In which I agree with Vox Day

I’ve been reading the comments over at Vox’s blog, and it’s pretty hilarious, not to mention providing double your recommended minimum daily dose of irony. For example, here’s Vox attacking the person who brought up my TIA series:

You’re absolutely wrong. Terrible example and you have apparently not read TIA nor understood that Duncan doesn’t even begin to rebut its arguments. He does not show that religion was involved as a pretext in more than 7 percent of the wars in recorded human history. Nor does he explain why no military tactician or strategist has EVER incorporated religion into their military tactics or strategy. His critique is totally invalid.

Now stop making groundless assertions and be specific. Precisely what about that his argument that religion causes war do you find persuasive?

Notice, the primary crime he accuses his critic of is a failure to read and understand the opposing point of view. He then insists that I failed to rebut his argument, and he demands to know what is so persuasive about my argument that religion causes war. Does he have a point? Does my argument—meaning the argument I actually made, not the one Vox attributes to me—fall apart when examined in the light of the evidence Vox cites?

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Society, TIA. 12 Comments »

Encore: Is it wrong to say there is no evidence of God?

[Originally published as “Pharyngula: Another round in the Kleiman/Myers skirmish” on July 17, 2007.]

PZ Myers has another go at those who claim that it’s wrong to criticize someone else’s belief in God. In so doing, he voices a frequently-expressed opinion that, in my view, does a bad job of (should I say it?) “framing” the debate.

I am saying precisely that belief in god is wrong because there is no empirical or theoretical support for it; there is a concatenation of myths leavened with post-hoc justifications for them, which is not the same thing.

There’s something unsatisfactory about saying that there is no evidence for God. After all, we learn new things all the time. Just because we say “there is no evidence for God” doesn’t mean that evidence might not exist somewhere. It just means we haven’t seen any (yet).

To me, that argument comes up short. Science is based on truth, and if there’s one thing we know about truth, it’s that truth is self-consistent. More than that, the self-consistency of truth is the way–the only way–we tell the difference between what’s correct and what’s false. To be consistent with the truth is to be true. To be inconsistent with the truth is to be false.

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Posted in Encore, Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 8 Comments »

Straw and chaff

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.

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 12 Comments »

The Gospel and the Gospel Hypothesis

The Gospel Hypothesis proposes that there exists an all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving and all-powerful Creator Who wants a genuine, personal, eternal relationship with each and every one of us, to the point that He is willing and able to become one of us, to dwell among us, and to die for us so that we can be with Him forever. Pretty standard, VBS-grade stuff, right? You could make a hymn out of it, and in fact quite a few people have.

So why would a believer speak of his “intense distaste” for the Gospel Hypothesis? Is it Christianity? Is it not Christianity? What is it that makes the Gospel Hypothesis so loathesome and phobia-inducing for believers?

The Gospel Hypothesis, quite simply, describes the factual prerequisites that must necessarily be true in order for the Bible to be anything more than a man-made myth. The functional definition of rationalization is that it convinces us our beliefs are consistent with the evidence even though, in reality, they are not consistent with the truth. It’s entirely possible for the Bible to be convincing whether or not there exists the type of God described by the Gospel Hypothesis. But convincing or not, if that God does not exist, then Christianity is not true. And the Gospel Hypothesis confronts the believer with a testable hypothesis that can be used to objectively assess the evidence, without the rationalizations, and to expose the inconsistencies that make the Bible incompatible with real-world truth.

Loathesome indeed.

 
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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 15 Comments »

Our unicorn overlords

I thought it might be helpful to take a step back and look at the Loser’s Compromise in a more neutral context. So let’s consider a couple different hypotheses: the Autonomous Hypothesis, which declares that humans control their own governments and are therefore responsible for the current state of world affairs, and the Unicorn Hypothesis, which states that the various major world governments (at least) are under the control of magical unicorns.

The Unicorn Hypothesis might seem at first to be absurd, but let’s tweak it slightly. Despite their magical nature, unicorns are relatively few in number, and would likely lose the battle in the event of any direct, focused efforts by the more numerous humans to throw off their dominance. Thus, the Unicorn Hypothesis proposes that magical unicorns are not only running the governments of the world, but that they are deliberately creating tensions and crises and other distractions in order to keep human attention diverted from the subject of unicorns. And naturally, they are also using their magical powers to “fix” the visible, verifiable evidence to be perfectly consistent with the consequences that would result from the non-existence of unicorns.

As a further refinement, let’s also modify the Autonomous Hypothesis to declare that there is no such thing as a magical unicorn, and therefore human governments are under human control, and humans are responsible for the state of affairs in the world (at least, as much as anyone is responsible).

What we’ve achieved, in other words, is a pair of hypotheses which both produce exactly the same consequences. The lack of evidence for magical unicorns is predicted in the Autonomous Hypothesis by, well, the lack of existence of unicorns, while the Unicorn Hypothesis predicts an equal lack of evidence due to the unicorns’ magical powers and desire to remain undetected by their human thralls.

Is there anyone who would say that we are justified in concluding (as a provisional conclusion) that the major world governments are all secretly under the control of magical unicorns who are manipulating world events in order to further their own, selfish ends? We have contrived a situation that precisely matches the conditions which some say are sufficient to justify either conclusion as an equally justified belief, but does that make the idea of unicorn overlords any less silly?

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Loser's Compromise, Unapologetics. 15 Comments »

A quick preview

We’ve looked at the evidence, and we’ve all seen (though some of us have mixed feelings about admitting it) that the real-world evidence is consistent with the expected consequences of the Myth Hypothesis, and inconsistent with the expected consequences of the Gospel Hypothesis. “Big deal,” you may say. “So what?” After all, it’s possible that some variation of the Gospel Hypothesis will work better. Maybe by adding things and/or taking things away we can come up with a New Gospel Hypothesis that will be as consistent with the facts as the Myth Hypothesis.

Well, yes and no.

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Loser's Compromise, Unapologetics. 53 Comments »

An “inaccurate” question?

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.

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 93 Comments »

The Undeniable Fact, v2.0

I have a strict policy of not banning people for disagreeing with me, and that’s because discussing things with my opponents often helps me clarify and improve my own presentation. In that vein, I’d like to present Version 2.0 of the Undeniable Fact (and its Inescapable Consequence).

One of the things that came out during the discussion with Jayman and cl is that they immediately focused on what I consider to be a trivial irrelevancy: the notion that we cannot know, in the sense of having first-hand personal experience, that every single allegedly divine manifestation is necessarily a false perception. We spent quite a bit of time arguing over the significance of the consistency of the evidence we can observe, but no amount of evidence or logic could sway them from their faith that God could be hiding somewhere just outside the range of our vision.

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 20 Comments »

Understanding the Bible

There is probably a good year’s worth of material (at least) that we could examine to find overwhelmingly consistent examples in which the real-world evidence takes precisely the characteristics that would necessarily result from the truth of the Myth Hypothesis, and that fails to correspond to the consequences that ought to result from the truth of the Gospel Hypothesis. I think we’ve seen enough of it thus far, however, to give us a basis for beginning to approach the question of how we are to understand the Bible.

Obviously, there’s two ways we can do this: we can interpret the Bible in the light of the real-world evidence, assuming that the real-world evidence is necessarily correct, or we can interpret the evidence in the light of the Bible, assuming that the Bible is necessarily correct. The latter is sometimes called “interpreting the Bible on its own terms,” and I think it can be fairly said that this is a biased approach. The Bible makes no secret of the fact that it is written to promote belief, and to prejudice people against unbelievers (“The fool says in his heart…”). Putting the Bible ahead of the evidence means guaranteeing that you will come to some sort of Christian conclusion.

But what if we put the real-world evidence first? Is that not equally biased? Yes it is. The same principle applies equally to both. If we put the Bible first, then we are going to be biased in favor of Biblical conclusions, and if we put real-world evidence first, we’re going to be biased in favor of real-world conclusions. It’s up to us, then, to pick which bias we want to have.

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 38 Comments »

A milestone

We’ve still got a lot more that could be said about the differences in consequences between the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis. I thought it might be a good time, though, to take a brief breather, and survey where we’ve come from, and the course we’ve charted thus far.

I originally started this series because a number of commenters objected to my claim that it is an “Undeniable Fact” that God does not show up in real life. I could not possibly make such a claim with any intellectual honesty, some said, because such a claim would require omniscience on my part. My reply was that I was not basing my claim on a brute force approach, i.e. by personally investigating each and every claim that might constitute a genuine appearance of God. Instead, I am basing it on a more scientific approach, based on the principle that the truth is consistent with itself.

I think by this point, I am legitimately entitled to claim that I have met my burden of proof, and have established the intellectual honesty of claiming, as undeniable fact, the observation that God does not show up in real life. If He did, we would be having a very different conversation right now with respect to the consequences of the Myth Hypothesis versus the Gospel Hypothesis. Christian apologists are arguing, not just that God’s absence from real life is possible, but that we ought to expect the Gospel Hypothesis to result in an absence that is just as pervasive and undeniable as the one that would result from the Myth Hypothesis being true. Needless to say, this apologetic would be entirely counterproductive (for Christianity) if it were not true that God is as absent as any mythical being would have to be.

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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 105 Comments »