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« Does Variation in Cultural Morality Prove Moral Relativism? (Video) | Main | We Can Corroborate the Gospels without Verifying Every Detail »

March 26, 2013


I guess there are a few things one could say here. 1. The categories assume a certain view of epistemology (words like "unverifiable" etc.), probably empiricism or something. So one might go into a presuppositional or internal type of critique of this epistemology and show how it is self-contradictory or arbitrary (most likely). 2. Provide evidence contrary to the claims in each category (which would most probably then lead to a discussion of point 1) and show that the claims are just false.

These might be a couple of tacts to take. One might also construct a similar "How to construct a hoax WORLDVIEW" and make it so outrageously arbitrary as to make the rhetorical point too. Anyway, just rattling off stuff here. Have a good day.

A man-made religion wouldn't present its founder as a loser dying on a Roman cross.


"A man-made religion wouldn't present its founder as a loser dying on a Roman cross."

Why not?

The question is wrong here really isn't it. "How to identify a hoax religion" Odd way to put it. How are any religions hoaxes? People believe them for reasons that they find persuasive, do they not?
Surely what matters is whether the claims of any religion match up to observed reality? If they don't, then said religion has to explain the differences.

Funny thing about words like "verifiable" and "unverifiable" (and their cousins "falsifiable" and "unfalsifiable")...their most celebrated users, the logical positivists, used them in a criterion of meaning. An utterance was said to be cognitively meaningful just in case it was (1) either analytically true or false OR (2) verifiable, in principle, by sense experience. (There were, of course, variations based on falsifiability too.)

Now, logical positivism has long ago been discarded (not for the least reason that that principle is not analytically true and can't be verified, even in principle by sense if true, it is meaningless). But I think it is interesting that the positivists understood something about verifiability that present-day scavengers of the idea don't seem to: there are a whole lot of meaningful claims that cannot, in fact, be verified (or falsified) but that could be in principle.

If I claim that there is a diamond obelisk on the thirteenth planet from Alpha Centauri, I've made a perfectly verifiable claim. The mere fact that I cannot verify it is not germane. And the positivists all recognized claims like my diamond obelisk claim as meaningful. Did they not do so, they realized that they would also be rejecting claims like "The law of gravity is in operation at Alpha Centauri."

To see that the diamond obelisk claim is verifiable, note that 'all' one would need to do is go to Alpha Centauri, see whether there is a thirteenth planet from it and check for the presence of a diamond obelisk. If one finds a thirteenth planet with its diamond obelisk, then my statement is shown true by sensory observation.

Now notice that, with the in-principle provision, many of the claims of Christianity that are said to be unverifiable are actually perfectly verifiable. Hell and heaven, for example, are perfectly verifiable claims of Christianity. If you die and go to Hell, you will be able to verify by sense experience that Hell exists.

On the other hand, many claims made by scientists are unverifiable (and unfalsifiable) and known to be so by the very scientists that make them. What has been recognized, even by those positivists, like Carl Hempel, who lived to see their house of cards fold up, is that verifiability and falsifiability, if they have application in evaluating anything, have application in evaluating whole theories. If a theory is verifiable (or falsifiable) by sensory observation, then it is acceptable that some of the claims made by the theory might not be verifiable or unverifiable, even in principle (see color confinement of quarks, for a striking example).

There are, likewise, a number of claims that Christianity makes based on an overall theory of the world that might not be individually verifiable (or falsifiable), perhaps not even in principle. But the Christian world-view itself is verified by both deductive proof and empirical evidence.

I especially 'like' the last piece of 'evidence' given for the claim that Christianity is a hoax:

Christians have answers to all the lame objections we just made against Christianity and have the unmitigated gall of remaining Christians.

(I changed the words a little. Sorry, but I'm not sorry.)

The very fact that Christians answer objections and don't roll over is taken as another objection!

I'm not sure whether any of the objections to Chritianity given above are worth more than five minutes thought. I'm pretty sure not. Still, in due course I'll take more than five minutes on some though. But before I do, I will offer one criterion to determine whether a line of attack is rationally legitimate or a rhetorical bluff:

If part of an attack is that the mere fact of defending against it and not simply giving up is more evidence against the view being attacked, then the attack itself is nothing more than a rhetorical bluff; it is not rationally credible.

Objection One:

YHWH-God has never appeared personally to me, and I don't understand the proofs of his existence.

(I changed the words again. SINS.)

The deity never appears in person to any credible person or group of people, and his very existence is unverifiable
On the second part of this objection, I'm not going to repeat the classic arguments for the existence of God here or be much more charitable than I was in my initial statement of the objection. I'll simply note that an atheist's failure to understand them does not imply the unverifiability of theism.

On the first part, Christianity claims that YHWH did appear to a number of people in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. So the operative idea here is that the people YHWH appeared to are not credible (and so we can't be sure that it really was YHWH).

What exactly is it that makes the disciples not credible?

I mean, on the face of it they seem pretty credible. Each and every one of them went to their deaths rather than renounce the view that they'd become so convinced of (more than can be said of, for example, Galileo).

Also they began an organization that spans the globe and preserves their views. I'd say that, whatever their humble beginnings, the disciples were a pretty effective group of people...they could not have been dummies. They're actually pretty credible.

Oh. What you mean is that they're all 'true believers', so they aren't credible.

Paul wasn't a 'true believer'...he actually hunted Christians down and killed them.

OK, but you'll say that Paul became a 'true believer' after the so-called appearance of God to him, and so loses credibility.

So what you are actually looking for is someone whom God appears to, but who continues not to believe that it was God who appeared to him, but who will verify that God appeared to him.



You caught the main objection I found hollow: Followers have justifications yada yada ...." It seems that the whole collection of apologetical thought is proof that what we have in Christianity is a hoax religion. Or, the only proof of a legitimate religion is that no defense is offered at the point of criticism. What a wild non sequitur!

It seems that the line of the up-coming posts is to find poor reasoning with each trait of hoax religion. The first one begs to be demolished: "The deity never appears in person to any credible person or group of people, and his very existence is unverifiable." The "No photo available" logo is a good starting point. How many people in history do we have no graphic identification, no pictures or statuary, yet we would acknowledge his/her existence? The use of the terms "credible" and "verifiable" is telling; what criterion would you use, only sources with whom you'd agree, discounting any source or evidence that would support the existent of the deity among us as "anecdotal" or "invalid"?

Goodness, if history ever taught us anything, is that hoaxes, be they religious, political, or social, are recognized as so only with a little passing of time. Hitler had his following who could recognize him as a monster only with the revelation of his atrocities. How to establish a "hoax"? That would be a lesson worth learning. After all, "hoax" is what some people call Obama (if they're Republican) or Reagan (if you're Democrat). We need some more solid criterion for hoax declaration other than some "credible" person or group.


I didn't cover the "no picture available" canard. Thanks.

It's interesting, isn't it, that some of the silliest hoaxes there are are based on photographic, or videographic evidence. I submit JFK conspiracies, 9/11 truth and lunar landing hoax theories for your consideration.

I think the sting can be taken out of this objection by translating it.

How to identify a hoax religion


Seven arguments against Christainity

First argument (translated):

If God existed, then he would show himself to credible people*, and his existence would be verifiable. He does not show himself, and his existence is not verifiable. Therefore, God doesn't exist.

*credible people = people who would never claim that God appeared to them. So, if somebody like Moses claimed that God appeared to him, that means he's crazy and therefore not credible. (See No True Scotsman fallacy

Answer: While I think God's hiddenness is a good reason to be suspicious, there are good arguments for God's existence, e.g. the moral argument and various versions of the cosmological argument.

Second argument (translated):

None of the miracles of Jesus, including the resurrection, are documented by any credible source*; therefore, they probably didn't happen.

*Any source that's full of miracles is obviously mythological and is therefore not credible. Also, we can't trust any account of the resurrection that comes from a Christian because they're biased.

Answer: The automatic dismissal of testimony from people asserting miracles makes the argument circular. And as far as bias goes, if somebody reported the resurrection of Jesus as if it actually happened, then they probably would believe it DID happen and would therefore probably be Christians. It turns out that in spite of the authors of the new testament all being Christians, there are good historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus (see The Resurrection of Jesus by Mike Licona and The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright.)

Third argument (translated):

If Christianity were true, then God would answer prayers. God doesn't answer prayers. Therefore, the Christian God is not true.

Answer: I think this argument has some weight. It is far from obvious to most people that God answers prayers, but from what Jesus said in the gospels, we should expect that he would.

Fourth argument (translated):

Although the Bible promises rewards and punishment in the afterlife for belief and unbelief, none of that is verifiable.

Answer: Does this even qualify as an argument? I thought about giving it a more charitable interpretation by inserting the missing premise (If it's true that there are rewards and punishments in the after life, we would be able to verify it), but the premise seems so obviously absurd, i was afraid my effort to be charitable would come across as uncharitable.

Fifth argument (translated):

If Christianity were true, then every claim in the Bible could be substantiated, it wouldn't have any historical errors, and there would be good evidence of it's divine origin.

Answer: This isn't much of an argument against Christianity. Christianity could be true even if the Bible does not have a divine origin and even if it had some historical errors. But if the Bible did have a divine origin, there's no still no reason to expect that every claim the Bible makes could be substantiated apart from that assumption. But given the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection, combined with his claim to be a prophet sent from God, and his apparent belief in the divine origin of at least the old testament, that strikes me as being good evidence of the divine origin of the old testament.

Sixths argument (translated):

If Christianity were true, then Christians would not gather together to encourage and learn from each other. They would not have leaders and teachers amongst them. And if they did gather together, they wouldn't collect money.

Answer: This is a terrible argument. It is human nature for people to associate with like-minded people, whether you're talking about religion or any other cause. But given the nature of Christianity, we should EXPECT that Christians would gather together and to have teachers amongst themselves. And if they set up a church that is not for profit, it would absolutely depend on the donations of the members to keep it running. That is true for any non-profit organization. They can't operate without money. Somebody has to pay the bills.

If Christianity were true, it's followers wouldn't be able to defend it against the previous five arguments

Answer: What the what??? This is a typical case of heads I win, tails you lose.

Objection Two:

I've never seen a miracle

(I just can't resist changing the words to what they really mean.)

No miracle or supernatural events are ever documented by any credible source
This is actually a more general version of the first objection. In the first objection, the miracle being focused on was a Divine appearance. And again the issue turns on the credibility of the witnesses to the miracle. It is not as though the Bible isn't filled with miracles, it's that those who wrote them down are not credible.

Most notable is, of course, the Resurrection of Christ. And the witnesses are the same ones as before: the disciples. I think that these witnesses are credible, and I sketched a couple of reasons that I think so above.

Objection Three

God doesn't do what I like.

(Changing the objections to make them more genuine again)

As stated
Praying to the deity has no measurable, real world effect.
Part of this is just a repeat of the miracle worry again. I'm not sure how well the prophets of Baal were able to measure the real-world effect of Elijah's prayers, but I somehow think the answer is "Well enough".

But that will go back again to how credible the miracle claim is (which ultimately rests on how credible Christ is). The answer ends up being "pretty credible". But with that said, cases like Elijah's are not typical.

The typical case is that we pray and we really can't tell how our prayers have been answered. (In saying this, I am not discounting out of hand those studies that have been done to actually measure the effectiveness of prayer.) The reason it works like that is that God sometimes, probably more often than not, answers "No". The reason He does so is that He sees all ends, we do not. Were God to simply say "yes" to everyone, you'd end up with a situation like the one depicted in the movie Bruce Almighty only it would probably be a lot worse.

This probably does come down to something we accept based on our acceptance of the overall Christian world-view but that we can't really give an adequate answer to in isolation.

How to identify a hoax religion? Where did this list come from? Was the list developed for the a priori purpose of identifying Christianity as a hoax religion or is it a purely arbitrary list? So I question the basis of the list.

Likewise, I could construct a way to identify false arguments against truth. It would include such items as

*Develops arbitrary lists of how to deny Christianity to be true.
*Includes statements that any argument against such lists are invalid.

Arbitrary lists are inherently fallacious. Let me turn this around and make a list about how to identify a hoax atheism:

*The lack of a deity never makes itself apparent. Likewise, the lack of a deity doesn't explain why so many people claim to have been visited by the deity.
*The lack of miracles never explains why so many people testify to observing them.
*Not praying to a deity doesn't prove to be advantageous to praying to one.
*Promises to be true, but it is unverifiable.
*Claims to deny written testimony as evidence but makes unsubstantiated claims regarding the nonexistence of God based on no evidence whatsoever.
*Propagates belief in a lack of a deity among people who believe in a deity and reinforces a lack of belief through public activism. Non-believers with academic credentials are hired to speak and debate against belief in a deity.
*Non-believers have justifications for all of these failings and believe in the lack of a deity wholeheartedly.

Objection Four

Christianity won't let me believe whatever I like.

(You know the drill by now)

As stated
Belief promises a reward, unbelief promises a penalty, but these consequences are unverifiable.
See my earlier post on verifiability for the second half of this objection. The propositions that Heaven and Hell exist are as verifiable as they come.

With that said, it must be pointed out that the first part of the objection doesn't get Christianity right. Heaven and Hell are not reward and punishment for belief and unbelief.

Instead it's like this.

First, we all have immortal souls. We are going to live on after our deaths. If we are permitted to give free reign to all our whims, things are not going to go well. All the evils that get truncated by the deaths of the evildoers in this world just go on and on in the afterlife. The reason our whims lead us this way is that all of our souls suffer from a disease called "Sin". In order to avoid this fate, we have to trust the person with the cure enough to take it from him. If we are cured, we can expect a very different afterlife than if we are not.

It's not about rewards and punishments, its about the consequences of not being cured of Sin.


"Why not?" I think it is because man is just too proud to fabricate anything that would portrait its founder as a loser to the world's eyes (that is basically what the cross symbolised). Sure, that doesn't make the religion true but knowing what we know about human nature it goes a long way.

With "hoax religion" I think what the questioner means whether it is fabricated or truly revealed.

Skipping over objection five, since it's just a retread of the attack on miracles again.

Objection Six:

I don't like the idea of not being able to make my own god in my image. At church, they tell me when I'm doing that. And I don't understand economic reality, so it bothers me when they collect money.
Disingenuous version:
Regular groupthink meetings are held to reinforce belief. A person of authority is present to interpret the holy text, and money is collected.
This is mostly nonsense. It's a mark of the plausibility of Christianity that 2000 years later there are large numbers of people that meet every week to reflect on their faith.

On a related issue, if I'm not mistaken, I think that pastors do not interpret Scripture. That's not their job. Pastors present and possibly apply Scripture. Reformation Protestants argue that Scripture interprets itself. But even Roman Catholic pastors are not called on to interpret Scripture. That's for the upper levels of the Church Hierarchy. Pastors are called on to present that interpretation to their flock.

Woops! That last part was supposed to be...

Seventh argument (translated):

If Christianity were true, it's followers wouldn't be able to defend it against the previous six arguments. If they can, then Christianity is not true.

Answer: What the what??? This is a typical case of heads I win, tails you lose.


You and I seem to have taken the same tack in answering this. We both found it useful, or at least fun, to translate the objection to what it is really saying.

You were a little more charitable than I.

As usual, good stuff in your remarks.

Nice one Jim!

The attack by counter-list!

Obviously you don't really think your list works. Your point was to show how dishonest the original list was. And it is.

WL, Sam, and Jim

I had figured that it won't be long till all the seven traits of "hoax religion" would be shown to be the "smoke and mirrors" they were.

You've done it masterfully!

I like this list or, that is, I like how funny it is.

It seems to me it all comes down to something rather simple (and correct me if I'm wrong). There's the old saying "Trust, but verify". Now, in case you didn't spot it, that is a contradiction in terms. Why? Because to trust something means that you didn't necessarily verify it. You put your trust or **what? FAITH in it. This doesn't mean you didn't have good evidence for it, but you couldn't verify it for sure. This is what Jesus meant, I think, when he told Thomas "...blessed is he who has not seen and yet believes".

Trust but verify suicides itself.


One can trust a thing because one has verified it.

I dunno. Robby may have a point. Usually when we say we trust somebody or something, that trust is future directed. Past experience gives us reason to believe that things will turn out some way in the future. But we can't verify that the future will turn out that way. The only way our trust can be verified is when the future expectation comes to fruition.

Wisdom Lover

A very simple experiment used often but without a real extrapolation

When you sit on a chair, you are trusting that the chair will hold you up or otherwise, you would not sit on it but, perhaps, run a series of experiments to determine the soundness of it's construction, etc.

But you don't run these experiments, rather you sit on the chair. It's only then that you verify it's reliability. And you do this repeatedly with each new chair you sit on. You cannot say it's due to previous observations because whatever you have observed with one chair doesn't transfer to another because it's a completely new chair that may not be as well constructed!

So, you simply Trust that it will hold you up. If it does hold you up, all that proves is that your trust was not in vain.

This is where most people are very intellectually dishonest in my opinion and confuse trust or faith if you will with pragmatism. In other words, you say you trust something because you believe you have verified it's benefits when in fact all you are proving is that you have knowledge of something. You don't have to trust for instance that gravity is real because you have already verified it's existence. Ironically, it is this knowledge of gravity that interacts with the trust relationship you first have with an unknown chair that would cause you to question it's construction.

So, to say that one can trust a thing because one has verified it I think is not correct.

You don't have to trust for instance that gravity is real because you have already verified it's existence.

But just as in the case with the chair, you have only verified that it worked in the past. You still have to trust that it will continue to work in the future, don't you?

Robby Hall,

whatever you have observed with one chair doesn't transfer to another because it's a completely new chair that may not be as well constructed!

Are chair failures common? Explain your answer.



So, to say that one can trust a thing because one has verified it I think is not correct.

I don't think we’re talking about “verification” in the same way. As Sam mentioned, verification only serves to verify the past. The work of verifying the chair (to use the example) is a continuous process. Each passing second that your butt is secure in the chair doesn't tell you about the next. In other words, once you’ve verified a thing (under this understanding), the verification performed is obsolete.

When I think about trusting something because I have verified it, I think of the verification process as a snapshot in time (not an ongoing process).


Past experience gives us reason to believe that things will turn out some way in the future. But we can't verify that the future will turn out that way. The only way our trust can be verified is when the future expectation comes to fruition.

As it relates to the connection between verification and future events, I agree. I just don’t see how verification and future events are unrelated. For example, I’ve verified my wife’s trustworthiness and compatibility through long-term dating before I married her. Though it’s a cold description, I married my wife precisely because I verified those very things.

Now, that doesn’t mean things can’t change, but again, that’s not typically what we mean by verification. It’s a snapshot, not an ongoing process. The issue of things changing in the future and certainty is a whole nother thing.

I think trusting a thing because you have verified it makes sense.

KWM, I suspect that you and I agree on substance and only disagree on semantics.

"I think trusting a thing because you have verified it makes sense."

It's surprising to me that we are having this argument. Of course KWM is right.

Robby's examples only serve to prove that sometimes we trust a thing without verifying it, which is not in dispute.

I'm not sure what the 'normal' understanding of "verify" is that would apply to contingent claims that cannot be verified or known with 100% certainty, like "Christianity is true", "The Earth is round" or "Cheese exists". But I'm pretty sure that, whatever it is, Humean skepticism about induction is not a problem for verification so understood.

I can verify, Hume notwithstanding, that the Sun will rise tomorrow. I also happen to trust that the Sun will rise tomorrow. Were I to verify that the Sun will rise tomorrow, I would trust that proposition all the more. So verification and trust can both be forward looking.

Verification and trust can also both be backward looking. I might seek out and receive several reports from reliable sources that my daughter comported herself with dignity and decorum at the High School dance last week. I have now verified that my daughter comported herself with dignity and decorum at the High School dance last week. Because of that, I trust that my daughter comported herself with dignity and decorum at the High School dance last week.

Now, I know my daughter pretty well, and I would trust that she comported herself with dignity and decorum even without the specific verification. So perhaps it's better to say that the verification makes me trust even more that she comported herself with dignity and decorum.

The latter point also serves to show what was never in dispute: that it is possible to trust in something without verification (whether in the past, present or future).

I would also submit that there are some things that we cannot verify. Therefore, our only option is to trust that they are true.

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