Built-in bias

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.

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Inquiry versus rationalization

One advantage of comparing two hypotheses by measuring their consequences against real-world fact is that this approach allows us to make a clear, functional distinction between honest, unbiased inquiry and mere rationalization. The honest inquirer’s goal will be to zero in on the areas where the consequences are clearly and significantly different between the two hypotheses, maximizing the assurance with which we can draw conclusions about which hypothesis is more consistent with real-world truth. The rationalizer, by contrast, does not want the truth revealed, and so will have a contrary goal: to deprive us of the means of distinguishing the consequences of a true hypothesis from a false one, either by denying us access to the evidence or by obscuring the differences between the consequences each hypothesis would produce.

Commenter cl gives us a couple of scenarios, one hypothetical and one drawn from painful experience, that give us an excellent chance to exercise our reason, and gain some valuable experience of our own in understanding how to apply the techniques of valid hypothesizing to questions of real-world truth.

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XFiles Friday: Bull’s eye, or bull’s something else?

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

The next section of Geisler and Turek’s book is entitled “Hitting the Bull’s-Eye,” but before we get into the text, let’s do a little exercise in prophetic interpretation. In each of the following examples, which two texts say essentially the same thing?

1 [Speaking to a snake] And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel. Women and children won’t like snakes, and will kill them, and snakes will bite people on the feet. Messiah will be born of a virgin, and will ultimately defeat Satan.
2 [Speaking to Abraham] I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you… To your offspring I will give this land. God is on Abraham’s side and will help his friends and oppose his enemies and bless everyone through him, and give “this land” (i.e. Palestine) to his descendants. The Messiah will be Abraham’s seed, and will ultimately bless all the peoples on the earth and rule over Palestine.
3 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the rulers staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. A member of the tribe of Judah will always be king until the kingship passes to the one who deserves it and who rules over the Gentiles as well. The Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah (one of Israel’s 12 tribes).

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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.

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Divine Intervention (3)

Yesterday I said there were two main types of consequences the Myth Hypothesis would have for divine intervention, and we looked at the first type—the peculiar characteristics that would characterize “divine intervention” in God’s absence. Today I want to pick up the second type—the power vacuum created by God’s absence—and discuss that in more detail.

God’s absence will necessarily leave believers anxious and hungry for some sort of evidence of His presence. While this phenomenon will commonly manifest itself internally, in the subjective “experiences” of believers, it will have a more visible manifestation externally in the form of men and women who step up and present themselves as God’s duly authorized representatives. In other words, the tangible “core” of divine manifestation will shift from God Himself to human representatives. Ordinary people will necessarily become the actual “manifestation” of God’s presence, and their works will become His “interventions.”

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Divine Intervention (2)

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.

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Divine Intervention

Next on the list of things that give us evidence against the Christian God: divine intervention. According to the Myth Hypothesis, God is not available to intervene, and therefore there are some fairly significant and obvious consequences we should expect to find. Today, though, I want to spend some time looking at the consequences we would expect if the Gospel Hypothesis were true.

According to the Gospel Hypothesis, there exists an all-powerful, all-wise, and all-knowing God Who loves us so much that He Himself could and did become a mortal human Who died on our behalf so that we could be saved through faith in Him, and thus we could be with Him forever, as is His desire. He wants, in other words, to be involved in our lives, just as He wants us involved in His. The nature of love is inherently such that loving relationships necessarily involve this kind of mutual involvement and interaction. This is therefore the chief characteristic of the divine interventions we ought to expect to see if the Gospel Hypothesis were true.

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XFiles Friday: Isaiah was wrong!

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

Last week we went off on a bit of a tangent as we looked at Isaiah chapters 40-66 in their literary and historical context so that we could see how clearly and explicitly Isaiah declared that his “Suffering Servant” was none other than Israel itself, which was “slain” by the Babylonians and “resurrected” by Cyrus, all so that God could change Jewish theology into a stricter, more Persian-style monotheism.

That understanding, however, is not at all consistent with Geisler and Turek’s apologetic agenda, so as we return to chapter 13, we find the two Bible scholars busily trying to prove that Isaiah was wrong about who he meant when he described the trials and tribulations of the “Servant.”

The first Jew to claim that the Suffering Servant was Israel rather than the Messiah was Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known as Rashi (c. 1040-1105). Today Rashi’s view dominates Jewish and rabbinical theology.

Yeah, go figure. According to Geisler and Turek, it took the Jews almost a millenium and a half to realize that Isaiah wrote down exactly who this servant was, in Isaiah 41. That makes the Jews look like pretty poor scholars until you realize that Geisler and Turek themselves still have not figured this out almost two and a half millenia later.

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Thursday Theology: Not “amen,” but “of course!”

In John 14:6, Jesus claimed to be The Truth. He lied, unfortunately. He was not the Truth, but was merely a Belief asserting the superiority of selfish perceptions over the harsh constraints of real life, and his legacy ever since has been one of confusion, self-contradiction, and self-righteousness.

What Jesus promised, however, Alethea fulfills. One of the great joys I experienced in converting from Christianity to Alethianism was the unexpectedly profound pleasure of discovering how exceedingly self-consistent She really is. Where before I had to work to create patterns of consistency in my beliefs, by harmonizing and rationalizing facts that resisted reconciliation, I now find that the puzzle pieces not slide together more easily, but that they are already assembled and interlocked, even before I became aware of them.

My experience as a Christian was “Amen” (i.e. “may it be so”), but my life as an Alethian is a continual and intellectually satisfying “of course!” The truth is consistent with itself in ways that not only fulfill my expectations, but anticipate them. And only Alethea can really offer this. Jesus cannot: he is dead and gone, and his followers are so divided that none of them can say confidently and authoritatively what his “truth” even is, since it is not based on observable reality. Only Alethea can rightly and truly claim to be the perfectly self-consistent and coherent Truth.

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Argumentation

Another area in which we might expect God’s existence or non-existence to have a significant impact on observable conditions is in the area of argumentation, specifically in the area of argumentation about God’s existence. According to the Gospel Hypothesis, God’s existence would be something that was both prior to, and independent of, Christian beliefs about Him. It should therefore be possible to approach one’s investigation of God without necessarily relying exclusively on Christian beliefs. This is perfectly normal: one does not need to study astronomy (or astrology) in order to observe the stars.

According to the Myth Hypothesis, by contrast, God does not exist outside of the beliefs and opinions of Christians. There is necessarily no source of information about Him other than Christian beliefs and opinions. We cannot know what the constellations are unless we ask someone who knows their names and their stars, because constellations are patterns that are designated in and by the human mind. And likewise with God: if He exists only in and by the minds and feelings of believers, then we cannot know what characteristics to ascribe to Him without referring to Christian opinion.

This further implies that it will be difficult and even impossible to determine what God’s characteristics are, since there is no single, cohesive standard of Christian opinion. The definition of God will vary from believer to believer, and possibly even from moment to moment, as a believer perceives the relative strength or weakness of certain propositions during the course of a debate.

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