Rationalization

So far, we’ve been looking at the differences between the Gospel Hypothesis and the Myth Hypothesis, but today I want to take a brief look at one thing they have in common. Each hypothesis, if true, would have the consequence of forcing supporters of the other hypothesis to indulge in a significant amount of rationalization in order to try and reconcile their hypothesis with the real world facts. This is necessarily the case, because the only alternative is to admit, even to oneself, that one’s beliefs are wrong. I don’t think I need to point out how rarely that happens.

Even though both hypotheses have this same consequence, however, each “losing” hypothesis will produce rationalizations that are distinctive to that particular hypothesis. In other words, we can still do our comparison by contrasting the characteristics of the rationalizations each hypothesis would produce.

In the case of the Myth Hypothesis, supporters of the Gospel Hypothesis will be constrained in their apologetic by God’s inability to show up in real life. They won’t be able to deny that real life does indeed conform precisely and consistently to the consequences that would follow from the Myth Hypothesis being true. Therefore they will need to try and find some kind of rationalization that produces the effect of making the Gospel Hypothesis predict the same outcomes as the Myth Hypothesis.

This, incidentally, is an anti-scientific approach, since it attempts to render it impossible to distinguish between a correct hypothesis and an incorrect one. If we want to rationally and logically determine which of two hypotheses (if either) is true, then it’s counter-productive to go out of our way to try and make Hypothesis B sound like it ought to produce consequences that are indistinguishable from those of Hypothesis A. This is not to say that we can’t acknowledge similarities in outcomes when they do exist, and in fact it’s both valid and reasonable to do so at times in order to avoid false positives or false negatives. When it is appropriate, however, the investigator needs to point out some other area where the predictable consequences do differ. If this does not happen, and if the investigator consistently works to try and make B indistinguishable from A, then we can be pretty sure that the investigator is simply trying to rationalize a preconceived idea.

Back on topic: how can a supporter of the Gospel Hypothesis make its consequences indistinguishable from those of the Myth Hypothesis? As we’ve seen before, the Gospel Hypothesis presents God as all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing and all-loving. This means that God’s behavior will be controlled by His desires, and not by what He is able (or unable) to do. If the supporter stays consistent with the terms of the hypothesis, and does not try to suggest that God’s power is limited in some way, his next best strategy will be to try and shift the issue away from what God wants and move it over to the question of what God can (or cannot) do. By focusing on what God can do, as opposed to what God wants to do, the Gospel Hypothesis supporter can gain the necessary manuevering room to raise doubts about which of many different possibilities might actually take place.

It’s ironic that rationalizing faith requires creating spurious doubts about whether God will really do what He wants when He has the opportunity to do so (and when it is beneficial, not to say salvific, for us). But there it is. It’s not a good alternative, but it’s about the only alternative that the Myth Hypothesis would leave open to the Gospel Hypothesis supporter.

So what about the converse? What rationalizations would the Myth Hypothesis supporter come up with if the consequences of the Gospel Hypothesis were true? That’s actually a harder question to answer, because if we saw actual consequences of the Gospel Hypothesis being true, it would be as unlikely for anyone to come up with a Myth Hypothesis as it would be for someone to try and explain the Bush administration without admitting that George W. actually exists. But let’s give it a shot.

Just to review, what the Myth supporter would need to rationalize would be the consistent and pervasive appearances of God, since the Gospel Hypothesis specifies that God wants to have a genuine, personal relationship with each of us and—being all-powerful—would have both the ability and the opportunity to show up to participate in the relationship He wants. Given that the appearances and relationships of such a deity would be more widely known and verified than those of all kings, presidents, and generals of all of history combined, the Myth supporter would have a lot to rationalize.

It would be very difficult, under the circumstances, to make a conspiracy theory sound plausible, since humans would not be capable of faking the kind of knowledge and power that God would casually demonstrate by His participation in the relationship He wants to have with us. Development of a Myth Hypothesis would therefore need to wait for the science fiction age, when one might plausibly suggest an advanced race of space aliens as the source of a conspiracy to create a fake God. This would be recognizable as a rationalization because it (a) does not proceed logically from the original premise, and (b) has the effect, noted above, of making the consequences of the Myth Hypothesis indistinguishable from those of the Gospel Hypothesis.

Thus, once again we have a clear distinction in the consequences that would ensue from one or the other Hypothesis being true. Either hypothesis being true would force supporters of the other hypothesis to rationalize their beliefs by trying to eliminate (or at least cast doubts on) our ability to distinguish between the distinctive outcomes of each theory. It’s a doomed defense, though, since saying that the Gospel Hypothesis is indistinguishable from the Myth Hypothesis is as good as saying that God is indeed a myth. If He were different, then we’d see the difference reflected in the consequences.

 
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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 44 Comments »

44 Responses to “Rationalization”

  1. jim Says:

    One theistic attempt at ‘leveling the waters’ is the one we’ve seen a lot here lately, which is what I’ve come to think of as the ‘non-omniscience’ ploy i.e. since we don’t know everything, we really don’t know anything, so both sides of the argument are in the same boat. It’s an epistemic dodge some theists seem to be using these days to put themselves on an equal footing with skeptics, as well as a facile trump card to play when the evidentiary arguments aren’t going your way.

  2. jim Says:

    Oops, change ‘your way’ to ‘their way’. Bad sentence structure, that.

  3. cl Says:

    DD,

    Either hypothesis being true would force supporters of the other hypothesis to rationalize their beliefs by trying to eliminate (or at least cast doubts on) our ability to distinguish between the distinctive outcomes of each theory.

    To call their objections rationalizations would be to jump the gun. What happens when proponents of both theories claim the same phenomenon as evidence for their side, as you and I both did on the false prophets thing? Do we call that a draw? I think what we’re up against here is a bit more complex.

    For example, let’s say it was 1709 and I told you there were huge, flying rocks in outer space, and that a big hole in the ground in Flagstaff, Arizona was evidence. We take a drive out there, grab a couple of beers and some sandwiches, and head on out to the desert. When we get there, you tell me, “Hell no, that hole is evidence of one of Von Daniken’s chariots!”

    Until recently, there wouldn’t be too much I could say. Meteor Crater was never recognized as evidence for asteroids until a certain level of gateway knowledge had been acquired, and that only occurred relatively recently. Yet an asteroid indeed formed Meteor Crater some 50,000 years ago. Had someone suggested the site as evidence for huge, flying rocks in outer space 5,000 years ago, they’d probably have been crucified. Or someone like jim would probably call them a disingenuous sophist.

    The question remains: Does all of this not suggest that our ability to correctly identify causal connections is highly dependent upon attainment of the proper gateway knowledge, and that at best, what we call “evidence” is quite literally in the eye of the beholder?

  4. jim Says:

    cl: Difference is, the existence of rocks wasn’t in question. Neither was space (in some fashion), and neither was the fact that things fall. Somebody just finally put it together. Much, much different from ghost stories.

    Also, don’t presume to speak for me. Or for someone ‘like’ me (just forestalling the disingenuous nitpick there). As an aside, sophistry doesn’t much entail accidental misinterpretation of facts or arguments. Sophistry has more to do with bad faith argumentation, the details of which I’ve gone over before. So no, I wouldn’t call them ‘disingenuous sophists’; just ignorant, which we all are to varying degrees. I’ll be generous and assume that’s the case with yourself in regard to bringing up my name, and the fallacious charge.

  5. cl Says:

    Is the existence of life that can create conditions which lead to life in question? Nobody said anything about ghost stories.

    I’ve never said or implied that “since we don’t know everything, we really don’t know anything, so both sides of the argument are in the same boat,” which makes it funny and quite hypocritical that you should whine about presuming to speak for others when this non-omniscience strawman in your original comment was clearly aimed at me. It’s fine if you wish to jab, just don’t get pissy on return.

    Lastly, my assumption was not without reasonable grounds. I’ve frequently heard you level charges of both sophistry and disingenuousness against those with whom you disagree, which is odd for someone who calls themselves a rationalist – because the best you can do is guess about either.

  6. R.C Moore Says:


    I’ve never said or implied that “since we don’t know everything, we really don’t know anything, so both sides of the argument are in the same boat,

    cl, I thought that was exactly what you were telling me when I admitted I had not read Revelations. You implied I was not qualified to speak to Biblical inconsistencies unless I was familiar with the entire work.

    If we can know things without being experts, then experts cannot merely dismiss the claims of novices with an appeal to authority can they?

    I don’t mean this be a “gotcha”, I am just trying to find a way to work myself back into the conversation with my pitiful knowledge of scripture. Am I allowed back now?

  7. jim Says:

    cl:

    Wow! You assumed my original comment was aimed at you? Let’s see, is the standard ‘are you a mind reader?’ refutation in order here, or will the ‘quit making unwarranted assumptions’ rebuke suffice? I’ll let you choose.

    Also, you’ve never seen me level charges of sophistry nor disingenuousness at ‘those with whom I disagree’, only at those sophists whom I perceive to be disingenuous. In fact, you’re the only specific name on the list that I can recall remarking on, though I’ll freely admit there may be others. Care to back up the charge with another name? I’m curious.

    On second thought, don’t bother. Just keep my name out of your posts, and I’ll do the same, okay? Like I’ve said before, I’m really not interested in addressing you, cl; only you keep dragging me into your rhetoric, and I feel obliged to respond. Just stick to the topics, and leave me out of things, deal? I see your shtick on the other atheist blogs, and frankly, I’m not at all interested in that sort of thing.

    Okay, on about yer business now, lad. Lassie’s lost in RedRock Canyon, and I must depart!

  8. cl Says:

    R.C. Moore,

    You implied I was not qualified to speak to Biblical inconsistencies unless I was familiar with the entire work.

    That’s not what I said. I claimed that, “The credibility of those who argue a subject is directly affected by their level of exposure to arguments both for and against said subject,” and DD agreed:

    I agree in general that those with greater expertise in a given subject area usually deserve greater respect for their opinions. (DD)

    Why don’t you quip at DD as well if he agreed with me? Big surprise you didn’t. Our relative expertise on a subject does not preclude our ability to make accurate pronouncements on the subject, but only a fool would deny the connection. As far as dismissing the claims of those we presume to be novices with an appeal to authority

    You do not know my background. I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. I attend many graduate level seminars in the subject, especially evo/devo, the most recent of which I spent the day with PZ Myers (at UC Berkeley). Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level. (R.C. Moore to cl)

    No, we should not attempt to win arguments by minimizing our opponent’s knowledge of a given subject. We should win arguments with reason. I never said you weren’t allowed to comment on anything, R.C., and it’s still a free country. It’s just nice to know what kind of cards our opponents are holding.

    jim,

    You’ve made exactly that claim against me before. As far as whether you had me in mind at all this particular time, if you say you didn’t, I can only assume you’re telling the truth and take your word for it, and that would prove me wrong.

    I’m really not interested in addressing you, cl

    The fact that you typed that contradicts what it says, and the only reason I drag you into my comments on other atheist websites is because you make rationally untenable claims on them. Prayer studies are not scientifically credible, and that prayer noise should be an elephant in the room is an unjustified, just-so statement. Hell, the first skeptic that commented on said argument of mine called it “Devastating.”

    If you don’t want me to comment on your arguments, tighten ‘em up.

  9. jim Says:

    cl:

    Ah, so when you said ‘THOSE with whom you disagree’, you actually meant ‘just ME with whom you disagree’. Thanks for clearing that up. Oh, and a really, really good point about the contradiction. In the context of the sentence fragment you’ve disingenuously removed from the subsequent qualifier IN THE SAME SENTENCE, you make perfect sense! Really, cl; you’re cherry-picking sentence FRAGMENTS out of context now? Best take care somebody doesn’t accuse you of bad faith.

  10. cl Says:

    That I didn’t supply the names of others doesn’t entail the conclusion you jumped to. That I felt this was neither the place nor the time is also consistent with the evidence. Some rationalist you are.

  11. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The question remains: Does all of this not suggest that our ability to correctly identify causal connections is highly dependent upon attainment of the proper gateway knowledge, and that at best, what we call “evidence” is quite literally in the eye of the beholder?

    So then, would it be fair to say that the case you are pleading is that we should deny the possibility of reliably concluding, from the evidence, which hypothesis engenders consequences that are more consistent with the real world truth? And if not, which of the two hypotheses should a reasonable person accept as being more likely, based on the comparative consistency of the real world evidence with the most likely consequences of that hypothesis, as compared to the other hypothesis?

    To call their objections rationalizations would be to jump the gun.

    Not at all. In the first place, as stated in my post, we’re talking about people supporting false conclusions by creating arguments designed to contradict and disparage the significance of the facts. But secondly, even if we allow for the possibility that someday the rationalizers might turn out to have been correct all along, it is nonetheless an act of rationalization to respond to contrary evidence and obvious inconsistencies by trying to create a false pretext for disregarding them.

  12. R.C Moore Says:


    which hypothesis engenders consequences that are more consistent with the real world truth? And if not, which of the two hypotheses should a reasonable person accept as being more likely, based on the comparative consistency of the real world evidence with the most likely consequences of that hypothesis, as compared to the other hypothesis?

    The most successful Bayesian choice would be the hypothesis that is more consistent with real world evidence, in a scientific sense, agreed.

    But that says nothing about whether the alternative hypothesis is correct or not. It may merely be lacking the necessary evidence to make it superior to the other hypothesis. Newton was the most correct, until Einstein.

    DD, you have written quite a lot on this subject, and quite well, but I am still unmoved on its application to the Gospels. Christianity, unlike other religions, is an empirical religion. This may only be a coincidence of technology, but still the fact remains — many real people wrote of many real events, in a manner that is highly consistent with reality. This allows a justified conclusion to be reached as to many aspects of the basis for the faith.

    I am firmly in the camp that most of the Gospels are myth, embellishments, propaganda, etc. I find that choosing a supernatural conclusion to the evidence is the least probable of the possible answers. I clearly lean to the side of choosing the outcome “more consistent with real world evidence”

    But one can only refute empirical evidence with empirical evidence. Philosophy is a closed world argument, a manufactured reality almost guaranteed to match its expectations. It supplies no answer to empirical facts, such as the following remark by Papias, an objectively real person, living at the time:


    This, too, the presbyter used to say. ‘Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of his followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter’s. Peter used to adapt his teachings to the occasion, without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord’s sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some of the things as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only – to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it

    What to make of this? No philosophy will make it go away. It is highly objective evidence of a Mark, and a Peter, and discussions on the matter of the Gospels.

    I am not saying it is proof the Gospel Hypothesis is true, what I am saying is that one small fact, can, in theory,, makes your entire argument moot. You now will have to enter back into the world of “excuses and rationalizations”.

  13. Eneasz Says:

    Regarding:
    Prayer studies are not scientifically credible, and that prayer noise should be an elephant in the room is an unjustified, just-so statement. Hell, the first skeptic that commented on said argument of mine called it “Devastating.”

    I followed the link and read the argument as well as the comment. Perhaps I am mistaken, but the statement that your argument was “Devestating” seemed to be made with extreme amounts of sarcasm.

    It was a direct reply to “How do we control for people who pray for all of those who suffer from disease and suffering?”. Which seems trivially simple. You don’t need to control for something that affects all subjects identically (such as gravity).

  14. cl Says:

    Good comment, R.C. – and I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically.

    DD,

    So then, would it be fair to say that the case you are pleading is that we should deny the possibility of reliably concluding, from the evidence, which hypothesis engenders consequences that are more consistent with the real world truth?

    No. I’m saying we shouldn’t be so quick to claim consequence A, B or C as exclusive evidence for our hypothesis.

    ..which of the two hypotheses should a reasonable person accept as being more likely,

    That’s too black-and-white of a question. Hypotheses must not monopolize evidence, lest the creation of inviolable dogma that often constrains objective analysis.

    For example, a lifelong friend with a past history of oxycotton use acting shady and asking us for money is most certainly consistent with the I’m Fiending For More Oxycotton Hypothesis (H1). To assume H1 as true would be in accord with predictable real-world consequences and past experience, and we would be fully justified to deny our friend money on those grounds, correct?

    But guess what? Our friend’s requests for money can also be fully consistent with the I’m Trying To Quit Oxycotton And I’m Too Embarrassed To Tell You I Need Methadone Hypothesis (H2). Even though our assumption in H1 is rationally grounded, it can be quite literally be dead wrong, and I just went through this with a lifelong friend. Although I was rationally grounded to believe in H1, I would have been just as rationally grounded to believe in H2 – which was actually the correct hypothesis – but my stubborn insistence that the evidence only fit my hypothesis almost cost a life. Here I’m glad the stakes aren’t so high, but then again, perhaps they are.

    Earlier you said,

    Either hypothesis being true would force supporters of the other hypothesis to rationalize their beliefs by trying to eliminate (or at least cast doubts on) our ability to distinguish between the distinctive outcomes of each theory.

    ..and in your most recent comment you objected to my subsequent response, which I’ll cite in full here:

    To call their objections rationalizations would be to jump the gun. What happens when proponents of both theories claim the same phenomenon as evidence for their side, as you and I both did on the false prophets thing? Do we call that a draw? I think what we’re up against here is a bit more complex.

    In my example, H2 was correct, but I believed H1 and that belief was undeniably justified. I didn’t try to rationalize anything when I realized I was wrong. Rather, I felt like a fool for being so arrogantly certain that the real-world evidence only supported H1. In light of the above example which illustrates the difficulty in claiming evidence as exclusive support for our hypothesis, do you now see the pertinence of that comment?

    It is quite reasonable that our opponents can have valid reasons for thinking the available real-world evidence also or better upholds their hypothesis, and to assume such constitutes rationalization is to jump the gun.

    Eneasz,

    I understand and fully expect your skepticism in believing someone could leave me a genuine compliment, but as a rationalist I’m taking it at face value until I have evidence to believe contrary. If the compliment turns out to be sarcasm, so be it. My faith in my argument remains unmoved, but if you think a certain subset of prayer studies are credible, by all means, jump in the thread over there. I’m sure people would like to hear your arguments.

  15. Arthur Says:

    …we’re talking about people… creating arguments designed to contradict and disparage the significance of the facts.

    This is part of the terms of the thought experiment.

    …it is… an act of rationalization to respond to contrary evidence and obvious inconsistencies by trying to create a false pretext for disregarding them.

    This is part of the definition of “rationalizing.”

    Actually, I thought “the false prophets thing” was a pretty good example of one party trying to create a false pretext for disregarding the inconsistencies presented by the other.

    P.S. Hey, if no one is qualified to take a step toward one hypothesis or the other, then have we arrived at the conclusion that no non-omniscient person knows anything (the Analysis Paralysis Hypothesis)?

  16. Deacon Duncan Says:

    cl,

    I think you’re a bit too quick to accuse me of forming a black-and-white question when all I’m asking for is an assessment of the relative ranking of the two possibilities under consideration. I’m not saying these are the only two possibilities, I’m simply asking how they compare.

    Nor, for that matter, have I claimed that the existing evidence is exclusively evidence for my hypothesis (which would be difficult in any case as they’re both hypotheses which I have proposed). All I’m doing is comparing the two and noting how the logical consequences of each would produce conditions that could be compared to conditions in the real world. So far no one has shown how any other consequences would logically follow the premises given, so I can understand if the evidence does seem lop-sidedly in favor of one hypothesis over another.

    Personally, I’m doubtful that anyone could derive legitimate and reasonable conclusions from the hypotheses as given that would make the Gospel Hypothesis work out to be more consistent with real-world truth than the Myth Hypothesis, but anyone who thinks they can is certainly welcome to try. I’d like to see it, so I can see if they do indeed have a case, or are merely replacing the original Gospel Hypothesis with one tailored to have a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose guarantee of success.

  17. cl Says:

    DD,

    That you appear to have given my last comment such short thrift is discouraging. The assessment you asked for was addressed quite thoroughly. The “black-and-white” part of my comment had little to do with your personal question and much to do with the way we all need to approach these questions.

    You say all you ask for is “an assessment of the relative ranking of the two possibilities under consideration.” What happens when real-world consequences are such that we might expect them under both hypotheses? It feels like you completely missed my last comment. I’m bummed. I spent a while thinking it through.

    I’m not saying these are the only two possibilities, I’m simply asking how they compare. Nor, for that matter, have I claimed that the existing evidence is exclusively evidence for my hypothesis (which would be difficult in any case as they’re both hypotheses which I have proposed).

    I’ve not said you see only two possibilities, and I gave sound advice as to how to compare the hypotheses. I have said you show a tendency to monopolize evidence and pretend it only supports your preferred hypothesis. You did exactly this in the example of false prophets I was ridiculed for challenging. In that case, you did in fact claim exactly that which you deny – that something which just as reasonably supports the GH – better or only supports the MH.

    As another example, let’s take your stock complaint that God doesn’t show up to drink beer with you right here, right now. You tell us that is exactly what we should expect if the MH were correct – and that might be true – yet you conveniently omit that such is also exactly what we should expect were the Bible’s claims about God correct. Should you contest this on grounds that the Bible’s claims about God differ significantly from those of your self-proposed GH, perhaps you can begin to see why reasonable believers are frustrated. My God is not false because yours is.

    ..I’m doubtful that anyone could derive legitimate and reasonable conclusions from the hypotheses as given that would make the Gospel Hypothesis work out to be more consistent with real-world truth than the Myth Hypothesis,

    Of course you are. You’re an atheist! Be patient. I already said R.C. was in the front of the line.

    I’d like to see it, so I can see if they do indeed have a case, or are merely replacing the original Gospel Hypothesis with one tailored to have a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose guarantee of success.

    The “original gospel hypothesis” is the one in the Bible. What you propose is supposedly something different, which puts the Bible student at a disadvantage. I’ve asked you to show me all the sources and tenets of your personal gospel hypothesis, so that I might educate myself as to your actual position, and so that my formal response might be salient. Where might I find the sources and tenets of your own personal gospel hypothesis? Where are you getting your ideas about what God should do?

    I can’t give you a reasoned alternative without direct answers to those questions.

  18. Deacon Duncan Says:

    R. C. —

    Thanks, your comments are thoughtful and thought-provoking. I want to try and understand you better when you say that empirical evidence must be refuted by empirical evidence. How would one go about doing that, other than by measuring the consequences of one’s hypothesis against the standard of the real-world evidence?

    I think I might raise a quibble about the idea of refuting empirical evidence, since refutation only applies to one’s conclusions about the evidence. To “refute” the evidence itself would mean denying the facts, which I’m sure is not what you meant.

    I don’t think that the example of Newton vs. Einstein quite applies here, since Einstein did not make Newton wrong, he merely differentiated more precisely the conditions under which Newton’s laws apply and those under which they don’t. Also, the changes introduced by Einstein were the result of discovering new facts, whereas Christianity asserts that has a basis in old facts. We are entirely justified, under the circumstances, in examining these alleged facts in the light of the real-world evidence.

    I do agree, though, that we can draw justified conclusions about the things real people have presented as though they were real facts. That, in fact, is precisely what I am seeking to do.

  19. Deacon Duncan Says:

    cl,

    It was just a quick comment, snatched out of the bustle of a busy evening that included working overtime, fixing supper, getting my daughter to the school for an evening performance of a play, inspecting how far the contractors have progressed on our new deck, helping my wife fix a balky printer, and figuring out why the phone bill was so high this month. Rest assured I am still thinking about what you have written.

  20. cl Says:

    No worries. I’m trying not to rush, myself, and I really do hope all that stuff goes well for you. Don’t forget some R&R in between, let’s pick up next week.

    Still, I do submit there’s much of value and pertinence in that most painful story I shared. I don’t know the extent of your experiences with drug addiction situations, but if there’s ever a place where evidence can be difficult to interpret, there it is. It was hard for me to write that out – as I had to make such a sobering confession of error – but it’s quite relevant to the exercise here. There’s nothing more deceptive than obvious facts, and everything we’d expect from HI also fit perfectly with what we’d expect from H2.

    Tangentially, since we just went through weeks and weeks of debate only to agree that miracle claims aren’t falsifiable, I’m curious to hear what you would say to this. I think you have a solid grasp on science and falsifiability, and I’d welcome your comments and criticisms.

  21. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Thank you cl. So with respect to your story, do you think it makes a case for the claim that one cannot draw reliable conclusions, based on the real-world evidence, about whether or not the Gospel Hypothesis is more likely or less likely to be true than the Myth Hypothesis? Or if not, what application do you see your story having with respect to the current discussion?

  22. cl Says:

    The whole thing was essentially cautionary, but by no means do I think it can be minimized, and I’m not saying you’ve minimized it. No – it definitely does not make the case that one can’t draw reliable conclusions about these hypotheses or any. I can’t comment that much on the GH honestly because I’m not sure if I understand it in full, but continuing with the example of the Bible Hypothesis (BH) and the MH – while I hesitate to drag statistics into the conversation – I think we can formulate a Boolean checklist of sorts and tally the results. That’s why I think what you’re doing holds value, I just find myself frustrated with what I see as some arbitrary proclamations concerning God’s behavior.

    But we can cross that bridge when we get there.

  23. R. C. Moore Says:

    I too am troubled by the false dichotomy offered by the MH and the GH. I cannot speak to the Bible Hypothesis, not knowing enough about it, but I would like to add my own alternative — the Bayesian Hypothesis: a weighting of all objective evidence only, and whether the conclusions reached are statistically distinguishable for each other.

  24. Arthur Says:

    cl, can I assume that the Bible is the source of statements about God’s behavior which are not “arbitrary proclamations”?

  25. cl Says:

    R.C.,

    It seems we’re in agreement on this one. I believe DD is receptive, however, and I think he takes our concerns seriously. That believers aren’t the only ones making them also seems a plus. At any rate, I’m confident DD’s future addresses won’t leave us hanging.

    Arthur,

    You’re free to assume whatever you want. Your question seems possibly rhetorical or loaded, so I choose not to answer it.

  26. cl Says:

    Sorry to double-post, but R.C.‘s got me thinking. I’ve asked this several times before to various individuals, and not heard an answer that satisfies: What was the objective evidence for asteroids in 1700? If you say there was none, I submit that Meteor Crater existed in 1700.

  27. R. C. Moore Says:


    I’ve asked this several times before to various individuals, and not heard an answer that satisfies: What was the objective evidence for asteroids in 1700? If you say there was none, I submit that Meteor Crater existed in 1700.

    No replies, because your original thought experiment is a silly overstatement:


    For example, let’s say it was 1709 and I told you there were huge, flying rocks in outer space, and that a big hole in the ground in Flagstaff, Arizona was evidence. We take a drive out there, grab a couple of beers and some sandwiches, and head on out to the desert. When we get there, you tell me, “Hell no, that hole is evidence of one of Von Daniken’s chariots!”

    Until recently, there wouldn’t be too much I could say. Meteor Crater was never recognized as evidence for asteroids until a certain level of gateway knowledge had been acquired, and that only occurred relatively recently. Yet an asteroid indeed formed Meteor Crater some 50,000 years ago. Had someone suggested the site as evidence for huge, flying rocks in outer space 5,000 years ago, they’d probably have been crucified. Or someone like jim would probably call them a disingenuous sophist.

    If someone suggests a solution to a mystery, then ask for evidence, either unseen space rocks or UFO’s. When better evidence come along, revise previous theories.

    But when someone refuses to a) acknowledge objective evidence, and b) tries to inflate non-evidenced claims to the level of evidenced claims, and c) has no real interest in any evidence that falls outside their dogmatic world view, obscuring all discussion with non-sequiters, well then yes, I guess they could be called a “disingenuous sophist.”

    Just hypothetically of course. :)

  28. Arthur Says:

    Your question seems possibly rhetorical or loaded, so I choose not to answer it.

    You can choose not to answer whatever you want, but if Deacon is making “arbitrary proclamations concerning God’s behavior” then it seems only sensible to ask where the real information comes from.

  29. cl Says:

    R.C.

    I feel your comment kinda misses the mark, though. In my “silly overstatement” there was evidence. Couldn’t a big hole in the ground reasonably be viewed as evidence for either hypothesis? Couldn’t someone with a past drug history asking for money be reasonably viewed as supporting more than one hypothesis?

    Hypothetical question: In 1500, who was more justified in your opinion – the person who said Meteor Crater came from a meteor? Or the person who said it was the landing site of an alien craft? Were both rationally justified? Were neither rationally justified? Why?

    Arthur,

    If God does not exist, then all proclamations about God seem arbitrary. If God exists, a subset of proclamations about God are certainly likely to be arbitrary. If that’s what you’re getting at, you’ll get no disagreement from me.

  30. Arthur Says:

    You clearly believe you’re capable of recognizing an “arbitrary proclamation concerning God’s behavior” when you hear one. Or, at the least, you’re comfortable asserting that a proclamation seems arbitrary to you.

    Where do you get your reliable information on God’s behavior? The information by which you judge the reliability of other information?

    You not answering the question seems more loaded to me than the question.

  31. cl Says:

    All proclamations concerning God’s behavior are arbitrary. I’m not presupposing that my information or any information is reliable. The Bible takes authority and makes certain claims about God. DD makes some distinctly different claims. Whether we vote for DD’s Gospel Hypothesis or Myth Hypothesis tells us nothing valuable about the God of the Bible. Pay better attention, because I answered your questions.

  32. cl Says:

    Since opening of mouths seemed unbearable temptation, let the record show that Esneaz‘s baseless argument has now been officially laid to rest.

  33. Arthur Says:

    Pay better attention, because I answered your questions.

    You said that, “if God exists, a subset of proclamations about God are certainly likely to be arbitrary” (in which case, I propose, it would be centrally important to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff). And, of course, you originally asserted—strongly implied?—that Deacon is making arbitrary proclamations about God (in which case, I propose, someone really ought to put him back on track).

    This all sounds pretty silly in light of your new claim, that “all proclamations concerning God’s behavior are arbitrary,” since it means that Deacon is at least as reliable as the Bible on the subject (or at least no less unreliable).

    And why do you seem so impatient? You just made what sounds to me like a fairly momentous observation. Doesn’t it matter to you that you can’t even determine whether or not reliable information about God exists? Do you really just accept that, for all you know, your beliefs about God are entirely arbitrary?

    And what does “the Bible takes authority” mean? And how do you know that it does?

  34. Deacon Duncan Says:

    cl,

    Not to belabor the point, but if your anecdote is cautionary, and yet does not make a case for the claim that we can’t rely on the conclusions we get by comparing hypotheses with the evidence, then what precisely is it cautioning us against?

    And by the way, I’m miffed! You said I had to wait because R. C. was up first. How come Esneaz gets to jump to the front of the line? No fair! :)

  35. Deacon Duncan Says:

    One more thing. You said “I just find myself frustrated with what I see as some arbitrary proclamations concerning God’s behavior” and “All proclamations concerning God’s behavior are arbitrary.” If you could help me understand the root of your frustrations, I’ll see what I can do to alleviate them, at least as far as my own discussion is concerned.

    I don’t believe I’ve made any “proclamations” about God’s behavior, other than to summarize observations that are readily (not to say routinely) verifiable. Nothing I say is intended as an infallible dictu, and every claim I state carries an implicit invitation to measure my conclusions against the infallible standard of objective reality, and to share any discrepancies one might happen to find.

    I have proposed a hypothesis, which is not a declaration of how things are, but merely a conjecture regarding how things might be, depending on how well or how poorly its consequences compare to the consequences of other hypotheses with respect to the real world evidence.

  36. cl Says:

    Arthur,

    Again, my general position – if God exists and wrote the Bible through human hands as claimed – then the Bible’s proclamations about God are not arbitrary. If no God exists, all proclamations about God are arbitrary. If a God exists that does not communicate in any way with humans, all proclamations about God are also arbitrary.

    Here in our particular discussion at DD’s, we’re trying to ‘prove’ whether or not God exists, so I don’t start with the assumption. When I say “all proclamations about God are arbitrary,” that should be understood in the context we’re in here. Here at DD’s, I have no grounds to claim any non-arbitrary proclamations exist yet, because that’s exactly the question we’re trying to resolve.

    DD is making arbitrary proclamations about God. So does the Bible. One difference is, the Bible does claim to be infallible. DD is not saying his claims are anything other than arbitrary, I believe. Contrary, the Bible states its claims with more authority. That’s what was meant by “the Bible takes authority,” and I don’t know that it does – yet.

    Doesn’t it matter to you that you can’t even determine whether or not reliable information about God exists?

    We can determine whether or not reliable information about God exists. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

    DD,

    My anecdotes do not make a case for the claim that “we can’t rely on the conclusions we get by comparing hypotheses with the evidence.” My anecdotes make a case for the claim that it’s perfectly reasonable for real-world evidence to fit more than one hypothesis. Would not supporters of both H1 and H2 (in the oxycotton story) be equally justified? Then what do we do?

    I don’t believe I’ve made any “proclamations” about God’s behavior, other than to summarize observations that are readily (not to say routinely) verifiable.

    I realize you’re not laying down dogma. Maybe ‘proclamations’ isn’t the best word. Still, I disagree with a subset of the observations summarized. For example, the main root of my frustration is the arbitrary proclamation that God should show up (FR) right here right now. I don’t see that as proceeding logically from the argument from scripture. Hence, I see you as challenging a piecemeal god and that doesn’t worry me. Yes – presuming nothing – the Bible’s proclamations about God are also arbitrary, but they happen to differ significantly from and envelop some of the subclaims of your Gospel Hypothesis – with the added fact that they do claim to be the laying down of infallible dictu.

    *Technically, in Esneaz’s case, I wasn’t the one who did the work of rebutting the argument. But, quite a good catch. In truth, I’m actually working on responses to you and R.C. concurrently. They’re going along well, but I’m putting more thought into yours, at least right now.

  37. R. C. Moore Says:


    All proclamations concerning God’s behavior are arbitrary.

    If true, then in terms of any formal logic, we are wasting our time here. I am in this for the intellectual stimulation, but to announce up front that any conclusions attempted are “up front” invalid is a real bummer.

    And they accuse atheists of being nihilists!

  38. cl Says:

    R.C.,

    Don’t lose hope; I don’t suppose arbitrary entails invalid. I say they’re arbitrary only because if we don’t presuppose any one of them to be correct, they’re all just the enunciations of humanity.

  39. R. C. Moore Says:

    Oh, and aren’t when in “everything I say is a lie” territory. If “All proclamations concerning God’s behavior are arbitrary”, is a proclamation concerning God’s behavior, then it
    too is arbitrary.

    I don’t find much value in that kind of knowledge.

  40. cl Says:

    Very good, R.C., want a carrot? And big surprise – what knowledge have I shared that you did find value in?

  41. Arthur Says:

    Here at DD’s, I have no grounds to claim any non-arbitrary proclamations exist…

    By your own lights, you have no such grounds at all, anywhere. Your “general position” is wholly agnostic and noncommittal: if what the Bible says is true, then what it says isn’t arbitrary. If God does not exist, then no non-arbitrary statement about Him exists. I don’t mean to snark, but I knew that already.

    Maybe you’ve mistaken me for someone who didn’t ask you a real question, in the spirit of wondering what the real answer might be.

  42. cl Says:

    Then Arthur you’ve managed to completely confuse me or yourself, I don’t know. When two people are trying to establish whether the GH or MH is more likely to be true, we cannot start with the assumption that God exists.

    What real question are you asking? Shoot from the hip. I’m finishing some work and will be online all afternoon.

  43. Arthur Says:

    Where do you get reliable information on God, cl?

  44. R. C. Moore Says:


    Where do you get reliable information on God, cl?

    That is easy Arthur. The Bible gives us reliable information about God.
    How do we know the Bible is reliable?
    Because it was written by God.
    How do we know it was written by God?

    That is easy Arthur. The Bible gives us reliable information about God.
    How do we know the Bible is reliable?
    Because it was written by God.
    How do we know it was written by God?

    That is easy Arthur. The Bible gives us reliable information about God.
    How do we know the Bible is reliable?
    Because it was written by God.
    How do we know it was written by God?

    That is easy Arthur…..