught my eye when being prominently displayed in a local bookstore following its release in late 2019.1 There is little new to be found in its pages, save the tight packaging of the standard objections to the Christian faith. However, it was the target audience, teens and young adults, and Dawkins’ unambiguous goal of pointing them away from Christian faith that held my attention because I attend parishes that still draw a considerable number of young adults. Even so, should we expect a book like Outgrowing God to have much of an impact in our parishes? Regardless of whether young adults read the book, hear about it through podcasts2 or through conversation, they are sure to encounter arguments and attitudes highly critical of their faith in Jesus. Hearing nothing explicit about a specific book in your parish does not mean the ideas, mediated through various channels, have left young, or other, believers unaffected.

Richard Dawkins and I share a small plot of common ground: we are both laymen regarding the study of the New Testament. In Outgrowing God, Dawkins attempts to assess what we can know about the historical Jesus, and of what value the New Testament documents are in that regard; these same questions are of interest to me. Unsurprisingly, Dawkins is highly skeptical of what we can know about Jesus. In this article, I consider the reasons why Dawkins wants young adults to be skeptical about our knowledge of Jesus and argue that his reasons do not justify outgrowing our Christian convictions.

Are popular books by unbelievers an important ministry issue?

Before turning to the actual arguments Dawkins offers to sustain his skepticism, it is reasonable to ask if this engagement is a worthwhile endeavor. I think there are two reasons to respond affirmatively: First is the striking rise in the number of individuals leaving the Catholic Church. A 2015 Pew Research Center report found that the ratio of those entering to leaving the Church is a staggering 1 to 6.45.3 Survey data on those who leave reveal that one of the significant factors is a simple loss of belief in the teachings of the Church.4, 5 It, therefore, stands to reason there is a role for in-house apologetics to play in our future.

The second reason draws from work on inoculation theory. Ideas and arguments, much like germs, eventually find us even if our bubble has been pretty tight, and it is best if we are “immune” when this day comes. Commenting on inoculation theory in their book Winsome Persuasion, Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer explain that “individuals gradually exposed to counterarguments [to their views] are better prepared to respond to these arguments when actually challenged. Hearing counterarguments allows individuals the opportunity to process challenges and develop responses.”6 After summarizing evidence of this dynamic in a non-religious context, they conclude that neglecting to form believers by engaging with serious counterarguments risks “[setting] them up for failure when they encounter articulate opposition.”7 There is also the potential for a loss of trust, since the person may wonder why seemingly compelling alternate perspectives were “hidden” from him or her. From this vantage point, a recent book like Outgrowing God is a God-send! Not only can it be used to “inoculate” young adults in our parishes, but it can also help to equip them for the work of the new evangelization, a context in which counterarguments will most certainly appear. And so it is to these counterarguments that we now turn.

We know very little about the real Jesus

In Outgrowing God, Dawkins adopts a deeply skeptical stance regarding what we can know about Jesus, asking, “how much do we really know about [him]? Can we be sure he even existed?”8 Though acknowledging those who deny the very existence of Jesus are a small minority, his skepticism stems from a deep distrust of the canonical gospels as historically useful sources. He employs the analogy of “Chinese whispers,” usually known as the telephone game in North America, to suggest that the gospels, as the product of an oral tradition, are deeply compromised. The contrast between Dawkins’ skepticism and the surprising number of facts that scholars of the historical Jesus, both believing and unbelieving, hold to be reasonably sure is therefore noteworthy. A recent volume on the historical Jesus lists eighteen such facts, including his birth in Nazareth, baptism by John, itinerant ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching in parables, his reputation as a miracle worker, crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, and interestingly the belief of his disciples that God had brought him back from the dead.9

These facts ought to make us question whether the telephone game analogy is fitting for the early Jesus tradition. For one, it seems to imply that all oral tradition propagates in the same way, and further without any real controlling interests or mechanisms for conservation. If the telephone analogy is useful, it is in this: the first pass of the information is different from the tenth pass. This differentiation regarding elapsed time is also important for thinking about the stability of orally-transmitted accounts, and it is captured through two concepts: oral history, which is transmitted within the generation that witnessed the event(s), and oral tradition which is transmitted over many generations. This distinction is important because, as Paul Eddy notes in a recent essay on oral tradition, “a broad range of studies — spanning from ancient Greece, to nineteenth-century Serbo-Croatia, to contemporary Africa, and beyond — have concluded that the oral transmission of relatively recent events (i.e., within roughly eighty to one hundred fifty years of the originating event) encoded within an intentionally historical genre tend to be generally reliable in nature.”10, 11iographies were normally essentially historical works . . . thus the gospels would have an essentially historical as well as propagandistic function.” C.S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 80.] As Eddy goes on to note, this is not a guarantee of historicity, but “should inform our horizon of expectations.”12 Against this backdrop, it is interesting that Dawkins himself notes the Gospel of Mark post-dates the events it narrates by 35 to 40 years.13 Even dating the Gospel of John at the far end of the standard dating range (i.e., end of the first century) only creates a gap of about 70 years, a period at the low end of the range for generally reliable oral history.

To probe Dawkins’ skepticism a little further, we can attempt to determine the likelihood that eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus were alive during the period in which the canonical gospels were being written (circa 60 to 95 A.D.). This kind of survival analysis, built using estimated populations and lifespans in first-century Judea, has been done. Robert McIver provides such an analysis estimating that if about 60,000 people were witnesses to various aspects of Jesus’ ministry, about 20,000 should be alive 30 years later (circa 60 A.D.), and about 1000 still living 60 years later (circa 90 A.D.).14 Such eyewitnesses could not only contribute to the traditions handed on about Jesus but also act as a check on the degree of flexibility in those traditions, that is, to restrain Dawkins’ “Chinese whispery distortions.” Still, this doesn’t tell us much about the origins of the four canonical gospels, or what to make of all the other gospels that Dawkins highlights.

The Gospels: We don’t know who wrote them, and there were a lot more than four

Dawkins is quick to dissociate the four canonical gospels from their apostolic origins, assuring us that “Christians simply stuck a name on the top of each gospel for convenience.”15 There are two problems here: First is the lack of positive evidence for the claim. “When it comes to the titles of the Gospels,” observes Brant Pitre, “not only the earliest and best manuscripts, but all of the ancient manuscripts — without exception, in every language — attribute the four Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”16 The second problem is that these four allegedly originally anonymous books soon (in the second century) came to later find universal attribution across the Roman Empire, resulting in the uniformity of authorial attribution we see in the manuscript evidence — a highly unlikely outcome.17 The simplest explanation seems reasonable: the four gospels trace their origins to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.18

The extracanonical gospels also make an appearance in Outgrowing God, where we learn that the Church could have chosen any of these gospels — but only the four canonical gospels were chosen. Let me offer three observations: First, these other gospels were written later than the four canonical gospels (mid-late first century). Dawkins mentions several of the earlier ones: the gospel according to the Egyptians (early second century), the gospels of Mary (mid-second century), Peter (mid-second century), Judas (mid-second century), Thomas (second century),19 and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (second century).20, 21 Second, the extracanonical gospels often fail to depict the context of Jesus’ ministry in Roman Judea, and frequently reflect later Gnostic tendencies. Finally, these gospels “were almost immediately rejected as fakes and forgeries” and never held the widespread respect given to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, recognized as deriving from Jesus’ Apostles and their associates.22

When individuals ask why the extracanonical gospels were set aside by the early church, the New Testament scholar Craig Evans advises “them to read these Gospels. They do, and that answers their questions.”23 This remains sound advice. But even if the four canonical Gospels do preserve authentic traditions about Jesus, Dawkins’ asks how it could be that the apostle Paul didn’t seem to know much about Jesus’ life if such an authentic Jesus tradition was circulating?

Paul didn’t seem to know much about Jesus’ life

As the great evangelizer of the Gentiles, we would assume the apostle Paul would frequently refer to the life and ministry of Jesus. “Unfortunately,” writes Dawkins, “Paul says hardly anything about Jesus’s life. There’s lots about the religious meaning of Jesus, especially his death and resurrection. But almost nothing that even claims to be history.”24 Except that we do find references to aspects of Jesus’ life in Paul’s letters, such as his relatives including James, his twelve apostles including Peter and John, the last supper, his crucifixion, burial, and later appearances.25 Furthermore, these references are in the undisputed Pauline letters; in fact, at least 15 unique historical points about the life of Jesus are discernible from these letters. Dawkins is, therefore, not only factually mistaken but as ancient historian John Dickson observes, the aim of Paul’s correspondence was not to narrate the life of Jesus. His passing references to events in the life of Jesus nevertheless presume a familiarity with these events in his churches. “And that,” Dickson notes, “is the significant historical point: the narrative of Jesus was so widely known among Christians by the middle of the first century that Paul could allude [to events in Jesus’ life] and be confident that his readers knew exactly what he was talking about.”26 So then, perhaps Christians knew stories about Jesus, but why don’t non-Christian writers talk more about this allegedly remarkable man?

Why don’t we hear more about Jesus from non-Christian sources?

Expectations are an odd thing. Should references to Jesus in the secular literature of his day be frequently found? Dawkins thinks so, noting that “[a]nother thing that worries historians is that there are hardly any mentions of Jesus in histories outside the gospels.”27 New Testament scholar Darrell Bock helps us reorient expectations here with the example of Pontius Pilate by noting that the “decade-long governor of Judea, is mentioned by only a single pagan source, the Roman historian Tacitus.”28 ( Josephus, Philo, and the gospels fill out our picture of him.) If a Roman political figure from Judea is mostly absent in Roman sources, why would one expect to find mention of Jesus, an obscure Jewish man with an itinerant ministry who was later rejected by his people and crucified? It is therefore remarkable that Gary Habermas in his survey of ancient evidence for the life of Jesus finds mention of or information about Jesus or his followers in Roman sources (e.g., Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Pliny the Younger and the reply from Emperor Trajan, Lucian, and Mara Bar-Serapion) in addition to Jewish sources (e.g., Josephus, Rabbinic literature).29

It is also noteworthy that the broad outline of the life of Jesus and the early church is discernable from these non-Biblical sources. One example: Using only Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Josephus (Ant. 20.200), Peter Williams observes that we would know that Christ was killed during the reign of Pontius Pilate in Judea, that he became the subject of worship, that Christian belief spread widely and rapidly and that Christians were persecuted.30

Dawkins is quick to dismiss Josephus as a source, noting that the passage in his book Antiquities (18.63–64) is likely “a forgery, stuck in later by a Christian writer.”31 We should note two things here: First, Dawkins ignores another passage in the Antiquities that mentions Jesus (20.200) and is recognized as authentic. Second, there are good reasons to see 18.63–64 as containing later Christian interpolation added to an authentic core.32 However, even if this latter passage is fully inauthentic, Josephus remains a bona fide, extra-Biblical, non-Christian witness to the life of Jesus.

Are echoes of the Jesus story found in pagan myths?

Dawkins also makes passing mention of the potential influence of pagan mythology on the Jesus story, noting the Egyptian god Horus, who “like Jesus and many other gods from around the world, was said to have been born to a virgin.”33 This Osiris-Isis-Horus myth, while known in Roman times, does not contain a virgin-birth. In brief, Osiris’ misfortune at the hands of his brother and rival, Seth, saw him cut into pieces and scattered. Isis, greatly distressed by this calamity that had befallen her husband, collected his body parts and, employing her magic, “revivified the sexual member of Osiris and became pregnant by him, eventually giving birth to their child, Horus.”34 However one may wish to describe this activity, virgin-born seems wide of the mark. (Comparisons of Jesus’ resurrection to dying and rising gods of antiquity fare little better.)35

Pagan myth comparisons require both the establishment of meaningful parallels and a plausible route of influence on the earliest believers in Jesus — Jews in first-century Judea. While Hellenization had a definite impact on Judea, there is a need to distinguish between a broader cultural Hellenization and a syncretic Hellenization of Jewish religious belief. Evidence from the first century, including Palestine, indicates that Jewish communities retained, even strengthened, their distinctive religious identity in the face of Hellenic culture.36 It is therefore unlikely that pagan myth or its influence, whether direct or indirect, would be a source from which the earliest Jewish Christians would draw traditions and attribute them to Jesus.

Commenting on the category of myth generally, James Dunn explains that these approaches fail to account for the Jesus tradition because of “the improbability of the total invention of a figure who had purportedly lived within the generation of the inventors, or the imposition of such an elaborate myth on some minor figure from Galilee.”37 Nevertheless, even if myth is not fertile explanatory soil, perhaps eager Christians had reason to invent the core of the Christian message.

The “spreadability” of interesting tales

After relating a humorous, though untrue, story about loosed helium balloons being mistaken for the Rapture, Dawkins goes on to suggest that the “spreadability” of such accounts has an analog in the early stories about Jesus. “The story of the helium dolls,” he notes, “chimes with people’s expectations or prejudices. Can you see how the same might have been true of stories of Jesus’s miracles or his resurrection? Early recruits to the young religion of Christianity might have been especially eager to pass on stories and rumors about Jesus, without checking them for truth.”38 Dawkins is right here: the context of ideas is essential. But is it right to think young recruits would have been keen to spread stories about a crucified Jew, whether in Judea or further afield in the Roman Empire? A hint comes from the apostle Paul, who speaks of the preaching of the cross as “foolishness to the gentiles” and a “stumbling-block” to his fellow Jews.39

The Roman world viewed crucifixion with contempt: a painful and degrading punishment reserved for slaves and the lowest and vilest of criminals. According to Martin Hengel, in his study on crucifixion, the notion that a “crucified Jew, Jesus Christ, could truly be a divine being sent on earth, God’s Son, the Lord of all and the coming judge of the world, must inevitably have been thought by any educated man to be utter ‘madness’ and presumptuousness.”40 In other words, not something one would be eager to make up.

Interestingly, the earliest depiction of the crucified Jesus from the Roman world bears this out. The Alexamenos graffito, carved into a guardroom on the Palatine Hill in Rome, depicts a crucified man, with the head of a donkey (probably an anti-Jewish slur), being worshipped by another man whose hand is raised in praise. The Greek caption translates as “Alexamenos worships his god.”41 This material evidence, dated to about 200 AD, shows that belief in a crucified savior was not a natural or easy belief to hold in the ancient Roman world.

The idea was no more appealing to Jews of the period. A crucified Messiah is absent from the various articulations of Messianic expectations in ancient Jewish literature.42 Indeed, crucifixion evoked Deuteronomy 21, which described a person punished by hanging on a tree as being “under God’s curse.”43, 44, 45

Furthermore, as N.T. Wright has shown, a single, unique resurrection preceding the final judgment at the end of time was also unexpected.46 So, in the first-century Jewish context, a crucified and resurrected Messiah did not fit expectations and therefore was not a story that would seamlessly propagate without verification. No Jew or Gentile, living in the first-century Roman Empire, would have been keen to spread the story of a crucified savior, unless cultural pressures aside, he or she believed it was true.

Gospel contradictions – the case of the jumbled genealogies

For Dawkins, purported inconsistencies in the gospels are yet another reason for assigning them little value as historical sources. One of the challenging aspects of responding to this type of critique is that it can be leveled in a sentence, but requires many more lines to engage meaningfully. The reason is that to avoid simplistic and ultimately unconvincing harmonization, we have to consider the type(s) of literature, ancient writing conventions employed therein, and other background information that may be relevant to the case in question. We see this in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke, an example Dawkins uses to illustrate the historical unreliability of the synoptic gospels. He puts the matter this way: “Matthew and Luke trace the descent of Mary’s husband Joseph from King David via two completely different sets of ancestors, 25 of them in the case of Matthew, 41 in Luke. To make matters worse, Jesus was supposed to be born of a virgin mother, so Christians can’t use Joseph’s descent from David to establish that Jesus was descended from David.”47 I suggest there are three issues we need to consider here: (i) How were ancient genealogies constructed, and for what ends? (ii) Can make sense of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke? And, (iii) how are we to understand the Davidic line of descent.

(i) Genealogies. One potential source of confusion arises from the unstated assumption that genealogies in the Biblical material were intended to function like a modern family tree, comprehensiveness and consistency being key markers of quality. In contrast, ancient genealogies “conferred identity and privileges on members of a family, bestowing a sense of mission and responsibility,”48 as well as conveying theological messages, a fact that led to the rhetorical shaping of genealogies. One common manifestation of this is skipped generations. When we look at Matthew’s genealogy, with which the gospel opens, we see the immediate interest in establishing Jesus’ identity with the two great covenant characters, Abraham and David. Matthew’s genealogy prepares the reader by showing that Jesus has “messianic credentials” and being “[g]rafted onto the trunk of David’s royal lineage, Jesus will appear as the legal heir of this family’s kingly prerogatives that have been passed down from generation to generation.”49 Consistent with this meaning is the groups of generations Matthew uses — 3 groups of 14 generations corresponding to key periods in Israel’s history (see Matt. 1:17). The use of the number 14 is important here because it corresponds to the numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew (dwd = 4(d) + 6(w) + 4(d) = 14), a practice known as gematria. Therefore, embedded into the very structure of Matthew’s genealogy is the “centrality of David in Jesus’s background as well as the centrality of great David’s greater son, Jesus.”50

Luke is different. For one, Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy to Adam, the son of God. In this way, Luke relates Jesus to all of humanity through Adam, which is fitting as Jesus is the savior of all. Luke’s genealogy appears to be structured with 11 groups of 7 generations. This may relate to 7 as the number of perfection, though this is uncertain. Yet the genealogy also functions differently, being embedded between the baptism of Jesus (Lk. 3:21–22) and his temptation in the wilderness (Lk. 4:1–13), rather than at the beginning of the gospel. At his baptism, Jesus is declared to be God’s son, after which Satan tests his identity in the wilderness. Thus, the genealogy invites us to see Jesus as one who is united with us, a second Adam, the unique Son of God, who overcomes temptation, the place the first Adam had failed.51 The genealogies of Matthew and Luke, therefore, illustrate not only how genealogies were used to drive a theological understanding of Jesus’ identity and role, but also why the same genealogy can differ significantly. Flattening genealogies by holding them to the standards of contemporary genealogy fails to engage texts on their terms. Nevertheless, differences in the actual ancestors — e.g., is Joseph’s father Heli (Lk. 3:23) or Jacob (Matt. 1:16)? — seems to require something beyond rhetorical shaping to account for it.

(ii) Reconciling genealogies. It should be acknowledged there is no single, tight resolution to the Matthew-Luke genealogy tension as regards Joseph’s father. In this regard, I share the assessment of N.T. scholar David Turner: “At this point one’s overall theological perspective informs exegesis.”52 He suggests we have “insufficient evidence” to reach solid conclusions, a fact that explains the various proposals that have been put forward.53 Showing the antiquity of this question, the early church historian Eusebius, following Julius Africanus, explained that levirate marriage (see Deut. 25:5–6) accounted for Joseph’s two fathers. Fulfilling his obligation to his brother Heli, who had died childless, Jacob married his widow. In this way, Joseph’s natural father was Jacob, while his legal father was Heli. This is reflected in the two genealogies.54

Considering the two genealogies, a reasonable explanation would be to see Matthew, who perhaps lacked a full list of ancestors, outlining a royal genealogy for Jesus (through David’s son Solomon (Matt. 1:6)), in contrast to Luke, who traces the actual line of descent (through David’s lesser son Nathan (Lk. 3:31)).55 This seems plausible since “families in the Davidic line carefully preserved their genealogical records in the first century,”56 and Luke may have had access to such sources (cf. Lk. 1:3). I would suggest that given the rhetorical shaping of genealogies, the possibility that we lack all relevant data (e.g., the presence of levirate marriage), and plausible ways to relate the genealogies, Dawkins’ assessment is overly critical.

(iii) Jesus’ Line of Descent. Dawkins’ last complaint that Jesus cannot be connected to the Davidic line through Joseph overlooks the Biblical understanding of adoption through which the adoptee is entitled to full standing within the family. Consequently, “adoption effectively extends the kinship pool beyond direct genetic relations. In Jesus’s case, the adoptive Joseph link . . . incorporates him into the line of Israel’s major covenantal figures, David . . . and Abraham.”57

Where do we go from here?

As is often the case, the path that begins with debunking Christianity ends at the doorway of naturalism. Dawkins’ book Outgrowing God is not an exception. Although, as argued, I do not think we have good reason to set aside our belief in Jesus, it is valuable to draw out some implications from competing belief systems. Realizing that knowledge about Jesus’ life — formed from both New Testament books and other sources — can be responsibly held enables us to further consider what he claimed about himself, his Father, the Spirit, and humanity’s destiny. It allows us to consider a worldview in which Jesus Christ is the focusing lens revealing “the heart of all things,” which is “the mystery of an eternal gift of love, in which the Father always gives all that he is to the Son….and he and the Son with him give all that they are to the Spirit, in a communion of eternal love.”58 This core truth, in turn, animates a worldview in which “the human community is created to become a society of love, a communion of persons bound together by grace who participate in their own way in the life of charity that emanates forth from God.”59 In other words, our origin and end are captured in the classic Johannine formulation, “God is Love.”60 In contrast, the path of naturalism proposed by Dawkins is chillingly different: “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”61 We do well not to understate the differences between worldviews that lie at the end of what may feel like academic questions and debates.

How does this all relate to ministry, especially among young adults? For one, it does not seem that ignoring foundational questions about the credibility of our belief in Jesus is an approach likely to fill pews. Yes, popular-level attacks on the Christian faith, especially those targeted at young adults, should be acknowledged and engaged in our parishes. But the engagement should also lead to evangelization. One way to do this is through narrative apologetics, hinted at in the paragraph above in which Christian faith is presented as a coherent and attractive worldview and invites “[individuals] to see how Christianity harmonizes with their deepest human intuitions and life experiences.”62 Defending our belief in Jesus is, therefore, an important task in that it clears the head’s objections so the heart can ponder the message of Christ. Let’s not participate in the tragedy of being a community where young adults find it is easy to leave the faith because they come to believe they have outgrown it.

  1. R. Dawkins, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide (New York: Random House, 2019).
  2. The Joe Rogan Experience, Episode 1366 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bN4spt3744
  3. America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Christians decline sharply as share of population; Unaffiliated and other faiths continue to grow. pg. 35. Online at: https://www.pewforum.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2015/05/RLS-08-26-full-report.pdf
  4. Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion – and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back. Online at: https://www.prri.org/research/prri-rns-poll-nones-atheist-leaving-religion/
  5. Faith in Flux. Online at: https://www.pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux/
  6. T. Muehlhoff and R. Langer, Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 70.
  7. Muehlhoff and Langer, Winsome Persuasion, 71.
  8. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 18.
  9. R.M. Bowman Jr. and J.E. Komoszewski. “The Historical Jesus and the Biblical Church: Why the Quest Matters,” in Jesus, Skepticism & the Problem of History: Criteria & Context in the Study of Christian Origins, eds. D.L. Bock and J.E. Komoszewski (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 22–23.
  10. Paul Eddy, “The Historicity of the Early Oral Jesus Tradition: Reflections on the ‘Reliability Wars’,” in Jesus, Skepticism & the Problem of History, eds. Bock and Komoszewski, 155.
  11. Today the synoptic gospels are situated within the genre of Greco-Roman biography. Significant to our point here, “[b
  12. Eddy, “The Historicity of the Early Oral Jesus Tradition: Reflections on the ‘Reliability Wars’,” 155.
  13. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 22.
  14. R. McIver, “Collective Memory and the Reliability of the Gospel Traditions,” in Jesus, Skepticism & the Problem of History, eds. Bock and Komoszewski, 136–138.
  15. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 22.
  16. Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (New York, NY: Image, 2016), pg.17
  17. Pitre, The Case for Jesus, 18–22.
  18. Vatican II Council. Dogmatic constitution on divine revelation: Dei verbum. Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965. Paragraph 18, www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html
  19. Some date the Gospel of Thomas to the first century (late 50s, or later), others to the second century. The evidence for the latter is stronger, notably the textual affinities between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron, and other Syrian works from the second century. For further discussion, see C.A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 67-77.
  20. T.P. Henderson, “Gospels: Apocryphal,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd Ed., eds. J.B. Green, J.K. Brown, and N. Perrin (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Academic, 2013), 346–352.
  21. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 99.
  22. Pitre, The Case for Jesus, 56. Also see C.E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  23. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 99.
  24. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 19.
  25. 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 11:23–25; Philippians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 15:4–6.
  26. John Dickson, Is Jesus History? (Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2019), 110-111.
  27. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 19.
  28. Darrell Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002) 46.
  29. Gary Habermas, Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus: Historical Records on his Death and Resurrection (New York, NY: Thomas Nelson, 1984), 87-102. See also Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus, 45-64.
  30. Peter Williams, Can we Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 17-35.
  31. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 20.
  32. P.S. Williams, Getting at Jesus: A Comprehensive Critique of Neo-Atheist Nonsense about the Jesus of History (Eugene, OR: WIPF & Stock, 2019), 97-103.
  33. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 5.
  34. R.H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2003), p.146.
  35. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, 335–339.
  36. G.A. Boyd and Paul Eddy, Lord or Legend: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 34-36. Also see Paul Eddy and G.A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 107-128.
  37. James Dunn in The Historical Jesus: Five Views, eds. J.K. Beilby and Paul Eddy (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 95.
  38. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 25.
  39. 1 Corinthians 1:23, NRSV (Catholic Edition).
  40. Martin Hengel, “Crucifixion In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross,” in Martin Hengel, The Cross of the Son of God (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1986), 175.
  41. E. Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 596-597.
  42. M.F. Bird, “Christ,” 115-117, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Green, Brown, and Perrin.
  43. Deuteronomy 21: 22-23, NRSV (Catholic Edition).
  44. Hengel, “Crucifixion In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross,” 176–177.
  45. It is interesting to see this very point appear in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, where Justin recounts his exchanges with the Jewish interlocutor Trypho in the early second century AD. See Chapters 90, 94–96 online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01287.htm.
  46. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK: London: SPCK, 2003), 200–206.
  47. Dawkins, Outgrowing God, 29.
  48. E. Sri and C. Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 46.
  49. Sri and Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, 46.
  50. D.L. Turner, Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 58.
  51. P.T. Gadenz, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018) 89-92.
  52. Turner, Matthew, 30.
  53. Darrell Bock, Luke: Volume 1:1:1–9:50 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 918-923.
  54. Eusebius. Church History. Book I.7. Online at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250101.htm.
  55. C.S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eardmans Publishing Company, 2009), 75-76.
  56. Gadenz, The Gospel of Luke, 91.
  57. F.S. Spencer, Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eardmans Publishing Company, 2019), 96.
  58. T.J. White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2017), 81.
  59. White, The Light of Christ, 86.
  60. See 1 John 4: 7-21.
  61. Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995), 133.
  62. J.D. Chatraw and M.D. Allen, Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 122.
Nathan Farrar About Nathan Farrar

Nathan Farrar is a Lay Dominican in the Province of Canada, and is active in several ministries as a parishioner in the Archdiocese of Ottawa. He has completed undergraduate and graduate studies in the natural sciences.


  1. Thank you for this important article. I think many young people of high school and college age, Catholic and otherwise, are exposed to radical “psuedo-scholars”, who often are not humble and insist that their understanding of things is obviously correct, and one would be an uneducated fool to disagree with their wisdom and understanding of these things.
    And at this age many students do not have the scholarly tools or breadth of exposure to opposing information to refute academic tyranny; nor often do they have the desire or time.

    Another aspect of Dawkins’ genealogy objections is that Jewishness is matrilineal, whereas the Jewish priesthood is patrilineal. This link has further links on this subject.


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