An “inaccurate” question?May 28, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
We’ve been having an interesting discussion about how the real-world evidence relates to the consequences that would naturally result from the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis, especially with regard to the latter. One Christian objection in particular strikes me as deserving a post of its own in response. Before we look at that objection, however, let’s review what a hypothesis is and how it is used.
A hypothesis is actually quite simple: it’s a proposition that has testable consequences. In other words, to construct a valid hypothesis, all we need to do is make a declarative statement that is specific enough and self-consistent enough that an honest and objective inquirer can work out what observable consequences ought reasonably to result if the statement is true. For example, if we say “beer is an intoxicating beverage,” that statement is a valid hypothesis. Just by analyzing the sentence, we can describe the consequences we ought to see if the statement is true: we should see people get intoxicated when they drink beer, and we should measure increased levels of blood alcohol after drinking.
Notice that there is no requirement that a hypothesis describe a true condition. We can just as well state a hypothesis like “milk is an intoxicating beverage.” Once again, an analysis of the sentence is sufficient to determine what specific, observable consequences ought to result if the hypothesis is true: we should see people getting drunk on milk, and should be able to measure increased levels of blood alcohol in milk drinkers shortly after they’ve imbibed.
Not all statements make valid hypotheses, however. “Loki works in mysterious ways” is a statement that really covers just about any possible outcome. We can’t really look at, say, today’s weather report and tell whether it supports or refutes the statement that Loki works in mysterious ways. Likewise, inherently self-contradictory statements are untestable. If we say “Childless unmarried spouses have healthier children,” we’re not going to be able to describe an observable set of consequences against which we could compare the evidence.
The whole point of the hypothesis, remember, is to serve as a disciplined and objective methodology for finding the answers to factual questions. We can have an invalid hypothesis—i.e. a statement from which no meaningful and verifiable consequences can be adduced—but we cannot have an inaccurate hypothesis, because accuracy is a quality of answers and conclusions, and the hypothesis is merely a formal way of stating what the question is.
Now, once we’ve formulated our hypothesis, we can analyze it and describe the consequences that would naturally result if the hypothesis were true. This in turn allows us to compare our predicted consequences to the consequences we observe in the real world. At that point, and not before that point, we can draw conclusions as to whether or not the hypothesis describes a conclusion that is consistent with the real world truth. (For added accuracy, we can and should compare multiple hypothesis that have distinctively different consequences, in order to determine which hypothesis produces consequences that are the best fit for the objective evidence.)
My Gospel Hypothesis states, as a testable proposition, the idea that there exists an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving Creator Who wants a genuine, personal, eternal relationship with each of us, to the point that He is willing and able to become one of us, dwell among us for a time, and then die for us so that we can be together forever. This is a valid hypothesis: it does not contradict itself, and it allows us to determine, just from examining the terms of the hypothesis, what consequences would result from this hypothesis being true.
We’ve discussed at some length why the conditions specified in the Gospel Hypothesis lead naturally to the consequences I’ve described, and we’ve all agreed (even the Christians!) that real-world conditions do not match the consequences I’ve outlined. Having stated our hypothesis, worked out its observable consequences, and measured them against real-world conditions, we are now entitled to conclude that the Gospel Hypothesis does not describe a situation that is consistent with the truth.
The Christian objection at this point is revealing. The complaint is that my hypothesis is “inaccurate,” that it is “incorrect” and even “bunk.” If this were simply an admission of the conclusion that the Gospel Hypothesis describes a God Who does not actually exist, that would be a reasonable observation. But that’s not at all what this particular objection is driving at.
I have stated clearly and unequivocally, and repeated numerous times in response to allegations to the contrary, that the Gospel Hypothesis is an inquiry into real world conditions. It is specifically not, in any sense, an inquiry into what the Bible does or does not mean to say. Yet the objection to this hypothesis is that it is supposedly “incorrect” because it does not accurately present the teaching of the Bible. The teachings of the Bible aren’t even on topic for this particular question, yet the objection is raised that we must reject the hypothesis a priori, regardless of its consequences and regardless of the evidence, solely because the Bible allegedly does not teach it.
Obviously, there’s absolutely no reason why we need to care what the Bible says when the Bible is not the subject of our inquiry. There’s certainly no rule that says we can’t ask a scientific question unless we phrase the question in strictly Bible-approved terms. Such a constraint would introduce intolerable bias into our investigation, and would invalidate any conclusions we might think we were entitled to draw. This might be a desirable outcome if we knew that the facts were opposed to our beliefs, and wished to contrive a rationalization for our preconceived conclusions. Such a frankly and arbitrarily prejudicial demand, however, has no place in honest inquiry.
It’s easy to see why this objection is being raised, of course. Christians can neither deny that the evidence is inconsistent with the Gospel Hypothesis being true, nor admit that the hypothesis is false. For all their objections and protests that the Gospel Hypothesis is not what the Bible teaches, they do indeed believe in the idea of the loving, self-sacrificial Father, and don’t want to admit that real-world facts are inconsistent with the conclusion that He exists. Christians therefore have a strongly compelling motivation to find some excuse to shut down the whole inquiry, and to reject the fact-finding without ever seriously looking at the facts.
By trying to force the discussion away from a consideration of the facts and into a traditionally endless debate over what the Bible means, Christians are hoping to insulate themselves from the impact of the truth. It would be a devilishly effective strategy, were we to fall for it, because no matter what arguments or evidence we used to support our interpretation of the Bible, the Christian can always reply, “Well, that’s not how I interpret the Bible,” and walk away feeling unscathed. He doesn’t even need to explain what he thinks the correct interpretation is, he just needs to declare what it isn’t, and thus all contrary evidence is irrelevant by fiat.
Read back through the comments and see how many times Christians keep insisting that we are only allowed to talk about what the Bible does and does not say, and how many times I try to explain that we’re not investigating what the Bible says right now, and how many times Christians acknowledge that I am indeed not discussing what the Bible says and yet still insist that the discussion cannot be valid unless we drop the whole topic and talk instead about what the Bible does or does not mean to say.
As I said yesterday, it’s a transparently bogus objection. Christians don’t want to face the facts directly, and they try desperately to divert us into a subjective and futile BS session over “what the Bible means to me.” The latter discussion, being subjective, they cannot lose. The former, they cannot win. And they know it.
How can you know that I am speaking the truth, and what will be the sign of my correctness? Behold, the Christians themselves will give you a sign: they will not be able to admit that we can formulate and test a Gospel Hypothesis without reference to the Bible, and will continue to insist that our study is invalid because it compares the Gospel Hypothesis directly to the real-world facts. What is more, they will argue that our Gospel Hypothesis is somehow biased, on the grounds that it allows us to reach a fact-based conclusion that is incompatible with Christian beliefs.
When that happens, I will point out that it is actually very difficult to construct a biased hypothesis, which is why it is taking the Christians so long to come up with an alternative hypothesis that sounds impartial while still guaranteeing a predetermined Christian conclusion. (It’s doubly difficult when you realize that this hypothesis must also make God’s absence sound perfectly reasonable and explainable without admitting that there’s any undeniable absence to explain!)
Like Mark Twain used to say, tell the truth—it’s easier. My Gospel Hypothesis was very easy to come up with because I was under no obligation to try and bias it in favor of one conclusion or the other. And it’s clearly an honest and unbiased presentation of the concept of a loving, almighty Father willing and able to die for us, as one of us, so that we could enjoy a genuine, personal, eternal relationship with Him. It’s about as simple and direct a statement of the concept as you could have; you can’t rephrase it in a way that would make it less biased, because there’s no bias in it that you could remove.
So watch and see. You’d think it would be foolish of me to make such a prediction when my opponents could simply contrive not to fulfill it. But they can’t. Their actions and their rhetorical defenses are constrained by the consequences of the Myth Hypothesis. They simply have no alternative but to fulfill my prophecy. Watch and see.