Evidence against Christianity: Sources

I want to take it a little slow while we wait for more comments and criticisms about the basic premises. But there’s no reason we can’t go ahead and start, so let’s begin by looking at the distinctive differences between the implicit consequences of the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis, as they relate to what sources we have available to work with to even approach this issue.

According to the Myth hypothesis, God does not exist, and all existing beliefs about Him are rooted in the psychosocial workings of the men, women and children who believe in Him. This has some fairly obvious and distinctive implications regarding what we can turn to as sources of information about Him. For starters, since God does not exist (according to this hypothesis), we would not expect to be able to use God Himself as a source of information. Neither by direct observation nor by personal conversation with Him are we going to be able to acquire any information about Who He is, what He is like, what He wants, or any other theological topic.

Our only available sources of information are going to be human factors: the things people say and think and feel about God. They will be able to share stories about God, and even to pass on rumors and traditions about people who claim to have some sort of special basis for knowing about God. But since God would not exist in the real world to serve as the source of these stories, or as an objective standard against which to measure the reliability of these stories, we would expect these stories to have some distinctive characteristics. We’ll discuss those distinctives later on, but for now let’s just observe that the Myth hypothesis implies some definite and specific consequences about the exclusively human nature of our sources for theological information.

According to the Gospel hypothesis, meanwhile, God is real, and powerful, and both willing and able to serve as an objective and reliable source of information about Himself and other topics theological. We would expect, therefore, to have access to objectively verifiable information about God, sufficient to resolve debates and provide a common and converging basis of understanding, much as scientific studies tend to draw scientists together as they approach a common understanding of the real world. People will, of course, share in this information source, and will be able to serve as secondary sources of information about God, by relaying information obtained directly from the original source. But the primary and authoritative source of information about God would be God Himself.

These two hypotheses offer strikingly different outcomes, based on what we should reasonably expect as the consequences of each set of premises. From the Myth hypothesis, we should expect consequences that reflect the influence of human nature on the only available sources of information about God. We should expect to see theology manifest itself not so much as an exercise in observation and documentation, but as a diverse and diversifying body of lore that reflects the charisma and personalities of individual leaders and scholars, as they try to make a persuasive case for the way they think the truth about God ought to be. We should expect to see conflicts within and without, stories and ideas being co-opted and repurposed, and occasionally taken in an entirely new direction by particularly influential thinkers.

In short, if the Myth hypothesis were true, we ought to see our sources reflecting the very human weaknesses and social/political undercurrents of their human originators. But if the Gospel hypothesis were true, we ought to see theology behaving a lot more like science. In fact, if God actually exists, and is willing and able to serve as the primary source of information about Himself, then theology ought to be a part of science, and ought to work as objectively and verifiably as any other scientific branch of inquiry. If the Gospel is correct, then we ought to be able to verify the truth about God without the necessity for gullible trust in the words of men; but if the Myth is correct, then we will have no alternative, no way to learn anything about the Christian God without simply taking Christian’s word for it.

Let’s check our premises. If the Myth is true, then God’s non-existence is going to impose precisely the limitations we’ve described, since He can’t give us any information if He does not exist to give it. The only way for Christianity to survive as a religion is if people keep it going by their own efforts, imaginations and superstitions. If the Gospel is true, on the other hand, then we ought to see human testimony as only a secondary source of information about God, because God is willing and able to serve as the primary source. Otherwise, if God is not willing (or not able) to serve as a source of information about Himself, then where did Christians get their information in the first place?

We can postulate a God Who is unwilling and/or unable to serve as a primary source of information about Himself, but this would be a post hoc rationalization—an attempt to reconcile the Gospel premise with the observed fact that our available sources of information are only those predicted by the Myth. We have no reason to make an a priori assumption that a God Who loved us enough to die for us, and Who was willing and able to carry out this wish, would need or want to refuse to allow us access to Himself as our primary source. Our first-order estimation, then, ought to be that the Gospel hypothesis implies the availability of God as a primary source.

Now, what is the evidence that we find in the real world? What sources of information do people have about God? Suppose some atheist found a magic lamp, rubbed it, and got one wish: that overnight, all knowledge, record, and indication of the Christian faith suddenly became as though it had never been. Is there anything in the real world that would allow us to learn once again what the doctrines of Christianity once were? If the Gospel hypothesis were true then the answer ought to be yes; if the Myth hypothesis were true, we ought to find that the answer is no.

And what we find, so far, is that the answer is no. We have the stories told by men about God. We have a Book that men wrote down about God, in which they claim to speak on God’s behalf. We have other men who voted on that Book and decided to call it the Word of God. But we have no way, objectively, to verify whether what men say about that Book is true. There is no primary source, other than the words of men, against which we can measure the Bible to determine how correctly, if at all, it presents its information about God.

We can pray about the Book, and ask God to confirm for us in our hearts whether it’s His word or not. But what are we doing? We’re trusting in our fallible human hearts to tell us what God’s answer is. Like the Bible, that’s yet another human source. We can pray for signs, as long as we don’t ask for anything that would constitute “testing” God (which turns out to be pretty much anything that doesn’t happen to result in the “right” answer), and then give God credit for having provided the answer. But again, we’d just be trusting in human superstition, another human source.

There is no objective, real-world source of information about God that we can use to verify or refute what the human information sources tell us about God. We have no choice but to rely on human sources exclusively for our theological information (even if the human source is our own mind or heart). The real-world evidence matches the consequences of the Myth hypothesis perfectly, without any need for rationalization or harmonization. The consequences of the Gospel hypothesis, by contrast, are substantially inconsistent with the real world data.

This is only the barest sliver of the evidence that is available, of course, and it raises a lot of issues that we’ll need to deal with further. From the outset, however, we ought to note that at its most fundamental level—the level of what sources we have for information about God—the Myth hypothesis describes actual, real-world consequences more accurately than the Gospel hypothesis does. The Gospel needs to be rationalized and harmonized with the facts; the Myth fits the facts right out of the box.

 
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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 69 Comments »

69 Responses to “Evidence against Christianity: Sources”

  1. R. C. Moore Says:

    “R. C., I don’t deny non-Christians have witnessed and experienced miracles.”

    Ha, ha, funny … um, I think you are joking?

  2. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    God is a person. He is not a law of nature or a machine.

    And how do show that this statement is true without using scripture? Now that you’ve actually made a concrete statement. We can ask further questions about it. Does he have a corporeal body? Does he have emotions? Etc. Etc.
    So, can you expand a bit on this “god is a person” hypothesis. What do you mean by person?

    5keptical: How does your god act in the world and how can you tell if he/she/it did?

    Jayman: What is unclear about “if attributing a miracle to Yahweh is the most parsimonious explanation of all the data then we have determined, to the best of our ability, that Yahweh worked the miracle”?

    Nothing about that statement is clear. It is content-free because it says nothing about what characteristics of your god would allow us to determine if attributing the miracle to yahweh is the more parsimonious explanation. I’m beginning to think you actually don’t know.

    You just keep repeating different variations of “because I say so”.

  3. R. C. Moore Says:


    what characteristics of your god would allow us to determine if attributing the miracle to yahweh is the more parsimonious explanation”

  4. R. C. Moore Says:

    arggh … hit submit by accident.

    Ok, “parsimonious” is not justified to you and me 5keptical, but it is to Jayman, because he is working with a limited set of allowed conditions. His only requirement is that it be internally consistent. (It does not have to be complete).

    When Jayman attributes a miracle to God, he only applies his set of necessary “facts” — which I am fine with, as long as he does not require others to accept this limited standard. His last few posts have either been jokes, or an admission he does, I am not sure which.

  5. 5keptical Says:

    RC Moore:

    I’m attempting to get Jayman to set out (in more than a hand-wavy way) *any* requirement at all let alone enough to perform some Godel-like diagonalization of the rule set.

    However, the real target of this exchange is the 3rd party reader and to demo to DD that one approach to the straw-man and “no-true-christian” attacks to his “evidence again christianity” line of reasoning can be vigorously met with a request to the godbot to actually produce a non-straw-man or true-christian position on the nature of their god which can then be discussed.

    I am truly impressed that you have the patience to engage in any discussion of biblical veracity. I no longer have the energy or time since the resulting exchanges are such long-winded examples of appeals to conflicting experts and weasel words that any 3rd-party reader won’t be able to easily tease out the core arguments. However, kudos to you for making the effort!

    By insisting on definitions first, postings can be short and direct, and as Jayman has so beautifully demonstrated – don’t get past the definition/hypothesis stage without the godbot self-destructing (not in their view of course) in a few posts.

  6. R. C. Moore Says:


    let alone enough to perform some Godel-like diagonalization of the rule set.

    You quite clearly picked up on my allusion.


    one approach to the straw-man and “no-true-christian” attacks to his “evidence again christianity” line of reasoning can be vigorously met with a request to the godbot to actually produce a non-straw-man or true-christian position on the nature of their god which can then be discussed.

    I agree, and I tried that many threads ago. God seems to lack any attributes that stick around for analysis.

    From Orwell on doublethink:


    ..the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies

    This is the nature of the argument, I have found, especially the part: “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed”

    But again, I respect the Bayesian logic processes of others, I just ask that I and other are not asked to engage in, or believe statements such as

    “What is unclear about “if attributing a miracle to Yahweh is the most parsimonious explanation of all the data then we have determined, to the best of our ability, that Yahweh worked the miracle”?”

    I make conclusions after the facts, thank you. Without indoctrination, no one, after removing all other possibilities would arrive at the answer of an undefinable God.

  7. Jayman Says:

    5keptical, I’m not going to go off on a tangent about God’s personhood because you have not appeared to understand anything else I have said.

    You claim that I have not given you any characteristics of God that allow us to determine if he is the worker of a miracle. But I gave you a characteristic, the ability to foretell the future. I will limit myself to one characteristic for now to keep things simple.

    I then gave the following simple, hypothetical example: A being claiming to be Yahweh spoke to you and predicted 100 future events that you are convinced no human could ever know. In due time those 100 events happen as foretold.

    Why should we attribute that miracle to Yahweh? First, because he identified himself as such. Second, because the action, foretelling the future, is a characteristic of God.

    If you still don’t get that, then I can only ask how you would go about determining who spoke the prophecies to you in the above example. Perhaps that will give me some idea where you’re coming from.

  8. R. C. Moore Says:


    I then gave the following simple, hypothetical example: A being claiming to be Yahweh spoke to you and predicted 100 future events that you are convinced no human could ever know. In due time those 100 events happen as foretold.

    Your example is not very good. The word of only one person is not good enough. The opinions of many persons with for with Yahweh is a foregone conclusion is not good enough. In neither case are attributes defined, only the claim of attributes. Your limited example does not move the argument forward one iota.

    Now if everyone has access to the predictions, and they are falsifiable, and objectively provable, then they are a real attribute.

  9. Jayman Says:

    R.C., my example showed how you could gain knowledge about God without scripture. That’s all. I’m not sure 5keptical is even getting that point.

  10. R. C. Moore Says:

    Ok, I see. But how do you know to invoke a God who makes predictions unless scripture has first suggested the possibility. No one has a priori knowledge of God.

    Or am I still missing something?

  11. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman, so just to get this straight.

    1) God is a person
    2) God shows up and makes predictions that come true.

    And that is the way to get knowledge without scripture.

    Well, once again you avoid the question – which was how does one actually obtain knowledge about god without scripture – I can’t really use your example because god hasn’t actually shown up in person to anyone recently to make a significant number of predictions and if he did, nothing in your statement would let me determine if it was god or satan or a really good bookie.

    So far we have:
    Gospel god -> shows up in person with predictions
    Myth god -> doesn’t show up

    It’s Myth 1, Gospel 0.

  12. 5keptical Says:

    R. C. Moore

    This is the nature of the argument, I have found, especially the part: “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed”

    But again, I respect the Bayesian logic processes of others, I just ask that I and other are not asked to engage in, or believe statements such as

    I guess by definition it’s Bayesian… but wow, aren’t the weights supposed to change when new data comes along? :-)

    I think Dennet is correct about it being a memetic virus that exploits idiosyncrasies of the way neurons organize mental models of the world, perhaps our ape inheritance builds in submission in the presence of an alpha male – imagined or not.

  13. R. C. Moore Says:

    5keptical:

    “I think Dennet is correct about it being a memetic virus that exploits idiosyncrasies of the way neurons organize mental models of the world”

    I like the meme model too. The virus requires forced and repeated inoculation however. People left to their own devices hardly ever to seem to wind up religious. And if they do invent a religion, they never stumble upon the same one, which seem rather strange doesn’t it, given the premise of one true God who rules over all.

  14. Jayman Says:

    R. C. Moore:

    Ok, I see. But how do you know to invoke a God who makes predictions unless scripture has first suggested the possibility. No one has a priori knowledge of God.

    Or am I still missing something?

    You are not considering the scenario where God initiates the contact.

  15. Jayman Says:

    5keptical:

    Jayman, so just to get this straight.

    1) God is a person
    2) God shows up and makes predictions that come true.

    And that is the way to get knowledge without scripture.

    Yes, it is a way to know without Scriptures.

    Well, once again you avoid the question – which was how does one actually obtain knowledge about god without scripture – I can’t really use your example because god hasn’t actually shown up in person to anyone recently to make a significant number of predictions

    My intent is only to show how, in the abstract, you could learn about God without reading Scripture. It is up to you to study alleged miracles or to “make contact” yourself.

    and if he did, nothing in your statement would let me determine if it was god or satan or a really good bookie.

    I don’t see how identification can be fool proof. This applies whether we are talking about God, humans, pets, etc. This is why I appealed to the most parsimonious explanation and not the fool proof explanation (which does not exist).

  16. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman said:

    You are not considering the scenario where God initiates the contact.

    No, I am, this is fundamental. I can only know a first contact is from God if I am told what God will be like, that is how I make the decision of God/Not God. My desk lamp is not God, my dog is not God, I am not God.

    The Old Testament is very clear on this: When God appears as a burning bush to Moses, he has to tell him:


    “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”
    .

    God obviously understands that without a scriptural background, a talking burning bush is just another talking burning bush. Whatever that implies. More importantly, the writers of the Old Testament understood that no one believes a God without background, be it predictions, or the freeing of Egyptian slaves.

  17. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    My intent is only to show how, in the abstract, you could learn about God without reading Scripture. It is up to you to study alleged miracles or to “make contact” yourself.

    We’re not talking abstract! We’re talking real – reality – now.
    We’re talking epic fail on your part. Here’s your opportunity to demonstrate how a thinking person can reason about the effect your god has on the world and you’ve come up with nothing but abstract, hand-waving full retreat from the issue.

    5keptical: and if he did, nothing in your statement would let me determine if it was god or satan or a really good bookie.

    Jayman: I don’t see how identification can be fool proof. This applies whether we are talking about God, humans, pets, etc. This is why I appealed to the most parsimonious explanation and not the fool proof explanation (which does not exist).

    Who asked for foolproof! You’ve provided nothing, nada, zero, ziltch about anything to do in the real world.

    You say it’s up to me to prove/disprove a miracle? I’m asking you how to distinguish real from fake without assuming the premise.

    A fellow up here in Canada sawed a stranger’s head off in a bus because a voice in his head saying it was god told him to.

    If I start hearing a voice claiming to be god, what questions should I be asking?

  18. R. C. Moore Says:

    5keptical:


    If I start hearing a voice claiming to be god, what questions should I be asking?

    The sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick suffered from such delusions (in his case a voice from outer space). He came up with this rule:

    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

    When you stop believing in God, he does go away. No one suffers any ill effects from atheism. Atheists are statistically indistinguishable from believers. And of course Christians suffer no ill effects not believing in Mohammad, and Jews suffer no ill effects of not believing in Jesus the Messaih (from God anyway, from Christians and Muslims is another matter).

    I think that if Jayman could find one statistically distinguishable change in reality that results from disbelief in God, we would have a good test, not dependent upon scripture.

  19. 5keptical Says:

    R. C. Moore:

    I think that if Jayman could find one statistically distinguishable change in reality that results from disbelief in God, we would have a good test, not dependent upon scripture.

    Just checking back in to see if anything else had happened in this thread and realized what a little gem this inversion is – neatly encapsulating your previous posts and Hitchen’s more convoluted construct – I shall steal it. :-)