Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Thursday, August 21, 2014

World Events and Bible Prophecy

It seems that many Christadelphians have been making claims recently along the lines of major events happening in the world being an indicator that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled and that Jesus will thus return to earth soon. Those of you who are familiar with Christadelphian history (and also Christian history) will know that this is certainly not the first time they have made such claims, and I doubt it will be the last. In fact, the founder of the Christadelphians, John Thomas, made a claim of this nature over 100 years ago. Needless to say, Jesus did not return.

Rather than look at specific world events or Bible prophecy in detail, I thought it would be more interesting and more educational to point out what is usually missed when Christadelphians enthusiastically announce the modern day fulfilment of this or that obscure Bible verse.

My aim, as always, is not to ridicule Christadelphians but to educate and provide some tools to help you decide for yourself whether any particular prophecy has actually been fulfilled.

What are the available options?

Always ask whether you are considering all of the possible/available options. It is common for people to present an either/or proposition when reality actually allows for a much larger and perhaps even overlapping set of possibilities. Don't be talked into accepting a narrow range of options until you have considered for yourself what the possibilities might be. And remember that "unknown" is often a valid option too.

So in order to approach this topic somewhat scientifically I will define 3 different hypotheses regarding world events and bible prophecy.

  1. World events undeniably and clearly follow exactly what the Bible predicted.
  2. Christadelphians see world events and then turn to the Bible after the fact to see if they can find anything that sounds similar, coercing the meaning of the Bible verses into sounding something like what actually happened.
  3. It is impossible to be certain whether any world event fits any particular Bible prophecy.
You might be able to think of some more.

There is also the 'null' hypothesis. If we cannot positively confirm any of the above, what is the default position to hold? In this case it is simple, since we are talking about a positive claim being made regarding prophecy. Therefore I would consider our null hypothesis to be worded something like this:
There is no reason to believe that a particular world event is in any way related to the Bible.
Right at the outset, note that these hypotheses are not all mutually exclusive. However, there is enough detail in each hypothesis that allows us to rule one or more of them out. This leads me to my next point...

How would I prove it to be false?

All too often people accept a claim as true without following the steps required to actually confirm it (or rather, to 'disconfirm' it). They will ask themselves "is it plausible?" or "could it be true?". This is all well and good, but on its own this is not enough to actually confirm a claim as true. At best it can only tell us whether a claim is possible, or plausible. If we go no further, we leave ourselves wide open to committing the logical fallacy of 'confirmation bias'.

A far more important question to ask is "How would I prove it to be false?". If you cannot know whether a claim is false, then you cannot know whether it is true. It is as simple as that.

Returning to our 3 hypotheses, we can now start making predictions based on these hypotheses. We can then test these predictions against reality, and if any of them do not match reality then we have successfully ruled out that hypothesis.

What testable predictions can I make for each hypothesis?

Remember, if a hypothesis or idea is not testable, then it is impossible to know whether it is true or false.

For example, consider the possibility that there is an invisible pink unicorn sitting right near you. There is no way to test this, so you cannot know whether or not there really is an invisible pink unicorn. You cannot prove there isn't one, and you cannot prove there is. However, since you have no positive evidence that there is, it would be reasonable to conclude that, at least for practical purposes, there is not. That is, if you have no evidence for or against a claim, then the null hypothesis must stand.

  • Hypothesis 1: World events undeniably and clearly follow exactly what the Bible predicted.

    I should expect:
    • Clear predictions.
      This might be demonstrated by the majority of Christians (and even non-Christians if possible) independently interpreting the prophecy exactly the same way.
    • No double meaning or second guessing.
      The prophecy should have only ever applied to one world event and never to anything else, unless every other application of it also meets the above condition regarding interpretation.
    • No vague language.
      The prophecy should be specific and contain no language that could be interpreted multiple ways, unless all ways to interpret it are equally valid and agreed upon.
  • Hypothesis 2: World events retrofitted to Bible verses after the fact.

    I should expect:
    • Sometimes vague language, allowing a prophecy to apply broadly to a range of events.
    • Different Christian denominations sometimes predicting different things.
    • Different people sometimes applying the same prophecy to different events.
    • Some failed predictions (in cases where subsequent events don't end up panning out to match a prophecy in full).
    • Some events that no one predicted in advance. See the 'clear predictions' item for hypothesis 1. If no one actually predicted the event in advance (outside of the Bible), then that is strong evidence that the prophecy was not clear, nor specific enough.
    • Some differences between the prophecy and reality, however subtle.
    • Some interpretation required to make it fit, or to "explain" the prophecy.
  • Hypothesis 3: No certainty regarding Bible prophecy and world events.

    I should expect:
    • There should be no expectation for people to believe based on fulfilled prophecy.
    • Vague language, allowing a prophecy to apply broadly to a range of events.
    • Every prophecy should in some way fit an event or be plausibly true.

Process of elimination

So now we that we have established clear expectations or predictions to test, it is simply a matter of researching whether or not these predictions match reality. If any observations from reality (or history) differ from the predictive tests above, then we can rule out that entire hypothesis. This is the power of setting up tests that can swing either way. For a hypothesis to be true, ALL of its tests must pass. If any ONE of its tests fail, then the hypothesis is false.

Summary

Congratulations, you are now familiar with what is known as The Scientific Method.

As you may have guessed, the scientific method can be applied to many different things in life, and is very useful for determining whether or not something is true.

It is specifically designed to work around our various biases. The easiest person to fool is ourselves, so tools such as The Scientific Method are invaluable if we are serious in our passion for seeking the truth.

The more you want something to be true, the more you should be cautious when examining its claims.

Thank you for reading. I hope you have found this article helpful.