Gospel Hypothesis 4: Hermeneutics

Yesterday we looked at how the Myth Hypothesis implies the emergence of some kind of authoritative revelation, either oral or written, as the optimum way to claim divine authority while avoiding accountability when you’re wrong. But once you have “divine revelation,” what then? What do the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis imply with respect to how the Scriptures and/or Church Tradition will be applied to everyday life? The answer to that lies in the field of hermeneutics, “the science of Biblical exegesis.”

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Gospel Hypothesis 3: on the origin of Scriptures

According to the Myth Hypothesis, gods do not exist, and all religions that promote belief in gods do so through the political and psychosocial processes of ordinary superstition and myth-making. This implies a number of things, the most fundamental and obvious of which is that none of these religions is going to have any actual god to show to people, much less to lead them and judge them. Everything we’re going to be able to know about gods is going to have to come from ordinary mortal humans, either from their speculations, or their superstitions, or their subjective feelings, because in the absence of any real gods, that’s all we’ve got to go on. This in turn is going to have some consequences that may seem very familiar to students of history and current events.

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Gospel Hypothesis 2: the voice of God

In Gospel Hypothesis 1, we looked at the most obvious consequence that would result from the existence of an almighty, all-loving, all-wise God: He would be here with us, tangibly, visibly, and audibly interacting with us because He loves us and wants to build the kind of deep, personal relationship with us that will produce the kind of faith in Him that He wants us to have. But would He always show up in tangible form? Maybe you’re Felix Baumgartner standing on a tiny platform miles above the earth, and there’s just not room for another person to stand next to you. Or maybe you’re a woman taking a shower, and it would just be awkward to have your Father walk in on you. What do the Gospel Hypothesis and the Myth Hypothesis imply regarding the voice of God?

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Enter the zingers

Over at Evangelical Realism we continue our review of Pastor Stephen Feinstein’s attempt to debate Russell Glasser on the topic of presuppositionalism. This week Pastor Feinstein delivers what he thinks are some devastating arguments against atheism, but maybe you have to be sitting in a church pew to understand what the zing is supposed to be. From here it just looks like he’s too wrapped up in his own presuppositions to understand what the other side is saying.

Gospel Hypothesis 1: The nature of revelation

[This is the first post in a series comparing the Gospel Hypothesis with the Myth Hypothesis in the light of Occam’s Razor.]

One of the reasons apologetics does so well with a lot of people is because skeptics try to prove that religion is wrong. In other words, the issue focuses on a binary question regarding religion: is it true or is it false? So long as believers can come up with an answer—any answer—to skeptical objections, they will feel justified in continuing to believe regardless of the evidence. And because humans are so good at rationalization, there will always be some answer.

Instead of focusing on the question of whether religion is flat out wrong, we want to take a comparative approach, demonstrating that, even if someone thinks they have good reasons for believing in religion, there are even better reasons for believing that religion is a myth. This makes the apologist’s job more difficult, because then it’s not enough to think up some random, unverifiable rationalization. In fact, random, unverifiable rationalizations may even begin to hurt the case for religion, by highlighting the fact that skepticism doesn’t need them.

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Worldviews in the balance

The observation is often made (and often by religious people) that each of us has our own worldview, by which we understand and interpret things in the world around us. When this observation is made during a debate over religion and/or science, it is often claimed that your conclusions owe as much to your worldview as my conclusions do to mine, and therefore I have just as much right to my conclusions as you do to yours.

This argument overlooks the fact that not all worldviews are created equal. There are two kinds of worldview, rational worldviews, and rationalizing worldviews, and they differ by the degree to which they accurately reflect the world they’re supposed to be viewing. In general, we want to avoid the rationalizing worldview because it tends to isolate us from the truth and leads us to make mistakes that are both painful and avoidable. But how do we know which kind of worldview our worldview is?

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Ockham and Twain

One of the things that used to bother me about Ockham’s Razor was the almost coincidental way it “just so happens” that the simplest solution is most likely to be correct. Oh really? How convenient for us simple-minded investigators! Are you sure there isn’t some kind of scam going on here?

As it turns out, there isn’t. In a world where “true” and “false” are consistently meaningful terms, the law of parsimony will always apply. The correct explanation will be the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts.

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Defining superstition

One of the problems we frequently encounter when discussing religion (especially in the context of science) is that a lot of people have a hazy understanding of what superstition is. They think superstition means “silly things other people believe,” and if we describe any of their beliefs as superstition, they think we’re merely insulting their beliefs without making any substantive criticism. This in turn allows them to get away with a lot of superstitious thinking, at least in their own estimation.

For that reason, I’m always on the lookout for a nice concise, comprehensive definition of what superstition actually is, so that we can share it with people and say, “This is why I describe your belief as a superstition.” So far, the definition I like best is this one:

Superstition is when you arbitrarily associate some particular effect with some particular cause in the absence of any plausible or verifiable, non-magical connection between them.

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Jesus and Santa

Christmas is all about traditions, which means doing the same thing year after year. And so, in the true spirit of Christmas, I am posting my annual list of the Top Ten Reasons why Santa is Better than Jesus.

10. Santa does not endorse any political candidates or parties.

9. If you’re bad, Santa gives you a lump of coal, he doesn’t try to turn you into one.

8. Santa comes to town riding a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer; Jesus comes to town riding someone else’s ass (which seems to have become a tradition among some of his followers, by the way).

7. Jesus says he loves little kids, but Santa actually lets them sit in his lap.

6. Santa doesn’t spend all his time obsessing over how other people have sex.

5. Santa can run his whole enterprise, year after year, without begging for donations.

4. Some of history’s worst atrocities and injustices have been committed by people who believe in Jesus, but NONE of them have been committed by people who believe in Santa.

3. Santa is satisfied if you’re just reasonably good most of the time—he doesn’t demand the death penalty for everyone who fails to be absolutely perfect.

2. Santa cares enough to come back every year.

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