What is the Spider-Man fallacy?
Question: "What is the Spider-Man fallacy?"
Answer: The Spider-Man fallacy is a mistake in logic that some skeptics falsely accuse Christians of making. The Spider-Man fallacy is explained like this: in the future, archaeologists find old Spider-Man comic books, and within those comics are certain facts that are true (such as New York being an actual city). Based on that historical evidence, the archaeologists wrongly conclude that Spider-Man must have actually existed, too. Skeptics suggest that Christians are committing the same fallacy when they point to certain historical details in the Bible—details that are undeniably true—and then conclude that Jesus really is God’s miracle-working Son.
First, we should point out that no credible Christian apologist reasons in a way similar to the Spider-Man fallacy. No one believes that the Bible’s mention of the Pool of Siloam, combined with the modern-day discovery of that pool, proves that Jesus must have healed a blind man (see John 9). Bible scholars are glad to have evidence from archaeology supporting the historical context of the Gospels—and they have a great amount of such evidence—but they do not make the leap from historical confirmation to proof of the supernatural. Rather, in the case of the 2004 discovery of the Pool of Siloam, the apostle John is shown to be a reliable witness to events he claimed to have seen. The trustworthiness of the biblical writers is further confirmed, and that should cause us to give them the benefit of the doubt when they write of things that archaeology cannot confirm.
There are many differences between Spider-Man comics and the Bible. Foremost, the Gospels present themselves as ancient biographical literature; an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man presents itself as fantasy. Biography and fantasy are two completely different genres. Any future archaeologist who would make the suggestion, “Spider-Man is real,” based on discovering Spider-Man comics, would be quickly dismissed, notwithstanding the comics’ setting in New York City. There are far more numerous and significant contradictory details showing that Spider-Man is not real, such as the appearance of clones, aliens, and killer robots in the comics.
Both biblical and secular history support the general facts that Jesus of Nazareth existed during a certain time period (the first century AD), lived in a particular area (Galilee in Israel), performed certain acts that led to followers and notoriety, and was put to death on a cross outside the old city of Jerusalem. Further, Jesus’ tomb was empty on the third day after His death, a fact recognized by both supporters and enemies.
Another important difference between Spider-Man comics and the Bible is consistency with the historical record. In Spider-Man comics, a reader quickly notices many inconsistencies. The people dress differently and act differently, and the world ends differently than in factual history. Cities can be destroyed in a comic yet still exist in real life. The time period in which a comic book is set does not need to precisely match any given time period of history. Characters exist in Spider-Man who could never exist in reality, including Sandman, Electro, and other bizarre characters.
In the Bible, the storyline is repeatedly shown as reflective of history in its noted time period. The Gospels portray Jesus as standing before Pontius Pilate during the time when Pilate actually served as the Roman governor of the area. Caiaphas the high priest was really the high priest during the trials of Jesus. Though not all of the Bible’s historical details have outside support, all records we have outside of the Bible are consistent with the history of the biblical writings.
In the end, those who accuse Bible-believing Christians of falling prey to the Spider-Man fallacy are themselves guilty of using a straw man. Christians do not claim that historical and archaeological discoveries prove Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Christians do claim that archaeology supports the general accuracy of the Bible. What the biblical writers penned is credible and should lead one to further investigation of the life of Jesus and, as the Spirit moves, to faith and “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
Recommended Resource: Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Third Edition by William Lane Craig
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What is the Spider-Man fallacy?