Divine Intervention (2)May 12, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
As we saw yesterday, if the Gospel Hypothesis were true, we ought to expect divine intervention to consist of God showing up to participate in the tangible, personal, two-way interaction that is the very definition of what He wants for us and for Himself for all eternity. Likewise, there are some highly significant and distinctive characteristics that we ought to expect to find if the Myth Hypothesis were true, especially in the area of divine intervention.
The central claim of the Myth Hypothesis is twofold: that the Christian God does not exist outside the minds and imaginations of men, and that all reports of His existence and intervention are the product of human myth-building. This premise has two direct and inevitable implications for the topic of divine intervention. First of all, if God does not exist, then obviously He can’t show up, as in the Gospel Hypothesis, to engage in any actual divine interventions. This is going to impart some distinctive and inescapable characteristics to any reports of divine activity in the real world.
But additionally, and perhaps more importantly, God’s absence is going to mean that there is no real-world resource available to contradict anyone who claims to have had some kind of special interaction with God. In other words, God’s absence will produce a kind of power vacuum to be filled by anyone with enough ambition, charisma and wit to convince other people of his or her special relationship with God. The social and political opportunities produced by God’s absence would give men a powerful incentive to become enthusiastic myth-builders.
There’s at least two posts’ worth of material in the above two points, so we’ll focus on the first aspect for now. How would God’s absence affect divine intervention? The obvious answer is that it would prevent divine intervention from occurring at all, which is true as far as it goes. Just because divine intervention does not happen in the real world, however, is no obstacle to divine intervention playing a significant role in a believer’s world view, however.
This distinction between world and worldview, which we’ve discussed before, can be used as a quick rule of thumb for distinguishing between the consequences of the Gospel Hypothesis and those of the Myth Hypothesis. When divine intervention takes place in the real world, it’s consistent with the Gospel Hypothesis, and when it takes place only in the worldview, then it’s consistent with the Myth Hypothesis.
What are the characteristics of a divine intervention which appears only in a person’s worldview then? First of all, the believer will necessarily assert that this intervention somehow took place in the real world. That’s the whole point of having a worldview: to impose one’s beliefs and values on the world around them. Despite this inevitable assertion, however, we would expect God’s absence to prevent such assertions from being true, and therefore they will only be able to take one of the following forms.
The first form is what we might call “fantasy,” i.e. the person making the assertion has simply imagined that it took place. This is the realm where we propose that something happened simply because it makes a plausible-sounding story to suggest that it might have taken place. Such territory is fertile ground for myth-building because absolutely no evidence is required—not even Scriptural evidence. The myth-builder is free to propose any scenario they wish, such as suggesting that God secretly reveals Himself to every human heart, just to satisfy some apologetic objective, as long as it can be made to sound plausibly consistent with a greater, Christian theological context.
Next, we have more direct, subjective experiences we could label “intuition,” i.e. things that happen to us in our minds and hearts through psychosocial mechanisms such as wishful thinking, group suggestion, autosuggestion, and honest misunderstanding. We humans are quite capable of using excessive introspection to tamper with our own subjective perceptions to the point that we honestly can’t tell whether we’re receiving some kind of psychic communication or whether we’re just listening to our own inner narrative. We don’t all practice this particular technique for self-deception, but we all have the capacity for doing so.
Another major form of divine “intervention” is superstition: attributing real-world phenomena to God in order to count them as instances of actual divine intervention. This one is particularly popular because it not only advances the claim of actual real-world intervention, but it also allows the believer to view otherwise mysterious and possibly worrisome phenomena as being under God’s benign control. In addition, it also has the advantage of being difficult to dislodge, since the actual explanation is apt to be technical enough or complicated enough that the casual believer will lose interest in understanding it, and will simply reject it out of boredom.
The last category we’ll call “hearsay,” incorporating both the unintentional exaggeration and misrepresentation commonly found in urban legends, and the more deliberately fraudulent stuff of hoaxes and scams. These are the stories that spread and grow not just because of the content of the claim, but because of the dramatic and engaging character of the story itself, possibly augmented by falsified testimony and evidence.
If you’ve been reading ER for a while, you’ll probably recognize this as the FISH acronym I’ve presented before: fantasy, intuition, superstition and hearsay. I’ve used this as an illustration of the human sources of information about God, but for todays post I want to point out that, again, this is not an arbitrary designation. These are the characteristics of “worldview divine intervention” that necessarily must be found if the Myth Hypothesis is true. God’s absence from real life allows for no other form of divine intervention to take place.
I’ve been working with the FISH acronym for a few years now, and I’m getting pretty confident that it covers pretty much all the different ways in which people can propose a worldview-based intervention in God’s absence. (Can you think of any that don’t fit under the heading of one or more FISH categories?) But the main point, just to reemphasize, is that these characteristics are the predictable and inevitable consequences of the Myth Hypothesis being true. And we’ll look at another class of consequences tomorrow.