An argument I’ve seen gain traction within atheist circles is the argument for Spider-man compared to Jesus Christ. However, is this a solid argument against Biblical truth, or is it missing the point?
I received a comment on my first apologetic post that I found quite interesting. The commenter was arguing against apologist J. Warner Wallace by saying, “(he) uses silly claims like since the bible mentions real people and real places, its claims must be real. If this were the case, then Spider-man must exist, since the comic books also mention real people and real places.” While I’ve seen a few atheists confess that this argument is “silly,” it seems there are many who take it seriously. This argument has gained traction because of archaeological finds of Biblical locations. The existence of cities such as Bethel, Capernaum, Ephesus, and Jerico, have been confirmed by such archaeological findings.
However, because the Bible mentions real places, does that mean what it says is true? Does that mean God existed? Atheists who use this argument often fail to understand the apologist’s intent in citing these finds. I’ve yet to meet or read the work of an apologist that has used this as a sole argument. The apologist’s intent is to show that this is just a single step towards trusting a document that makes historical claims.
Compared with the Spider-man comics in the argument, Spider-man is not a source of historical information, nor does the writer claim it to be. It’s a work of fiction created to entertain. However, take Luke, the writer of the Gospel of the same name and the book of Acts. Historian and archaeologist Sir William Ramsay said:
“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statement of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. . . . In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.“
Historical accuracy doesn’t stop with Luke’s books either. Fellow blogger and apologist, James Bishop, wrote a detailed article about this very argument on his own blog which you can find here. In it, he gave examples of other non-Christian ancient historical writers who have confirmed the Bible’s historical accuracy.
“Unlike with Spider-Man we have many non-Christian writings confirming key narratives & people within the Bible. These authors include the authoritative historians Josephus Flavius, Cornelius Tacitus & Suetonius. Flavius confirms many individuals in our gospels from Jesus, Jesus’ brother James, John the Baptist, King Herod, and Pontius Pilate etc. From Flavius we also find that Jesus lived in the first century, that he was a wise man, that he was a teacher and did startling and unusual deeds, that men believed that he taught the truth, that he gained a following of many Jews and many Greeks, that Pontius Pilate condemned him to the cross, that some were loyal to him and never forsook him, and that from him Christianity branched out and amassed a large following.”
Another major flaw of the argument is the genres of these two examples. While Spider-man is clearly a work of fiction, the Bible is a document of history. Authors will often use certain literary signals to indicate to the reader what sort of document is being read and how it should be used. The Gospels, for example, are works of ancient biographies. Biographies in biblical times were much shorter than what we have today and were straight to the point, only detailing the most important events of a person’s life. To mistake the genre of any piece of literature is to make a category mistake.
In the end, this argument is one that should be avoided. While I understand where the atheist is coming from in using the comparison, it shows how little one is willing to think through an argument that attempts to debunk a theory he/she is against. When we bring bias to a debate, it can have the power to kill intelligent thinking. The Spider-man fallacy is but one example out of many I’ve seen. I can only hope this is the last of such arguments.