In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says “The four Gospels that made it into the official canon were chosen, more or less arbitrarily, our of a larger sample of at least a dozen including the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Nicodemus, Phillip, Bathelomew and Mary Magdelen.” He’s completely wrong, as usual.
The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were not chosen out of a larger sample. Christians in the early first century used those four gospels because they were the only gospels in existence. The fake gospels that Dawkins lists and others were not written until several centuries after Christ’s time. At no point was any choice made between the two groups. The four canonical gospels have been the only canonical gospels for nineteen centuries straight, with no variation.
Amazingly enough, it actually gets worse for Dawkins. He later says “The gospels that didn’t make it were omitted by those ecclesiastics perhaps because they included stories that were even more implausible than those in the four canonical ones. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, has numerous anecdotes about the child Jesus abusing his magical powers”. People who care about the truth more than Dawkins does are welcome to read the text of the Gospel of Thomas and verify that Dawkins is completely wrong about it. In a typical display of utter ignorance, he’s conflated the Gosepl of Thomas with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It’s worth noting that Dawkins complains of the gospels being written “long after the death of Jesus”, while it was actually 30-40 years at most between Jesus’s death and Mark’s gospel. At the same time, he sees no need to inform his readers that we have no text of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas from before the fifth century. Why is 40 years such a long time while 400 years is too short to be mentioned? Only Dawkins knows, and he isn’t telling.
Lastly, concerning the canonical gospels, he says “All were then copied and recopied, through many different ‘Chinese whisper generations’ by fallible scribes who had their own religious agendas.” As usual, he presents no sources to back up his claims. The truth is that despite tremendous effort, secular scholars have found absolutely no reason to believe that any translator ever altered the text of the gospels in a significant way, either on purpose or by accident. We have far more copies of the gospels than of any other books from the ancient world, and we have compared copies from many different places, times, and languages and verified their remarkably close agreement on all substantial issues. (For those who want a book on the topic by a real scholar, I recommend The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, by Dr. Bruce Metzger.)
Dawkins also says:
I think we can safely put Dawkins in that category.