Full-Festinger free fall, indeed!

We’ve all been making jokes at the expense of the Rev. Harold Camping, whose prediction of massive earthquakes and upward-zipping faithful didn’t come true.

Well, it seems that we’re the ones to be laughed at last, for the Judgement did happen on Saturday — we just couldn’t see it!

It seems that the Rev. Camping has clarified his prediction and now explains Saturday as a “spiritual” Judgement Day. In other words, it happened, all right, but it was invisible.

October 21st is still “on” as End of the World Day, and the Reverend’s radio station will be playing all your devotional favourites from now until then. There’s  no more need to warn people — although why a Calvinist would have bothered to warn anyone in the first place is an interesting question — we’ll just play the pretty music and wait.

As the man once said, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Jesus came, unseen, and he judged the world, invisibly, and now it’s all over but the charbroiling, and without the slightest observable fuss. The Apocalypse for neat freaks.

Of course, all of this silliness is just a species of the deductive reasoning disease which lies at the logical heart of the divide between religion and science. In science, you make a guess at what might be right, then you test it, then you see if that’s still what you think or not. If it is, your postulation becomes a theory. In general and simple terms, the process is inductive. In religion, you decide what you think, then you explain the world to fit that belief. If the world doesn’t fit, change the world. In general and simple terms, the process is deductive. It’s an ancient and well understood contrast, but it bears re-airing every so often, just to keep us sharp.

Deductive syllogisms have lots of good uses, of course, not least allowing us more easily to see formal reasoning errors, as in this faulty argument:

Sylvester can’t fly.
Cats can’t fly.
Therefore, Sylvester is a cat.

Now, it happens that Sylvester is a cat, but not on the strength of the argument above. Let’s make a simple and quite silly substitution:

Sylvester can’t fly.
Lawn furniture can’t fly.
Therefore, Sylvester is lawn furniture.

But rather than continue in this vein and reproduce a tiny and unnecessary logic text, let’s examine the problem for Reverend Camping and all his followers out there in the midst of their dissonance crisis, or, as I termed it last time, “full-Festinger free fall.”

Here’s their original argument, in simplified form:

My faith that May 21st was Judgement Day is based on the power of God’s invariable and revealed truth.
May 21st will be Judgement Day.
Therefore, my faith is true.

What happens now, that Judgement Day didn’t happen on May 21st? One possibility:

My faith that May 21st would be Judgement Day was based on the power of God’s invariable and revealed truth.
May 21st wasn’t Judgement Day.
Therefore, my faith was false.

But this is not at all acceptable, is it? So what can we do? We can’t deny that we predicted Judgement Day. We can’t deny that our prediction was based on our faith in God’s invariable revelation. We can’t afford to deny that our faith is true.

We seem to be in a bind. Wait! There’s one thing we can deny — we can deny that Judgement Day didn’t happen. If Judgement Day didn’t not happen, then the original argument can be salvaged.

So Judgement Day didn’t not happen. It happened, but it was invisible.

There is no crisis of faith if the faith-based prediction came true, despite all the evidence to the contrary, or in this case, despite the total absence of positive evidence. This argument is on a par with the ID argument that God designed the world to feign evolution, but there really wasn’t any evolution at all. That this kind of “reasoning” causes serial nosebleeds as all those heads twist around and around in their unending struggle to keep pace with the facts is just an annoying side effect.

And a rational nosebleed’s not much suffering for one’s faith. Not much, at all.

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