Critique of Maisel’s “Is Jesus God?” pamphlet
No reply to this letter was ever received.
Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
June 8, 1993
John M. Maisel
P.O. Box 795361
Dallas, TX 75379-5361
Dear Mr. Maisel:
I am a doctoral candidate in philosophy majoring in epistemology who was recently given a copy of your booklet, “Is Jesus God?”. I am writing to suggest to you that you (a) pull your booklet from circulation because it is filled with erroneous statements and unsound arguments and (b) get Christian philosophers to review your work before you make further publications. What follows is a fairly detailed critique of your booklet which I hope you will take into consideration in revising your work or producing further work.
p. 7: “if we believe that truth is not relative, we would have to conclude that God cannot be both personal and impersonal at the same time.” If you add “in the same respect,” then I completely agree with this statement. This is, in fact, something we can KNOW to be true.
p. 8: “Even, [sic] when a person says there is no God, that person violates a basic philosophical principle. He is a person with a finite understanding making an absolute statement about the nature of infinity.” There is no such “basic philosophical principle.” If there were, then we would not be able to know that “God cannot be both personal and impersonal at the same time” (p. 7). We would not be able to know any universal generalizations to be true, such as that the Second Law of Thermodynamics holds at all places and times (p. 74). In fact, any statement about the nature of an infinite God could not be knowledge. In short, if this principle were true, agnosticism would be the only reasonable position to hold.
The diagram on this page, combined with the question, “would it not be possible for God to exist in the other ninety-nine percent [of our knowledge]?”, is quite misleading. The knowledge we have is smeared out throughout the space of possible knowledge. It is denser in some spots than in others, but it is inaccurate to represent it as a point. (A much better depiction of our knowledge and the limits to our knowledge may be found on p. 71 (figure 18) of Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979, Basic Books).)
p. 16: “The Bibliographical Test looks at the number of manuscript copies of the original and the length of time between the writing of the original and the writing of the existing copies when none of the originals still exists.” This is a test ONLY of the accuracy of copying, NOT of the veracity of what is written. There are millions of copies of the Weekly World News distributed to supermarkets across the country every week. Each copy is made from original writing which was produced very close in time to the final copy. This is no indication whatsoever of the truth of anything in the Weekly World News.
“The Internal Test looks at internal consistencies and inconsistencies within the manuscript.” The New Testament fails this test. There are innumerable manuscript variants, plus logical errors and inconsistencies between different accounts of the same events. The Skeptical Review and Ralph Nielsen each offer $1,000 (for a total of $2,000) to anyone who can produce a single consistent narrative of the resurrection appearances of Jesus as described in the four gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians 15, without deleting any details or adding any purely speculative material. This challenge has been publicized in The Skeptical Review (one year free from P.O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617), sent to such persons as Gleason Archer, James White, and Robert Morey, and also in Tucson’s Good News newspaper. So far as I know, nobody has even attempted to take up the challenge.
“The External Test looks at other historical materials to determine if they confirm or deny statements within the manuscript, i.e., archaeological evidence.” The New Testament fails this test, as well. Other documents contradict the gospels (e.g, early Jewish writings about Jesus, including parts of the Talmud and the Toldoth Jeshu; Quirinius was not governor of Syria at the time of the census described in the gospel of Luke; Josephus’ record of Herod’s atrocities makes no mention of the slaughter of infants described in Luke; other, pagan myths parallel and often predate the equivalent stories in the Bible).
p. 30: “phenomenon” should be “phenomena.”
p. 35: I am glad that “legend” was added to the false trichotomy “liar, lunatic, or lord,” but there are still more possibilities, and the legend hypothesis is given short shrift. The tree of possibilities should go something like this:
He either said the words attributed to him, or he didn’t. If he didn’t, then they are legendary (or he was misquoted). (This is, in fact, a very common view among biblical scholars.) If he did, then he either meant what evangelical Christians think he did, or he didn’t. (If he didn’t, then he was misinterpreted or misunderstood.) If he meant what evangelical Christians think he did, then he was either a liar, a lunatic, or lord.
p. 43: The Jewish accounts of Jesus say that he was stoned and then his body was hung in a tree, as the Bible prescribes for blasphemers–not crucified. The broad outlines of the Jewish account are ably defended by Robert Sheaffer’s The Making of the Messiah (1991, Prometheus Books). Sheaffer’s account explains the empty tomb without appeal to the “Passover Plot” theory or to the disciples stealing the body.
p. 51: The financial debt analogy is a poor one. Moral wrongdoing is quite different from financial debt. A criminal law analogy is much better than a civil law analogy–sins are like crimes, because the penalty is punishment, not a fine. But the better analogy destroys the case for Christianity, because justice is not served by one person serving the criminal penalty of another. People can only be punished for their own crimes. By the way, the financial analogy also undercuts Christianity, because a creditor can easily forgive a debt without requiring that payment be made by someone else–and certainly without the nonsensical requirement that the creditor pay himself.
p. 72: All of the arguments in this appendix are awful. First, it repeats the erroneous claim about “a basic philosophical presupposition, and that says that a finite person cannot draw an infinite or absolute conclusion.” Incorrect; we do it all the time, quite validly and soundly. “Atheism by definition, [sic] is a nothingbutism, and nothingbutisms are always illogical. … For example, if I say there is nothing but a table in the room, then the table is the room and any table as we know it would be unidentifiable.” This is nonsense–I can quite legitimately say that there is nothing but a table in the room, and people can make perfect sense out of it. It in no way implies that “the table is the room.” The universe is, by one common definition, all that exists. To speak of something “outside of” the universe is meaningless on this definition, but this has no implications for the existence or nonexistence of God. The question which remains to be answered is: Is God one of the things that exists (in the universe)? “So for an atheist to claim there is nothing but matter is meaningless.” It’s not at all meaningless, but it is false. (I know of no atheists who believe it. There is energy as well as matter.) “If something does exist–where did it come from? You really only have two conclusions to that question. Does anything really exist? Either something must be eternal, or something not eternal came from nothing.” There is another possibility you’ve overlooked: that everything exists for a finite amount of time, but has come out of previous things which existed for finite amounts of time. You apparently reject this because you assume that an infinite past is impossible.
pp. 73-74: It is generally accepted that the universe (or, at least, this universe) had a beginning. It is not, however, necessarily true. (I’ll accept that it is both for the sake of argument and because I think that it is true.)
p. 75: “And that’s a logical observity.” I think this is supposed to say “logical absurdity.” It’s speaking of the view that “the universe created itself,” which I agree is absurd–just as absurd as the view that God created himself. “One of the basic laws of science is, nothing comes from nothing.” Sorry, this is just plain wrong. Something DOES come from nothing, all the time–it’s called quantum vacuum fluctuation, in which matter-antimatter particle pairs pop into and pop out of existence. Some have speculated that this is how the universe came into existence.
p. 76: “For every effect, there has to be an equal and a greater cause.” This is incorrect, as I will comment on in more detail regarding p. 81.
p. 77: “Life never evolved from non-life.” This is probably false. At any rate, you’ve given no evidence to support it. “The atheist has a big problem, in understanding any type of moral values. Because if they conclude that there is nothing eternal, then there are no absolutes, so who determines what’s right and what’s wrong?” No matter what the SOURCE of morality is, it is still up to us as human beings to figure out what is right and wrong. (Figuring out is not the same as determining or making up.) There are problems to be solved in figuring out the basis of morality, but adding God into the picture does not solve them. In fact, adding God creates some more problems, as has been noted at least since Plato’s Theaetetus. [This was supposed to be a reference to the Euthyphro. -jjl] If what is right and wrong is determined by what God wills, then that is either because God’s willing something makes it right or because God wills something because it is right. If God’s willing something makes it right, then it makes nonsensical to say that God wills rightly or wrongly. If God willed the torture of infants, then the torture of infants would be right and there’s nothing more to be said about it. But that is surely false–it would be wrong for God to will the torture of infants. On the other hand, if God wills something because it is right (and therefore chooses not to will the torture of infants), then he is appealing to some standard of right and wrong independent of his will, and we are back where we started.
There are, by the way, numerous theories of the basis of morality–the social contract theory, utilitarianism, subjectivism, relativism, etc. The theist must choose from the possibilities just as the atheist must. (See James Rachels, Elements of Moral Philosophy, 2nd edition, McGraw-Hill, for an overview.)
p. 78: “If there is no God, life is absurd. Man’s values would be changing, hence moral truth would be relative, but that is impossible.” This is nonsense. The nonexistence of God does not (by itself) imply the relativity of moral truth or that human values are always changing. The social contract theory and utilitarianism, for example, are both compatible with absolute moral truth independent of God.
p. 80: “Every effect has a cause.” I’d like to see an argument for the truth of this statement. “The universe is an effect.” I’d also like to see an argument for this statement–any atheist who thinks the universe is eternal will deny it. “The universe has a cause which we call God.” Calling something God doesn’t make it so, nor does this argument–if sound–establish that this cause is something which still exists today.
p. 81: “Every effect has a cause which is greater (that is, more complex) than itself.” This is demonstrably false. In computer science, genetic algorithms are capable of modifying computer programs to produce more complicated and more sophisticated programs. Computer programs have developed complex algorithms which were previously undiscovered by human beings. You should look into Thomas Ray’s Tierra program, which uses natural selection to “evolve” more sophisticated programs–sophistication which the programmer does not devise himself. You should also look into chaos theory.
“The universe is an effect which must have a cause which is greater (more complex) than itself.” This is disputed by many Christians, who argue that God is a simple substance. In any case, this premise is both false and, if true, would imply that God must have a more complex cause.
“The universe exists. (Pantheism is wrong.)” The parenthetical remark makes no sense. Pantheism is NOT the denial of the existence of the universe.
p. 83: You go from the premise that “The personal moral existing Creator Cause is infinite (i.e., ultimate)” to “The infinite cause must be eternal because eternality is infinity applied to time (and no meaningful statement can be made about space without reference to time).” This is an invalid inference. Infinite in the sense of ultimate does not imply infinite in all respects. Is the Creator Cause infinitely fat? Infinitely evil? Infinitely absurd? Infinitely nonexistent? The claim that “no meaningful statement can be made about space without reference to time” is false–geometry is nothing but claims about space without reference to time.
“An infinite eternal Cause could not change (since anything He would change into, He would already be).” This has all sorts of absurd implications–including pantheism! Also note that if God cannot change, then God cannot act, and God cannot create the universe because that is an action. All actions involve change over time. Action is required to be a person, so if God cannot change, God cannot be personal.
This concludes my critique of your booklet. I now have some general remarks.
When criticizing a view X and suggesting its replacement with view Y, it behooves one to understand view X in detail. What does X say? What are the reasons that someone holds X? In your booklet, X is atheism and Y is Christianity, but it is clear that you have done no significant study of atheism whatsoever. Even the most popular atheist books for the layman, such as George H. Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God (1979, Prometheus Books) and B.C. Johnson’s The Atheist Debater’s Handbook (1983, Prometheus Books), are sufficient to devastate your arguments. And there are much more sophisticated and powerful arguments available to the atheist, such as those in Michael Martin’s Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (1991, Temple University Press) and J.L. Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism (1982, Oxford University Press). If you can’t at least take the trouble to read and understand what the arguments are for atheism, then you have no right to claim as you do that “Atheism must be rejected as a reasonable world view.” To do as you have done is intellectually dishonest.
cc: Farrell Till, The Skeptical Review, P.O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617
P.S. I would appreciate it, Mr. Maisel, if you would send a copy of your booklet to Farrell Till at the above address. I’m sure he would be happy to send you some copies of The Skeptical Review in exchange.