Gospel Hypothesis 10: Evil

There’s lots more we could say about the Gospel Hypothesis and the Myth Hypothesis, but I’m going to wrap up this series with the big one: sin and evil. If the Myth Hypothesis is true, then there’s no reason to expect the universe to be particularly concerned about our well-being and happiness. As material beings, we’re going to be subject to the same limitations, weaknesses, and life expectancy of any other material organism. We’re going to depend on—and compete for—material resources like food and shelter, and sometimes those things are going to be lacking. A certain amount of suffering is going to be normal, but we’re going to care about it and want to avoid it, and so we’re going to identify it as “evil” or some similar concept.

“Sin,” in the sense of offense committed against a deity, won’t exist per se, but offenses against people will. To the extent that we identify certain behaviors as socially unacceptable, we’ll have what you might call sins, even without any gods. And to the extent that people are willing to forgive us for our offenses, we’ll even have forgivable sin, repentance, and redemption, all without God. People may forgive sin, or not, but there won’t be any gods to do so. Thus, there won’t be any divine punishments for sin either. There will, of course, be natural disasters, which superstitious people may arbitrarily attribute to God, but God Himself won’t ever show up and say, “This happened because I was angry about such-and-such.” It will all be superstition.

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The Gospel Hypothesis 9: Theology

Science is a technique for doing two things: it allows us to understand the world around us, and it allows us to detect and correct any misunderstanding that may arise in the process. Both aspects of science stem from the same practice: making detailed and verifiable observations of the reality that surrounds us. This practice of constantly referring back to the real world is what makes scientific understanding so useful and reliable.

Obviously, in order to make detailed and verifiable observations of something, it first has to exist in the real world. Since the Gospel Hypothesis implies that God really does exist, and since the Myth Hypothesis implies that He does not, the science of theology is clearly going to have very different characters depending on which hypothesis is most nearly correct.

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The Gospel Hypothesis 8: Miracles

Most implications of the Gospel Hypothesis are starkly different from those of the Myth Hypothesis, and miracles seem like they ought to be a prime example. After all, if God does not exist, then necessarily He is not going to be working any genuine miracles, and the closest we’ll be able to get will be superstitions, misunderstandings, and unverifiable rumors and legends.

Ironically, however, the Gospel Hypothesis also predicts that there won’t be any miracles—though for a very different reason.

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Gospel Hypothesis 7: Churches

According to the Gospel Hypothesis, God is going to be perfectly loving, perfectly kind, perfectly wise and perfectly capable of interacting with us both as a wise and loving Father and as a wise and benevolent King. This implies a high level of involvement in our everyday lives, both because His love motivates Him to want a great deal of personal interaction, and because His wisdom and leadership skills will make it plain to Him how much better off we’ll all be if we have the benefit of His guidance and leadership.

Meanwhile the Myth Hypothesis, obviously enough, implies that such leadership and personal interactions will be absent, since no such God exists to provide it. Where the Gospel Hypothesis implies that everyone will know who God is and what He wants, the Myth Hypothesis implies that believers will have to find something else to fill up the gap. And that, in turn, has some distinctive implications when it comes to the church.

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Gospel Hypothesis 6: Evangelism

This one is as definitive as it is inevitable: if the Myth Hypothesis is true, then no matter how perfectly loving and perfectly powerful and perfectly wise and perfectly good and perfectly fearless God is supposed to be, you’re never going to hear about it from Him. He doesn’t exist, so He can’t be the one who knocks on your door and says, “Hi, have you heard the good news about Me?” The Myth Hypothesis requires that, while there may be stories about God showing up in person to tell people how much He cares about them, you’re only going to hear such stories from ordinary people. And fortunately for atheists, that’s all you and I ever do see.

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Gospel Hypothesis 5: The contents of Scripture

While we’re talking about Scriptures, it’s also worth pointing out that the Gospel Hypothesis and the Myth Hypothesis imply different things about the actual contents of any Scriptures that might arise. The Gospel Hypothesis implies that God’s Word ought to be perfect, since God is perfect. It ought to reflect a level of knowledge consistent with the perfect knowledge of its Author, and it ought to have the same timeless, unchanging perspective of an eternal deity. By contrast, the Myth Hypothesis implies a Bible that reflects its human origins, and records all the ignorance, superstition, and cultural biases of the people that produced it.

Granted, believers are always going to find ways of interpreting Scripture to work around such blemishes as failed prophecies, barbaric cultural values, and changing doctrines. The point is not that believers can’t come up with rationalizations for the all-too-human foibles of the ancient prophets. The point is that their work-arounds can never be as simple as the Myth Hypothesis is. The Gospel Hypothesis has to explain it, but the Myth Hypothesis predicts it.

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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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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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