RationalizationMay 14, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
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.