How great a loss!June 10, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
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.