Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Response to Eugene – Part 2

Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Response to Eugene – Part 2 July 30, 2015

I have put forward part of a case against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead”.  This case is based on the controversial claim that “Jesus was a false prophet”.  Eugene has raised an objection to my case, and that objection comes in the form of an argument, an argument with a bit of logical complexity, which I have attempted to analyze and clarify.

I have left some of the statements or premises of Eugene’s argument as they were originally stated, but most of the statements I have revised two or even three times, in order to clarify the meaning of those statements and/or the logic of his argument.

Here is my most current version of Eugene’s Objection:

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Eugene's Objection Rev 3

 

(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.
(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.
(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.
(6b) IF a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them), THEN we cannot reasonably say that the prophet’s God-model is too inaccurate.
(7b) IF Jesus’s words (according to the Gospels) communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii), THEN (based on the evidence of the Gospels) Jesus God-model is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(8b) Jesus’s words (according to the Gospels) 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.
(10a) 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 [Gospel] record is equally positive.
(11a) While the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering” isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present [according to the Gospels], at least implicitly.
(12b) Based on the evidence of the Gospels, Jesus’s God-model is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(13b) Based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate.
(14c) IF based on the evidence of the Gospels we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate, THEN the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.  

(B1) The available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.
(C1) IF the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”, THEN Brad’s argument against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.
(A3) Brad’s argument against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.

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I’m going to start with the conclusion, and work my way backwards through the logical structure of the argument.

(B1) and (C1) provide an argument of the form modus ponens for the conclusion (A3).  Modus ponens is a simple deductive form which is clearly valid:

P

IF P THEN Q.

THEREFORE:

Q

So, the logic of the final argument is fine, and we just need to evaluate the truth of the premises (B1) and (C1).

Obviously, I disagree with Eugene about (B1).  But (B1) is supported by an argument, so we need to consider the argument he has given in support of (B1).

I also, however, obect to premise (C1), at least as it is currently formulated.  (C1) is false.  Even if Eugene is correct that the available evidence does not support my claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”, this is NOT my only reason for the claim that “Jesus was a false prophet”.

Three of my reasons for the claim that “Jesus was a false prophet” are related to Jesus’ promotion of Jehovah (worship of Jehovah, obedience to Jehovah, and prayer to Jehovah).  But the Gospels provide other reasons supporting the claim that “Jesus was a false prophet”.

For example, Jesus (according to the Gospels) taught that God was planning to eternally torture many people who were (on some occasions) lacking in kindness and generosity.  Jesus (according to the Gospels) taught that God was planning to eternally torture many people who have doubts about some theological claims about Jesus.  These are also reasons that show that “Jesus was a false prophet”.

Although Eugene’s objection, if correct, would put a big dent in my case, it would not destroy my case or cause it to “fall apart”.  But we can revise (C1) to qualify it a bit, and this will also require that we make a similar change to qualify the conclusion:

(B1) The available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.

(C2) IF the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”, THEN some of Brad’s arguments against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” are based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.

THEREFORE:
(A4) Some of Brad’s arguments against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” are based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.

Given the qualification in (C2), I would accept that premise, and given the similar qualification in (A4), I also accept the inference from (B1) and (C2) to (A4) as logically valid.

Eugene believes (B1) to be true, but I do not.  Eugene knows that I would resist and challenge (B1), so he has provided an argument to support this premise:

(13b) Based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate.

(14c) IF based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate, THEN the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.

THEREFORE:
(B1) The available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.

This argument is not sufficient by itself, because premise (13b) is also controversial.  Eugene believes (13b) is true, but I do not.  And once again, Eugene is aware of the controversial nature of (13b) and so all of the rest of his argument, the premises prior to (13b), all work together as an argument suporting (13b).  Look at the argument diagram and you can see that every statement above premise 13 works to provide support for it.

Before we get into the question of the truth of (13b) and whether Eugene’s argument for (13b) is a solid argument, I want to take a look at the other premise of the argument for (B1):

 (14c) IF based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate, THEN the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.

Eugene does not provide an argument in support of this premise, so presumably he thinks the truth of this premise is self-evident or that it is at least fairly obvious that (14c) is true.  Since it is not obvious to me that (14c) is true,  I will not accept this premise unless and until some sort of explanation or clarification reveals it to be true.

First of all, the antecedent speaks of the “evidence of the Gospels” while the consequent refers to the broader concept of “the available evidence”.  Strictly speaking, the Gospels do NOT exhaust all of the available evidence about Jesus.

However, the historical materials relevant to Jesus outside of the Gospels are either more historically questionable than the Gospels or else are of very limited help in determining the beliefs and teachings of Jesus.  So, I’m inclined to accept the assumption that, for all practical intents and purposes, the Gospels are the best information we have about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus, and that we can safely ignore other currently available historical sources, at least for the present issues about Jesus’s beliefs and teachings.

This is especially the case in this context, because we are not really trying to get to a scholarly view of the beliefs and teachings of the historical Jesus, which would likely involve setting aside a great deal of the content of the Gospels as being historically questionable.  Rather, we are assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Gospels are historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, but not necessarily 100% accurate and reliable.

One open question (in my mind) is whether the Gospel of John should be considered to contain a reliable account of the words and teachings of Jesus.  Most Jesus scholars view the synoptic Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, & Luke) as much more reliable sources of information about the words and teachings of Jesus than the Gospel of John.  I agree with the majority of Jesus scholars on this point, and I believe John to be an unreliable source of the words and teachings of Jesus.

But I do want to be generous to the Christian viewpoint, and I also prefer to avoid going deeply into the maze of attempts to re-construct the historical Jesus.  So, we need to come to some sort of understanding about whether John will be acceptable as a source of information about the words and teachings of Jesus, or if we will focus on just the synoptic Gospels for answers to such questions.

Because Jesus was a devout Jew with a firm belief in the inspiration and authority of the Jewish scriptures, I assume that the content of the Old Testament is part of the relevant background evidence to be used in interpreting and understanding both the Gospels and Jesus’s beliefs and teachings.  The Old Testament, of course, was written before Jesus came on the scene, so it says nothing (of historical value) about the specific content of Jesus’s beliefs or teachings.

Another concern that I have about premise (14c) is the meaning and scope of the phrase “Jesus’s God-model”.  Does this mean “Jesus’s concept of God”?  If not, then how does a person’s “God-model” differ from that person’s “concept of God”?

Also, a key question is whether a person’s “God-model” can contain contradictory beliefs.  Can someone have a “God-model” that includes the characteristics “perfectly just” and “sexist” and “racist” and “pro-slavery” ?  Can someone have a “God-model” that includes the characteristics  “perfectly loving” and “bloodthirsty” and “cruel” and “pro-genocide”?  If such contradictions are ruled out a priori, because a “God-model” is necessarily a logically coherent set of characteristics or beliefs, then it looks to me like the game is rigged, and that the messy and often ugly reality of actual illogical human thinking about God is being ignored in favor of a much-too-tidy view of human thinking about God.

Unless Eugene insists otherwise, I will assume that a “God-model” can contain logically contradictory ideas or characteristics.  This means, by the way, that showing that Jesus believes that Jehovah is a perfectly loving and merciful person is NOT sufficient to show that Jesus’s God-model does not include the characteristics “bloodthirsty” and “cruel” and “pro-genocide”.

One final concern that I have about (14c) is that it may be too narrowly SUBJECTIVE in nature; it may place too much weight on Jesus’s personal beliefs and not enough weight on certain objective, publicly available facts.

Consider, for example, Hans, who is a promoter of the worship of Adolf Hitler.  It should come as no surprise that Hans has a very positive view of the character of Hitler.  Hitler was “wise, and just, and good”.  In fact Hitler, according to Hans, was perfectly wise, perfectly just, and perfectly good.  Hans adores Hitler and prays to Hitler each and every day, morning and evening.   Each year on April 20th, Hans and his fellow Hitler worshippers gather together to feast and to celebrate the birth of baby Adolf.

Does Hans “promote the worship of a false god”?  I’m inclined to think that Hans does promote the worship of a false god.  Furthermore, I’m inclined to believe this to be so, even if his conception of Hitler is of a perfectly wise, perfectly good, and perfectly just person.  I’m inclined to think this because the facts that show Hitler to be a cruel and unjust and evil person are publicly available facts, and Hans is simply an idiot for failing to recognize those facts and/or their implications.  Even if Hans is a holocaust denier, and loudly proclaims that Hitler would never be involved in killing an innocent human being, I would still be inclined to say that Hans “promotes the worship of a false god”.

One might want to argue that Hans does not INTENTIONALLY “promote the worship of a false god”, because Hans does not believe that Hitler did the evil things that the rest of us (who are not idiots) believe Hitler did.  So, perhaps Hans is not as guilty or as blamewothy as somone who promotes Hitler worship but who is fully aware of the fact that Hitler planned and ordered the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women, and children.

Nevertheless, Hans should not be completely let off the hook, and in any case, since Hans is promoting the worhip of an evil person, where publicly available facts show the person to be evil, it seems clear to me that God, if God exists, would never accept Hans as a messenger of  God’s  important theological teachings.  God, if God exists, would not use Hans as a prophet, because Hans promotes the worship of a false god.

Unless and until the apparently too-narrow focus of (14c) on purely subjective aspects (i.e. Jesus’s beliefs about Jehovah) is removed or justified, I do not accept (14c).  Premise (14c) is NOT obviously true; it is a dubious claim that stands in need of either  justification or qualification.


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