How great a loss!

In response to “Our Unicorn Overlords,” ThatOtherGuy writes:

I do notice, DD, that you’ve moved away from the “both are equally UNjustified” stance a bit… though I think the usage of parsimony covers your bases on that one, don’t be surprised if SOMEONE mentions the shift.

It’s not actually a shift, per se. What I’m saying is that IF two theories predict exactly the same real-world consequences, then we are equally UNjustified in preferring one over the other. (We’re free to do so if we wish, there’s just no justification for it.) But if we take a step back, and take a critical look at that big IF, we find that, in fact, there is good reason to believe we’ll never have that problem.

A true hypothesis, by definition, is one that is consistent with the truth. A false hypothesis, by definition, is not consistent with the truth. That’s what “true” and “false” mean. Two hypotheses that contradict one another are not going to both be true, because truth is consistent with itself. At most one of them is going to be consistent with the truth. Thus, the only way two hypotheses can contradict each other AND both be equally consistent with the facts is if they’re both false and are equally INconsistent with the facts. Hence my remarks about why we are equally UNjustified in believing either one.

Now, if we have insufficient information about the real-world truth, we may encounter individual scenarios where we cannot determine which hypothesis is indeed more consistent with the evidence. That’s not the case with the Myth Hypothesis versus the Gospel Hypothesis, of course: we’ve got more evidence that directly pertains to the real-vs-expected consequences of MH vs GH than for almost any other scientifically-approachable question. Plus, if we lacked enough real-world information to be able to tell the difference between a Myth and a genuine Gospel, that would mean the authors of Scripture themselves would have no valid basis for the claims they make about God. So we can pretty much dispense with that line of inquiry. Such a pervasive and consistent lack of factual information about God would itself be a fairly conclusive proof of the Myth and disproof of the Gospel.

The other way that we can have “equal” evidence for conflicting hypotheses is by the sad, simple expedient of deceiving ourselves about the evidence. It’s not that the evidence really is equally consistent with both hypotheses, it’s that we rationalize away the inconsistencies, filtering them out via our worldview. It’s not that our preferred hypothesis really would result in consequences consistent with the truth, it’s that we know what consequences it needs to predict, and simply deceive ourselves into believing that they predict the right ones.

A false hypothesis is, by definition, inconsistent with the truth. No matter how we try to deceive ourselves, the inconsistencies are going to be there, and covering up one is only going to create one or more new inconsistencies. We can deal with this, self-deceptively, by compartmentalizing our thinking and thus preventing ourselves from noticing that our rationalizations only create new problems to replace the old. But the inconsistencies will always be there.

For example, we can try to deny the undeniable fact that we do not see God showing up in real life, outside the minds, words, and feelings of men. But this denial is going to be inconsistent with the real world evidence. If we try to contrive a Biblical Hypothesis that accounts for the real-world evidence, we end up with a hypothesis that necessarily predicts that we should not see God showing up in real life. That’s an inconsistency: we started by denying the fact that we don’t see God showing up in real life, and end up proclaiming that God’s absence is exactly what we ought to expect. Now it’s undeniable not just because the evidence is overwhelmingly consistent with the Myth Hypothesis, but because it would falsify our “Biblical” Hypothesis for Him to show up.

And how will we explain this absence from real life? We could say that He is hiding Himself in order to force us to live by faith, but then we run into the inescapable consequence of the undeniable fact: God’s absence means we have no opportunity to trust Him. Our faith is in the person whose teachings we believe, and in God’s absence, our only option is to believe the teachings of men. Worse, our only option is to believe men who contradict the Myth Hypothesis (and each other), in a world that is overwhelmingly consistent with the conclusion that the Myth Hypothesis is true. Believing the inconsistent things men say, in the face of evidence that contradicts them, is not faith, but merely gullibility. Thus the inconsistency: God’s absence makes it impossible for us to have the genuine, valid, theocentric faith that His absence is allegedly intended to produce.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Inconsistencies are everywhere, and new ones spring up every time we try to bury the old ones. Self-deception, once begun, becomes a habit, an addiction. More is never enough.

That’s why I use the term Loser’s Compromise. When we deceive ourselves into believing that our preferred hypothesis predicts, and matches, exactly the same consequences as the hypothesis that contradicts us, we lose so many things: intellectual integrity, credibility, self-respect, and on and on. We become irritable, accusatory, suspicious. Rather than admit that the facts are against us, we become paranoid, scapegoat hunters, driven by the need to find someone to blame, someone else to be wrong for us so that we don’t have to.

It’s easy to find people afflicted with this problem, because they’re prone to write letters to the editor, or issue press releases, or even form national movements and organizations dedicated to “defending the truth” (as they define it). They have the support of others who are also deceiving themselves, and who are willing to overlook (or are no longer able to perceive) the tortured logic, the self-contradictions, and the downright embarrassing behavior.

We don’t have to be losers, of course. We can admit our fallibilities, and allow ourselves to seriously consider that our beliefs, yes, even our beliefs about God, aren’t necessarily infallible. We can let the facts drive our conclusions about faith, instead of making faith the rule by which we mentally manipulate the facts. It’s not necessarily a comfortable experience, but it’s a good and valuable one.

I did it a few years ago, and I survived. I’m even better off for it. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s worth it. Buy the truth at any price, and you will not be ashamed. Shame comes from compromising with gullibility, and losing our intellectual integrity. No faith is worth that loss.

 
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Posted in Loser's Compromise, Realism, Unapologetics. 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “How great a loss!”

  1. John Morales Says:

    DD, a quibble:

    [1] A true hypothesis, by definition, is one that is consistent with the truth. [2] A false hypothesis, by definition, is not consistent with the truth. [2a] That’s what “true” and “false” mean. [3] Two hypotheses that contradict one another are not going to both be true, because truth is consistent with itself. [4] At most one of them is going to be consistent with the truth. [5] Thus, the only way two hypotheses can contradict each other AND both be equally consistent with the facts is if they’re both false and are equally INconsistent with the facts.

    Yes, but.
    1. Agreed.
    2. Agreed.
    2a. Well, in relation to hypotheses.
    3. Agreed, but what about apparent incompatibility? E.g. Wave–particle duality* back in the day. They both made valid predictions for different phenomena of light and neither could be falsified, yet they were considered contradictory based on then-current understanding.
    4. Agreed.
    5. Or they’re both apparently mutually-contradictory yet special cases of a more general hypothesis, as per the example in [3].


    * Wave–particle duality.
    “The idea of duality is rooted in a debate over the nature of light and matter dating back to the 1600s, when competing theories of light were proposed by Christiaan Huygens and Isaac Newton: light was thought either to consist of waves (Huygens) or of particles (Newton). Through the work of Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie, and many others, current scientific theory holds that all particles also have a wave nature (and vice versa).”

  2. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    Ah, I see. More of a next-step sort of thing, my bad.

    Onward then! :p

  3. Tacroy Says:

    John Morales: I don’t think your example of wave-particle duality really applies in that way:

    w.r.t [3]: The wave hypothesis and the particle hypothesis were not by definition contradictory. Nobody saw the connection until Einstein simply because nothing in our “middle kingdom” (as Dawkins puts it) exhibits that duality. The GH vs the MH, on the other hand, start with “God exists” and “God doesn’t exist”, respectively – there’s no way to reconcile them.

    w.r.t [5]: The wave hypothesis and the particle hypothesis were not equally consistent with the facts; they were both consistent with their own set of facts, though there was some overlap (the wave hypothesis, for instance, had a really hard time explaining reflection and refraction, and good luck getting interference patterns out of the particle hypothesis). The MH and the GH, on the other hand, are both supposedly consistent with the same set of facts – the world as we see it today.

    So yeah. If you have two hypotheses that are mutually contradictory and yet purport to explain the same set of facts, then at most one of them can be true. There’s no way that some other, greater hypothesis can encompass them both – doing so requires that this greater hypothesis explain something that is inherently contradictory.

    If I hypothesize that Jack has exactly one apple right now, and you hypothesize that Jack has exactly zero apples right now, there is no overarching hypothesis that can make 1 = 0; either one or both of us is wrong.

    If, on the other hand, you hypothesize that Jack has enough apples to make apple strudel, and I hypothesize that Jack has enough apples to make apple pie, we may very well observe pie/strudel duality – Jack could have enough apples to make both pie and strudel, which would be an overarching hypothesis.

  4. cl Says:

    [Moved to the forums]

  5. Tacroy Says:

    [Copied to the forums. This post is not trollish per se, however this particular line of discussion is an diversionary tangent and I would prefer such discussions to take place in the forums.]

    I’m not sure how you can say that the Myth Hypothesis and Gospel Hypothesis entail identical predictions; the world that results from the Gospel Hypothesis as stated is almost completely different from the Myth Hypothesis.

    However, and I thought this is what DD is trying to get at before, you can make the GH look more like the MH, if you are willing to make changes to the GH.

    The GH, as stated, consists of the following items:
    1. God exists.
    2. God is omnipotent.
    3. God is omniscient.
    4. God is omniphilios (all-loving, I just made up that term and probably didn’t conjugate the Greek properly)
    5. God’s love for us was such that He was willing to dwell among us.
    6. God died for us so that we may enjoy a personal, eternal relationship together.

    If God has only (hah!) those qualities stated in the hypothesis, then the world as we see it today would be much different – we’d see God on the nightly news, as DD has frequently said. In order to make the GH consistent with the observed universe, you must amend at least one of these items, and make it weaker. God can’t show up because that would affect our free will? Well then, that takes out claims 2 and 5 (and implicitly, 3 – there’s no such thing as free will if someone knows every single action you will ever take and thought you will ever have). God doesn’t show up because He knows we’d act like a bunch of spoiled brats? Well then, there go claims 4 and 6.

    Any amendment you make to the GH must weaken its claims, if you want it to match reality. Any such amendments bring further complications, which will mean more amendments and more complications, until you have the anemic and restricted God that so many people seem to believe in today – and when real fathers act like that Holy Father, they get thrown in jail.

  6. Hunt Says:

    Most people’s belief systems (“world views”) also actively discourage doubt. This is probably true of just about everyone, but in religious people the problem is particularly acute. I once had an interaction with a woman on another blog who described Satanic influence that was casting doubt on her faith. I tried to convey to her the absolute peril of subscribing to system where the belief was itself actively compensating for doubts about the belief. To no avail.

  7. jim Says:

    [Copied to the forums. Same note as Tacroy's, above.]

    Tacroy:

    You make a good point, which is exactly the point Duncan is making, if I’m reading him right. And your analogy of real fathers vs. the ‘Heavenly Father’ is apt enough, even without requiring an exact 1 to 1 correspondence. When statements are made such as ‘God loves us’, and ‘God cares for us’, these mean something in a context we can relate to; a human context. Furthermore, THIS is the God delivered unto the flock through the kind of preaching and teaching that goes on in most Christian gatherings. It’s when the gross contradictions to the GH are pointed out that apologists start waffling. Common sense expectations are qualified away until there really isn’t much of a God left. His apparent aloofness is rationalized through exegetical nit-picking, or reinterpretations of what ‘love’ and ‘cares for’ actually mean. And this doesn’t just go on within the confines of the GH hypothesis. Common understanding is skewered throughout, from justification of internal inconsistencies, to all the other factors which point to the mythical nature of the belief system itself. If a caring, active God were real, the world would be a MUCH different place!

    I don’t understand why the simplicity of the GH/MH is so hard to grasp for some. Naturally, there are going to be quibbles regarding the exact way things should work themselves out, but the overall picture is strikingly clear, I think. It would be one thing if we were talking about the Deist’s version of God. Then the only thing anybody would be arguing about would be whether or not we could glean an original designer of the world. But seriously, any of these other theistic arguments could apply equally to any invisible friend you choose, with little to no tweaking.

    There was a Christian I knew some years ago; we often talked about these things. One day he walked into the apartment where I was painting some cabinets, and announced “Jim, I don’t believe in the bible or God anymore.” The remaining months that we worked together were filled with conversations about how we had deluded ourselves, and how utterly transparent that delusion was. Believe it or not, it really is a lot like losing the belief in Santa Claus, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense at all. You feel kind of silly for having swallowed such an obvious fraud, maybe a little embarrassed, but…you get over it, and move on.

    Hey, reality isn’t always great. In fact, it sucks a lot of the time. But I just believe that a thinking person owes himself or herself a shot at seeing things for how they really are, rather than going on to the end of their days believing in Santa, or other assorted fairy tales. Furthermore, considering the circumstances it’s my opinion that seeing the God of the theistic myth as anything like a truly loving father is a perversion, and an insult to fatherhood.

    (I was just proofing and noticed that I said I don’t understand how people can believe in this stuff. Actually, the contrary is true. I am woefully aware of the reasons, and in fact spent several years believing in and promulgating them. Sometimes, I forget).

  8. jim Says:

    Hunt:

    “I once had an interaction with a woman on another blog who described Satanic influence that was casting doubt on her faith. I tried to convey to her the absolute peril of subscribing to system where the belief was itself actively compensating for doubts about the belief. To no avail.”

    Yeah. In fact, often such a person will be told that the ‘Satanic influence’ itself is proof that her faith is true. Or in other words, the more you doubt, the more you can be assured of the validity of your beliefs. Christian logic is like working in a candied pretzel factory…it all gets twisted, salted, and dipped in chocolate (or carob, as you prefer).

  9. cl Says:

    [Moved to the forums.]

  10. John Morales Says:

    Tacroy, thanks for the analysis re my duality example.

  11. Deacon Duncan Says:

    ThatOtherGuy —

    No bad, you gave me a good seque for my next post in the series. :)