Image via WikipediaIf you were God, would you provide your message exclusively to one prophet? Wouldn’t it occur to you that some people would try a prophet scam once they saw how a prophet is revered and the recipient of special favors, money and power? This was an essential message of Al-Razi, a freethinking Moslem (864-930 CE) that seems to have slipped beneath the radar of many of us moderns.
Of course, we can all see that at least some so-called prophets are not legitimate; even the religious can see this. No one today believes Jim Jones was an authentic prophet, and comparatively few believe in Joseph Smith. And, in the Western world, Mohammad is widely seen as a fake. Clearly, anyone with the gift of eloquence, especially if he also knows a few nifty magic tricks or illusions, is a potential prophet. Prophesying can be profitable.
Al-Razi’s point here is not just that there have been many false prophets, but, much more importantly, that no sensible god would ever use such a system to get out his message. If we humans could so easily foresee the flaws of such an approach, why would anyone think a god could be so naive as to miss them? Even if there were one true prophet, his followers would inevitably have to compete with the followers of false prophets, humans being what they are. The Crusades and Inquisitions resulting from disputes over prophet legitimacy could have been predicted by even the dumbest god.
The Christian might argue that God wants us to use our free will to believe in the message of Jesus regardless of evidence. After all, Jesus did say, “…blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20:29).” Such a God would have to be very ignorant of human nature or willfully malicious. How are we supposed to be able to tell the authentic prophet from the clever, silver-tongued fake? We humans have obviously done a very poor job of it over the course of history since billions believe in Mohammed, millions in Joseph Smith, hundreds believed in Jim Jones, dozens in David Koresh, and this list could be extended for several more pages. I repeat: a God who left it to us to sift through alleged prophets to find the real one would have to be either very stupid or willfully malicious.
Since no prophet could ever hope to convince every last human that he is the one true prophet, such a system would inevitably be a disaster for the human race. Any rational god would surely see that if he has an important message for us, then all people should receive that message directly. I believe that Al-Razi was dead-on; since no rational god would ever use the prophet system, then all prophets must be false. Furthermore, since we didn’t all receive a Godly message directly, to forestall this phony prophet disaster, there very likely is no god at all - or, at least, none that gives a damn about us humans.