Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Response to Eugene

Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Response to Eugene July 13, 2015

Before I go on to  Part 4 of this series, I’m going to take time to respond to a defense of Jesus put forward by Eugene (see comments by Eugene on my Part 3 post).

I am arguing that it is very unlikely that God would raise Jesus from the dead, because Jesus was a false prophet.  Some key reasons supporting my claim that Jesus was a false prophet are that Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah, obedience to Jehovah, and prayer to Jehovah, and that Jehovah is a false god.  Jehovah is a false god because Jehovah is NOT a perfectly morally good person.  Jehovah promoted slavery, sexism, wars of aggression, genocide, cruelty, intolerance, and totalitarianism.  Jehovah is a cruel and bloodthirsty deity, so Jehovah is a false god.

I have not yet defended my most controversial claim, which is that Jehovah is a false god.  I have only summarized my thinking (as in the previous paragraph).  But Eugene was impatient with my slowness in getting around to that key question, so Eugene began a defense of Jesus and the “Jehovah-concept” of God, in anticipation of my forthcoming criticism of Jehovah.  Eugene’s objections are thoughtful and clear, and have some initial plausibility; so I view Eugene as a worthy opponent who deserves a response that is as thoughtful and clear as his objections, and that will, hopefully, show that his objections are not as plausible as they initially seem to be.

Knowing Where to Draw the Line

“But how much inaccuracy is too much from God’s perspective?  Do you know?  I certainly don’t.  I don’t know where an utterly perfect Being would draw the line on acceptable imperfection.  Perhaps it is better not to pretend that we know.”

– Eugene

I admit that a perfectly good God might allow some degree of imperfection in how humans conceive of or represent God, and that God might allow some degree of imperfection in the concept of God held and promoted by a “prophet”; that is, by a messenger whom God uses to communicate important truths to groups of humans or to humankind in general.  Eugene is arguing that since I admit that a perfectly morally good God might allow a small degree of imperfection in how one of his prophets conceives of or characterizes God, that a perfectly morally good God might allow a large degree of imperfection in how one of his prophets conceives of or characterizes God.  Thus, even if Jehovah as characterized in the O.T. was cruel, bloodthirsty, and evil, this “imperfect” concept of God might be tolerated by God in the thinking and teaching of one of God’s prophets or messengers, and thus God might tolerate the promotion of the “Jehovah-concept” of God by Jesus, and God might still consider Jesus to be his prophet or messenger.

First, there appears to be a logical fallacy here, used by ancient Greek philosophers in the paradox of the heap.  If you start out with a heap of grains of sand (with say 100,000 grains), and remove just one grain of sand, that will not reduce the remaining sand to something less than a “heap” of sand.  But since removal of just one grain of sand must always leave us with a “heap”, we must still have a “heap” of sand even if we remove one grain of sand at a time until only one single grain of sand remains.  The final one grain of sand, it is concluded, must still be a “heap” of sand.

The fact that it is difficult (or even impossible) to “draw the line” on when a heap of sand becomes something less than a heap does NOT show that a single grain of sand constitutes a “heap” of sand.  Clearly one grain of sand is not a heap of sand.  The assumption is that all concepts must have absolutely clear and precise boundaries.  This assumption is false.  It may represent an ideal of clarity and precision, but this assumption does not represent how words and concepts actually function.  Concepts often have fuzzy boundaries, grey areas, that make it difficult or impossible to KNOW the precise location of the edge of the concept, to know, for example the exact number of grains of sand required to form a “heap” of sand.  The existence of borderline cases does not rule out the existence of clear cut cases.  One grain of sand is NOT a “heap” of sand, and 100,000 grains of sand clearly constitute a “heap” of sand (at least if they are gathered together into a roughly conical pile).

A second and more important problem with this defense of Jesus, is that it fails to take into account a critical distinction, the distinction between important and unimportant theological beliefs.  Inaccuracy in theological beliefs is no big deal, if we are talking about unimportant or insignificant theological beliefs, but inaccuracy in theological beliefs can be a big deal, if we are talking about important or significant theological beliefs.  My admission that God would tolerate a degree of inaccuracy in a person’s theological beliefs is based on the assumption that many (perhaps most) theological beliefs are unimportant or insignificant.

For example,  Christians have slaughtered each other over the theological doctrine of transubstantiation.  This was massive stupidity on the part of Christians because this theological belief is of very little significance.  A perfectly morally good God would never severely punish belief in transubstantiation, even if that belief was false.  Nor would a perfectly good God severely punish doubt or rejection of transubstantiation, even if that belief was true.  Transubstantiation is an insignificant theological belief, and God (if God exists) couldn’t care less whether humans accept or reject that theological belief.

But not all theological beliefs are as trivial and unimportant as transubstantiation.  What sort of theological beliefs would God be concerned about?  What sort of theological beliefs would God strongly desire for humans to get right?  Since God (if God exists) is a perfectly morally good person, we can reasonably infer that God would care most about theological beliefs that had significant implications for how humans treat each other and how humans treat non-human animals.

One theological belief that God would want humans to get right, is that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.  Such theological beliefs have implications for how humans treat each other and how humans treat non-human animals.  If humans got the WRONG IDEA about God, and formed false theological beliefs, such as that God does not care about fostering human happiness and well-being, and that God is pleased when humans are cruel and violent towards each other, and that God is pleased by cruel treatment of non-human animals, then such inaccurate theological beliefs would have serious negative impact on human and animal happiness and well-being.  So, these are the sort of theological beliefs that God would care about, assuming that God exists.

In characterizing the “Jehovah-concept” of God as being “inacurate”, and in insisting that we do not know whether the “Jehovah-concept” of God is “too inaccurate” to be tolerated by God, Eugene is suggesting that God does not care about the accuracy of important and significant theological beliefs, that God does not care about the accuracy or correctness of human theological beliefs that have significant implications for how humans should treat each other or treat non-human animals.   In other words, Eugene is implying that God would tolerate a mistaken conception of God which characterized God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice.   The “Jehovah-concept” of God is a concept of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice, and so such a concept would never be tolerated by God, if God exists.  Any prophet who promotes a concept of God as being a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice, is clearly a false prophet.  Jesus promoted the “Jehovah-concept” of God, so Jesus is a false prophet, and it would be very unlikely that God would raise such a false prophet from the dead.

Finally, this comment by Eugene seems to have some similarity to the view called “skeptical theism”.  Skepticism has sometimes been used as a way of defending religious beliefs.  The problem with this approach is that skepticism is a two-edged sword.  If we really do not know whether a perfectly morally good person (who was also omnipotent and omniscient and eternal) would tolerate a prophet who promoted a false conception of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice (when God is actually opposed to violence, cruelty, and injustice), then that would take the wind out of my argument against Jesus’ resurrection, but it would ALSO have very negative (skeptical) implications for the case for God and for divine revelation.

If proclaiming a concept of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice is something that, for all we know, a perfectly good God might find acceptable in a prophet, then we are in no position to judge whether the creator of the world (assuming such a person exists) is good or evil, and even if we (somehow) decide that the creator is perfectly good, and that the Bible is a message from the creator, we have no reason for any degree of confidence in the messages in the Bible, given that God, on this view, tolerates false theological beliefs EVEN WHEN we are talking about IMPORTANT theological beliefs, theological beliefs that have significant implications for how humans should treat each other and non-human animals. 

Relatively Less Inacurate Theological Beliefs

“And so long as the Jehovah-model (in its various iterations) was still relatively less inaccurate than other models available in the same cultural milieu, my argument can function.” – Eugene

In the Ancient Near East (hereafter: ANE), one could argue, as Eugene does, that the god of the Israelites, Jehovah, was no worse than the gods of other peoples and tribes, and that Jehovah was, in some respects, a better person, morally speaking, than those alternative deities.  Eugene has not actually made the case for this claim, but let’s suppose that a plausible case could be made that Jehovah was a morally better person than his competitors in the ANE.  So what?  One might also argue that Hitler was a morally better person than Stalin, but that could only mean that Hitler was the lesser evil of two very evil men. So what?  That does NOT make Hitler worthy of being worshipped.

I admit that a perfectly good God might well allow humans to worship a deity that was characterized in a way that implies the deity was less than perfect.  But being less than perfect is different than being evil, than being a god who promotes violence, cruelty, and injustice.  God would never give his blessing to worship of Hitler, even if Hitler was the very best human leader that ever existed (i.e. even if all other human leaders did things worse than lead and command the genocidal slaughter of millions of innocent men, women, and children).  God, if God exists, is a perfectly morally good person, and such a person would never approve of the worship of an evil person like Hitler.  Jehovah is very similar to Hitler and Stalin.  Jehovah is an evil person who promoted slavery, sexism, intolerance, war, cruelty, genocide, and totalitarianism.  God would never approve of the worship of such a person.  Being the least evil person among various horribly evil persons does not make a person “good enough” to be worshipped.

Furthermore, Eugene’s view here seems to involve the same sort of implication as the “progressive revelation” apologetic move:  God must be an incompetent fool.  Contrary to Eugene’s view, God would settle for the lesser of evils ONLY IF there was no possibility of a good alternative.  One good alternative to worshipping Hitler (or Jehovah) would be to not worship anyone.  That might not be the most ideal situation (if God existed) but at least it would avoid the absurdity and depravity of worshipping a very evil person.

Not only could God figure out that obviously better alternative, but God could, unless God was an incompetent fool, figure out and communicate alternative conceptions of God that would be much better than Hitler or Jehovah, because the alternative conception would be of a good person rather than an evil person.  God is omnipotent and omniscient, so if God wants to come up with an improved concept of God (one that humans can learn and understand), then God WILL do so (if God exists).  God is omnipotent and omniscient, so if God wants to teach and communicate a new-and-improved concept of God to humans, then God WILL do so (if God exists).

Eugene is assuming that God is somehow limited to only the concepts of God that were available to people in the ANE at a given point in time.  But that assumption implies that either God is unable to come up with a better concept of God than the “Jehovah-concept” or that God would be unable to teach and communicate such a concept to humans who lived in the ANE.  Suppose we could gather together Aristotle, Plato, Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Swinburne into one room, and ask them to come up with three alternative concepts of God besides the “Jehovah-concept”, concepts of a person who was a morally good person who was morally better than Jehovah.  Could they do this?  Of course they could.  Is God less capable, less creative, less intelligent, than these great thinkers?   Of course not.  God could come up with dozens or even thousands of improved concepts of God, without any help from Aquinas, Kant, or Swinburne.

If our gathered philosophers came up with three alternative concepts of God that were concepts of a person who was morally better than Jehovah, could God teach and communicate one of these alternative concepts effectively to Moses or to Joshua or to some other person in the ANE?  Of course God could do so.  So, as with proponents of “progressive revelation” Eugene’s view implies that God is either stupid or incompetent.  Since God is by definition omnipotent and omniscient, Eugene’s view implies something that is a self-contradiction.  A person who is stupid or incompetent cannot be God.  God, therefore, is not, and cannot be, limited to the meager and defective concepts of God that were available to people in the ANE at a particular point in history.

Finally, if for some reason (unknown to us) God was limited to only the concepts of God available to people in the ANE when he (allegedly) revealed himself to Moses, and if the “Jehovah-concept” was the least evil among the available concepts at that point in time, then the instant that God communicated the “Jehovah-concept” of God to Moses, God would begin to work on changing and improving that extremely defective concept of God.  And one of the very top priorities that God would have is to eliminate the violence, cruelty, and injustice contained in the “Jehovah-concept” of God.  Yet, when Jesus appears on the scene more than a thousand years later, we don’t hear any condemnation of slavery, wars of aggression, genocide, or other cruelty and injustice promoted by Jehovah.  Jesus shows no sign of revulsion at the evils of Jehovah.  Jesus fully embraced and worshipped Jehovah, and encouraged his followers to join him in worship of, obedience to, and prayer to Jehovah.

God would not have waited more than a week to begin correcting the perversion of worshipping an evil person.  The idea that God would sit around for over a thousand years and tolerate continued worship of Jehovah, and then send us Jesus as the penultimate revelation of theological truth, and have Jesus perpetuate this perversion of worship and obedience to an evil person, is absurd.

God is no fool.  If God exists, God would not approve of the worship of an evil person as God.  If God was limited to only the existing concepts of God available to people in the ANE at a particular point in history, then God would simply discourage worship of any person, rather than bless the worship of an evil person.  But God was limited to only the existing concepts of God available to people in the ANE only if God was either incompetent or a fool.  Since God, if God exists, is neither incompetent nor a fool, God had plenty of other alternative concepts of God available to communicate to Moses and Joshua, and to any other person in the ANE.

====================

Update on 7/21/15

In response to the above post, Eugene has put forward an argument (see comments by Eugene).  As a first step to take before evaluating Eugene’s argument, I have attempted to analyze the logical structure of his argument.  Here are the key claims (I have left out the evidence provided in support of the main factual claims about Jesus in order to maintain focus on the basic logical structure):

(1) To say that a thing partakes of “too much inaccuracy” is really just to say that a thing is inaccurate to the point of frustrating a given agent’s purposes for utilizing that thing in the first place.

(2) When we apply that understanding to God and his presumptive purposes for engaging prophets, we can see quite readily that the identification of the Jehovah-model (quite specifically Jesus’s own version of it) as something partaking of too much inaccuracy is simply unwarranted given your already-stated concessions.

[I think that (2) is an overarching summary statement: If (1) is true, then that leads to the conclusion (13).  So, (2) might not play a role as a premise in this argument.]

(3) One of the primary purposes God might have for endorsing prophets is to convey through them correct ideas about God.

(4) One theological belief that God would want humans to get right, is that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.

So, presumably…

(5) As long as a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey this belief (or not to overthrow it), then it doesn’t frustrate God’s purpose for using the prophet in the first place.

and [thus]…

(6) We cannot reasonably then say that the prophet’s God-model is “too inaccurate.” [if the prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey this belief (or not to overthrow it)].

If that’s the case [if (6) is the case], then…

(7) It’s simply a matter of turning to Jesus’s words and investigating them to discover if they communicate that “God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.”

When we do that, though…

(8) Jesus’s understanding of God, his own particular version of the Jehovah-model of God, passes the test.

(9) According to the gospels, Jesus was emphatic that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and animals too.

(10) Moving on, when we consider the extent to which Jesus endorsed the idea that “God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being,” the record is equally positive.

(11) Finally, there is the matter of the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.” While this isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present, at least implicitly.

It seems then that…

(12) Jesus’s model of God, his own particular variant of the Jehovah-model, satisfies your proffered criteria for being sufficiently accurate.

(13) We really have no good grounds for thinking that Jesus’s God-model was inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god.”

(14) And if that’s the case [if (13) is the case], then your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.

(A) Your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.

 

Here is my interpretation of the logical structure of the argument:

Eugene's Objection

 

 

UPDATE on 7/22/15

In trying to clarify the premises of Eugene’s argument, I have come to see the logical structure a bit differently.  Here are the re-worded statements:

(1)To say that a thing partakes of “too much inaccuracy” is really just to say that a thing is inaccurate to the point of frustrating a given agent’s purposes for utilizing that thing in the first place.

(2)When we apply that understanding to God and his presumptive purposes for engaging prophets, we can see quite readily that the identification of the Jehovah-model (quite specifically Jesus’s own version of it) as something partaking of too much inaccuracy is simply unwarranted given your already-stated concessions.

[I think that (2) is an overarching summary statement: “If (1) is true, then that leads us to the conclusion (13).”  So, (2) probably does not play a role as a premise in this argument.]

(3)One of the primary purposes God might have for endorsing prophets is to convey through them correct ideas about God.

(4a) Three theological beliefs that God would want humans to get right are: (i) God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and (ii) God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and (iii) God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.

So, presumably…

(5a) As long as a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them), then it doesn’t frustrate God’s purpose for using the prophet in the first place.

and [thus]…

(6a) We cannot reasonably say that the prophet’s God-model is “too inaccurate” if the prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).

(7a) If Jesus’s words communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii), then Jesus model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).

(8a) Jesus’s words communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii).

(9)According to the gospels, Jesus was emphatic that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and animals too.

(10) Moving on, when we consider the extent to which Jesus endorsed the idea that “God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being,” the record is equally positive.

(11) Finally, there is the matter of the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.” While this isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present, at least implicitly.

It seems then that…

(12a) Jesus’s model of God, his own particular variant of the Jehovah-model, is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).

(13a) We cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is “too inaccurate” (i.e. inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god.”)

(14a) If we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is “too inaccurate” (i.e. inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god”), then your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.

(A) Your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.

Here is my revised analysis of the logical structure of Eugene’s argument:

Eugene's Objection Rev1

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