Daniel Wallace, Craig Evans, and others have done significant harm not only to Christian apologetics but to conservative Christian claims about the resurrection. What do I mean? As commenter Beau Quilter has pointed out, the legend/rumor of a first century fragment of the Gospel of Mark makes abundantly clear how stories can circulate and grow, and be repeated with confidence even by sources that should be credible, and yet turn out to be completely unsubstantiated. This is something that I blogged about once before. Conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists are notorious for circulating rumors and misinformation, even after it has been debunked. Darwin’s deathbed conversion. Human and dinosaur footprints side by side. Satanic rituals. President Obama a Muslim. Ironically, these things are done precisely in an effort to defend and promote their beliefs. But a willingness to accept something as true without adequate evidence and without ever inquiring as to the reliability of the information thoroughly undermines that effort in the eyes of critical thinkers.
The same can be said of the alleged first-century fragment of the Gospel of Mark. The aim was presumably to “prove” that the Gospel is reliable. That’s even more ironic, because no one seriously doubts that the Gospel of Mark was written in the first century, and whether it was or not is independent of questions about the historicity of information in it. In the very act of pursuing a doubly dubious way of demonstrating that the Gospel of Mark is reliable, they show that in the time between the events and the writing, rumors might well have spread, and misinformation circulated – assuming, of course, that the Christians of the first century were as credulous as the conservative Christians of the 21st century.
Here are some links to updates on the papyrus fragment:
For those who are trying to remember what had preciously been said about this and how it came into the public eye, Beau kindly provided this video with the parts of the debate in which Daniel Wallace first made the claim in conversation with Bart Ehrman.
Of related interest, in a recent issue of Skeptic magazine, an article appeared on conspiracy theories and their impact, focusing in particular on JFK. Here is an excerpt:
From 9-11 to Sandy Hook, the paranoid and divisive view of the world that conspiracy theories promote has been gaining in popularity since the first false “facts” about President Kennedy’s death became widely accepted. Perhaps if we can educate people about what actually happened to JFK and how conspiracy theorists have deliberately lied about it, we can also get the general public to better see the lies (aka “fake news”) of today. That may be overly optimistic but one thing I know for certain is that no society has ever been made great by abandoning truth.
Those who imagine that there is a conspiracy among academics to hide facts supporting Christianity then turn to non-credible sources that weave an alternative narrative that in fact abandons the pursuit of truth, purportedly in the interest of promoting “the Truth.”