bookmark_borderChristian Philosopher Richard Swinburne on One Type of Moral Argument for God’s Existence

“Now if the basic moral principles are analytic, the existence of what they describe cannot provide an argument for the existence of God.  An argument could only take off from the truth of some or all synthetic moral truths (e.g., from the fact that it is wrong to drop atomb bombs on Japan rather than from the fact that it is wrong to kill people who will not certainly come to life again).  Now the fact that certain moral truths hold can only confirm, add to the probability of, the existence of God if it is more likely that those moral truths hold if there is a God than if there is not.  Now the synthetic truths that actions, a, b, c, d, are obligatory (or right or wrong as the case may be) depend on a, b, c, d, possessing certain natural properties Q, R, S, T, which analytically make them obligatory (or whatever).  So if there is to be an argument to the existence of God from certain actions being obligatory it will have a structure somewhat as follows: actions a, b, c, d, are obligatory; they would not be obligatory unless they were Q, R, S, T.  It is more probable that there are actions which are Q, R, S, T, if there is a God than if there is not; therefore the obligatoriness of a, b, c, d, confirms the existence of God.”
Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, pp. 177-178.

Thus, according to Swinburne, analytic moral principles cannot provide an argument for the existence of God.  And an argument from synthentic moral truths to the existence of God would have to look like this in general form:
(1)   Action a is obligatory.
(2)   Action a would not be obligatory unless it possesses natural properties Q, R, S, T.
(3)   It is more probable that there are actions which have natural properties Q, R, S, T if there is a God than if there is not.
(4)   Therefore, the obligatoriness of a confirms the existence of God.
Now consider Craig’s argument that if atheism is true there would be nothing with rape.  As Swinburne argues, fundamental moral principles must be analytic.  And, surely, if any moral principle is analytic, the principle, ‘rape is wrong,’ is analytic.  Thus, the wrongness of rape cannot provide an argument for the existence of God.  But can a synthetic moral truth concerning rape provide an argument to the existence of God?
Let action:
a  =df. Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman
Let natural properties:
Q =df. rape violates the desires of its victim;
R  =df. rape causes suffering; and
S  =df.  rape degrades the victim.
According to Swinburne, here is how an argument from the objective wrongness to the existence of God would have to proceed:
(1)   Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman is objectively wrong.
(2)   Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman would not be objectively wrong unless it violated the desires of his victim, caused her suffering, and degraded her.
(3)   It is more probable that there are actions which violate the desires of victims, cause suffering, and degrade victims if there is a God than if there is not.
(4)   Therefore, the objective wrongness of Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman confirms the existence of God.
If this is fair example of the kind of argument Swinburne was describing–and I am not completely sure that it is–this example strikes me as a very odd argument for God’s existence. Re-read what (3) says. It is equivalent to the conjunction of :
(3.1) It is more probable that there are actions which violate the desires of victims if there is a God than if there is not;
(3.2) It is more probable that there are actions which cause suffering if there is a God than if there is not; and
(3.3) It is more probable that there are actions which degrade victims if there is a God than if there is not.
All of these strike me as bizarre, counterintuitive ‘predictions’ of theism, to say the least. If this is (were?) the only way to get a ‘good’ moral argument for God’s existence, then the prospects for such an argument (would?) look dim.

bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 1

Jehovah, the god of the Old Testament, is cruel, unjust, and evil.  Jehovah, therefore, is NOT God, because God is, by definition, a perfectly morally good person.  Since Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah, obedience to Jehovah, and prayer to Jehovah, we can reasonably conclude that Jesus promoted worship of a false god and thus Jesus was a false prophet.  But if Jesus was a false prophet, then it is very unlikely that God, if God exists, would raise Jesus from the dead.  God would not be involved in a great deception, and raising a false prophet (who promotes the worship of a false god) from the dead would mean being involved in a great deception. (Perhaps Jehovah would have wanted to raise Jesus from the dead, but such an event would have no theological significance, because Jehovah is NOT God.)
There are many reasons for thinking that Jehovah is cruel and unjust, but one of the most glaring and obvious reasons is that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites living in Palestine and take their land.  Jehovah’s command appears to be a command to commit genocidal killing of thousands of people:
Deuteronomy 20:10-17 American Standard Version (emphasis added)
10 When thou drawest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that are found therein shall become tributary unto thee, and shall serve thee.
12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
13 and when Jehovah thy God delivereth it into thy hand, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14 but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take for a prey unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which Jehovah thy God hath given thee.
15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16 But of the cities of these peoples, that Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth;
17 but thou shalt utterly destroy them: the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee;
There are three main Christian responses to this disturbing Old Testament passage:
1. The Conservative Christian response:
The story of the slaughter of the Canaanites is FACTUAL, but Jehovah was morally justified in commanding the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in Palestine.
2. The Liberal Christian response:
The story of the slaughter of the Canaanites is FICTIONAL, so Jehovah did NOT actually command the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites, nor did such massive slaughter of the Canaanites actually occur.
3. The Moderate Christian response:
The story of the slaughter of the Canaanites is partly historical but is greatly EXAGGERATED in some Old Testament passages. The Israelites did fight with and kill some Canaanites in Palestine, but Jehovah did not command the wholesale slaughter of all Canaanites (men, women, and children) in Palestine.
 
The conservative approach is taken by the Christian apologist Clay Jones:
We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites
Killing the Canaanites
Clay Jones (blog)
 
The liberal approach is taken by the biblical scholar Peter Enns:
The Bible Tells Me So…
Blog Posts by Peter Enns on Canaanite Genocide
The Bible for Normal People (website)
 
What I have called the moderate approach has been taken by  the Christian apologists Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan:
Did God Really Command Genocide?
Is God a Moral Monster?
Interview of Matthew Flannagan on Did God Really Command Genocide? 
Interview of Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan on Did God Really Command Genocide?
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I (blog post by Matt Flannagan)
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II (blog post by Matt Flannagan)
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part III (blog post by Matt Flannagan)

To be continued…
 

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:
=================================
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.
==========================
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_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.
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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_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_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_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_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Index

 
The Logic of the Resurrection – Part 1
Different assumptions about the existence of God have different implications concerning the resurrection.
The Logic of the Resurrection – Part 2
As Richard Swinburne has pointed out, a complete case for the resurrection must be a three-legged stool, resting upon general background evidence, prior historical evidence, and posterior historical evidence.
The Logic of the Resurrection – Part 3
The logic of the resurrection apologetic is summarized in an argument diagram.
The Logic of the Resurrection – Part 4
In “Why Resurrect Jesus?” Theodore Drange is looking in the right direction, asking the right questions, and taking the right approach to the resurrection of Jesus.
The Logic of the Resurrection – Part 5
In order to make a rational case for the resurrection of Jesus, one must establish God’s primary purpose(s) or motive(s) concerning humans.
The Logic of the Resurrection – Part 6
Drange shows that the resurrection of Jesus is neither a necessary condition nor a sufficient condition for the claim that Jesus is the divine Son of God.  I suggest that (JRD) is logically related to (JSG) as a premise of a key argument for (JSG).
The Logic of the Resurrection – Part 7
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.”
 
A Related Series of Posts about the Prior Historical Evidence part of the case for (GRJ):
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 1
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 2
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 3
 

bookmark_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Part 3

The logic of the resurrection apologetic goes roughly like this:
Logic of Resurrection Apologetic
 
NOTE: This does not represent Swinburne’s case for the resurrection.  It is a rough representation of a case for the resurrection that follows the general logic laid out by Swinburne (constituting a three-legged stool).
==============
KEY TO DIAGRAM
(DOC) Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around (unassisted) about 48 hours after he was crucified.
(GTE) The God of traditional theism exists.
(GPR) God, if God exists, has purposes P1, P2, etc. that are relevant to whether God would be likely to raise someone from the dead.
(JRD) Jesus rose from the dead.
(RAW) Jesus performed the right actions and spoke the right words making him a person with characteristics C1, C2, etc.
(GLR) God would be likely to raise someone from the dead who had characteristics C1, C2, etc. 
(GRJ) God raised Jesus from the dead.
(JCD)  Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God.
(JSG) Jesus is the divine Son of God.
============== 
The three legs required for a complete case for the resurrection are represented in the argument at the heart of the above diagram:
3 Part Case for GRJ
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
(JRD) constitutes the Posterior Historical Evidence part of the case.
(RAW) constitutes the Prior Historical Evidence part of the case.
(GLR) constitutes the General Background Evidence part of the case.
 

bookmark_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Part 2

The two most important writings on the resurrection of Jesus are, IMHO, Richard Swinburne’s book The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford University Press, 2003; hereafter: ROGI), especially the Introduction (pages 1-6), and Theodore Drange’s short article “Why Resurrect Jesus?” in the collection of skeptical essays The Empty Tomb, edited by Robert Price and our fearless leader Jeff Lowder (Prometheus Books, 2005; hereafter: TET).   [Please feel free to disagree, and/or to offer your own suggestions for the most important writings on the resurrection].
NOTE: I disagree with both Swinburne and Drange on key issues, so my promotion and admiration of their writings does NOT mean that I agree with their conclusions.
I will first explain a bit of Swinburne’s thinking about the Resurrection, and that will help me to show why it is that I view Drange’s article as one of the most important skeptical articles ever written on the subject of the alleged resurrection of Jesus.
Anyone intersted in thinking clearly about the alleged resurrection of Jesus MUST read at least the Introduction to ROGI, and I would also recommend reading the whole book (it’s just under 200 pages long).  Swinburne provides important insights into the logic of the resurrection issue, specifically in pointing out the importance of ‘general background evidence’ and ‘prior historical evidence’.
Here is one comment by Swinburne about general background evidence from the Introduction to ROGI:
The present book is very different from the writing of a typical New Testament expert (whether radical or conservative) on this issue, because only the final third of the book deals with the kind of evidence normally thought by such an expert to be relevant to this issue:  what the New Testament and other early documents had to say about what happened after the death of Christ.  I argue that we need to take into account a far wider range of evidence than that.  To start with, we need to take into account what I shall call ‘general background evidence’ , evidence (the data)  about whether or not there is a God able and likely to intervene in human history in a certain kind of way. …I shall argue that, insofar as the evidence is against the claim that there is such a God [an omnipotent person who would be able to bring about a resurrection], then the occurrence of such an event as the Resurrection is improbable.  If the evidence suggests that there is such a God, then it will give some probability to the occurrence of such a miracle insofar as God has reason to bring about such an event. (ROGI, p.2, emphasis added)
Not too suprisingly, Swinburne’s historical arguments concerning the events after Jesus’ death are not particularly well done.  But that is OK, because other Christian philosophers and scholars have covered that area in greater depth and detail already.
Swinburne is pointing out two major GAPS (or areas of weakness) in the case for Jesus’ resurrection, as typically presented by Christian apologists.  One of the gaps is the failure to make a serious effort to show that God’s character and purposes give God good reason to raise someone from the dead.  A second gap is the failure to make a serious effort to show that Jesus in particular was the kind of person that God would be likely to raise from the dead (‘prior historical evidence’):
Then we need to consider whether, if there is a God with reason to bring about such a miracle, Jesus was the sort of person whom God would have reason to resurrect–and this is a matter of considering the sort of life he led and what he taught.  Assessing this will be what I shall call assessing the prior historical evidence. (ROGI, p.3, emphasis added)
The usual historical evidence concerning the crucifixion of Jesus and what happened after the crucifixion are called ‘posterior historical evidence’ by Swinburne (ROGI, p.3).
Swinburne has laid out the key elements required to make a rational case for the resurrection:
1. General Background Evidence

a. The existence of God

b. The purposes and motivations God has for performing miracles (especially a resurrection)

2. Prior Historical Evidence

a.  Jesus’ actions and whether they are the actions of a person God would be likely to resurrect.

b. Jesus’ teachings and whether they are the teachings of a person God would be likely to resurrect.

3. Posterior Historical Evidence

a. Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified. (DOC)

b. Jesus was alive and walking around (unassisted) about 48 hours after he was crucified. (JAW)

NOTE: I have supplemented Swinburne’s general category of ‘posterior historical evidence’ by adding two sub-categories, which I take to be the key historical claims related to the alleged resurrection of Jesus.
According to Swinburne, the case for the resurrection must have three basic elements, like a three-legged stool. I agree with Swinburne about the basic logic of the resurrection, but in my view, all three legs are broken, and thus any complete case for the resurrection of Jesus will be a complete failure.
Case for Resurrection B
(GRJ) God raised Jesus from the dead.
One important gap in traditional Christian apologetic cases for the resurrection concerns general background evidence.  Obviously, there has been a ton of writing on the question ‘Does God exist?’ so that is not a gap in traditional Christian apologetics.  The gap is in (1b) above, concerning the purposes and motivations God has for performing miracles (especially a resurrection).  Christian apologists and theologians have failed on this point.  Theologians have made some attempts in this area, but because they are basically preaching to the choir, their efforts are sad and pathetic, when examined carefully and critically.
This is why I believe that Drange’s short article ‘Why Resurrect Jesus?’ is so important.  Drange takes a close and critical look at the attempt of one theologian to explain why the resurrection of Jesus is “the most important fact in the history of the world.” (TET, p.55).  Drange argues that the theologian fails to show the resurrection to be an important event, in relation to Christian theology.  I don’t necessarily agree with Drange’s conclusions, but he is doing the sort of critical examination of Christian theology that skeptics need to carry out in order to fully break the first leg of the case for the resurrection of Jesus.
The ‘importance’ or ‘role’ of the resurrection of Jesus is the focus of Drange’s article, but this touches on a key question concerning the resurrection:  What purposes or motivations does God have for performing miracles (especially resurrecting someone)?  The attempts by Christian theologians and apologists to show the importance of the resurrection have implications for the question about God’s motivations and purposes.
Drange does not appear to fully realize the implications of his own critical analysis of the arguments about the ‘importance’ of the resurrection of Jesus, but he does hint at the idea of divine purposes/motivations in a number of places.  The title of his article is one such hint: “Why Resurrect Jesus?”  The title is in the form of a question that one might well pose to God if one was given the opportunity to interview God.
In criticizing the idea that the resurrection is important because of “what it showed to mankind” (TET, p.65), Drange speaks directly about God’s purposes:
Similarly, with the second claim, that the Resurrection showed something to mankind about Jesus of Nazareth, that one, too, is refuted by the fact that billions of people have had no awareness of the event.  …One would think that an omnipotent deity would have done a better job of advertising (or “marketing”) the Resurrection to mankind…if indeed that had been his aim.  At the very least, the resurrected Jesus would not have appeared only to his followers, but also to thousands of other people, thereby making what happened into a genuine historical occurrence.  But that did not happen.  Thus, it seems not to have been God’s aim to have the Resurrection show something to mankind…(TET, p.66, emphasis added)
Drange criticizes the view that the resurrection of Jesus is of central importance to Christian theology, and I think Drange is probably wrong on that point.  However, the sort of careful, skeptical criticism that he does on this question points the way for future work by skeptics, including myself, to address the general background evidence relevant to any complete case for the resurrection, in order to fully break that first leg of the case.