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

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.

bookmark_borderNew Fossil Proves Genesis!

A new fossil discovery supports the Genesis account that snakes had legs before God cursed them for enticing Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit:
http://conservativetribune.com/fossil-proof-of-bibles-story/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=TPNNPages&utm_content=2015-07-28
Call me a nitpicker, but I am still not satisfied!  After all, the serpent that “tempted” Eve was also quite loquacious, and not only loquacious, but, according to Genesis, was the most “subtle,” i.e. cunning, of all the creatures in the garden, apparently including Adam and Eve. Not only that, he clearly had a sense of morality since what he said was exactly true: God had falsely said that they would die when they ate the fruit, but the serpent pointed out that this was unlikely, and, in fact, they did not die. He also correctly informed Eve of the consequences of eating, namely that she would come to know good and evil. Sadly, the fossil evidence does not support the Genesis account of this intelligent, helpful, and honest serpent.

bookmark_borderChristian Pastor Writes in HuffPo, “There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist”

Pastor Rick Henderson wrote en editorial in yesterday’s Huffington Post provocatively titled, “Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist.” While he does correctly state, “it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview,” there is very little else in this article which he gets right.
Here’s Pastor Henderson:

While it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview, all atheists share the same fundamental beliefs as core to their personal worldviews. While some want to state that atheism is simply a disbelief in the existence of a god, there really is more to it. Every expression of atheism necessitates at least three additional affirmations:
1. The universe is purely material. It is strictly natural, and there is no such thing as the supernatural (e.g., gods or spiritual forces).
2. The universe is scientific. It is observable, knowable and governed strictly by the laws of physics.
3. The universe is impersonal. It does not a have consciousness or a will, nor is it guided by a consciousness or a will.

His first point is confused. Probably even most Christians believe the universe is purely material. Presumably what he has in mind instead is this statement: “Reality is purely material.” If that is what he means, however, he’s wrong. The belief that all of reality is purely material is called materialism. 
Atheism is not materialism. (I, for one, am an atheist but not a materialist.) In fact, atheism isn’t even about materialism. Atheism is simply about the (non)-existence of God/god(s). There are many atheists who are open to the existence of immaterial, impersonal entities (so-called “abstract objects“).
So Henderson could not be more mistaken when he writes, “Denial of any one of those three affirmations will strike a mortal blow to atheism.” A denial of materialism does not strike a mortal blow to atheism.
But let’s keep going and see where he goes from here.

Anything and everything that happens in such a universe is meaningless.  A tree falls. A young girl is rescued from sexual slavery. A dog barks. A man is killed for not espousing the national religion. These are all actions that can be known and explained but never given any meaning or value.”

Even the sort of materialism Henderson has in mind doesn’t lead to the conclusion, “the universe is meaningless.” In the context of his article, there are two kinds of meaning: objective/cosmic/meaning-with-a-capital-“M” and subjective/personal/meaning-with-a lower-case-“m.” Materialism does seem to rule out the first kind of meaning; it does not rule out the second. The second kind of meaning is all we need in order for life, the universe, etc. to be meaningful.

A good atheist — that is, a consistent atheist — recognizes this dilemma. His only reasonable conclusion is to reject objective meaning and morality. Thus, calling him “good” in the moral sense is nonsensical. There is no morally good atheist, because there really is no objective morality. At best, morality is the mass delusion shared by humanity, protecting us from the cold sting of despair.

Like many moral apologists, Henderson is confused about the distinction between entailment and consistency. Consider the question, “Which fast food restaurant is the best?” Suppose there are only two possible answers: McDonald’s and Burger King. Suppose I am a McDonalds-ist, i.e., someone who believes McDonald’s fast food is the best.
Now suppose someone asks me, “Which team will win next year’s Super Bowl?” There are thirty-two teams in the National Football League (NFL) and so thirty-two possible answers. McDonalds-ism is consistent with all thirty-two possible answers:

  • McDonaldis-ism could be true and Seahawks-ism could be true (i.e., the Seattle Seahawks could win);
  • McDonalds-ism could be true and Colts-ism could be true (i.e., the Indianapolis Colts could win); and
  • so forth.

My belief in McDonalds-ism tells us precisely nothing about what I must believe about the next Super Bowl if I want to be consistent. Thus, McDonalds-ism does not entail any answer to the question about the next Super Bowl winner.
Along the same lines, atheism tells us nothing about whether objective morality is true.  Atheism is neither moral nor immoral; rather, it is amoral. By itself, atheism does not make it obligatory, permitted, or forbidden to do anything. It is neither an ethical theory (like utilitarianism) nor a meta-ethical theory (like moral objectivism or moral realism). Atheism entails only one or two conclusions about ethics or meta-ethics:
(1) any theological ethical or meta-ethical theory (such as Divine Command Theory) is false; and
(2) depending on how atheism is defined, then atheism may also entail that noncognitivism is false.
If atheism is defined positively as the belief that God does not exist, then atheism presupposes that the sentence “God does not exist” expresses a proposition and so can be true or false. If, however, that sentence expresses a proposition, that in turn entails that the sentence “God is perfectly morally good” expresses a proposition. But if the latter expresses a proposition, then ethical noncognitivism is false. (See here.)
Let’s move on. Henderson writes:

For those of you who think you’re about to light up this supposed straw man and raze me to the ground, consider the following:

I do think Henderson is tearing down a straw man. His mistake, typical of many moral apologists for theism, is that he uncritically latches onto quotations from atheist nonphilosophers (specifically, biologists) who support his position, while revealing no evidence he is even familiar with the work of atheist philosophers who reject his position.

“Modern science directly implies that there … is no ultimate meaning for humans.”
–William Provine

We’ve commented on biologist William Provine’s claims about morality before. (See here.) I’ll summarize the most important here: It’s far from obvious why Provine thinks that “Modern science directly implies that there … is no ultimate meaning for humans.” At first glance, this seems very implausible because meaning lies within the domain of philosophy, not science. One can’t help but wonder if Provine presupposes scientism and that his statement about the purported conclusions of “modern science” are really just a statement about the implications of scientism. That really doesn’t matter one way or the other, however. All that matters is whether Provine has given a good reason to think that modern science leads to the conclusion that there is no ultimate meaning, which he hasn’t. Provine has provided nothing more than a mere assertion of bias for the non-existence of ultimate meaning for humans.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
–Richard Dawkins

What properties does Dawkins have in mind when he claims that the universe has the properties “we should expect” if there is no objective meaning or morality? And why would those properties be expected? Again, we have a biologist making sweeping claims about philosophy (specifically, metaethics) and, again, we are given no argument for those claims.
Finally, Henderson quotes E.O. Wilson:

“No species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history.”
–Edward O. Wilson

Like Provine and Dawkins above, this summary sentence by Wilson offers no argument for thinking that its claim is true.
Moving on, Henderson then considers (and rejects) two ways in which atheism and objective morality might be reconciled:
(1) Morality is the result of socio-biological evolution. (I’ve commented on this before. See, for example, here.)
(2) Morality is logical, by which Henderson means that atheists can behave morally. I agree with Henderson that atheists who make this objection have completely missed the point.
What we don’t find in Henderson’s piece is even a hint that he’s aware of serious defenses of objective morality without God by philosophers who specialize in meta-ethics, such as Erik Wielenberg, Quentin Smith, or G.E. Moore (to name just a few).
In short, while Henderson has repeated all of the main talking points for a theist trying to score cheap debate points in a debate about morality without God, he hasn’t even come close to giving a logically correct argument for the claim that “There is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist.”
Related Posts:

bookmark_borderThe Fragility of Value and God’s Non-Existence

I’m working on a new version of the problem of evil. I don’t know if the argument works, but I’ll summarize it here in the hope of getting feedback.
The basic idea is the fragility of value, viz., how (relatively) easy it is to destroy things  compared to how (relatively) difficult it is to create things, especially things of great value. Assuming that statement (or something like it) is true, the argument would be evidential. It would argue that the fragility of value is antecedently more likely on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism (conjoined with background information) is true than it is on the assumption that theism (conjoined with background information) is true.
When I came up with the idea for this argument, I thought to myself, “I’ve never seen anyone make this point in the literature, but surely someone has written about this before.” If you know of anyone who has has written about the fragility of value in the context of the problem of evil, I’d be grateful for a citation or even just a name.
I floated this argument with Dr. Paul Draper. He had an interesting observation: the fragility of value is also relevant to the free will theodicy. Because of the fragility of value, morally significant choices are usually choices between preventing great harm and not preventing it. We rarely get to choose between producing great positive value and not producing it. In other words, we spend much more of our time trying to prevent disaster instead of creating things of great value. So even if (for the sake of argument) the free will theodicy were successful in explaining the so-called ‘problem of moral evil,’ it would do so only at the expense of mystifying another fact about evil (the fragility of value).
Your thoughts?

bookmark_borderAIG: Recent Pluto Photos Are Evidence Against an Old Earth (and Solar System)

While the writers at the Secular Outpost go out of our way to be charitable to our opponents and represent them in the best possible light, there is also value in pointing out the fringe positions held by some of our opponents. With all due respect to friends and family who are young earth creationists, I put the belief in Young Earth Creationism (YEC) in the “fringe” category. In other words, I don’t claim that YEC is representative of the strongest versions of theism and I don’t claim that disproving YEC disproves theism.
Having said that, I had to chuckle when I saw the following pop up in my feed reader. From the official blog of Answers in Genesis (AIG), we find a post titled, “Pluto’s Surface is Young!” The teaser for the article reads: “What recent photos of Pluto revealed was a shock to conventional uniformitarian scientists who believe in a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system.” I guess that’s one way to spin it.
What the author fails to mention, however, is that scientists were shocked, not because of their belief in a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system, but because of their belief in a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system combined with their belief that Pluto does not have active geology.  As NASA scientists have explained in more than one press conference, having active geology would explain the lack of craters on Pluto.
The fact of the matter is that there is zero debate in the scientific community about the age of the earth and the solar system. Their ages are measured in billions, not thousands, of years. The recent images of Pluto and its moon Charon provide no reason to doubt that conclusion.
 

bookmark_borderSkeptical Theism and Evil Genius Arguments

When I debated William Lane Craig at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas in 1998, we also had an exchange in the Dallas Morning News on the problem of evil. Here is a key quote from Craig’s statement:
“We aren’t in a good position to assess with confidence the probability (or improbability) of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting bad things. Suffering that appears utterly pointless within our limited framework may be seen to be justly permitted in God’s wider framework. The brutal murder of a child may have a ripple effect through history such that God’s reason for not preventing the evil may emerge only centuries later or in another country.” (Dallas Morning News, June 13, 1998)
This is a clear, succinct statement of the position that has come to be known as “skeptical theism.” Skeptical theism is a reply to arguments such as the “burned fawn” argument of William Rowe. Rowe argues that there are apparently gratuitous evils that constitute evidence against the existence of God. For instance, when innocent creatures die painfully for no apparent reason, this constitutes a prima facie instance of gratuitous suffering, i.e. suffering that is pointless in that it is not redeemable by a “higher” good for which it could be a necessary condition. An all-powerful God certainly could prevent such instances of suffering, and, apparently should have done so if that being were also perfectly good. Hence, the occurrence of many such instances of apparently gratuitous evil (and there are very many) is evidence for the occurrence of actually gratuitous evil. God—by definition a perfectly good and all-powerful being—will prevent any actually gratuitous evil. Since, then, if God exists there will be no gratuitous evil, and since the abundance of apparently gratuitous evil is evidence for the existence of actually gratuitous evil, then the occurrence of apparently gratuitous evil is evidence against the existence of God.
Skeptical theism challenges the claim that the occurrence of apparently gratuitous evil is evidence for actually gratuitous evil. The argument is that evils can only be apparently gratuitous to us. That is, we will not be able to see any possible redeeming good for which the evil might be necessary. To us, the evil looks utterly pointless, absurd, and irredeemable. Yet, says the skeptical theist, we are in no position epistemologically to judge what sorts of redeeming goods may be brought about by an all-powerful being or what evils might sub specie aeternitatis turn out to have been necessary for the achievement of those goods. So far as we can know, the most seemingly pointless evil might turn out in the longest run to have been necessary for the actualization of incomprehensibly great goods. So deficient is our grasp of the sorts of goods possibly realizable by omnipotence, and of the necessary conditions for the realization of such goods, that we are not competent to say what, for God, would or would not be pointless.
The argument of skeptical theism is very similar to one of the classic arguments for global skepticism. In the first of his six Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes seeks grounds for doubting all of his previous beliefs. This is pretty easy with the deliverances of the senses, because we all are familiar with dreams or hallucinations. How can we know, at any given time, that we are not dreaming or hallucinating? But what about such simple and seemingly self-evident truths like 1 + 1 = 2 or that a triangle has three sides? How could we possibly be wrong when making such clear and simple judgments as these? Descartes imagines that, instead of God, there exists an “evil genius”—a demon of infinite power and infinite malice. This being exerts all of his unlimited power to deceive me so that however certain I seem to be when making any cognitive judgment, I am led astray and make an incorrect judgment. 1 + 1 isn’t really 2, though, thanks to the machinations of the evil genius, I am in such a state of intellectual darkness that I will always think that it obviously is. Clearly, if such an evil genius exists, then my cognitive judgments are comprehensively compromised and none can be trusted (except, it famously turns out, for my awareness that I exist and that I am a thinking thing).
The thesis of skeptical theism introduces “evil genius” sorts of doubts into all of our moral reasoning. Like Descartes’ evil genius, the skeptical theist thesis makes dubious the seemingly clearest judgments, moral judgments in this case. For instance, it seems utterly clear to me that I should not commit some evil, perhaps telling a malicious lie, say spreading the baseless rumor that a disliked coworker is cheating on his wife. It is clear because I see that the lie would cause much harm to innocent people whereas the only benefit it would have is perhaps to give me a temporary vindictive pleasure. Clearly, that benefit is not sufficient to redeem the harm. Yet, if the thesis of skeptical theism is correct, in refraining from telling the lie, I may, so far as I can know, be removing a necessary condition for God to achieve some uniquely wonderful redeeming good. The same would apply to any other seemingly pointless evil that we might contemplate. So far as we can know, any such evil might be the act that initiates that “ripple” in the fabric of reality that Craig mentions that emerges centuries later to have been necessary for some presently unforeseeable good.
However, such a level of skepticism seems to be fatal for our most ordinary sorts of moral decisions and judgments. Consider a purely hypothetical example: A president of the United States is contemplating whether to concoct a farrago of lies to lead the country into a pointless war for the sake of further enriching his already obscenely rich cronies in the oil industry. It might initially occur to some small remnant of what used to be his conscience that this would be horrendously wrong. Then he remembers a tiny fragment of a philosophy course he idled through many years ago at Yale, a discussion of the arguments of skeptical theism. It then occurs to him that, as far as anyone can tell, the contemplated war, though it will kill thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of non-Americans, might be a necessary condition for the achievement of some fabulous future good to be wrought by God. Therefore not having the war might well deprive God of an opportunity to make the universe better in the long run!
It appears, then, that skeptical theism, by denying that we can recognize genuinely pointless evil, seems to remove the moral obligation to avoid pointlessly evil acts. How can we avoid what we cannot even recognize? “Ought” implies “can.”
It seems to me that the skeptical theist could reply in three ways:
1) God, being omniscient, knows ahead of time which evils we will choose to commit and which we will refrain from committing. He therefore surely incorporates that knowledge into his plan for the world and his decisions about which future goods he will realize. Of course, he has no plans to redeem evils that he knows we won’t commit, but only the ones that he knows we will commit. Therefore, we cannot commit evils with the excuse that if we refrained we might thereby deny God the opportunity to bring about a redeeming good.
2) Descartes did not propose his evil genius scenario as true or even as probable. The bare possibility of the existence of such a being is sufficient to deprive our judgments of absolute certainty. Likewise, the skeptical theist is not saying that our judgments about the apparent pointlessness of certain evils are certainly or even probably wrong, only that they might be. That is, no matter how pointless an evil appears to us, it might be redeemable by omnipotence. If we concede this, then no number of seemingly gratuitous evils can make us sure that some evils really are gratuitous.
3) We know our moral duty, not by toting up consequences, but by doing what God tells us to do. If God commands us to do X, then we can be confident that he has arranged things so that doing X will not detract from the ultimate goodness of the universe. We therefore base our actions not on our judgments of what looks good or bad in the long run, since those judgments are highly fallible when made by fallen creatures. We do what God tells us to do, confident that long-term consequences are in his hands.
Allow me to offer apologies in advance if I am attacking a straw man in proposing these as the likely replies of skeptical theists to my argument. It may be that skeptical theists have a crushing reply to my comparison of their position to the evil genius scenario, a reply that I have failed to notice. If so, I would appreciate it if that reply were pointed out to me. If, on the other hand, the above are the likely replies, here are my responses:
1) This reply can easily be stood on its head. If we can be sure ahead of time that God has a plan to redeem any evil that we choose to commit, then it would appear that Dostoevsky’s famous quip is reversed. Instead of everything being allowed if God does not exist, everything is allowed if God does exist. Any evil of any amount could be committed in the blithe assurance that God will make it turn out better in the long run that the evil was committed. A Hitler, Stalin, or Mao cannot do any long-term harm, only long-term benefit. They can do their worst and God will make it right in the end. It is hard to imagine an idea more destructive of commonsense morality.
2) This does not reply to arguments from apparently gratuitous evil such as Rowe’s. Rowe does not argue that the existence of many instances of apparently gratuitous evil make it certain that some evils are gratuitous. He would freely concede that any particular evil, however apparently pointless, might not be gratuitous. He is offering a probability argument to the effect that the more instances of apparently pointless evil that we see, the greater the (epistemic) probability that some (one or more) of those instances is actually gratuitous. Therefore, the accumulation of instances of apparently pointless evil (and these can be adduced ad nauseam) is accumulating evidence against the existence of God.
3) The skeptical theist defense assumes the truth of a consequentialist meta-ethic, that is, that the consequences of our actions are the right-making or wrong-making features for those actions. God’s permission of a horrendous evil E is justified, made right, if and only if E serves as a necessary condition for God’s eventual realization a great good G such that the world is better with E + G than with neither E nor G. So, can we just do as God commands and leave the consequences to him? Is it advisable to stop trusting our own perceptions of good or bad consequences?
Two sorts of problems arise if we stop trusting our own judgments about consequences: (a) Sometimes God ostensibly commands things that appear to have very bad consequences and no potential for redemption, e.g. the command of genocide in I Samuel, Chapter 15. Is it safe to defy your plainest moral perceptions when confronted with what looks like a divine command? If your answer is “yes,” then what right do you have to criticize the actions of groups like Boko Haram or ISIS? (b) God’s commands are often vague or general guidelines, leaving us with little idea what to do in particular situations. True, we are told not to steal, but, for instance, is it stealing to tax the wealthy to provide food stamps for the poor? Scripture has no direct answer to this question. How do we decide it without consulting our own moral perceptions? But if such perceptions are globally unreliable, what are we to do?
The upshot is that skeptical theism would seem to make the religious apologist’s job much harder. It may provide a useful rebuttal to the aggressive arguments of pesky atheologians, but at what cost?

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

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

bookmark_borderChristianity: The Good Stuff

Naturally, an atheist site like this SO often focuses on the bad stuff about Christianity. Digging up the dirt is easy since, after 2000 years of Christian history, there are tons and tons of it just lying around ready to be shoveled. It is important to remember, however, that for all the holy warriors, fanatics, hypocrites, obscurantists, and sanctimonious little busybodies, Christianity has appealed to some of the noblest spirits that have graced human history (e.g. Pascal, Erasmus, St. Francis). It has also inspired some of the greatest art, music, and literature (and I DO NOT mean the Chronicles of Narnia!). Listening to the symphonies of Anton Bruckner is close to a religious experience for me, and Bruckner’s inspiration was his simple and devout Catholic faith. If Christianity were as hollow, vicious, and corrupt as we critics sometimes depict it, it never would have touched so many and inspired so much. Let me add, on a personal note, that some of my oldest and best friends are not only Christians but ministers of the Gospel. I have the greatest respect for their intellectual and moral integrity.
A few months ago, I posted here on the “Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity.” Here, then, for the sake of fairness, I am going to list seven things that, in my view, Christianity has gotten right. These are salient themes of the Christian message, themes that persist through the ages and shine in the often dark and gritty reality that is the history of the Christian religion.
1) Everybody matters. As much as I admire Aristotle, you have to admit that he was a terrible elitist and that many people did not count very much for him. Women were defective men and “barbarians” (i.e. you and me) were fit to be slaves to Hellenes. Even the common people among the Greeks were disparaged as being addicted to pleasure and therefore as having a “slavish” disposition. In the ancient world in general, the attitude seemed to be that a few people mattered a lot and others were pretty much insignificant and disposable. Nietzsche, who hated Christianity and admired Achilles, had much the same attitude. Christianity, on the other hand, has always emphasized that everyone matters—a lot. All are children of God. Everyone has an immortal soul and an eternal destiny. In one of his sermons C.S. Lewis reminds his listeners that every person they meet is bound for glory or perdition and that this gives even the seemingly most negligible person a transcendent significance.
             You do not have to accept Christian claims about the afterlife to see that it was a great moral advance to say that everyone, even the humblest, is important and has a life that matters deeply. In fact, Jesus always sided with the poor against the rich, the powerless against the powerful, and the down-and-out against the up-and-in. Many of those who now most ostentatiously claim to follow Jesus do precisely the opposite, always promoting the interests and agendas of the wealthy while wiping their feet on the poor (Rick cough Perry cough). Jesus consistently emphasized that even “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45) are owed our compassion, and should be fed, clothed, and given shelter when they need it. In a society where CEOs make tens of millions a year, and the janitors who clean their offices struggle to get ten dollars an hour, it needs to be stated loud and clear that everyone counts, and not just the high rollers, the fat cats, and the big donors to your reelection campaign.
2. Nothing is worth the sacrifice of your personal integrity. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) Precisely. Power, status, wealth, fame, sex, and all worldly goods are worthless, indeed deleterious, if they require the sacrifice of your character. None of those goods count if you have made yourself reprehensible in the pursuit of them. Even intellectual brilliance does not redeem a lack of character. Having been hanging around universities for the better part of my life, I have known some people who were brilliant scholars and who made significant contributions to their fields. But they were total assholes. One treated all grad students with utter contempt, publicly abusing them in the most scurrilous terms. Another approved of a dissertation that was largely plagiarized submitted by a student with whom he was having an affair. Another (a devout Christian, BTW) blatantly hit on every female grad student in sight. Academic accomplishment does not make a scum bucket any less despicable.
3. Money madness is dangerous. “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mark 19:24) Everybody likes money and we all wish we had a lot more of it. I sure do. However, in today’s money-mad world, it is increasingly difficult to find institutions that hold any values higher than money. Medicine is all about money. Sports is all about money. The “justice” system is all about money. Universities are all about money. “Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery,” observes Thomas Friedman. Someone asked me about the purpose of the scaffolding around the Capitol Building. I replied that they were putting up corporate logos. They might as well; corporations already own it. The Supreme Court recognizes corporations as people and money as their form of free speech. Living in such a society, we very much need to hear the Christian message that the obsession with money is bad, that it diminishes life, warps character, and poisons our interactions with others. Obsession with money turns you into the sort of person that Oscar Wilde characterized as “knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”
4. “Good” people are often the most odious. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer. Therefore, ye shall receive the greater damnation.” (Matthew, 23:14)The scribes and the Pharisees were the “good” people of Jesus’ day. They were the most honored and respected as the ones who kept the law most punctiliously, priding themselves on their observance of every detail. They excelled at what David Hume called the “monkish virtues,” that is, they strictly adhered to doctrine, prayed loud and long, and condemned every departure from prescribed religious practice and discipline. Yet, as Jesus observed, their piety did not inhibit them from evicting the widow from her home and making a profit on her misery. Jesus’ depiction of self-righteous hypocrites is dead on and we are surrounded with instances in our own day. I know I have already picked on Rick Perry, but he is such a fat target, I can’t resist: In 2011, when he was running for president the first time, he kicked off his campaign here in Houston with a fundamentalist shindig at Reliant Stadium. This was in the hottest August in history, but the attendees were cooled by the 12,000 tons of air conditioning at Reliant. Just down the street, though, as tens of thousands of “good Christians” relaxed in alpine comfort at Reliant, impoverished elderly people were baking in houses with no AC. Jesus would have had more than a few words about those “good Christians.”
5. There are higher obligations than human law. Civil disobedience has Christian roots. While Christian teachers have always urged a respect for the law and the civil authorities, there has all along been a tradition of refusal to recognize the authority of human law when it was thought to be in opposition to God’s law. Early Christians refused to participate in the ritual of sacrifice to the emperor, and this seemed like rank disloyalty to the Roman authorities. In American history, the tradition of Christian civil disobedience was most notably present in the civil rights movement. In the famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” M.L. King, Jr. recognized that a fundamentally unjust law is without moral authority, and should be defied.
6. Retribution is an essential aspect of justice. The doctrine of an eternal punitive hell is the vilest, sickest, most misshapen offspring of the human imagination. It gets one thing right, however: Truly rotten people deserve punishment, even if that punishment does not improve them or serve any further good such as deterrence. For such persons, the punishment is good per se. C.S. Lewis in his chapter on hell in The Problem of Pain asks us to imagine a man who has grown powerful and rich by living a life of deceit, treachery, and cruelty. He dies fat, sassy, and unrepentant, laughing at his victims and gloating over their suffering. Can we be satisfied if that is the end of the story? Would we not, if we could, inflict some sort of comeuppance on the old bastard, something that would at least keep him from having the last laugh?
Lewis has a point. Speaking personally, no, I cannot be happy when the most despicable miscreants—Dick Cheney, say—never have to pay for their outrages. The deeper point is that the principle that people should get what they deserve is a fundamental and essential element of ethics. We simply cannot have a viable morality without that principle. By kindergarten age we already have an elemental concept of fairness, and that concept is violated when the good suffer and the bad go unpunished. Note that retribution is not vindictiveness or the lex talionis. We should not go back to breaking criminals on the wheel (not even Dick Cheney). Retribution must be carefully proportioned to the crime, where the proportionality is determined by neutral and impartial judges guided by a sense of fairness and with a disposition towards mercy.
7. Redemption is possible. True, some people are rotten to the core and irredeemable. Others, though, even hard cases that look hopeless, can be reached. Everyone loves stories of redemption. Two of the iconic figures we hear about every Christmas, Scrooge and the Grinch, won their iconic status by being redeemed. Consider Scrooge, a miserable wretch of a miser devoid of compassion and so bitter that he dismissed the joy of others as humbug. Yet Dickens, in his genius, allows us to see the causes of Scrooge’s misery and the means of a cure. Scrooge is cured by being forced to confront his past, present, and future and to see himself through the eyes of others and to see the real consequences of his actions. Of course, A Christmas Carol is fiction, but redemption occurs in real life as well. Late in life, when he was in constant pain and confined to a wheelchair, former Alabama governor George C. Wallace renounced his earlier racism and asked for forgiveness from African Americans. Too bad the realization could not have come fifty years earlier, but it was still a great thing.
Christianity demands that we take seriously the proposition that ALL have sinned, that we confront our own faults, and not take refuge in cheap, flimsy, self-justifying excuses. This, of course, is hard to do, especially for those in positions of power. When a politician is caught doing something wrong he or she generally gives a politician’s “apology.” This consists of a tiny amount of contrition, vast quantities of self-pity and self-justification, and, not uncommonly, an attempt to shift the blame onto those harmed by the actions (“I’m sorry that you were offended by what I said.”) In other words, the politico is terribly, terribly sorry…to have gotten caught. But those who do really do take seriously the bad stuff they have done—maybe by having their noses rubbed in it—can be changed and made into better, even different persons. Perhaps in this sense, a kind of salvation is possible.

bookmark_borderMy Recent Call-In Segment with Trent Horn on Catholic Answers Live

A few weeks ago Catholic Answers had a two hour radio show devoted to taking calls from nontheists only. I was the last caller. I had the privilege of having a brief, but very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating conversation with Trent Horn. A fan recently made me aware of a YouTube recording of it.

LINK
Trent, if you’re reading this, thanks again for being such a gracious host. I look forward to talking with you again in the future!