Straw and chaffJune 17, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
The Christian response to the Gospel Hypothesis has been interesting, though more for what it reveals about apologetics than for any flaw it purports to show in the Gospel Hypothesis itself. Indeed, it seems the only purported flaw that Christians want to talk about is the accusation that the Gospel Hypothesis is a straw man version of Christianity, and that proving the GH to be inconsistent with the facts is therefore no obstacle to Christianity being true.
That’s a bogus argument, as we can illustrate by means of a parallel case. The Book of Mormon claims to tell the story of a small group of Jews who migrated to the Americas around 600BC and who, over the course of the next several centuries, grew into two great nations, the Nephites and the Lamanites, that warred with one another until the Nephites were eventually wiped out. We can test whether the Book of Mormon is a true and reliable account, therefore, by proposing a Jewish Migration Hypothesis as a factual prerequisite that needs to be true before the BoM can be true. The Jewish Migration Hypothesis doesn’t need to be Mormonism in order to evaluate the truthfulness of Mormon Scriptures. It just needs to state a testable hypothesis with implicit and specific consequences we can look for and compare with the consequences of a competing hypothesis.
Our competing hypothesis, the Hoax Hypothesis, states that the Book of Mormon is a purely fictional account dressed up to appear to be some kind of Scripture, without any historical justification. Thus, we have a fairly clear pair of hypotheses with distinctly different consequences. If the Jewish Migration Hypothesis is true, then we ought to find a rather large body of evidence consistent with a significant Jewish migration to the Americas around 600 BC with the subsequent development of two great Semitic nations that frequently warred with one another. We ought to find Jewish artifacts in the archeological evidence, and Semitic genes (not Asian genes) when we study the DNA of native American descendants of these alleged Lamanites. There ought to be evidence of Jewish language, culture, technology and worship in both the ancient and the surviving civilisations of North, South and Central America.
Of all the ethnic groups that have ever existed, the Jewish culture has proven to be the most successful at maintaining its distinctive cultural identity across different national environments and vast periods of time. It should be easy, therefore, to find abundant physical manifestations of Jewish culture in the archeology and ethnology of the peoples who were indigenous in the Americas at the time the first European settlers arrived. The pervasive absence of such evidence, by contrast, would be strongly consistent with the Hoax Hypothesis, and strongly inconsistent with the Jewish Migration Hypothesis.
In point of fact, this evidence of a significant Jewish presence in the ancient Americas is uniformly absent, both archeologically and genetically. Book of Mormon disclaimers notwithstanding, we can rule out the notion that the BoM represents a true and historically reliable account of God’s dealings with men, based on the inconsistency between the real-world evidence and the factual prerequisite stated in the Jewish Migration Hypothesis. The JMH does not need to be Mormonism, or to be the Book of Mormon, in order to demonstrate the fraudulent nature of the Mormon Scriptures. Nor is its significance diminished just because it omits Mormon excuses for why we ought to expect a Jewish Migration to leave only such evidence as we can actually find in archeology and genetics. As with the Gospel Hypothesis, the Jewish Migration Hypothesis examines the factual basis on which the (Mormon or Christian) Scriptures’ truth claims depend. If the fundamental factual claim is false, then the excuses and rationalizations built on top of that claim are also unjustified.
This fact causes no small consternation among apologists, as cl illustrates. He tries to discredit this argument by calling the Gospel Hypothesis a “straw man” argument. A straw man argument, however, is when the debater presents a distorted and/or diminished version of his opponent’s views, and claims that they are his opponents views. Before I could be guilty of offering a straw man argument, therefore, I would have to claim that the Gospel Hypothesis is Christianity. Cl, however, is the most vocal participant denying that I call the GH Christianity. By his own oft-repeated accusations, he documents that I have not and do not make the claim that the GH is Christianity. Thus, I cannot be guilty of a straw man, because I am not presenting the GH as being my opponent’s views. I merely present it as a hypothesis that can be tested against the facts.
And yet, paradoxically, cl is also the most vocal proponent of the notion that the GH undeniably is Christianity, repeatedly listing the points of similarity between the GH and Christian teachings, and asking how I can possibly deny it. Thus, once again, he contradicts himself and exonerates me of the charge of proposing a straw man. If, as he claims, the GH is indeed Christianity for all the reasons he enumerates, then it does not misrepresent Christian teachings, and is thus not a straw man. And yet, contradicting himself once again, he claims to know that the GH is not Christianity, thus exonerating me once more: his accusation against me is that I’m allegedly making a claim which he knows for a fact to be true. So what’s wrong with that?
What cl is trying to set up is a situation where, no matter what I say, I’m wrong. He asks me if the GH is Christianity in hopes that I will answer either yes or no. If I say yes, he claims I’m wrong because he can list X, Y, and Z that are part of Christianity but not part of the GH. If I say no, he claims I’m wrong because he can list A, B and C that are common to both the GH and Christianity. And if I decline to respond with a bare “yes” or “no,” he claims I’m wrong because I’m “deflecting” the question. Regardless of the facts, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of such trivial concerns as intellectual integrity, he is bound and determined to find some pretext for calling me wrong. He cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong.
This is a fairly typical example of cl’s “mental warfare” approach to apologetics. It’s all about creating personal conflicts and taking cheap shots at atheists and other unbelievers. It’s a war, not an honest inquiry; the goal is to harm others, not to reveal the truth. When given the opportunity to engage the issues in honest, good faith dialog, cl consistently declines. It’s a war, not a quest for facts, so why expose yourself to potentially harmful criticisms? He baits and goads and sneers in a relentless attempt to create an environment of conflict in which the participants turn aside from the work of discovery and critical thinking, and become consumed in the martial maneuvers of attack and defense. He has no interest in presenting us with reasons to believe as he does. He’s just here to do damage, like any other infiltrator.
Cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are. I have indulged his rudeness and guile long enough. He has yet to make an honest, good faith contribution to the discussion, other than to provide us with an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind. That’s not enough to entitle him to retain a place in an honest discussion. He can still comment, but I’m going to take a zero-tolerance approach to his unique brand of Christian crap, and I’d encourage my other readers not to give him the encouragement of rising to take his bait. It’s time for the rest of us to move on.