ArgumentationMay 6, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Another area in which we might expect God’s existence or non-existence to have a significant impact on observable conditions is in the area of argumentation, specifically in the area of argumentation about God’s existence. According to the Gospel Hypothesis, God’s existence would be something that was both prior to, and independent of, Christian beliefs about Him. It should therefore be possible to approach one’s investigation of God without necessarily relying exclusively on Christian beliefs. This is perfectly normal: one does not need to study astronomy (or astrology) in order to observe the stars.
According to the Myth Hypothesis, by contrast, God does not exist outside of the beliefs and opinions of Christians. There is necessarily no source of information about Him other than Christian beliefs and opinions. We cannot know what the constellations are unless we ask someone who knows their names and their stars, because constellations are patterns that are designated in and by the human mind. And likewise with God: if He exists only in and by the minds and feelings of believers, then we cannot know what characteristics to ascribe to Him without referring to Christian opinion.
This further implies that it will be difficult and even impossible to determine what God’s characteristics are, since there is no single, cohesive standard of Christian opinion. The definition of God will vary from believer to believer, and possibly even from moment to moment, as a believer perceives the relative strength or weakness of certain propositions during the course of a debate.
Thus, one of the consequences of the Myth Hypothesis being true is that Christian apologists will be able to mount a Courtier’s Reply defense, arguing that skeptical criticisms of God are invalid because the person making the criticism has not based it on a thorough study of Christian opinion. A similar consequence is a similar defense: the argument that the skeptic’s criticisms do not apply because it does not reflect this particular believer’s personal opinion of God. A variation would be the defense that “no true Christian” believes the characteristics addressed by the skeptic—even if believers (including the present believer) actually do ascribe those characteristics to God under non-debate circumstances such as worship.
So once again, we have some very clear and easily observable consequences of the difference between the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis. If the Gospel Hypothesis is true, then we should be able to take an independent approach (such as the approach I’m taking by comparing the Myth Hypothesis with the Gospel Hypothesis) that examines God as an actual being Who exists independently of Christian beliefs about Him. But if the Myth Hypothesis is true, then we should find Christian apologists objecting to such an approach, and denying the validity of any criticism against God that is not based exclusively on Christian opinion, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that it’s not possible to derive an objective and coherent description of God based on the maelstrom of shifting and mutually-contradictory beliefs about Him.
And, once again, let me emphasize the fact that these consequences are not arbitrary or ad hoc. God’s failure to exist must necessarily leave Christians with no other source of information about Him beyond their own subjective beliefs, as fueled by such psychosocial factors as suggestion/autosuggestion, imagination, superstition, and so on. And likewise, if God does exist independently of Christian beliefs about Him, then it ought to be perfectly legitimate to conduct an independent study of His existence, such as the study we are currently engaged in here.
I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which set of consequences is most consistent with what we actually find in the real world.