Christianity, the Ultimate Unfalsifiable Hypothesis

Christianity, the Ultimate Unfalsifiable Hypothesis February 5, 2013

When will Charlie Brown see that his trust is misplaced?Charlie Brown keeps trusting in Lucy, and she keeps pulling away the football at the last minute. And still Charlie Brown comes back for more. Doesn’t he ever learn? What would it take for him to see that his trust is misplaced?

This is how God belief works. Christians assure themselves that God exists, and maybe they have a special experience or feeling that reassures them that they’ve backed the right horse. But then there’s that tempting call to connect with the external world and provide evidence that the belief is firmly grounded. Like Lucy with the football, they’re often disappointed when the evidence doesn’t stand up.

Here’s a common example of Christian “evidence”: when you pray and get what you wanted, then God did it. When you don’t get what you wanted, God did that too.

If I point to puppies, sunsets, and other good things in life, the Christian might say it’s because God is a perfect designer. If I point to cancer, tsunamis, and other bad things, that’s because of the Fall. God can’t lose.

When something good happens, that’s God’s gentle and loving hand taking care of his special people. But when something bad happens, that’s God testing us or improving us.

There’s a snappy answer or rationalization for every situation. If God’s existence is always a given, then we’re going to bend the reality to fit that assumption. But no one approaches truth that way in any other sector of life. We don’t start with an assumption and then try to twist the facts to support it. It’s the other way around: we start with the facts and ask what the most reasonable explanation is.

To any Christian reading this, what would it take for you to see Christianity as false? What would it take for you to see that God doesn’t exist?

I’ve talked to lots of Christians who say that they do demand evidence, and that they would go where the evidence points. I have my doubts—I think that for many of them belief comes first and evidence is marshaled after the fact to support this presupposition— but let’s leave that for now.

I’ve also talked to Christians who admit that nothing would change their minds. That is, they can’t (or refuse to) imagine anything that could remove faith from their lives. Christianity is then the ultimate unfalsifiable hypothesis—“ultimate” because God is the most fantastic thing imaginable and “unfalsifiable” because for many believers, nothing will change their minds.

Mark Smith told of a discussion he had with Christian apologist William Lane Craig. He proposed this thought experiment: Craig goes back in time to see the dead body of Jesus put into his tomb. The stone is rolled up to cover the entrance. Now let’s imagine that on Sunday morning, nothing happens. No resurrection. Days go by, and nothing.

What does Craig think now? Does the skeptics’ explanation that the gospels were just the end point of 40 years of oral history within a gullible and pre-scientific culture begin to sound pretty good?


[William Lane Craig] told me, face to face, that he would still believe in Jesus, he would still believe in the resurrection, and he would still remain a Christian. When asked, in light of his being a personal eyewitness to the fact that there was no resurrection, he replied that due to the witness of the “holy spirit” within him, he would assume a trick of some sort had been played on him while watching Jesus’ tomb.

Some people are beyond evidence. Christianity for them is like the T-1000 in Terminator 2, the liquid metal robot that takes a beating and then reshapes itself after an injury to continue its rampage.

Consider a much more wholesome attitude toward evidence. Artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky said, “As scientists, we like to make our theories as delicate and fragile as possible. We like to arrange things so that if the slightest thing goes wrong, everything will collapse at once!”

Scientists want their theories to collapse if they’re wrong. If they’re wrong, they want to know it. Imagine a world where all Christians were this eager to understand reality, where they followed the evidence where it led rather than making their worldview unfalsifiable.

You can’t rationally argue out
what wasn’t rationally argued in.
— credited to George Bernard Shaw

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  • uhx116

    If those scenarios would really happen, the naturalist worldview would still be right and most supernatural views would still be most likely wrong, the naturalistic worldview incorporates new facts as they’re discovered and tries to find explanations for them instead of making up facts and explanations.

  • Carol

    The “Ultimate Unverifiable Hypotheses” are why *something* rather than *nothing* exists. It is not only the Christian religious Tradition that engages in speculation on this matter in the search for meaning that we humans seem prone to pursue.

    • But as physicists are asking now, why imagine that nothing is more likely than something?

    • TheSarge

      Just because you can’t explain why *something* rather than *nothing* exists that doesn’t mean that it’s sane or logical to assume that there’s a supernatural force involved.

  • William

    WLC answer to the question of if he would keep his faith in light of contrary evidence is strictly an emotional response. It’s like saying if my family died tragically would I keep my own faith? It has nothing to do with anything.

  • TheSarge

    That’s a nice strawman argument you’ve got there. Did you make it all by yourself?

    You might as well ask me what I would do if the Easter Bunny and Bugs Bunny were reported to be real. The answer would be the same: I don’t believe you, prove it to me if you can or go away while I ignore you.

    You wrote “..the naturalist would have no choice (sic) but they would at least have to admit that [god] probably exists.” Sorry but that’s not how it works, I don’t have to do anything of the sort. If you’re going to make a claim, any claim, then it’s up to you to convince me. If you’re going to make a claim for probability well then get out your math because I want to see how you worked out this probability you mention. I would love to see someone make a religious argument that cites mathematics, especially probability mathematics. If you want do that then you’re more than welcome to try but I warn you, I’m not obligated to accept your claim just because you make one. I’m going to want to see the evidence you’re basing your calculations on, not to mention how exactly you arrived at your conclusions. Also, just because you might have a working hypothesis than stands up to scrutiny it doesn’t mean you are necessarily right. See, that’s the thing about critical thinking: No matter how convincing your argument may be there’s always the chance, no matter how slim, that you are wrong. That is missed a step. That you made a mistake. That your evidence turns out to be based on an assumption you never considered. Welcome to science, enjoy your stay.

    Your definition of “open minded” seems to assume that just because someone says that something is possible and/or true then everyone must assume that it is so. That’s not how it works for those of us who know how to exercise critical thinking skills. I know how to spot a logical fallacy when I see one and brother, religion is littered with logical fallacies. For example: The bible claims there was this guy named Jesus who one day got out of a boat and walked on water. I have yet to see anyone give me a reasonable hypothesis for how that story could possibly be true, one that hangs together under close scrutiny. So, what do I think of such a story? I don’t find it convincing enough to believe it really happened so I file it under F next to the rest of the fairy tales. And that’s just one reason I don’t believe it. I could go on for pages and pages.

    I know that if I am presented with multiple competing hypothesis then all other things being equal I should probably choose to examine the hypothesis that makes the least assumptions and then disregard the rest. (This is called Occam’s Razor by the way). Suffice it to say that religions and heir attendant theologies make way to meny assumptions to be credible, not the least of which is the assumption that their god(s) are real. Now, how do I know to trust Occam’s Razor to help me decide what is logical and what is not? That’s simple: It nearly always works. It’s been in use as a tool of logic since at least the 13th century and it hasn’t failed us yet, unlike religion which constantly fails us. It’s why science and engineering and modern technology can do what they do and it’s why religion as a tool for logic is all but abandoned. Well, guess what: Occam’s Razor tells me that religion is a bunch of bunk. Claiming that a purportedly supernatural event is or was real just doesn’t cut it, you have to work harder than that to convince thinking people anywhere and you know it.