Beginning here, Deacon Duncan of Evangelical Realism (DD) offers a series titled Evidence Against Christianity which compares the predicted consequences of two hypotheses against real-world evidence to determine which hypothesis seems more likely to be correct. The first hypothesis represents how the world should look if God existed and is called the Gospel Hypothesis (GH). The second represents how the world should look if God did not exist, and is accordingly called the Myth Hypothesis (MH).
I see absolutely nothing wrong with DD's approach, and no believer I'm aware of has voiced a problem with DD's methodology. For example, DD says,
One advantage of comparing two hypotheses by measuring their consequences against real-world fact is that this approach allows us to make a clear, functional distinction between honest, unbiased inquiry and mere rationalization. (DD)
I agree. That's all fine and dandy – but there's a catch: When they assume pre-existing premises, hypotheses must be accurate, and I'm not the only one to claim that DD's so-called Gospel Hypothesis is no gospel hypothesis at all.
Hence, my first and primary claim is that DD attacks a strawman, piecemeal god of his own making – and I submit that I'm not the only one making that claim. I also submit that I've read DD's concerns over criticisms of inaccuracy and found them wanting: I agree that concerns of accuracy are irrelevant when we're creating an hypothesis from scratch, because when we're starting from scratch, there is no standard to inaccurately represent. That DD's positive hypothesis is titled the Gospel Hypothesis entails commitment to specific presuppositions. Further, if DD feels accuracy is irrelevant, why would DD defend the predictions of his so-called Gospel Hypothesis as accurate?
For the past three weeks, I've been methodically undertaking the laborious task of pouring through each of DD's 20+ posts in the series and their according threads. The latter is not nearly as impressive a feat as it seems, as roughly 70% of the comments in DD's threads focus on personal attacks and irrelevant side issues like why it was taking so long for me to respond to a complex post series during finals week.
To those who persevered, I offer my week-by-week, post-by-post analysis of Deacon Duncan's Evidence Against Christianity.
Week One: I purposely sat the first two posts out for no other reason than simply to listen. Listening is often an overlooked virtue, and through simple listening, it became evident in DD's Introduction that Jayman, Facilis and myself all agreed DD's methodology seemed sound. We also all agreed concerning the flaws in DD's so-called Gospel Hypothesis:
Your methodology seems fine. The problem is that your Gospel hypothesis has only a tangential relationship to Christianity… If this Gospel hypothesis of yours were proven false it would be of no consequence to Christians. (Jayman, to DD)
I for one applaud DD for trying to set out a consistent rubric to evaluate claims… One part where I feel he attacks a strawman is "that He could enjoy an intimate, personal relationship"…[and]…"enjoying personal time with them." I’m not sure what he means by "personal relationship" but I’m not aware of which part in the bible says that. (Facilis, to DD)
These complaints continued in DD's second post, Sources, and here is DD's initial response to Jayman and Facilis' strawman charges:
My approach to the "straw man" rebuttal is to point out the implications of what they are actually saying. I’m proposing, as the Gospel hypothesis, a God Who loves us enough to die for our sins so that we can be together for all eternity. In order to call that a "straw man," you have to point out what it is that I’m saying that’s not true. Does God not love us? Is He not willing to die on our behalf to save us from our sins? Is it not His goal to gather His children to Himself to fellowship in Heaven with Him forever? Are these matters insignificant and irrelevant to the Gospel? Where’s the “straw” in this so-called straw man? (DD, to 5keptical)
Before we continue: Do any of DD's questions remind you at all of Christianity? Yes or no? When DD asks whether these matters are irrelevant to the Gospel, is that not reasonably considered an implication that he's concerned about accurately representing the Gospel? Doesn't the Gospel inescapably entail Christianity? Yes or no? Remember your answers, as we'll return to the question later. To answer DD's questions – arguing from the Gospel as revealed in the Bible – yes, God loves us. Yes, God was willing to die on our behalf to save us from our sins. Yes, one of God's stated goals is to gather His children into eternal fellowship with Himself. Those are all valid, perfunctory Gospel inferences – but among other inferences DD makes – Jayman, Facilis and myself submit that the following is not a valid Gospel inference:
..what God wants is an eternal, loving relationship with each of us, therefore, we ought to expect that He would be participating in that relationship here and now. (DD, bold mine)
DD asked where the straw was, and Jayman returned, hay bale in hand:
Claiming God should physically appear and spend time with everyone; (Jayman, to DD)
Again, to clarify, that God would want to participate in a relationship with beings He created is all fine and dandy, and I do not dispute the validity of DD's inference in that respect. I do dispute the "here and now" part of DD's inference, which is unjustifiable and contrary to what the Gospel actually implies. DD uses distinctly Gospel descriptions of God to formulate his so-called Gospel Hypothesis, but omits other necessary Gospel descriptions of God that would drastically change the predicted consequences if considered. In effect, Jayman, Facilis and myself all supported our claims that if we're talking about Christianity, DD disproved a strawman god.
DD's second response to this charge was to flatly deny that his Gospel Hypothesis is Christianity. As we'll see shortly, this puts DD between a rock and a hard place, creating many more questions than answers.
So, to recap: In our first week, DD introduced his so-called Gospel Hypothesis, Jayman and Facilis accused DD of attacking a strawman, DD asked where the straw was, and Jayman delivered. I submit that of the 60+ comments which ensued in that thread, not one consisted of DD responding to Jayman's rebuttal, and thus ended our first week of discussion.
Week Two: In the first paragraph of DD's third post, Scriptural Predictions, he summarizes thusly:
The Myth Hypothesis says that the Christian God does not exist in real life, and thus the Christian faith originated and is maintained via a variety of complex and resilient psychosocial mechanisms we might broadly categorize as “myth.” The Gospel Hypothesis, by contrast, proposes that the Christian Creator God does exist, and further, that the Christian faith originated as a result of God loving mankind enough to become human Himself, and to die for us as a cleansing sacrifice so that He could enjoy fellowship with us (and vice versa) for all eternity, as is His (alleged) desire.
Again, sounds quite a bit like Christianity, right? Remember your answer, as we'll return to the question soon. Moving along,
We started by looking at the primary source of information available to us concerning God. (DD)
Here's a side question for DD should he stop acting like the God he criticizes and actually show up here: What is that source?
As far as the rest of the post goes, DD examines the consequences we might expect from scriptures under each hypothesis. If the MH is correct, DD claims that scriptures about God will manifest weakness, cultural and personal bias, ignorance and other failings; that they will necessarily account for God's current absence; and that they will assume unmerited authority leading to exaggerated importance, possibly even the assertion of inspiration and infallibility. On the other hand, if the GH is correct, DD claims that God would be present to oversee the proper dictation of scriptures; that prophecies should be clear and time-stamped; and that scriptures should be dynamic, adapting with cultural evolution along with each age.
Questioning DD's predicted consequences of what we would expect from scripture were the Myth Hypothesis correct, Jayman continued,
According to DD’s myth hypothesis, Scripture will try to explain why God does not show up in an attempt to address the problem of God’s consistent and universal absence. In Galatians 3:1-5, Paul uses God’s presence as part of his argument. This passage directly contradicts DD’s "prediction" about Scripture. The myth hypothesis, as DD has told it, must be modified or rejected. (Jayman)
Unfortunately, DD cannot refute what Jayman says here without the a priori assumption that the Bible stories about God's action in the world were conceived to make up for God's absence (as you'll see, that's exactly what we get). We can say what we may of Paul or the Bible, but one thing we can't say is that either made excuses for God's failure to appear.
Besides, there's an elephant in the room: According to DD – per the GH – God would be present to ensure the proper dictation of scripture; but if God is present, of what use are scriptures in the first place? Aren't scriptures only necessary in God's absence? To me at least, DD's particular sub-argument here does not make sense. In fact, none of DD's argument makes sense.
Keeping in line with my original concerns, my first comment in Evidence Against Christianity builds on Jayman and Facilis' comments from the previous week:
Where do [the scriptures] say God does show up in this life? Not to be overly fussy, but this really is a strawman argument. Unless you can show that the Bible says, "God will show his face and tangibly touch any person who repents once every few years," or something similar, you might have an argument. As it is, this whole thing about God not showing up – which forms a major part of your unapologetic – has never been justified scripturally, as Jayman continually points out. (cl, to DD)
In his fourth post, Scriptural Fulfillments, DD makes his second attempt at addressing our strawman claims:
Some of the commenters seem to have slightly misunderstood the Gospel Hypothesis. I am not claiming that the Gospel Hypothesis is Christianity (we'll get to the relationship between Christianity and the Gospel Hypothesis later on). The point of the Gospel Hypothesis is to take the basic premise of an omni-X deity Who loves us enough to become human and die for us so that He and we can enjoy an eternal personal relationship together. It's a premise that implies some substantial and specific consequences, so it’s a good alternative candidate for comparison to the Myth Hypothesis. (DD)
Really? Can anyone really blame us for thinking the Gospel Hypothesis was Christianity when 1) he purports to refute biblical arguments as we'll see in the next post; 2) the name of his hypothesis contains the word Gospel; 3) his series is named Evidence Against Christianity; 4) his stated reasoning is to piece together a reasonable picture of what the world should look like were "the Christian God" to exist in actuality; and, 5) every single alternative to the Myth Hypothesis DD has proposed thus far is distinctly Christian?
Remember earlier when I asked twice if DD's various descriptions of the Gospel Hypothesis sounded at all like Christianity? What did you say? If I may further press the issue, how does DD's claim that his Gospel Hypothesis isn't Christianity parse against his following statements:
..omni-X deity Who loves us enough to become human and die for us so that He and we can enjoy an eternal personal relationship together..
..evidence against the Christian God..
..God wants [is] an eternal, loving relationship with each of us..
..Gospel Hypothesis, by contrast, proposes that the Christian Creator God does exist, and further, that the Christian faith originated as a result of God loving mankind enough to become human Himself, and to die for us as a cleansing sacrifice so that He could enjoy fellowship with us (and vice versa) for all eternity..
..willing to die on our behalf to save us from our sins..
..salvation and eternal personal relationship..
Don’t these sound distinctly Christian? If DD’s Gospel Hypothesis is not Christianity, don’t you think he’s misnamed the entire series and his hypothesis? Don’t you think he should rename it as I suggested? If DD’s Gospel Hypothesis is not Christianity, why doesn’t it include descriptions of God that aren’t Christian? We hear no mention of Shiva and Vishnu. No mention of Allah. No mention of Kali. No mention of anything but a so-called Gospel Hypothesis which entails distinctly Christian pre-conceptions of God, followed by denial that said hypothesis is Christianity.
Now, we're going to jump ahead to a transaction that occurred this afternoon, where commenter Dominic said,
Since the Gospel Hypothesis assumes a particular kind of God, is it not plausible that Christians are arguing that the God of your hypothesis simply isn’t the one revealed in the Bible, and that the consequences of your Gospel Hypothesis is an exercise in futility?
..and DD replied,
That’s an excellent point, and one that I have been waiting some time for someone to make.
WTF??? I don't know about Jayman and Facilis, but I am personally insulted. DD's above claim is patently false, and unless he wishes to claim Dominic's criticism was not identical to Jayman's, Facilis', or my own, his responses to our identical concerns above prove that he was aware of similar claims before Dominic echoed them. Jayman, Facilis and myself have consistently claimed that the God of DD's Gospel Hypothesis is a piecemeal god, and not the one revealed in the Bible – our initial strawman claims from weeks 1 & 2 which DD denied by denying that his Gospel Hypothesis was Christianity. If that's the case, then how do any of DD's conclusions retain any import to Christianity as the title of his series would lead us to believe?
I have a hard time believing that somebody as intelligent and articulate as DD is simply unaware of how poorly his singular hypothesis reeks of Christianity. Yet because I must continue to assume that DD argues in good faith, at this point it's difficult to tell what's really going on. The only thing I can currently conceive is that DD might actually be so biased against Christianity that he cannot recognize the truth when spoken and converged upon by three people arguing Christianity.
Hence, I can no longer take DD's writings seriously unless he either completely strips the Christian pre-conceptions from his alternative to the Myth Hypothesis; recants his denial that the Gospel Hypothesis is Christianity; addresses all of the Christian pre-conceptions an accurate Gospel Hypothesis entails; changes the name of his post series; changes the name of his positive hypothesis; or introduces some other hypotheses (like the one I’m currently working on).
My challenge to a controlled, one-on-one, real-time discussion with DD still stands, but I consider this discussion resolved until one or more of the above criticisms are met. I had just gotten through DD’s eighteenth post and thread in the series when I saw this last transaction where DD effectively , and I’m a bit pissed I did all that work now. Then again, I learned much, and for that I thank everyone, even my detractors.