This came up on my Quiz Show (Bible Contradictions) video recently. It’s an analogy I’ve heard before.
Here’s an expanded version of my response.
What the commenter fails to realize is that in making this analogy he opens the new testament accounts up to some very unfavorable comparisons. And I start salivating.
Mark’s gospel was written probably in the 70s CE, and was the first. Matthew’s most probably came next, and Luke’s in the 90s. John’s not until the 2nd century.
So let’s put that on a Titanic time-frame. That would have the first written account (the first to survive long, anyway) of the Titanic’s sinking coming out in the 1950s. It would need to be written by people who weren’t there, who didn’t see it happen, and who were getting their ‘facts’ from 40-50 years of word of mouth. Different versions, claiming to be authoritative, would still be emerging in the 1980s.
For this analogy to work, the first written account, and all subsequent accounts, would need to be written in a language other than English, the most common language spoken on the boat, and thus the language of the eye-witnesses. You’d have to trust that nothing of any consequence got mixed up in translation.
But that’s only just getting us started. It’s not yet biblical enough. Let’s have these first written accounts from the 1950s made ONLY by hand. Hand-written accounts, never ever to be printed or copied on any technology that didn’t exist before the 14th century; including modern paper. Add to that that we’re not allowed to look at these documents just yet. We have to wait a few centuries. And we can’t look at the originals, they have to be lost. To “know” what happened that night in the middle of the Atlantic, we only get to look at whatever is left at the end of a few centuries of copying everything by hand, letter by letter, word by word, page by page.
Now, add into the mix for the bulk of this copying-copies-of-copies period, warring factions of Titanicists, some of whom claim certainty that it went down intact, others claiming it split in two. Let them battle it out for a few centuries like the Gnostics, Marcionites and Ebionites did over the early Christian writings, altering the written accounts (in subsequent papyrus and parchment copies) as they distribute and hand-copy each one- towards favoring their side of the story. Let’s have some copies add new details after a few decades, like we know the early Christians (and some not-so-early Christians) did, and let’s have others drop details, or alter them. We’ll know they did it, because we’ll end up, at the end of this busy period of copying and copying copies of copies, a wide variety of discrepant texts, with changes apparently made along very obvious ideological lines.
Let this experiment run for a couple of decades, or centuries if you’re brave. And now, if the reliability of these accounts isn’t under enough doubt, let’s have the story be filled with SUPERNATURAL EVENTS – because we all know how much THAT adds to the trustworthiness of any text. So, let’s have it included in these reports that the boat wasn’t constructed by Harland and Wolff in a ship-yard in Belfast, it appeared unto The White Star Line and its arrival was heralded by angels. It didn’t need to carry food for its passengers – their meals were manifested magically (even if they consisted only of fish and bread). It wasn’t brought to an untimely end by an ice-berg, it was a horde of sea-demons (escaped from a group of possessed pigs that had run into a lake once,… hmmmm…..) that breached its hull. And best of all, after the boat sank, it resurfaced, tipped upside-down and floated up into the sky. And promised to one day return.
And you can communicate telepathically to Captain Smith, and he (He) hears everything you mutter to him in your mind.
Of course, no analogy is perfect. But if anything I’m going to broad with this, biting off more new testament scholarship than I can chew. But hey~ he started it!! with HIS terrible analogy!!!
No, you wouldn’t say “The Titanic disaster never happened,” or that reports of it even sinking at all were entirely wrong in every single detail. But neither would you trust that four written accounts, all of them discrepant, all of them originally written by non-eye-witnesses based on 40-80 years of hearsay, all of them lost and only represented by copies of copies of copies of them which we later come to know were being butchered by amateurs and altered by people with an agenda, were worth basing your world-view upon.
Instead I’d look at those documents and say “OK, there was a boat called Titanic, it isn’t here now… I guess it probably sank. And all this other stuff is obviously overblown exaggerations of things that in all likelihood never even happened.” Would anyone dispute that given the documents I’ve imagineered here, that’s the most sensible approach to take?
How about this, then? “Yes, there was a man called Yeshua, he isn’t here now. I guess he probably lived and died like every other human. And all that other stuff about him doing supernatural stuff is obviously overblown exaggerations of things that in all likelihood never even happened.” Say that to a zealous believer, though, and you’re told that you’re not looking at it the right way, that you’re closed minded, or that you need the assistance of a supernatural spirit to help you suspend your rational disbelief. And that if you can’t, an eternity of possibly torturous separation from God awaits.