Built-in biasMay 18, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
This week I want to talk about the relationship between the Gospel Hypothesis and the Bible, but before we get to that there’s one more set of consequences I want to look at. In many ways it’s the most important set of consequences we’ve looked at so far because of its subtle yet pervasive influence on how we perceive the very question we’re investigating.
If the Myth Hypothesis is true, if the Christian God does not exist and the Christian Gospel is merely the product of centuries of myth-building by well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) mortals, then the inescapable consequence of God’s non-existence is that His absence from real life is going to be universal. Every moment of every day of every human life is going to be lived in the absence of God, no exceptions.
Such absolute consistency of experience carries with it a unique peril for the honest inquirer, because we are not born omniscient. We have no innate knowledge of how the world is supposed to be, we merely discover how the world is, and this discovery determines what we will consider “normal.”
Thus, the peril for the honest inquirer is that learning from experience will cause us to become biased in favor of the conclusion that it’s perfectly normal and natural for God to be absent. Who needs to think about whether or not God should show up in the real world when our whole life, and everyone else’s, clearly demonstrates that God’s absence is the default condition? We do not question it because we do not perceive it. It has always been there, since before our individual brains were mature enough to reason, and therefore it becomes part of our broad, unthinking premise of how the world is.
This produces a unique paradox: the Christian who believes in God will also believe that it is perfectly normal and natural for God to fail to show up in real life. No thinking or reasoning is involved in this assumption, because we don’t acquire it by logic, we acquire it by universal and consistent experience. This assumption is so pervasive and fundamental that Christians have difficulty even discussing the possibility of God showing up without perceiving the idea as absurd. JP Holding can’t discuss the idea without re-casting it as a whiny demand that God come wipe every runny nose; cl presents it as demanding that God show up to drink beer with us. One fellow I was discussing this with even went so far as to suggest that I wanted Jesus to show up in his bedroom to watch him have sex with his wife!
Yet there is nothing remotely absurd about the idea of showing up, in person, to spend time with someone you love when given the opportunity to do so. Christians find it absurd merely because it is so inconsistent with universal human experience. The Christian faith is built on the paradoxical juxtaposition of faith-based belief in God’s existence, and experience-based belief that His absence is normal and therefore unsurprising.
As we discussed before, this falls squarely in the category of functional rationalization, because it has the effect of depriving us of the ability to tell whether God is real or not, by making the consequences of the Gospel Hypothesis indistinguishable from the consequences of the Myth Hypothesis. The Myth Hypothesis predicts that God’s absence will be universal, and having learned from universal human experience that it is indeed normal for God to be absent, we innately assume that this is the natural state of affairs. For Christians, this means that we should not expect God to show up, and thus that we should not expect the Gospel Hypothesis to have consequences that are any different from those of the Myth Hypothesis.
We are thus innately and inherently biased against the possibility of using reason to discover the truth about God. Unless and until we can break through this bias, and can consider, from a rational perspective, whether current conditions are indeed those which would flow from the Gospel Hypothesis, our experience will blind us to the significance of the facts. We will take for granted the very things that should be shouting out to us, the glaring inconsistencies we cannot see because our eyes are so accustomed to the glare.
This is why I have begun by making a separation between the Bible and the Gospel Hypothesis. The Bible was written long after God’s failure to show up in real life was a dominant factor in human experience. Oh, superstition was still there, as was credulity, and a tendency among some to exploit the superstitious credulity of others in order to obtain some social, political and/or financial gain. But the basic, universal observation of God’s absence was there, and has formed an important part of the mythology since then.
Before we consider the Bible, therefore, we need first to consider the Gospel Hypothesis, so that we can know whether the Bible’s most fundamental assumptions are true. Is there indeed a logical reason to expect God’s alleged love for mankind to result in His universal absence from objective, real-life experience? If not, then it would be very ill-advised to approach the Bible on its own terms, because it is going to be biased by the expectation that God’s absence is normal, and will draw us into the same bias by appealing to our common experience of His absence.
How can the reasonable, objective reader know that I am telling the truth? By looking at the Gospel Hypothesis and working out what consequences really would result from such a powerful deity having such a strong love for us all. Try making the analysis without making the experience-based (yet unfounded) assumption that it is normal and natural for God not to show up. Ask the question, proceeding from the first premises, of whether such an assumption is really justified. Ask whether we ought to expect God to be as absent from Heaven as He is from earth. And if not, ask why.