The Evidence Against Christianity: IntroductionApril 21, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Ask a typical atheist why they do not believe in God, and you’ll usually hear that it’s because there is no evidence that God exists. While that’s true as far as it goes, I believe that there is much more that can be said. There exists much positive, verifiable evidence that the Christian God, unlike unicorns, fairies, or the dragon in your garage, is a Being Who manifestly does not exist. And we can know it. The evidence is so prevalent and consistent that we cannot deny it and still maintain our intellectual honesty.
There are those who deny that I can make such a claim, who point out that I couldn’t possibly have personally examined each and every individual case that someone claims as evidence for the existence of God. As I’ve pointed out before, however, I do not draw my conclusions based on such a naïve, brute-force approach. Rather, I employ the more subtle and powerful principle that real-world truth is consistent with itself. On the basis of this principle, we can know that, when men tell us stories about an alleged Being Whose nature, motives and behavior are in continual conflict with themselves and with real-world facts, they are speaking about a God who does not exist.
We have much more material than I could cover in any one post, so I would like to begin by outlining my general approach. As discussed in yesterday’s post, the barriers we need to overcome are compartmentalized thinking, relationship-based assessment, superstitious attributions, and superficial imitations of the outward forms of science and reason. We could also add to that list subjectivism and double standards and other self-deluding practices that will also arise in discussions such as this.
I propose to address these problems by means of a simple comparison. It will be an oversimplified comparison at first, but this is not intended to be my whole case. Rather, by laying out the initial comparison, and showing how the evidence really relates to the two alternatives, we will lay the groundwork for future discussions that explore variations on the two initial themes, and show how ultimately the variations merely avoid the inevitable.
For convenience, we can refer to these two alternatives as the Myth versus the Gospel. The Myth hypothesis holds that the Christian God does not exist outside the thoughts and imaginations of men, and that the popular beliefs about Him arose through common psychosocial phenomena that can be observed even today among believers. The Gospel alternative, by contrast, holds that mankind has an almighty, all-wise, objectively real Creator God Who loves us enough to become one of us and to die for us so that He could enjoy an intimate, personal relationship with each and every one of us for all eternity, as is His desire. We won’t all necessarily benefit from that desire, some say, but that is what He allegedly wants.
What we want to do, then, is to examine each of these possibilities, and determine first of all what consequences would logically manifest in the real world if these hypotheses were true, and then secondly have a look at the real world to see which set of consequences is most consistent with the actual evidence. Along the way we may stop to consider whether each particular hypothesis is internally self-consistent enough to allow us to determine that any set of consequences can be said to be logically entailed by the premises.
This two-pronged approach will help us to avoid the problems of compartmentalized thinking by approaching the traditional topic of Christian apologetics from a non-traditional direction. By comparing and contrasting the two views in the light of their predictable consequences, we can also explore the full ramifications of those consequences, as opposed to taking them in isolation (compartmentalization). Also, by beginning with the basic premises and working out the expected consequences first, we avoid the problems of superstition and similar forms of backwards thinking.
Determining whether the Christian God exists is actually a very easy problem to solve. The only difficulty comes when people aren’t happy with the answer they get, and look for some way to justify and rationalize the conclusion they’d prefer to believe in. By considering only one possibility, and asking only, “Is there evidence that this conclusion is correct?” the recalcitrant believer sets a very low standard that even false beliefs can easily satisfy. By considering both alternatives, however, and by applying the same standards to both, we can avoid this particular pitfall of self-deception.
We won’t get into the specifics today, but just as a general overview, let’s look at some of the broad areas of the consequences we can expect from each alternative hypothesis. If the Myth hypothesis were true, men would not have a God available to supply them with revelations, divine interventions, spiritual guidance, or other factors that require real existence on God’s part. Consequently, we can determine, analytically, that Christianity would have to place a great emphasis on human thoughts, feelings and expressions as the source of information about God and God’s nature, will, deeds, commands, and so on. This in turn would mean that doctrines about God would be subject to the influence of human psychosocial factors: doctrines will tend to fragment as rivalries develop between believers; differences in personality type, in culture, in education and so on will tend to be reflected as differences in religious belief and expression; and no one group will have any objective standard they can appeal to as sufficient to resolve the differences and unite all believers in one accord.
Conversely, if the Gospel hypothesis were true, we ought to expect the same consequences as would arise from any loving father’s desire to be involved in his children’s lives, enjoying personal time with them, passing on his wisdom and values to them, nurturing and training them, in person, to the best of his abilities. Given God’s alleged abilities, this ought to be a very great amount of involvement indeed. It ought to be as rare for a child of God not to recognize his own Father as for any other well-beloved and personally-nurtured child, because His constant, tangible, personal presence ought to be so much a part of real life as to make life inconceivable without it. And whatever risks and hazards confront us, we ought to expect to see His divine wisdom charting out a course that amazes us by its ability to protect us from harm while simultaneously equipping us to face the challenges (if any) that await us in the eternal realm.
Right away I think we can see that these two hypotheses have remarkably distinct and obvious differences—so much so that, as part of the Myth hypothesis, we ought to expect additional psychosocial forces to come into play should real life fail to provide evidence that the Gospel’s consequences are actually happening. We ought to see rationalization, compartmentalization, and even outright denial (in the psychological sense), in the interests of preserving the myth and protecting it against refutation.
But we’ll stop here for now and see if the comments find any fault in the basic approach I’m taking. I’d like this to be a fairly rigorous analysis, so feel free to probe this for weaknesses (whether you’re a believer or not).