Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Philosophy on Apologetics (Part VI) - Death by a Thousand Unfalsifiable Objections

But again I have been much too generous in my assessment. Perhaps even though the objections to Christianity involve a thousand double standards, even though they don’t even want Christianity to be true, at least we can take comfort in the fact that their objections are at least philosophically defensible, however unlikely they may be?

We will discover that this is not even the case. Many of the primary objections to Christianity are inherently unfalsifiable theories. They are akin to me insisting, as Richard Swinburne suggests, that all of the toys come out of the toy box at night and dance around the room, but all go right back into the box leaving no traces of their activity.

Now a point must be made that an unfalsifiable theory is not the same as a theory that is extremely difficult to falsify. For example, critics of the intelligent design movement say that intelligent design is unscientific because it’s unfalsifiable. The question of what truly denotes science and what does not aside, the idea that intelligent design is unfalsifiable is about as ridiculous as saying that we can never prove that suicide notes have actual authorship because “intelligent design is unfalsifiable.” Critics must keep in mind, as I said before, that unfalsifiability is vastly different than something being so well evidenced that its nearly impossible to falsify.

Christianity is Very Falsifiable
Same with the resurrection of Jesus, or other aspects of the Christian faith. While our critics are right that many of us would keep believing even if the resurrection had virtually no evidence, that is certainly not the case with all of us, and certainly does not mean the resurrection is inherently unfalsifiable. The resurrection is very falsifiable. The moment I learn that all the disciples got rich and famous by proclaiming the resurrection, or the moment I learn that the whole thing is a story invented 500 years after the fact, I will consider the whole story entirely falsified. These aren’t unreasonable demands either, since Islam claims to know information about Jesus 500 years too late, and certain cults have leaders that obtain monetary gain by through their proclamations, making deception a very likely hypothesis. However, as was demonstrated at length above, this is certainly not the case with Christianity.

Group Hallucinations to the Resurrection
The proposal that the disciples of Jesus suffered from hallucinations after his death is an example of an unfalsifiable hypothesis. If we are allowed to postulate group hallucinations for eyewitness testimony that we simply do not like, we may as well reject any eyewitness testimony that we find inconvenient. How would one go about disproving group hallucinations? Well perhaps one could show that there is no evidence that the persons in question are experiencing any of the conditions usually necessary for hallucinations, namely deprivation of food, water or sleep, or drug use. We have no evidence that these applied to the followers of Jesus. However, hallucinations are still regularly proposed as a possibility. If appealing to the lack of evidence for physical and mental disturbances among the disciples is inadequate, then group hallucination is unfalsifiable. If in any situation we find, we can say that eyewitness testimony can be plausibly denied by simply suggesting the mere possibility that a group hallucination occurred, then we should be allowed to use it for anything we want. How could one possibly go about disproving such a hypothesis, even if we wanted to? Imagine if this was admissible in court. Surely the prosecution doesn’t pack up and go home as soon as the defense suggests a group hallucination! Indeed, the defense would never suggest such a thing, because it is so preposterous. If such an argument is applicable to healthy persons, then there is no possible way, even in theory, that group hallucination objection can be invalidated. Therefore it is completely unfalsifiable and as a result, a very bad theory.

Indeed, positing group hallucinations of groups of such great size actually call into question all of reality. Using the logic that is typically employed to suggest the possibility of group hallucination, it is more likely that the very existence of my girlfriend is a total lie. This is because I have a huge vested interest in seeing her, there are far less witnesses, and I actually expect to see her, whereas the disciples didn’t!

Where We Ought to See Group Hallucinations
An empirical argument can be made against group hallucinations without appealing to science at all. We know that several groups in the past 150 years have deeply and sincerely believed that Jesus Christ would return in power and glory on a certain date. However, they have all been incorrect so far. It is evident that they do not have hallucinations of a glorious second coming of Jesus when the predicted day finally comes. Due to cognitive dissonance, they often retain their apocalyptic beliefs. However, the key here is that their theories are always modified in some way, to account for the lack of a glorious second coming of Jesus. Surely religious fervor, intent expectation, and a strong desire within a community to see some event does not warrant strong hallucinations, even in situations where a very small group is involved. If such conditions did cause hallucinations, we would have very sincere eyewitness reports to Jesus coming back over 20 times in the past 150 years!!!

Evil Twin Hypothesis
This criteria of falsifiability also applies to other theories, such as the “evil twin” hypothesis for the resurrection. The idea goes that Jesus had a twin brother, was separated at birth, came back right around the time of his brothers’ death, heard the rumors that he was supposed to resurrect, and immediately took advantage of the situation and proclaimed himself raised from the dead. This is another hypothesis, which, in principle, cannot be refuted. In this case, no murderers would ever be convicted either, because all they have to do is say their evil twin (for whom there exists no evidence) was separated at birth and suddenly returned to commit the crime.

Impenetrable Agnosticism
Perpetual agnosticism to the whole matter of resurrection is also itself an unfalsifiable hypothesis, regardless of how popular it is with the opposition. We concede that eyewitnesses are capable of observing unexpected phenomena, and we concede there is honest, and very qualified eyewitness testimony for the presence of a certain person after his death. However, if we have both of these situations, but agnosticism endures, how should we go about ever disproving such the hypothesis that the event is inscrutable? If someone doesn’t accept honest and qualified eyewitness testimony, what else do we have to offer them? What evidence, even in principle, could be offered to dislodge their agnosticism? If, after 11 people testify to the existence and nature of my girlfriend, and you concede they aren’t lying, but choose to remain agnostic to the issue, what could evidence could I possibly offer you in favor of her existence? One may say that they would need to see her for themselves. However, in that case, we would need to disbelieve anything anyone ever tells us about anything at all ever, which is clearly not what people do.

Unfalsifiable Objections in Genetics
Unfalsifiable objections continue to manifest themselves in the design argument from genetics as well. The typical responses are that intelligent design “is not science,” an objection, right or wrong, is unhelpful to the skeptic either way, as we have seen above. The skeptic typically asserts one of two things. First, that the design argument is a “god of the gaps” argument. We have already seen this is not the case. To say that something is unexplained, therefore it has a designer, would be a “God of the gaps” argument. However, to say that something seems designed, indeed for both sides to call it “information” and “code” in an unqualified sense, removes the God of the gaps challenge. Furthermore, the lack of the widely accepted naturalistic explanation further verifies our suspicion that it is designed. This leads us to the second way that the skeptics usually respond. They often say that science has always found an explanation in the past, so we can be sure that they will in the future. This “science of the gaps” argument, as John Lennox calls it, is the chief objection and is completely, utterly, and eternally unfalsifiable. This would be like me appealing to the Second Coming of Jesus, a future event, in order to prove Christianity. But the Second Coming of Jesus is itself one of the events I am trying to prove by appealing to it. Furthermore, there is not a single thing a skeptic can do to falsify the Second Coming. In the same vein, to state a naturalistic explanation will surely come about in the future, as a response to the design argument, is to assume naturalism is true from the outset. There is not a single thing anyone can do, even in principle, to falsify this assertion.

Theories that God Can't Even Falsify in Principle
As you may be considering, to some people, there is no feasible way to prove Christianity to them, regardless of how much evidence could be provided. Some may object to this sweeping statement, such as Richard Carrier, who insist that Jesus should appear to everyone. However, this is unlikely to effect the worship of God, for several reasons. First, if 11 people more qualified than us are hallucinating, then if we saw Jesus, we would most certainly be hallucinating Jesus, since there is only one of us, whereas there are 11 witnesses to Jesus. Seeing Jesus ourselves wouldn’t necessarily convince us either, and might prompt us to contact a psychiatrist, as Greg Koukl suggests. How does the skeptic know that he will actually believe his eyes, to use the euphemism? He doesn’t. Furthermore, it is particularly evident that miracles do not compel assent to a religious message. Even the Jesus Seminar concedes that the Pharisees admitted Jesus could cast out demons (a supernatural act in their perception), but still intensified their hatred for him. In addition, I occasionally hear people use aliens as a legitimate justification for agnosticism about the origin of Christ’s miraculous powers.

Even if God wrote in the sky saying “I am God” there would still be room for doubt. We would concede it is information, just like we do with DNA. However, it’s much easier to come up with a naturalistic or human explanation for the words “I am God” in the sky everyday than for the amount of information encoded in human genes. Even if God did something preposterous, like coded genes in English or the C++ programing language, we would still find ways around it. First, the fact that it was English would “prove” to us that it was human in origin. We would actively search for the creator of this hoax, either in our own time period, or in an advanced predecessor society with a lot more technology than ours.

What if God showed up in the sky, in raging fire, and demanded loyalty from everyone? Well he will do this at the Second Coming. Even then, people could easily say: “Wow there is really extraterrestrial life! This is a very dangerous situation! The aliens are even pretending to be God to gain control of us. We have to fight back!” Even if people were convinced it was God, this doesn’t mean they would actually worship Him. Such sudden and strong disconfirmatory evidence would likely cause those who already hated the Christian God to become more staunch in their position, and would entrench them in their hatred. In the words of Dr. William Lane Craig, “We might resent God for such effrontery.”

Unfortunately, this is extremely similar to Christian beliefs about the Second Coming. Christians hold that at Christ’s return, that all armies from many nations will actually attempt a mililtary engagement with him. Furthermore, many Christian theologians believe that the vast majority of people will know God exists and is judging the world, but will refuse to worship him, and ardently worship someone else, the Antichrist. The Bible’s accounts of such behavior is not solely apocalyptic in nature. John 11-12 demonstrates that the Jewish leaders conceded Lazarus’s resurrection from the dead, which was performed by Jesus. However, this did not convert them, but intensified their desire to kill Jesus. Furthermore, it is astonishing that they tried to kill Lazarus as well, whom they knew had been raised from the dead. Though these Biblical stories may not convince a skeptic, they further illustrate the point that some belief is truly incurable, and is absolutely unsolvable from God’s perspective. Some objections are so unfalsifiable even God can’t falsify them.

No comments:

Post a Comment