TIA Tuesday: The beast and the bankNovember 4, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
As we mentioned last time, there are artists who can sculpt some rather attractive (if prosaic) wood sculptures with a chainsaw, but in the hands of a klutz, a chainsaw is a danger to everyone, especially the wielder. We continue our look at Chapter 14 of TIA, which Vox entitles “Occam’s Chainsaw,” with a look at his attempt to hack up “The Argument from Fiction.”
This argument states that because the Bible and every other sacred text is wholly man-made and as fictitious as anything written by Shakespeare or any other classic from the literary canon, there is no reason to take them seriously, much less base moral systems or societal structures upon them. The problem here is that the Bible has not only proven to be a more reliable guide in many instances than the current state of secular science as well as an accurate historical document, but sometimes a better predictor of future events than the experts on the subject. I bought Euros back when they were worth just over ninety cents on the dollar because of the eschatological interpretations of the Book of Revelation that the European Common Market would one day become a single political entity, the endless vows of the European elite to the contrary notwithstanding. Now, the EUR/USD rate is bouncing around 1.36. Maybe it was just a fortuitous coincidence, but on the other hand, if a northern country shows signs of invading Israel, let’s just say I won’t hesitate to short their currency.
Just for reference, let’s look at the part of the Book of Revelation which predicts that the European Common Market would become a single political entity whose currency would start out low relative to the dollar and then rise in value (again, relative to the US dollar):
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.
I can’t help but think that if the Wall Street financiers had only followed the sage financial advice in those two verses from Revelation 12, our economy wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today.
Vox scoffs at the idea that his successful, Revelation-based investments could be the result of mere coincidence, and he’s right, it isn’t. This particular scam leaves nothing to chance, and achieves its “magic” by virtue of a simple ploy: rigged scorekeeping. It works like this: you read what the Bible says, and then you look at the world around you, and pick a “fulfillment” based on your assessment of what’s likely to actually happen. If you’re reasonably astute at predicting trends, you can pick a “fulfillment” that’s fairly certain to happen, and voilà, the Bible wins again.
What makes it a sucker bet is this: if, by some unforeseen twist, your prediction turns out to be wrong, then it doesn’t count. It’s not that the Bible was wrong, you see, but merely that you, as an uninspired interpreter, simply misunderstood what Revelation was predicting. By this simple expedient, you filter out all your wrong guesses, and only count the “hits.” Your scorekeeping is so biased that the Bible is guaranteed a 100% score even if its accuracy proves to be less than the value expected for random guessing. None of the failures count, therefore none of them are included. Poof! a perfect score, every time, no matter what you get wrong.
The Revelation prophecy is a good example. Back in the early days of the European community, there was much excitement among evangelical prophecy buffs that the proposed merger of European states would produce a 10-nation consortium that would fulfill the prophecies in Revelation 12 and Daniel 7 about a beast with 10 horns or 10 heads, which prophecy buffs interpreted as being 10 nations (heads) united into a single “beast” that would join the Antichrist and oppose the Second Coming of Jesus.
For example, in 1970, Hal Lindsey wrote a best-selling book entitled The Late, Great Planet Earth, in which he predicted, based on Revelation and Daniel, that the then-six-member European Economic Community would grow to ten members, acquire the Antichrist as its ruler, and inaugurate the Great Tribulation—probably some time in the 1980’s. Lindsey’s prediction of a pre-2000 Rapture and Second Coming failed to come to pass, and the European community failed to turn into the 10-horned beast of the Antichrist. And, by the way, the EU numbers 27 member nations, not ten.
In short, the evangelical excitement over the European Union fulfilling Revelation was misplaced. The Second Coming didn’t happen, the EU has too many members, and does not follow any single leader, let alone a supernatural and diabolical world dictator. To the uninitiated layman, it looks like the Ten Horns/Heads prophecy isn’t even the right prophecy for the emergence of a united Europe. And yet this is the prediction that led Vox to invest in euros.
Despite their pseudo-prophetic trappings, it’s clear that Vox’s investments were based on his own assessment that conditions were ripe for the emergence of a European union. He gives credit to Revelation for “guiding” his decision (even though the interpretations he was trusting have since proven to be wrong), but if you think about it, it’s clear that something must have been telling him that conditions were ripe for a united Europe, otherwise he would have had no reason to expect that the prophecy (however strained) was in the process of coming true. The clues that led him to expect the fulfillment are the clues that actually guided his investment; if the clues hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have expected the fulfillment until after it had happened (which would have been too late for his investments).
It’s telling that Vox has to appeal to a uniquely personal and anecdotal bit of “evidence” in order to try and bolster the idea that the Bible is not just fiction. If God were actually interested and involved enough in human affairs to predict and control major developments like the emergence of a united Europe, then there ought to be much better evidence available than just one time that some guy with a bit of savvy got lucky speculating in foreign currencies. But there isn’t.
It’s even more telling that, given the “Bible=fiction” argument, Vox would turn to apocalyptic prophecy as his source for “evidence” to make the Bible seem factually accurate. Prophecy is notorious for being easily twisted to whatever meaning you want it to have, and even Christians find prophecy to be one of the most difficult areas in which to try and find some common interpretation that all believers can agree with. It’s also prone to provoking the most extreme behavior, as witness the Millerites of the mid-1800’s, and the Branch Davidians of more recent times.
Vox knows that the evidence for the Bible is weak (to say the least), and he began TIA with a disclaimer announcing that he would not be attempting to prove that God is real. The arguments he addresses in Chapter 14, and the approach he takes towards refuting them, shows that he would very much like to be able to prove the atheists wrong, using hard, verifiable, factual evidence. But he can’t. The evidence that should exist, does not. All he has are these personal stories, which people are supposed to believe for social reasons, i.e. because they like Vox as a person and trust what he tells them.
For those of us who would like to see something real, that’s just not enough.