The Gospel Hypothesis

Today I want to zero in on the Gospel Hypothesis: what it is, and why we can be sure it will produce different consequences than the Myth Hypothesis.

The Gospel Hypothesis, as I have stated before, is simply the proposition that there exists an all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful Creator Who loves us so much that He is willing and able to become one of us, dwell among us, and die for us in order that He and we might enjoy a personal and eternal relationship together.

That’s it. Not too hard to grasp conceptually, is it? No particular reason why anyone, least of all a Christian, ought to have a hard time understanding what it says, right? Well, perhaps that depends.

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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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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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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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Interpreting Scripture

The next item on our agenda is the interpretation of Scripture. Let’s begin with a look at the consequences we ought to expect if the Gospel Hypothesis were true. According to the Gospel Hypothesis, our salvation and eternal personal relationship to God are very important to Him, so much so that He would literally be willing to die Himself in order to make this possible. Since this relationship depends on knowing the truth about God, therefore, it follows that He will place an equal emphasis on making sure we do not misunderstand this truth.

Of course, the first-order prediction of the Gospel Hypothesis is that Scriptures won’t really even be necessary. Barak Obama does not operate the White House by giving each member of his staff a copy of The Audacity of Hope and then leaving them to try and figure out what his will might be, based on the meditative study of what is written in his word. He meets with his staff, interacts with them, and gives them tangible, personal direction. Of course, he also wrote the book as well, and it’s not entirely unreasonable to suppose that God might also choose to impart some of His wisdom in written form.

The second prediction of the Gospel Hypothesis would therefore be that God would write these Scriptures Himself. After all, the phrase “God’s Word” denotes “that which comes from God,” so it is to be expected that it would, you know, come from God. There would be ample opportunity for people to write books about God, but these would be people’s words, not God’s. God’s Word would be, as the name suggests, the words God Himself had written.

But writings, no matter how well written, can be misinterpreted, whether by malice or simple incompetence. Such misinterpretations could have potentially serious and even damnable consequences for fallible humans, and thus poses the risk of frustrating God’s will for us. If the Gospel Hypothesis were true, therefore, we ought to expect God to put a high priority on making sure that we have an accessible and reliable means of ensuring that our interpretation of the Scripture is correct.

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World and worldview

I’m going to skip ahead just a bit in my outline of the evidence against Christianity and give a brief overview of the matter of world versus worldview, relative to the Myth Hypothesis versus the Gospel Hypothesis. One of the consequences of the Myth Hypothesis is that, since God does not exist in the real world, He is restricted to “existing” within a particular worldview—that is, within a particular individual’s subjective perception and interpretation of reality. This in turn produces a number of related consequences, because of the inevitable conflict between the believer’s worldview, in which God does exist, and the real world, in which He does not.

One of those consequences is the perpetual friction between world and worldview. Believers will feel pressure on their worldview because their dealings with reality will continually confront them with facts that are inconsistent with their beliefs, producing friction and even erosion of the Christian worldview. This in turn will produce the need to find some way to counteract the erosive effects of contact with the world and reinforce the worldview. Believers will experience a need to take their faith in for frequent “scheduled maintenance” by meeting together to encourage one another in the faith, and to exhort and admonish one another. Unmaintained faith will tend to weaken over time, and produce backsliding.

They will also need to actively defend their worldview in the broader arena of cultural perception. And once again, the Myth Hypothesis imposes distinctive restrictions on the form this defense will be able to take. They won’t be able to reinforce their worldview by pointing to how God Himself shows up in the real world, because His non-existence will prevent Him from showing up. They won’t be able to provide verifiable, objective, real-world evidence consistent with their worldview, because the chief difference between world and worldview will be the fact that God only exists in the latter. Consequently, their worldview defense will need to resort to techniques that have less to do with science, and more to do with politics and indoctrination in the beliefs and worldviews of men.

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Scriptural fulfillments (cont.)

Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday. One of the chief consequences of the Myth Hypothesis is the prediction that, having no divine quality control, any Scriptures men write will be subject to human weaknesses and fallibilities. We have a good example of that in Ezekiel 26.

In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me… “I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you… 4 They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. 5 Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD…

7 “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar [a] king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army… 9 He will direct the blows of his battering rams against your walls and demolish your towers with his weapons… 12 They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. 13 I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.

Amazingly, Tyre was attacked and destroyed, and siege engines were indeed brought up against her previously impregnable island fortress just off the mainland coast. Unfortunately, the prophet got two things wrong: Tyre was rebuilt after Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, and the brilliant general who used rubble from the mainland to build a causeway to the island fortress was Alexander the Great—not Nebuchadnezzar.

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