The Falsifiability of Jesus

After my last post I had an extensive and enjoyable back-and-forth with a friend about conscience and the nature of morality. Many side topics came up, but in the interest of staying on track I let them slip by. I’d like to address a couple of them separately.

At one point in this exchange I made the observation that should Christianity be proved wrong today, I’d have to go looking for the real God. The reason for this is that reality, the way I seem to observe it at least, seems to entail certain objective moral laws. For instance, I don’t believe it would ever be okay to punch babies in the face for fun. Even if all of society started punching babies in the face, and declared a National Punch Babies in the Face Day, I believe at that point we’d have merely tricked ourselves into believing it was okay to punch babies for fun. The truth, however, is that it would still be objectively evil, even though nobody remained who thought of it as such. This observation of objective good and evil is one of several major evidences I employ for my own conclusion in the existence of God. Notice, however, that if moral laws exist objectively (like the laws of mathematics, physics or logic), while this may be evidence for God, it does not follow necessarily that the god would have to be God of the Bible. When I brought up the fact that if Christianity were proved wrong I’d need to find the real God, my friend took this as a weakness in my position. He concluded that because I thought Christianity could be proved wrong, that I obviously wasn’t convinced it was true. This is not the case though.

My statement on the willingness to allow for the disproving of Christianity is simply an observation about my own epistemology. You see, I can’t even prove that I exist, and I especially can’t prove that you exist. I seem to be self-aware, and I seem to be observing you (those of you that I come in contact with anyway), but I must admit that the potential exists that I am just a brain in a jar being stimulated by electrodes, similar to the Matrix or Avatar. All of reality could be an illusion and I’m just not aware of it. There is very little in life that we can prove with 100% certainty, but that doesn’t keep us from believing them, and living our lives under the impression that those less than 100% certain things are nonetheless true observations about reality. I wrote briefly about this in the past. I still have no good reason to doubt my belief in the chair I’m sitting in, nor do I have any good reason to doubt my belief that Jesus is a real historical figure, who was put to death on a Roman cross, entombed, resurrected, and appeared to many other real people from history.

I also try to be careful not to let my thinking fall into the category of confirmation bias. This is the tendency for people to support conclusions that confirm their pre-existing thinking or beliefs. Generally speaking, this is a terrible way to come to real conclusions. In practice, I believe modern Christians as much as anybody tend to fall prey to this, especially as it relates to the use of some parts of Scripture or non-essential doctrine. Often times we’re raised in a particular dogma that is difficult to let go of. In the face of overwhelming evidence, people will cling blindly to the familiar. Sometimes when people realize their brand of Churchianity doesn’t align properly with Scripture or reality after years of being subject to their own confirmation bias, rather than an actual belief, they run the opposite direction screaming rather than stopping to see if it is all wrong, or if just parts of it have been misrepresented. People really tend to be a mess, which is why if I’m going to accept a conclusion, I will come to it on my own based on the information at hand, and not exclusively based on what somebody tells me I ought to believe. Sure there are times to call expert witnesses, but in the end I want to believe true things, not necessarily popular things. In the interest of making sure I have all the evidence and framing my worldview on what I best believe represents reality, I’m willing to hear viewpoints that oppose mine as long as they are presented respectfully. Avoiding confirmation bias in drawing conclusions can only be done by allowing for these opposing views the opportunity to be presented and considered.

Finally, this leads to a method of critical evaluation known as “falsifiability.” The notion of falsifiability says that a theory or hypothesis must have the logical possibility of being disproved if it is to be taken seriously. If an idea doesn’t have the logical possibility of being proved wrong, it can’t be proved right either. I think historical Christianity fits this model well. The best historical evidence I’ve seen, including but not limited to the New Testament itself, lends incredible support for the identity of Jesus as he is known within the classical framework of Christianity. I see no reason to discount the accounts of the New Testament writers or their extra-biblical contemporaries. In fact, the historically verifiable track record of the Bible and the vast quantity of early manuscripts make it easily the most well-supported document in all of ancient antiquity. Could I be wrong? Sure, I could be wrong. It’s possible that some ancient Allen Funt will pop out of antiquity, so to speak, and say, “Smile…” Currently though, ancient history is surprisingly devoid of naysayers, even though they clearly had their opportunity. Logically speaking, the potential exists for Jesus’ supernatural identity to be at least challenged by discovery of contrary historical documents, rather than just a priori dismissal of the possibility of God incarnate.

If I’m not willing to admit that it is logically possible that Christianity could be proved wrong somehow, I don’t think it’s possible for me to say I really believe it.  It seems to me that if one claims to have good reasons for accepting something, one must also admit that should good reasons come along to not accept that thing, that those reasons would be allowed into evidence.  I could appeal exclusively to authority or emotion to make my case, but in the end that would probably just make me a victim of confirmation bias. That might be easier, but shutting off my mind is an untenable, as well us un-Biblical, option to me. Instead, I take everything I seem to believe about reality (with more than 50% certainty), like the New Testament is a historically accurate account of Jesus, the Old Testament predicts Jesus in an eerily accurate fashion (while also pre-dating the New Testament), the entire Bible seems consistent with the reality I observe, and my personal experience with following Jesus of Nazareth seems to comport with reality as the Bible explains it. All of these things have the logical potential to be disproved. Even my own personal experiences could be a figment of my imagination should it turn out I’m in the Matrix.

So, could Christianity be proved wrong? Hypothetically speaking, yes, it could. Like I told my friend though, at that point I’d have to figure out who God really is, because I believe reality screams out with the evidence of a Creator. I believe my willingness to allow for this logical possibility is a strength of my evidentially supported belief in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus, not a weakness. Would I bet on a competing hypothesis as being the best explanation of reality? No, I wouldn’t. If I believe what I believe because I believe it to be true though, then I should have no problem leaving the door unlocked for challenges from the outside. Let the Truth prevail. After 2000 years of challenges, I believe the framework of classical Christianity still best explains reality. If Keanu Reeves shows up to get me out of the Matrix though, I’ll let you know.

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2 thoughts on “The Falsifiability of Jesus

  1. Brilliantly written! I enjoyed reading your viewpoint on this. I had a similar conversation with a friend of mine not too long ago. I had virtually the same argument. Although, I must admit, the ideas had not fully formed in my head until I read them on your post.

    It is awesome to see God’s Truth be so obviously present in this topic. Many Christians, including myself, have the tendency to shut their ears completely to opposing ideas. We do so, as if we were afraid they might prove us wrong. That is not belief. If we actually believe what we say we believe, we should have no problem with or fear of the opposition.

    Very eye opening! I dig it!

    God be with you, brother!

    –Kay Lee

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