bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 3

I am arguing that it is not possible for Christian apologists to make a solid rational case for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ).  My argument is based on the controversial claim that Jesus was a false prophet (JFP):
1. Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
2. Jesus was not a prophet.
3. IF a person P claimed to be a prophet but was not a prophet, THEN person P was a false prophet.
Therefore:
4. Jesus was a false prophet.
5. IF a person P was a false prophet, THEN it is not the case that God raised person P from the dead.
Therefore:
6. It is NOT the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.
In the previous post, I showed that if we grant, for the sake of argument, the assumption that the gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, then they provide a lot of evidence that premise (1) is true.  If the gospels are reliable, then it is very probable that (1) is true.
But Christians believe that Jesus was a prophet, and they are also inclined to believe (1) to be true, so (1) is not controversial.  The controversial premise, the main point of disagreement between Christians and me is premise (2).  If I can show that (2) is true or that it is very probable that (2) is true, then that will get me very close to showing that Jesus was a false prophet, and that it is NOT the case that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ).  In other words, whether a good case for the resurrection can be made depends on whether premise (2) is true or very probable (on the assumption that the gospels are reliable).
Three key reasons in support of (2) are as follows (there are other good reasons as well, but these are ones I will focus in on):
7.  Jesus promoted obedience to Jehovah.
8.  Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah.
9.  Jesus promoted prayer to Jehovah.
These reasons are relevant as evidence for (2) because Jehovah is a false god:
(JFG)  Jehovah is a false god.
In other words, either Jehovah does not exist, or else Jehovah exists but is NOT God.
From these assumptions, one may draw the following conclusions:
10. Jesus promoted obedience to a false god.
11. Jesus promoted worship of a false god.
12. Jesus promoted prayer to a false god.
 
So, some key arguments for premise (2) are as follows:
 
Obedience Argument
10. Jesus promoted obedience to a false god.
13. IF a person P promoted obedience to a false god, THEN person P was not a prophet.
Therefore:
2.  Jesus was not a prophet.
 
Worship Argument
11. Jesus promoted worship of a false god.
14. IF a person P promoted worship of a false god, THEN person P was not a prophet.
Therefore:
2.  Jesus was not a prophet.
 
Prayer Argument
12. Jesus promoted prayer to a false god.
15. IF a person P promoted prayer to a false god, THEN person P was not a prophet.
Therefore:
2.  Jesus was not a prophet.
In my view, anyone who is familiar with the Bible will agree that given the assumption that the gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, it is very probable that (7) is true, and very probable that (8) is true, and very probable that (9) is true.  Based on the gospel accounts, Jesus promoted obedience to, worship of, and prayer to Jehovah.
However, many Christians are ignorant about the Bible, and so may not be aware that the gospels clearly imply that (7), (8), and (9) are true.  Furthermore, some Christians who are familiar with the Bible are inclined to deny clear and obvious facts about the contents and implications of the Bible.  Therefore, although the gospels clearly support premises (7), (8), and (9), I am going to go ahead and lay out the evidence supporting these premises, in order to silence Christians who are ignorant about the contents of the Bible as well as Christians who are inclined to deny obvious facts about the contents of the Bible.
After I lay out the case for (7), (8), and (9), I will get into making the case for the more controversial claim that Jehovah is a false god (JFG).
The evidence of the gospels concerning (7), (8), and (9) must be understood in terms of a couple of general assumptions:
(JDJ)  Jesus was a devout Jew.
(JGJ)  Jehovah is the god of devout Jews.
The term “Jew” is somewhat unclear and ambiguous, because it can refer either to a person’s  ancestry, or ethnicity, or religion.  So, I am going to define what I mean by the term “devout Jew” at least in relation to the above two general assumptions:
A person P was a devout Jew IF AND ONLY IF person P generally and consistently tried to properly obey, worship, and pray to the god of the Israelites in accordance with the religious traditions of the Israelites.
Thus the question at issue becomes: Did Jesus generally and consitently try to properly obey, worship, and pray to the god of the Israelites in accordance with the religious traditions of the Israelites?  Another key question, with an obvious answer is: Was Jehovah the god of the Israelites?  If Jehovah was the god of the Israelites, then (JDJ) implies that Jesus generally and consistently tried to properly obey, worship, and pray to Jehovah in accordance with the religious traditions of the Israelites.
If (JDJ) and (JGJ) are both true, then the case for (7), (8), and (9) will be easy to make, based on the assumption that the gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus.
Was Jesus a devout Jew?
PBS Frontline has a website called “From Jesus to Christ”, and that site includes some scholarly commentary on this question.
Shaye C0hen (Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown University) does a nice job of summarizing the evidence:
Was Jesus a Jew? Of course, Jesus was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues. He preached from Jewish text, from the Bible. He celebrated the Jewish festivals. He went on pilgrimage to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where he was under the authority of priests…. He lived, was born, lived, died, taught as a Jew. This is obvious to any casual reader of the gospel text. What’s striking is not so much that he was a Jew but that the gospels make no pretense that he wasn’t. The gospels have no sense yet that Jesus was anything other than a Jew.
(from webpage titled He was born, lived, and died as a Jew,  viewed 6/27/15)
Let’s consider each of the claims put forward by professor Cohen on this question:
A. He was born of a Jewish mother….
B. He was born…in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world.
C. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews.
D. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues.
E. He preached from Jewish text, from the Bible.
F. He celebrated the Jewish festivals.
G. He went on pilgrimage to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where he was under the authority of priests…
There are more reasons than these supporting the claim that Jesus was a devout Jew, but this will be a good start.
 

bookmark_borderIs the Religious Right Finished?

This week was a bad week for right-wingers. The Supreme Court (I hate the acronym “SCOTUS.” Sounds like a disreputable body part.) upheld the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) against a challenge that would have removed the federal subsidy for health insurance purchase in non-participating (red) states. Then, just yesterday, came an even crueler blow when the Court struck down state bans on gay marriage. State officials here in Texas were apoplectic or lachrymose, vowing no surrender. Speaking of Glorious Lost Causes, neo-Confederates got a kick to the dentures when rebel flags started to come down across the south. Even the Republican governors of Alabama and South Carolina said that the Confederate Battle Flag is a symbol of racism and hatred and has no place on public property. The choruses of wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth wafting from the right were music to my liberal ears.
The ruling striking down gay marriage bans comes on the tail of a remarkable turnaround in public opinion. As recently as 2004, George W. Bush could run successfully on a campaign of “fears, smears, and queers,” that is, by playing up fear of terrorism, smearing John Kerry with the “swift boat” stuff, and decrying the “gay agenda.” Ten years ago a strong majority disapproved of gay marriage, and this has turned into strong approval. Does this ruling and the groundswell of public approval mean that the religious right has shot its bolt? Is it finished? After all, opposition to gay marriage is a big-ticket item for them, one of their key and defining issues. Braving charges of homophobia, they cast down the gauntlet and drew lines in the sand. Will the Court’s ruling impact them like the Scopes trial did in the 1920s? Will they now be castigated and humiliated in the media, held up as archetypical bigots and obscurantists, lampooned by every wag and wit with a microphone? Will they skulk off for a few decades at least, to lick their wounds and await a new day?
I think that any news of the demise of the religious right is grossly exaggerated. They have gotten a lot smarter since the 1920s. If beaten in open battle, they resort to guerilla attacks. Take abortion, which is as big or bigger issue for the religious right than gay rights. When Roe v. Wade recognized abortion as a constitutional right, it could no longer be attacked head-on. When you enter public office in Texas you have to swear to uphold the law and the Constitution. What they have done, then, is to try to make abortion die the death of a thousand small cuts. Bit, by bit, they chip away at it, with rules that make it more onerous, humiliating, or intimidating for women seeking abortions and harder for abortion clinics to stay open. For instance, anyone seeking abortion is required to get an ultrasound in hopes that image of the “baby” will shame her into backing off. Abortion clinics are required to meet unnecessarily strict standards, and abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The net result is that clinics get closed, leaving only a few in the state. Since these measures cannot be defended as attempts to deny to women a constitutional right, they are risibly justified as “empowering” women or promoting their safety.
So, I think that the religious right will not surrender or even retreat. They will just start launching sneaky attacks on gay marriage, just like they do on abortion. One trick that the religious right has learned is to defend their agenda with the rhetoric of progressives. Thus, as noted above, laws designed to prevent women’s choices are defended as “empowering.” Likewise, instead of attacking gays directly, the new rhetoric will support “religious liberty.” State legislatures, as I am sure we will see in Texas, will offer a plethora of bills ostensibly to defend the freedom of religion but really intended to defend the freedom to discriminate. The argument will be that some people (conservative Christians) regard gay marriage as sinful on the basis of sincere and deeply held religious convictions, and therefore it would be an infringement of their religious freedom to require that they so act as to promote or sanction actions they regard as sinful. Really, it is amazing how creative fundamentalist legislators can be at coming up with underhanded ways to undermine federal rulings.
So, while we might pop a cork to celebrate the ruling, now is not the time for complacency about the religious right. On the contrary, we have to become a lot more vigilant in sniffing out their schemes and machinations. When they go behind the scenes, we have to drag them out into the daylight and expose the sleazy rhetoric they use to cloak bigotry in the language of progress. We have to be emphatic that freedom of religion does not include the freedom to make people into second class citizens because they are LGBT (actually, transgender will be the next big battleground).
Actually, the thing that might hurt the religious right the most is that the movement is graying. According to the polls I have seen, young people are moving farther away from the social conservative agenda, so demographics might do the job that the Supreme Court cannot. Gen X and the Millennials have grown up with more positive models of gay people in the media and with openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual friends and relatives. They have a hard time seeing that these people are deserving of hell because of whom they love. Will Southern Baptists have openly gay ministers in fifty years? Not impossible, I would say.

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 2

There are three main areas of evidence required to build a rational case for the resurrection of Jesus, for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ):
I. General Background Evidence
II. Prior Historical Evidence
III. Posterior Historical Evidence  
A key claim that Christian apologists need to support in relation to Prior Historical Evidence is that Jesus was a true prophet (JTP).  But the evidence we have, on the assumption that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, clearly supports the OPPOSITE conclusion, namely that Jesus was a false prophet (JFP).  If I am correct that the Gospels provide evidence that makes it very probable that Jesus was a false prophet, then the Prior Historical Evidence part of the case for the resurrection of Jesus is a failure, and thus it will NOT be possible for Christian apologists to build a good case for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ).
1. Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
2. Jesus was not a prophet.
3. IF a person P claimed to be a prophet but was not a prophet, THEN person P was a false prophet.
Therefore:
4. Jesus was a false prophet.
5. IF a person P was a false prophet, THEN it is not the case that God raised person P from the dead.
Therefore:
6. It is NOT the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.
I have dropped explicit references to probability, but the premises are not necessary truths nor is the truth of the premises certain, with the exception of premise (3), which I believe to be an analytic truth.  We don’t know with certainty that Jesus claimed to be a prophet, because there is NOTHING that is certain about Jesus.  Even the existence of Jesus is subject to reasonable doubt.  But to be generous towards the Christian viewpoint, I will grant, for the sake of argument, that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus.  Given that assumption, it is very probable that Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
Given the assumption that the Gospels provide reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, there are six reasons supporting premise (1):
(i) Jesus said things that clearly implied he was a prophet:

  • Mark 6:1-6 (see also: Matt. 13:56-58, Luke 4:23-24)
  • Luke 13:32-34
  • Matthew 10:40-42
  • John 7:14-17
  • John 8:23-28 & 39-47
  • John 12:44-50
  • John 17:1-19

(ii) Jesus made several bold and confident predictions about the future, speaking as though he was a prophet:

  • Mark 1:14-15
  • Mark 9:30-32
  • Mark 11:1-3
  • Mark 13:1-8 (see also Luke 19:41-44)
  • Mark 13:9-23
  • Mark 13:24-31
  • Mark 14:12-14 (see also Luke 22:7-13)
  • Mark 14:17-21 (see also Luke 22:19-23)
  • Mark 14:26-31 (see also Luke 22:31-34)
  • Mark 14:61-65

(iii) During his ministry, some of his fellow Jews characterized Jesus as a prophet, and Jesus never objected to this:

  • Mark 6:14-16
  • Luke 7:11-17
  • Matthew 21:10-11
  • Matthew 21:43-46
  • John 7:40-52
  • John 9:16-18

(iv) Jesus was aware that some of his fellow Jews viewed him as a prophet, and Jesus never objected to this view:

  • Mark 8:27-28
  • Matthew 16:13-14
  • John 4:16-26
  • John 6:13-15

(v) Some of Jesus’ disciples called him a prophet:

  • Luke 24:13-24

(vi) The author of the Gospel of John viewed Jesus as a prophet:

  • John 3:31-36

The book of Acts is not a gospel, but it was a companion volume to the gospel of Luke, written by the same author.  So, if we assume that the gospel of Luke provides an historically reliable account of the life of Jesus, then it would be reasonable to assume that the book of Acts was also historically reliable. According to the book of Acts, Peter, one of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, characterized Jesus as a prophet (Acts 3:11-26).
Assuming the historical reliability of the Gospels, it is very probable that Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
================
One more reason….
(vii) Like many of the O.T. prophets, Jesus called his people to repent: 

  • Mark 1:14-15
  • Mark 6:7-13
  • Matthew 4:12-17
  • Matthew 11:20-24
  • Matthew 12:40-42
  • Luke 5:31-32
  • Luke 10:12-14
  • Luke 11:31-32
  • Luke 13:1-5

 

bookmark_borderWhy not a Fast from Religion?

I notice that Ramadan begins next Thursday. This, of course, is the month that Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. I am not sure that it is good for your health to abstain from water if you are working outside in 110 degree temperatures, as are common in many parts of the Middle East this time of year. Yet the faithful say that it is good for their spiritual health. Other religions also have seasons for fasting and self-denial; the Catholics have Lent, for instance. Many religions require some form of self-denial year-round. Jews and Muslims cannot eat bacon, Mormons cannot drink coffee, and I have known many Southern Baptists who claimed to be teetotalers. Speaking personally, it has always seemed to me that one of the great things about being an atheist is that I do not have to worry that I might be offending some vindictive deity if I eat shellfish, shake hands with a woman, shave, drink a beer, or watch an R-rated movie. Still, though, the faithful claim that following such rules and regimens enhances their spiritual well-being.
Here is a suggestion for religious people—and it is really no more than that: Why not have a fast from religion?  That is, try to live for, say, a month without praying, reading scripture, or attending a religious service. During that time consciously try to discipline yourself to see all events as naturally rather than supernaturally caused. Also, try to base your ethical decisions on respect for the inherent worth of sentient creatures rather than on the commands of a deity or on any religious rule. Do not try to repress any honest doubts that might arise; rather, indulge in freethinking, attempting to consider seriously that some of your convictions might be wrong. Hang out with some atheists. During that month of irreligion, eat if you are hungry and drink if you are thirsty. If you want to continue to abstain from coffee, beer, or bacon, that is fine, but don’t feel guilty if you do decide to indulge in a few forbidden fruits. In fact, try to take a holiday from any feelings of religious guilt or shame that your preacher, priest, rabbi, or imam might try to inculcate. In general, try to live for a short while as if there is no God and no book of instructions and as if you alone are wholly responsible for figuring things out for yourself.
I imagine this suggestion will elicit two kinds of responses from the faithful:
(1) Horrors‼! What you suggest is vilely sinful. God demands our absolute allegiance 24/7 and 365 days a year (366 in a leap year). We cannot ignore God’s demands for a single moment, much less a week or month. Those demands are absolute and admit no compromises or suspensions, however temporary. All of God’s commands always apply. There is no “holiday” from being a child of God! Further, God’s rules are not arbitrary commands, but are for our own good. Therefore, any rejection of God’s directives is a repudiation of God’s grace and mercy towards us, and therefore is a grievous sin. Remember, we do not belong to ourselves, so we do not get to decide what rules we will live by. We are God’s creatures and have one fundamental obligation—to obey, always obey.
(2) Yahoo‼! OK, if I am going to pretend that there is no God, then I will be free to do anything I damn well please! If there is no God, everything is allowed!  I can take whatever I want and booze, whore, and riot to my heart’s content! No rules! No restrictions! Hey, you want to go butt-naked in public? Go naked! If I want to take the whole steam tray at the buffet, I grab it and dig in! Maybe I will stop going to work. If my family complains that I am not supporting them, I will say, “Hey, if there is no God, I don’t owe you anything!” And so on.
Either of these responses would be unfortunate.
With respect to the first sort of response, it is too bad that God gives no sabbaticals because a break from piety might be good for the soul. Too often religious observance becomes a matter of habit or reflex. You do it because you have always done it; being observant becomes the path of least resistance. You do it without thinking about it. However, if you intentionally abstained from your religious habits for a while and then consciously began them again, you might really see their purpose clearly for the first time. Instead of prayer just being a ritual or routine—like mumbling grace at mealtime—you might really mean it and it might mean far more to you. Religious services, which—let’s be honest—often seem boring or insipid might take on a depth of meaning they never had before. On the other hand, there is, of course, the danger that after giving up some item of religious practice for a while you will come to see it as truly pointless and not worth your time or effort. So, with respect to religious practice, will abstinence make the heart grow fonder or make you feel that you have shed a bad habit? There is only one way to know.
As for the second sort of response, it is common but based upon a deep misunderstanding. It is an understandable misunderstanding because so much of religious training is about “shalt” and “shalt not.” One thing common to many religions is that there are many, many things that God does not want you to do. A few things are OK and lots and lots of stuff is forbidden. Naturally, those raised within a religion with many prohibitions will tend to think that no God means that nothing is forbidden. This response is reinforced by apologists and politicians who have an ax to grind. However, there is no basis for assuming that bad things are bad only because God forbids them. In fact, if you reflect for a moment, you can see that the assumption is silly. God’s commands can carry moral authority only if he commands what IS good and forbids what IS bad. Not even God’s say-so can MAKE something good or bad. If, for instance, there is nothing objectively wrong about eating an oyster and if abstaining from oysters conveys no objective value, then God would only be doing something pointless and stupid to command us not to eat oysters. The same applies to theft, debauchery, murder and everything else. If they are bad, then they are bad whether or not God forbids them.
Another response to my recommendation of fasting from religion would be this: Why not sauce for the goose?  Why not recommend that atheists spend a month going to religious services, praying, reading scripture, observing religious rules, etc.? This, in fact, is exactly what Tolstoy recommended after he got religion. All those rules and rituals that seemed so silly before will now seem full of meaning. Why not give them a try if you are an atheist?
Sure, why not? If you want to.  Remember I am only making a suggestion, not citing it as any sort of obligation. Actually, my suggestion would apply most to those who have always been religious or who have always been atheists. It might be good, for once, really to try to see what living like the “other side” is like. On the other hand, there are plenty of people, like yours truly, who spent a good bit of their lives on that “other side.” I was a sincere Christian for the first quarter-century of my life and I got a pretty good idea about the pluses and minuses of religious life. Likewise, someone who converted from sincere atheism and became religious will be able to compare and contrast the two states as well. I think that those with first-hand acquaintance with the “other side” make the most effective critics.

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 1

In his book The Resurrection of God Incarnate, Richard Swinburne argues that the case for the resurrection of Jesus must include three major components:
I. General Background Evidence – evidence for and against the existence of God, and evidence about whether and why God would be likely to perform a miracle, especially raising someone from the dead.
II. Prior Historical Evidence – evidence for or against claims that Jesus had certain characteristics, characteristics which based on the purposes and motivations of God would make it likely that God would raise Jesus from the dead.
III. Posterior Historical Evidence – evidence for or against historical claims directly about the resurrection of Jesus:  (DOC) Jesus died on the cross the same day he was crucified.  (JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around about 48 hours after he was crucified.
I think Swinburne is correct to emphasize (I) and (II) as important and essential components of any reasonable case for the resurrection, but I also believe that Christian apologists will fail to produce solid evidence concerning components (I) and (II), in addition to their past failure to produce solid evidence in terms of component (III).
One big problem for Christian apologists concerning Prior Historical Evidence, is that there are good reasons to believe the following claim about Jesus:
(JFP)  Jesus was a false prophet.
If (JFP) can be shown to be true (or to be probably true), then it can be used in a powerful argument against the resurrection of Jesus:
(1) Jesus was a false prophet.
(2)  If Jesus was a false prophet, then it is very unlikely that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Therefore:
(3) It is very unlikely that God raised Jesus from the dead.
From my point of view it seems quite clear that Jesus was a false prophet, based on the evidence of the Gospels.  The Gospels do claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified (DOC), and they do claim that Jesus was alive and walking around about 48 hours after Jesus was crucified (JAW).  However,  the Gospels also provide plenty of evidence that Jesus was a false prophet.
So, if we accept the Gospels as providing evidence in terms of the Posterior Historical Evidence component of the case for the resurrection, then we must also accept the Gospels as providing evidence in terms of the Prior Historical Evidence component of that case.  It would be logically inconsistent and involve the fallacy of special pleading to accept the Gospel accounts as evidence for (DOC) and for (JAW), but reject the Gospel evidence that supports (JFP).
One could, of course, avoid the conclusion (JFP) by rejecting the Gospel accounts as fictional or as historically unreliable accounts, but then one would have to also reject the Gospel evidence put forward in support of (DOC) and (JAW).  One must either reject the historical reliability of the Gospels and reject most of the Posterior Historical Evidence for the resurrection, or else accept the historical reliability of the Gospels and accept a great deal of Prior Historical Evidence for the view that Jesus was a false prophet.  Either way, the case for the resurrection of Jesus fails (i.e. the case for the claim that “God raised Jesus from the dead” fails).
Before I get into an examination of the evidence for (1), which is the obvious point of contention between myself and Christian believers, let’s briefly consider the uncontroversial premise (2).  Why would it be very unlikely that God would raise Jesus from the dead if Jesus was a false prophet?  First, we must answer the question: What is a “false prophet”?
Most simply, a “false prophet” is someone who claims to be a prophet, who is NOT actually a prophet.   A prophet is someone who receives messages from God and who passes those messages on to others, especially to a group audience, or to the public in general.
I am not a prophet, but that does not make me a “false prophet”, because I don’t claim to be any sort of prophet.  I don’t claim to have received any messages from God, nor do I proclaim to others any messages that are supposedly messages from God.  Since I don’t claim to be a prophet and don’t claim to provide others with messages from God, I’m not a “false prophet”.
One sort of false prophet is basically a con artist, a deceiver.  Such a person does not believe he or she has received messages from God, but lies to others claiming to have received messages from God, and then provides made-up messages to others, especially groups of other people, either to obtain fame or admiration or money or favors from other people.
Another sort of false prophet is a delusional person who honestly believes that he or she has received messages from God, but in fact is either just mentally imbalanced (hearing voices in his or her head) or is receiving messages from some person other than God (from a hypnotist, from a telepathic psychic, from the spirit of a dead person, from a demon,  from a demi-god, etc.).  Such a person is not lying to others when claiming to have received messages from God, but those messages are NOT in fact from God, and thus such a person is NOT actually a prophet.
First, according to the Gospels, Jesus claimed to be a prophet:
Matthew 13:56-58 (NRSV)
56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?”
57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.”
58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
Mark 6:3-5  (NRSV)
3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
Luke 4:23-25 (NRSV)
23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.
25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;
Luke 13:32-34 (NRSV)
32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
If a false prophet were to be executed or killed, why would it be very unlikely that God would raise such a person from the dead?  Some false prophets are con artists or deceivers, and it would obviously be a bad thing for God to raise a lying con artist from the dead.  That would involve God in a great deception.  But God is, by definition, a perfectly morally good person, and such a person would clearly NOT become involved in a great deception.
But what about false prophets who are sincerely mistaken?  They believe that they are receiving messages from God, and that they are passing those messages from God to others in accordance with God’s will, but they are mentally imbalanced or deceived or at least mistaken, and in fact are not receiving messages from God.  Should God raise such a false prophet from the dead?
Again, although the intentions of this sort of false prophet are good intentions, the effect on others is much the same.   Purely human messages are being represented to other people as if those messages were from God.  If God were to raise such a prophet from the dead, then God would be validating the teachings and messages of the false prophet as being messages from God, when those messages were NOT from God.  This would be a great deception, even though the intentions of such a false prophet are good intentions.  So, God would clearly not become involved in such a deception of others by raising such a false prophet from the dead.
But Jesus was NOT a prophet.  Jesus did not receive messages from God and pass those messages on to others.  Since Jesus claimed to be a prophet, but was NOT a prophet, it follows that Jesus was a false prophet.
The Gospels are full of evidence for the view that Jesus was NOT a prophet.    According to the Gospels, each of the following claims is true:
1. Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah.
2. Jesus promoted obedience to Jehovah.
3. Jesus promoted prayer to Jehovah.
4. Jesus promoted the belief that the Old Testament was inspired by God.
5. Jesus promoted the belief that Moses was a prophet.
6. Jesus promoted the belief that Isaiah was a prophet.
7. Jesus promoted the belief that Elijah was  a prophet.
8. Jesus promoted the belief that Jeremiah was a prophet.
9. Jesus promoted the belief that Jonah was a prophet.
10. Jesus promoted the belief that Daniel was a prophet.
11.  Jesus promoted the belief that his god planned to condemn many people to eternal suffering and misery for disobedience to his god’s commands.
12.  Jesus promoted the belief that his god planned to give an eternal life of happiness to some people and an eternity of suffering and misery to others based on whether people believed that Jesus was the divine Son of God.
But any of the above claims is sufficient to show that Jesus was a false prophet.  So, even if only one or two of these claims is correct, then Jesus was a false prophet.  If we assume (for the sake of argument) that the Gospel accounts are historically reliable, then each one of the above claims is probably true.  Each of the above claims would have a probability of about .8, assuming that the Gospels provide historically reliable information about the ministry and teachings of Jesus.
In general, the truth of one of the above claims would increase the probability of the other claims also being true.  For example, if it is true that Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah, then that makes it more likely that Jesus also promoted prayer to Jehovah and obedience to Jehovah.  If we knew that Jesus promoted the belief that Isaiah was a prophet, then it is more likely that Jesus also promoted the belief that Moses was a prophet, and that Jeremiah was a prophet.  Similarly, if one of these claims was known to be false, that would decrease the probability of the truth of the other claims.  If Jesus did NOT promote worship of Jehovah, then that decreases the probability that Jesus promoted prayer to Jehovah and obedience to Jehovah.  So, there is no simple probability calculation possible here, because the probability of the truth of each claim depends on the truth of the other claims.
But given that each of the above claims has a probability of about .8 (on the assumption of the reliability of the Gospel accounts), the probability that at least one of these claims is true is very high, significantly higher than .8.  Let’s be very conservative and estimate the probability that at least one of the above claims is true as being .9.  That means that the probability that Jesus was a false prophet is aproximately .9, assuming that each of the above claims would be sufficient to show that Jesus was a false prophet.
Of course, none of the above claims logically entails that Jesus was a false prophet (JFP).  I must provide a line of argument showing for each of the above claims how it provides powerful evidence for (JFP).  If I can do this, that still will only yield some sort of probability that (JFP) is the case, given the truth of one of the above claims.  If I can show that (JFP) is highly probable (P = .9) given either the truth of claim (1) or the truth of (2) or the truth of (3) or…, then the overall probability will be .9 x .9 = .81 or about .8 that (JFP) is the case (assuming the reliability of the Gospel accounts).
Thus, either the Gospel accounts are NOT reliable, and thus the case for (DOC) and (JAW) will fail, or else the Gospel accounts ARE reliable and the case for (JFP) will succeed.  Either way, the case for the resurrection of Jesus fails.  Either way, Christian apologists will fail to show that “God raised Jesus from the dead” (GRJ).

bookmark_borderWilliam Rowe’s Fawn

deerI spotted this fawn this morning while walking my dog. Judging by the size and the wet fur on the top of the head, I’d guess it was born in the last day. It’s bigger than my cats but smaller than my dog.
The mother was nowhere to be seen, presumably off foraging for food. Hopefully she returns soon so that William Rowe doesn’t have a new instance of his evidential argument from evil.

bookmark_borderLINK: The Jones-Parsons-Martin Exchange (1991)

Douglas Jones opens the interchange by sketching the argument for the Christian critique of non-Christian thought. Douglas Jones, an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is the editor of Antithesis and a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.

Keith Parsons offers the first of two atheistic responses to Jones’s essay. Keith Parsons, Ph.D., (Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada) is the founder of Georgia Skeptics and teaches philosophy at Berry College (Rome, Georgia). He is the author of God and the Burden of Proof (Prometheus), and Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (Peter Lang).

Michael Martin presents the second atheistic critique of Jones’s essay. Michael Martin is Professor of Philosphy, Boston University, Ph.D. (Harvard University), author of The Case Against Christianity (Temple University Press, 1991) and Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press, 1990).

To close out the interchange, Jones responds to the essays of Parsons and Martin.

LINK

bookmark_borderChristianity: An Angel with a Dirty Face?

This is a greatly belated review of Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity (New York: Athenum, 1977), 556 pp. I have had this book in my possession for nearly forty years, but have only read it through recently. As a representative of what we might call “scholarly popular history,” it is virtually unsurpassed, belonging in the same category as Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, and Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Such works are written for the entertainment and instruction of non-specialists but draw upon the resources of deep research. Anyone unfortunate enough to have read Johnson’s recent and execrable Darwin: Portrait of a Genius will be surprised to hear that he is—or once was—capable of unbiased judgment and lucid insight.
Johnson has certainly done his homework. He appears to have read whole libraries, yet his prose is uncluttered and his narrative is brisk, only bogging down in a few places. Johnson is a Catholic, and his treatment of canon law and the intricacies of Vatican policy, though relatively brief, is not brief enough for this reader. Also, this might not be the best book for an absolute beginner in the study of church history because it presupposes some prior knowledge of major ideas, persons, and events. For the beginner, probably the best books are Roland Bainton’s Christendom, (New York, Harper, 1966), two vols. (now sadly out of print) and Stephen Tompkins’ A Concise History of Christianity (Eerdmann’s).
The book’s central theme is the rise and vicissitudes of the Church triumphant. Christianity, like Islam, aims to be all things for all people. Its claims are universal, exclusive, and comprehensive. There can be no aspect of life, from the largest public issues to the smallest details of personal choice that are off limits for its concern. The totalizing logic of such an all-encompassing doctrine inclines it towards policies of dominance, hegemony, and theocracy. Whether or not Johnson would agree with the statement just made in precisely those terms, the history he recounts bears out its truth.
Christianity, of course, began as a small, despised sect, marginalized, outlawed, and sporadically (and often half-heartedly) persecuted by the Imperial Roman authorities. Nevertheless, it grew rapidly until, in the Third Century, Tertullian could boast to pagan Romans that Christians were everywhere—in the trades, in the army, and in their neighborhoods. In the Fourth Century, with the Edict of Milan and the official toleration of Christianity, Christians immediately transformed from persecuted outsiders to confident and aggressive insiders who asserted the superiority of their claims over their rivals—the Jews, the pagans, and “heretics,” i.e. Christians with theological differences.
The theorist of Christian domination was Augustine. For Augustine, a universal religion and a universal empire were made for each other. The Church’s claims were total and there could be no limit to its reach or influence. Johnson summarizes Augustine’s view:
“Led by the elect, its [the Church’s] duty was to transform, absorb, and perfect all existing bonds of human relations, all human activities and institutions, to regularize and codify and regulate every aspect of life. Here is the germ of the medieval idea of a total society, with the church permeating everything. Was she not the Mother of All?” (115)
Johnson’s comment is too modest. Such a theory is not merely the germ of the medieval idea of a total society; it expresses the very essence of the totalitarian theories of the Twentieth Century. Except for the fact that they would substitute “Party” for “Church,” the above characterization of Augustine’s view would apply just as accurately to Stalin’s or Mao’s.
The Church, then, was to be the mind and soul of the State, and the State was the muscular body, in particular the strong sword arm of the Church, smiting the Church’s enemies, who were, ipso facto, also enemies of the State. Augustine explicitly advocated that heretics, such as the Donatists, be subject to physical coercion by authorities of the State, and the arguments he gave for compulsion were cited by inquisitors down through the centuries. Thus did the Church rapidly transform from the persecuted to the persecutors, from martyrs to inquisitors, as Johnson puts it.
The fall of the Western Empire did not spell the end of Augustine’s theocratic vision. On the contrary, Dark Age societies strove to put the theory into practice. Emperors ruled by God’s permission and in his name, and bishops were officials of the state, wielding temporal as well as spiritual power. Christianity during this period also vigorously proselytized, extending its outreach to the northern pagans, making France, England, Ireland and, eventually, the Scandinavian societies into Christian kingdoms. How did Christianity displace the ancient pagan religions of the warlike northern peoples? Christians, of course, saw the hand of God at work.
Johnson offers a more pragmatic explanation: Christianity was literate, organized, and disciplined and it gave definite answers on questions, like life after death, about which paganism was vague. When societies emerge from a tribal organization into a nation-state, laws have to be written, taxes collected, wills, deeds, and records made and kept, and judicial practice regularized. The Church, and only the Church, could provide the educated bureaucrats and officials needed for societies emerging from barbarism. Also, kings often saw in Christianity an ideology that would unite their people and place them firmly under the control of the divinely-appointed monarch. Christian support for a more authoritarian notion of kingship also explains its popularity with kings. In an era when there was no conception of the separation of church and state, your king decided your religion as well.
The high Middle Ages saw the conflict between a Church that asserted and reasserted its absolute claims, while the nascent secular and national powers grew stronger and increasingly restive. The rising nation-states sought ever greater autonomy and control even as the Pope insisted upon his prerogatives, occasionally attempting to impose his will with his weapons of excommunication and interdiction. However, it was a losing battle and by the end of the medieval period the Church’s universal claims were overshadowed by the nationalistic self-assertion of the superpowers England, France, and Spain.
It may be possible to detect some Catholic bias in Johnson’s treatment of the Reformation. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli are given rather short shrift. The figure from that period that gets the most attention is the reform-minded Catholic humanist Erasmus. Johnson sees Erasmus as the voice of moderation and reason in the cacophony of mutual denunciation and vilification that issued from Protestant and Catholic extremists. For Erasmus, a life of simple piety and charity was far more important than a punctilious adherence to every nuance of doctrine. A “heretic” who displays loving kindness to his neighbors is a far truer Christian than the cruel inquisitor who never deviates an iota from orthodoxy.
Such an attractive position has been articulated many times in the history of Christianity, but it has never prevailed, and has never succeeded in vanquishing strife between Christian sects. Johnson does not say why this is so, but the reason is intrinsic to Christianity. From the beginning, Christianity has demanded that its followers hold certain beliefs. The traditional Greco-Roman pagan religion had practitioners; Christianity has adherents. That is, in pagan Greece and Rome, if you performed correctly the rites and sacrifices to honor the state-recognized gods, you were a member in good standing of the official cult, even if you did not believe in literal Olympian deities. Paganism was a non-creedal religion that made no epistemic demands of its followers. Christianity, on the other hand, has always required that certain things be believed—e.g. the divinity of Christ and the atoning significance of his death and resurrection—and, further, has made acceptance of some set of such beliefs a necessary condition for salvation. Inevitably, then, there will always be deep concern for getting the essential beliefs right, and concomitant fear and hatred of those who are thought to promulgate false doctrine, i.e. heretics.
For Johnson, Erasmus also represents the emergence of autonomous reason as a force that can oppose faith and authority. That force came fully into its own with the rise of modern science in the Seventeenth Century and the Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century. Johnson notes that the members of the Royal Society, though personally pious, sought to elevate science above the acrimony of theological disputation. They therefore decreed that theological topics would not be discussed at meetings of the Society, and that the focus would be entirely upon natural philosophy (i.e. science). Thus, just as national sovereignty triumphed over the Church’s claim of universal authority with the rise of powerful nation-states, so science and philosophy achieved intellectual independence from the demands of doctrine. To Johnson’s credit he evinces no wistfulness for a return to the medieval synthesis in which all knowledge was to form a seamless web, but where theology, the “Queen of the Sciences,” determined the weave and pattern of the cloth.
In fact, Johnson acknowledges that science must proceed without being hamstrung by religious agendas or controversies. He notes that the founders of the Royal Society recognized the need to exclude the discussion of theological matters from the inquiries and debates of the Society:
“The founder-members of the Royal Society were all sincere Christians, but they were coming to accept that institutional Christianity, with its feuds and intolerances, was an embarrassment and a barrier to scientific endeavor. Hence they decided to concentrate purely on science and ruled that religious matters were not to be discussed at the Society’s meetings. So for the first time we have a deliberate attempt to cut off science from religion and to treat the two subjects as completely separate spheres of knowledge and lines of inquiry.” (328)
The separation of theology and science took the methodological form of a rule limiting scientific inquiry to “secondary,” that is, natural causes, and leaving the investigation of the “primary cause”—God—to the theologians. Methodological naturalism was therefore pioneered by sincere Christians.
Johnson is also evenhanded in his discussion of Christian missions. In his view, the biggest failing of the missionary endeavor is that, while it sought converts, it was far too slow to admit native converts to the roles of priest or minister or to any position of authority or power. European control was maintained, as well as a Eurocentric doctrine. Even success in gaining converts was limited. Christian missionaries enjoyed the greatest success with followers of the relatively unsophisticated indigenous pagan and animistic traditions. However, when they encountered groups with equally sophisticated theological traditions, such as Muslims and Hindus, they made little headway.
The most damning part of the book is not one of the sections dealing with crusades or inquisitions, though these are treated candidly and without any attempt at mitigation or exculpation. The most shocking section is Johnson’s detailed and disturbing account of how the churches reacted to Nazism. For all their multifarious failings, the one thing that you might expect of Christian churches is that they would stand up to an ideology of pure evil, especially one that arose in the heart of Christendom. However, Johnson relentlessly exposes the failure of both the Catholic and Evangelical churches to oppose Nazism.  With only a few notable exceptions, the response of Christian bodies in Germany ranged from fecklessness to outright collaboration. Johnson’s judgment is unsparing:
“Thus the Second World War inflicted even more grievous blows on the moral standing of the Christian faith…It exposed the emptiness of the churches in Germany, the cradle of the Reformation, and the cowardice and selfishness of the Holy See. It was the nemesis of triumphalism, in both its Protestant and Catholic forms.” (493)
Of course, those few, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who stood up against the Nazis, paid a terrible price. One wonders, however, what would have happened had Catholic and Protestant leaders united in 1932 to declare Nazism a pernicious and anti-Christian ideology.
Unfortunately, after 500 pages of admirable candor, the book’s Epilogue lapses into apologetic mode, and implies that, for all its failings, Christianity is an angel, though perhaps one with a dirty face. In the final few pages Johnson praises Christianity in terms that the preceding account would seem to belie. In fact, his final assessment rests on a number of highly dubious claims and assumptions:
“As an exercise in perfectionism, Christianity cannot succeed, even by its internal definitions; what it is designed to do is to set targets and standards, raise aspirations, to educate, stimulate and inspire. Its strength lies in its just estimate of man as a fallible creature with immortal longings. Its outstanding moral merit is to invest the individual with a conscience and bid him to follow it. This particular form of liberation is what St Paul meant by the freedom men find in Christ. And, of course, it is the father of all other freedoms. For conscience is the enemy of tyranny and the compulsory society; and it is the Christian conscience which has destroyed the institutional tyrannies Christianity itself has created…The notions of political and economic freedom both spring from the workings of the Christian conscience as a historical force; and it is thus no accident that all of the implantations of freedom throughout the world have ultimately a Christian origin.” (516)
So, no one had a conscience before Christianity? No one had an inner voice warning him away from bad behavior? No one felt shame after doing something shameful? Needless to say, nothing in the previous 500 plus pages substantiates such an extraordinary claim.
Johnson also seems to fall for the hackneyed religious-right canard that political freedom has Christian (or, when expressed with political correctness, Judeo-Christian) roots. But as the preceding pages make clear, Christianity conferred the supposed divine right whereby tyrants justified their tyranny, and it also generated the sanctimonious certainty whereby Inquisitors rationalized torture and murder. Worst of all, Augustine’s theory of theocracy is the template for totalitarianism, the model for every ideologue who would elevate his doctrinal obsessions into a total, all-encompassing system. But Johnson says that the “Christian conscience” has destroyed the “institutional tyrannies” that Christianity itself has created. Is Johnson’s claim, then, that the greatness of Christianity is that it is the antidote to its own poison? This would be a very odd sort of apologetic.
The actual antidote was the secularism, rationalism, skepticism, and tolerance of the Enlightenment. It is too bad that Johnson’s candor cannot stretch quite far enough to admit that.

bookmark_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Part 7

It is one thing to make a solid case for the claim “Jesus rose from the dead.” (JRD), and another thing entirely to make a solid case for the claim “God raised Jesus from the dead.” (GRJ).  Showing that (JRD) is true, would not, by itself, show that (GRJ) is true.  The resurrection could have been produced by natural causes, and if there really are supernatural beings (like God), then there might well be MANY (even millions or billions) of supernatural beings (angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, gods, etc) who have the power to raise humans from the dead.
But only if a strong case can be made for (GRJ) can the resurrection be used as an argument for various theological claims about Jesus, such as the claim “Jesus is the divine Son of God.” (JSG).  If one cannot show (GRJ) to be true (or probably true), then the resurrection has no theological significance and cannot be used as an argument for (JSG).
In order to show that (GRJ) is true (or probably true), it is essential to show that God had particular motivations and purposes which would be advanced by raising Jesus from the dead.  But that means that one must be able to determine some of God’s motivations and purposes PRIOR to making the case for  (GRJ).
How can we determine what God’s motivations and purposes are concerning human beings?  This is the difficult, and perhaps insurmountable, obstacle that any Christian apologist must face in order to make a serious attempt at building a solid case for (GRJ), in order to use the resurrection as an argument for (JSG).
Because God is an invisible spirit, we cannot simply observe God’s activities and behavior in the way that we observe the activities and behavior of human beings.  So, we cannot determine God’s motivations and purposes by empirical observations of God’s activities and behavior, like we can with ordinary people.  Thus our ordinary ways of determining the motivations and purposes of a person do not apply to God, at least not in any simple and direct way.
One obvious answer to the question about determining the motivations and purposes of God is to turn to the Bible for “information” about God.  But this will not work for the purposes of Christian apologetic arguments, because it would BEG THE QUESTION to assume that the Bible was inspired by God and then use Biblical “data” about God’s activities and messages to arrive at conclusions about the motivations and purposes of God towards humans.  Atheists and skeptics doubt that there is any God at all, and even if it could be shown that the existence of God was probable, this would not give us any specific information about the motivations and purposes of God towards humans (other than the very general idea that God is perfectly morally good).
Atheists and skeptics have even more doubts and objections to the idea that the Bible was inspired by God, so a Christian apologist who simply assumes that the Bible is inspired, is assuming that atheists and skeptics are wrong about the Bible and that Christians are right about the Bible, and this assumption is an unfair one to make, at least until after the claim that the Bible is inspired has been shown to be true.
In Classical Christian apologetics, seen clearly in the thinking of Thomas Aquinas, the case for Christianity is made in two phases.  First, the apologist argues for the existence of God.  Second, the apologist shows that the Bible (as opposed to the Quran or the Vedas or the Book of Mormon, etc.) was inspired by God, and this is done by showing that various miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus) confirm the inspiration of the Bible.
If one is going to use miracles to show that the Bible was inspired by God, then one cannot use the Bible (prior to showing it to be inspired) as a reliable source of information about the activities and messages of God, in order to establish that God performed certain miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus).  If the proof of the inspiration of the Bible is primarily from alleged miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus), then it would BEG THE QUESTION to assume the inspiration of the Bible in order to establish that God had performed certain miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus).
So, we must set aside the Bible as a source of information about God that would allow us to determine the motivations and purposes of God concerning humankind.  At least, Christian apologists cannot make use of the Bible for that purpose at this point in the game, when they have not yet shown that (GRJ) is true (or probably true).  The Bible can, of course, be treated as a potential source of historical information about Jesus, but not as a divinely inspired document.
Michael Martin, in The Case Against Christianity (hereafter: CAC) mentions another possible way of getting at the motivations and purposes of God:
“What sort of evidence would make it probable that God, rather than some other supernatural being, was the cause of the Resurrection? It has been argued that at the very least one would have to show that the Resurrection fitted into a larger pattern of events that revealed God’s purposes. This pattern would perhaps give us reason to suppose that God was the cause of the Resurrection. But what sort of pattern would this be? Presumably it would involve other miraculous events that God brought about. If one had evidence of Miracle1, Miracle2, Miracle3, and so on, and evidence of the Resurrection, one might then be able to discern a pattern and infer from it a divine purpose that would indicate that God was behind the Resurrection.” (CAC, p.98)
One problem with this approach is that the evidence for other miracles related to the Bible and Christianity are even more dubious than the resurrection of Jesus:

However, the implication of this is damaging to Christianity. The historical reliability of reports of the other miraculous events reported in the Scriptures is no better and is often worse than the evidence for the Resurrection…There is then a serious obstacle in concluding that God was the cause of the Resurrection even if one could establish that Jesus was restored to life and that this was a miracle.” (CAC, p.98)

A second problem with this approach to determining the motivations and purposes of God is that it generates an infinite regress.  If in order to establish that God performed Miracle1, we have to first establish that God performed Miracle2, Miracle3, and Miracle4, so that we can determine the purposes and motivations of God concerning humans, then we run into the very same problem in trying to establish the prior miracles (Miracle2, Miracle3, and Miracle4).  Suppose that  Miracle1 is the resurrection of Jesus, and that Miracle2 is Jesus walking on water, and that Miracle3 is Jesus turning water into wine, and that Miracle4 is Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes.  We are using Miracle2 as part of the basis for determining the purposes and motivations of God concerning humans.

But in order to establish that Miracle2 was performed by God, we must FIRST determine the purposes and motivations of God; otherwise we will not be able to show that the event “Jesus walked on water” was something that God caused.   In order to show that God was involved in the event “Jesus walked on water” we need to show that such an event fits well with the known purposes and motivations of God.  But if our method for determining the purposes and motivations of God is to examine a set of miracles in order to figure out a meaningful pattern or significant similarities between these events, then we are going to need another set of miracles to examine PRIOR to determining whether Miracle2 was in fact a miracle performed by God.  We will need another set of miracles, say: Miracle5, Miracle6, and Miracle7, in order to establish God’s motivations and purposes, so that Miracle2 can be shown to be a miracle performed by God.

But the same problem arises for Miracle5, Miracle6, and Miracle7, and so we end up with an infinite regress of the need for more and more sets of miracles, never arriving at solid bedrock that will establish the purposes and motivations of God concerning human beings.

Another possible route to determining the purposes and motivations of God is that of examining Nature.  According to Aquinas and Natural Law theory, God built moral principles into nature, so that moral values and principles can be discovered by empirical observation of natural phenomena.  One argument for the immorality of homosexual sex is that birds and other animals do not engage in homosexual sex.  There are at least two problems with this argument.  First, it turns out that birds and other animals do engage in homosexual sex, at least some do.  Second, the same sort of argument can be made for the immorality of the use of any and all technology:  

If God had wanted humans to fly, God would have given humans wings.  

Clearly, humans do not have wings, so clearly God did not intend for humans to fly.  But then since flying is not part of God’s natural plan and design for humans, it must be immoral for humans to fly in airplanes.

Any and every technological advancement of the human species involves going beyond what was original or natural for human beings.  The domestication of plants and animals, for example, is ARTIFICIAL not natural.  These practices were invented and developed by human beings over many centuries.  Human beings did not always raise animals and grow plants for food and for other purposes.  So, if we look to nature as our guide to determining the motivations and purposes of God, then we must oppose farming and ranching; we must oppose any and every technological advance from the beginning of the human species.*

But that is absurd, and virtually nobody (other than perhaps a handful of lunatics) is willing to abandon all human-developed technology, not even the most devout Christian believers.  No Christian apologists are advocating that we abandon all human-developed technology, so no Christian apologist is actually willing to use NATURE as our guide to determining the motivations and purposes of God.

So, we cannot simply observe God’s activities and behavior (God is an invisible spirit) to determine God’s purposes and motivations.  We cannot use the Bible to determine God’s purposes and motivations (that would Beg the Question).  We cannot use other miracles (besides the resurrection) to determine God’s purposes and motivations (other miracles are more dubious, and we get into an infinite regress), and we cannot simply observe nature to determine God’s purposes and motivations concerning human beings (the implications of “natural law” are contrary to Christian values, and to our shared firm moral convictions, and it is human “nature” to be artificial and to transcend nature).

 It seems to me that there is no reasonable or plausible way for Christian apologists to provide solid evidence about the motivations and purposes of God concerning human beings.  If I am correct about this, then there is no way for Christian apologists to show that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” (GRJ) in order to use this as an argument for the claim that “Jesus is the divine Son of God.” (JSG).

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

*Looking over the history of humankind, one might well draw the following conclusion:

What is natural for human beings is technology and artifice.

This is actually an idea that is basic to Christian theology.  Humans were created in the image of God, and an important aspect of God that is supposedly reflected in human nature is CREATIVITY.  God is a designer and a creator, and human beings were made to be like God in that respect, to be designers and creators, to make things and to invent things and make up new ideas and new activities.  Technology and artifice are thus what is NATURAL for human beings.

But if creativity, technology, and artifice are fundamental aspects of human nature, and aspects of human nature that were intentionally created by God, then we can reasonably infer the opposite of the traditional anti-technological view.  We can replace the old saying:

If God had wanted humans to fly, God would have given humans wings. 

with an opposing saying:

If God had wanted humans to stay on the ground, God would not have made humans naturally creative, naturally inclined towards technology and artifice.

And we could conclude that it is immoral to refuse to fly in airplanes, and that it is immoral to try to prevent homosexual sex from occurring.  (Is that the sound of Evangelical Christian heads exploding?)

In any case, since it appears that technology and artifice are NATURAL for human beings, this makes it rather difficult to simply “read off” true moral values and principles from observations of nature, because a basic divine purpose of human beings, it would seem, is to transcend nature through technology and artifice.