Evidence against Christianity: SourcesApril 22, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
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.