A Review of Martin Gardner's book, "Urantia, The Great Cult Mystery"
June 10, 1995
"If he can't debunk The Urantia Book to his satisfaction, where does that leave him? It leaves him faced with the prospect of having to change or modify his own belief system, if he is intellectually honest. Subconsciously perhaps, Martin is trying to preserve his own belief system, and the best way to do that is to attack that which is perceived as threatening. The Urantia Book is a threat to Martin, just as Jesus' teachings were a threat to many."
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Norm DuVal said:
My Review of Martin Gardner's book,
“Urantia, The Great Cult Mystery”
6/10/95I was recently reading Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason", and was struck by the contrast between Paine's style of writing in his attempt to prove his case, and Martin Gardner's style of writing. The only debate tactics or techniques that Paine used were those of calm logic, reason and eloquence. He clearly did not feel threatened by the material he was debunking. Gardner's debate style on the other hand is a scorched earth, use any tactics, win-at-any-cost style. As evidence of this, review his paper "The Great Urantia Mystery", from the Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1990. At first I thought that particular article might have been an aberration, but in a later comment in the Letters to the Editor section of the Skeptical Inquirer, Martin referred to it as a Mencken type attack after one H. L. Mencken, who apparently went to the Don Rickles School of Journalism. It's too bad it has to be an attack at all, and one wonders why Martin feels the need to attack, especially so viciously. It's sad that he couldn't figure out how to use a Thomas Paine type attack, if attack be needed.
But Martin has a problem of which we all should be aware. His job is to debunk, and most of his targets have been easy. This time however, he has chosen a religious target. If he can't debunk The Urantia Book to his satisfaction, where does that leave him? It leaves him faced with the prospect of having to change or modify his own belief system, if he is intellectually honest. Subconsciously perhaps, Martin is trying to preserve his own belief system, and the best way to do that is to attack that which is perceived as threatening. The Urantia Book is a threat to Martin, just as Jesus' teachings were a threat to many. Nor is Martin unique in this. It is the same with many, be they Christians, Moslems, Jews, Deists, Urantians or Atheists. Most people with strong religious views will do almost anything to avoid having their belief system altered. Martin is like Saul, going after the new Christians with a vengeance. He simply must succeed in debunking The Urantia Book. His present belief system depends upon it.
Martin's book is all over the map. He flops from Adventism to OAHSPE, from Mormonism to constipation and m********ion. For the most part, it's an unfocused, scatter-gun approach to a serious critique of The Urantia Book. In short, it's a mess.
I have tried to cover as many of Martin's mistakes, misstatements and misrepresentations as possible, but the sheer number of them makes the task difficult. In some cases, I am not knowledgeable enough to deal with a suspected problem, but it can be inferred from the large number of found problems that the balance of the book is similarly flawed.
Martin has a penchant for making bald unsupported statements. He speculates wildly. He loads sentences with enormous spin, faulty assumptions and distortions. In this review, I will try to hit the high spots, the glaring problems with his book. I know those with expertise in other areas will also want to comment on Martin's musings.
Page 12: Martin sets the stage spinning when he says, “The UB's cosmology outrivals in fantasy the cosmology of any science fiction work known to me.”
Page 12: Martin says, “Although the UB is highly imaginative in its cosmology, the opposite is true in its descriptions of the 'mortals' who live on inhabited planets.” One wonders where else would they live, -on uninhabited planets? Then he goes on to say that The Urantia Book says the height of mortals on other spheres varies from thirty inches to 10 feet, some are non-breathers, etc. He quotes The Urantia Book as saying, “Nonbreathers neither eat food nor drink water, and in almost all respects differ enormously from breathing mortals.” This hardly sounds as if it fits the idea that The Urantia Book is unimaginative in its description of other mortals. While the book says that all mortals are erect bipeds, beyond that there is a wide diversity.
Page 13: Martin delves into his “thing,” his numerology games with his imaginary friend, Dr. Matrix. Martin wastes considerable book space with this nonsense, which he later told me in a letter was all a “joke.”
Page 18: Martin spins, “The UB bristles with neologisms and bizarre proper names.” In his short list he has “Tabamantian midwayers,” which term I was unable to find in The Urantia Book. Nor could I even find the single term “tabamantian.” It seems as if Martin made this one up himself, perhaps trying to get into the spirit of things. (Midwayers, by the way, are beings halfway or so between humans and angels.)
Page 19: Martin worries over the difference between the terms “sponsored by” and “written by.” Later on he frets over “indicted.”
Page 19: Martin talks about polytheism and The Urantia Book, mentioning “billions of lesser gods.” This is an incorrect characterization of the book. As with Christianity, in The Urantia Book there is a unity of the Godhead, one God in a Trinity. While The Urantia Book's trinity concepts are more complex than those of Christianity, if the UB is polytheistic, then so is Christianity. The Bible, Genesis 1:26 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:...” In OUR image, and after OUR likeness. This is plural. It would be polytheistic according to Martin, who himself is a theist, if not a Christian.
The Urantia Book says:
“Only the concept of the Universal Father--one God in the place of many gods--enabled mortal man to comprehend the Father as divine creator and infinite controller.” (Page 21)
Perhaps Martin is thinking about the “Father fragments” that are bestowed upon all mortals. There are indeed “billions” of these gifts of the Father to us. Jesus even alluded to them in a seldom quoted but momentous passage in the Bible. In Luke 17:21 Jesus says, “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Page 20: Then as if to contradict himself on Page 19, Martin says, “It is true that in the UB's mythology there is one supreme, undivided, absolute deity, the great I AM, who is above all the other gods.”
Page 21: Martin says, “Among the higher early inhabitants of Urantia, the most bizarre are the secondary midwayers.” It seems that anything which is new or unfamiliar to Martin is “bizarre.” Any new idea takes some getting used to. The fact that this is revealed information, concerning an order of beings about which we had no inkling, does not make it bizarre. On this same page Martin says that the local system of stars, Satania, was named after Satan. I don't know how Martin arrived at this conclusion as The Urantia Book does not say anything of the sort. Perhaps Satan was named after the star system and not the other way around. Perhaps there is no connection at all. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...
Martin says that the violet race, the direct descendants of Adam and Eve “had white skin...” This is simply made-up-by-Martin material, completely false. You see, this is a lot like the trick question, “Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?” A shrewd reader should be able to guess the skin color of “the violet race.”
Page 23: Martin says, “Of course when we finally reach the UB's Paradise we are in a region beyond our spacetime, in seven dimensions, but Paradise is a long, long way off.” What? When we reach Paradise, either we've reached it or we haven't. And “beyond our spacetime?” What is that about?
Martin talks about the “Eadoman tribes.” You won't find out anything about them in The Urantia Book. The word Eadoman is not in it.
Page 24: Martin tries to pin the racism badge onto The Urantia Book. If one reads the UB one soon finds out that all of the races were supposed to have been uplifted and blended by the Adamic plan, by “the violet race” of Adam and Eve. If everything had gone according to plan, by now there would be one planetary race, upstepped, blended and purged of all genetic problems. While it may be true that The Urantia Book does not say that all the races are equal in physical or intellectual abilities, it does say that they are all equal in the eyes of God, and that we as individuals must treat our brothers and sisters as God would have us treat them, with love and respect. We are all part of God's family.
Martin says, “The doctrines of the UB are a weird mix of recorded teachings of Jesus with views that are offensive to conservative Christians.” The doctrines of The Urantia Book are indeed a mix. The reason for that is because some of the doctrines of some religions are correct and some are not. The UB sorts out the correct ones and reports them all in the same place. No longer does one have to “pick and choose” or accept a whole program while knowing that some of it is wrong, as many religious people do today.
Page 25: Martin says that The Urantia Book will equally offend non-Christians by defending the Incarnation and many of the New Testament's greatest miracles. Why would any of this offend a Muslim, or a Hindu? Are they offended by these doctrines now?
Page 26: Martin says, “Contrary to all evidence, the Jesus of the UB is as knowledgeable about Greek philosophy, mathematics, art, and science as Aristotle.” In the first place, there is no “evidence” to the contrary. The historical Jesus is mostly lost to 20th century man as far as the biblical accounts are concerned. In the New Testament, eighteen years of Jesus' life are completely missing. What can we really know of Jesus from that story? The Urantia Book is after all, a revelation. It gives us this lost information about Jesus' life. And what should one expect from the Son of God? He came here to reveal the Father to us and to live the life of a mortal human in the flesh, learning everything he could about our life and how it is lived. It is not surprising then that Jesus was well educated and well versed in the ways and knowledge of mankind.
Page 28: Martin says that Lazarus' resurrection was not caused by Jesus' power, but that a group of celestial beings decided to revive him on their own. That's not correct. Reviving Lazarus was Jesus' idea. He communicated this to the Father who approved of the plan. On Jesus' say-so, Gabriel ordered that the deed be done. The celestials who carried out this order were acting on Jesus' and the Father's wishes through the command of Gabriel.
Page 29: Martin says, “The UB renames the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth.” This is not correct. The Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Truth are not the same. The Spirit of Truth is the actual spirit which was bestowed at Pentecost, the spirit of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity as Christianity already knows. The Urantia Book refers to the Holy Spirit as the Infinite Spirit. This is what Revelation does, it clarifies, corrects and adds to our information and understanding.
Pages 31 and 32: Martin complains about what he calls The Urantia Book's “fideism,” or belief on faith alone. This is nothing new in any religion. But then, after setting up this “fideistic” straw man, Martin wonders how this alleged fideism is compatible with the statement in The Urantia Book that “the Urantia Midwayers have assembled over 50,000 facts of physics and chemistry which they deem to be incompatible with the laws of accidental chance, and which they contend unmistakably demonstrate the presence of intelligent purpose in the material creation.” Well, that’s them (the midwayers), and we’re us.
Page 33 Martin spins with the phrase, “...one monstrous blue-covered volume.”
Page 35 is largely irrelevant to The Urantia Book. Gardner tries to make a link between The Urantia Book and Seventh Day Adventism. While it is true that Dr. William Sadler was an Adventist in his early years, The Urantia Book is not an offshoot of Adventism. It does have some doctrines in common with Adventism, but it also has doctrines in common with many religions.
Chapter 3, on Dr. John Kellogg, is much like Chapter 2, only more so. It has little or nothing to do with The Urantia Book. Martin spends page after page discussing Dr. Kellogg's strange medical beliefs. While it is amusing in places, it is irrelevant with regard to The Urantia Book. Dr. Sadler married Dr. Kellogg's niece, Lena, and like Dr. Kellogg, was an Adventist until he too was ousted from the church. On page 51 Martin makes an odd, completely unsupported statement. He says, “Many of John Kellogg's heretical views [about Adventism apparently] worked their way into the UB.” The Urantia Book contains more than a million words and thousands of concepts. It covers a lot of territory. There are ideas in The Urantia Book which many people believe in and which are common to many religions. The fact that there are things in The Urantia Book in which Kellogg shared a belief does not mean that his views on anything worked their way into it.
Chapters 4 and 5 are yet more of the same. Again on page 93, Martin volunteers his opinion that Adventist doctrine found its way into The Urantia Book via the holdover beliefs of Drs. Kellogg, Sadler and their wives. It so happens that in the larger scheme of things, some Adventist doctrines, like doctrines from other religions, are in The Urantia Book because they are true. There are also only a limited number of ways to go with some doctrines, such as the doctrine of Hell, for example. Either there is a Hell or there isn’t. If The Urantia Book happens to endorse the same view of Hell that Seventh Day Adventism espouses, it just means that the Adventists had it right. Many religions don’t believe in Hell, a place of eternal torture at the hands of God. Martin calls many of Kellogg's and Sadler's beliefs “heresies,” such as the fact that they did not believe in the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus or the blood Atonement. As a Theist, Gardner does not believe in those things either, so he himself must be a heretic. Many people do not believe in the Virgin Birth or the Atonement doctrine. They are hardly heretics. One person's heresy is another person's truth.
In Chapter 6 Martin tries to make his case that the sleeping subject in the transmission of the Urantia Papers was Wilfred Custer Kellogg. While this is interesting speculation, the fact is that it will never be known who the person was, nor is it important. If you get an telegram from your father, is it necessary to know the name of the telegram boy? Of course it’s not. This is just idle curiosity run rampant.
Page 104: Martin makes another possibly faulty assumption concerning the idea that Sadler was speaking about Ellen White when he said that “he has encountered 'only one or two cases' in which phenomena similar to that of trance mediums may have a 'spiritual or supernatural' basis.” No one knows who Sadler was speaking about; this is conjecture. The dictionary defines “conjecture” as “guesswork.” Martin is just guessing. On page 107 Martin repeats the same mistake, except now he is no longer speculating, but says it with the tone of completely unfounded assurance!: “Sadler's first case,...was of course Mrs. White.” And there is more such on page 109.
“The Revelation Begins.” Of the hundreds of people who were part of the Forum over the years, Martin chooses one, Harold Sherman, a lone dissenter and troublemaker, a person who believed in almost every psychic fraud to come down the pike, to hold up as evidence that there was something amiss with the origins of The Urantia Book. On page 113 Martin says,
“Sherman tried to persuade Sadler to incorporate into the UB some information about psychic research and communication with the dead--to be checked and authorized by the sleeper (see Appendix C). It was a futile effort because Sadler, still loyal to many Adventist doctrines fully believed that no communication with the departed is permitted by God.”
Martin's spin, that Dr. Sadler would not include any psychic material in The Urantia Book because of Sadler's continuing belief in Adventist doctrines is strange indeed. Martin, who is an author of science articles and writer for the Skeptical Inquirer, knows full well that most if not all alleged psychic phenomena is hogwash. The psychic material is not in The Urantia Book because it is not true. Martin knows that, the Revelators knew that, and Dr. Sadler knew that. The only one who was clueless was Harold Sherman. Sherman may have been working for Caligastia (The Devil), unwittingly perhaps, trying to subvert the Revelation. (My speculation only.) He introduced tensions into the Forum by asking for “complete honesty,” democratic votes, etc. The situation was however, that Dr. Sadler was working for the midwayers whose sole purpose in this undertaking was to get the Revelation to mankind intact. Democracy and freedom of information were not necessarily something that the midwayers desired. They needed a human leader and a human organization that would get the job done in the most straightforward manner. The Forum was not a democratic organization, nor was it ever meant to be.
Page 119: Martin says, “Who would have suspected that the Gods would have chosen Chicago for what the UB calls the Fifth Epochal Revelation?” This is amusing because it so closely parallels a similar statement in The Urantia Book concerning the site of the origin of the Fourth Epochal Revelation, Jesus' incarnation on earth. The Urantia Book says a common saying of the day in Jerusalem was, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” And in fact, that very idea is in the New Testament:
John 1:46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
Indeed, “come and see.”
Also on page 119 Martin advances the idea that The Urantia Book was “channeled” in the same manner as many other so-called channeled works. This is not so. In most channeling it is acknowledged that a spirit entity of some sort invades the mortal mind, taking over and transmitting information through that mind, which by necessity must digest and garble it. In the case of The Urantia Book, the subject was asleep in such a way that his mind was not used at all, it was bypassed. No spirit entity used the mind of the contact subject. It is forbidden. (113:5.1 Angels do not invade the sanctity of the human mind. –The Urantia Book) The way the information was passed to mankind intact was by a combined use of both the contact subject's Adjuster (the fragment of God that Jesus says in the New Testament is “within you,” -Luke 17:21), and the skills and abilities of the secondary midwayers. These midwayers have the ability to manipulate physical material. And in this way did the midwayers actually use the vocal chords and fingers of the sleeping subject. No material was channeled through the subject's mind. In any case, all of this was probably just a means of accustoming the humans to the celestial activity. There is reason to believe that in the end, when all of the papers had been hashed out by the Forum and re-worked by the celestials, the completed papers were simply materialized by the Revelators in the handwriting of the subject. By the way, “midwayers” are semi-spiritual beings, existent on this planet, halfway between humans and angels. Believe it or not.
Page 120: Regarding Mark Kulieke (who wrote a booklet about the early history of the Urantia Book) and the story about the Contact Commission being allowed to “see” seraphic transports over Lake Michigan, Martin says, “This is one of the craziest of Urantia myths that Kulieke takes seriously.” What is crazy is that Martin, in his ignorance, would characterize it in this way. I don’t know if the story is true or not, myself.
Also on page 120 Martin gets mixed up between a supposed acquirement by Dr. Sadler of psychic powers, and some other process by which Dr. Sadler was “taken out of his physical body...,” according to Harold Sherman. The latter would not be a psychic phenomenon as we understand the term. In any case it is unlikely that it ever happened, and Martin knows it. Dr. Sadler probably had an informant at the meeting in question (if it in fact happened) and was having some fun with it. As Martin might say applying Ockham's razor: “Which is more plausible, that Dr. Sadler was taken out of his body to view the meeting or that he had a human informant at the meeting?”
Page 126: Martin makes much of the, considered by some, error in the first printing of The Urantia Book concerning the wise men visiting the baby Jesus in the manger, when later it says that the wise men didn't visit Jesus until he was three weeks old. The problem being that Jesus would not have been in the manger at that time as Joseph and Mary had relocated to an Inn. This could be a mistake, but then again it doesn't have to be, as a small manger could have been moved to the Inn if no other suitable cradle could be found.
Page 130: Martin introduces us to one Bert Salyer. After telling us that Salyer was into masonry, theosophy, a California cult called the Lemurians, Silva Mind Control, various New Thought churches, hypnotherapy, a religion called “Universalism,” speaking with his dead wife, and with two celestials called Gus and Charley, Martin then says that Salyer thought The Urantia Book was a fraud, “as phony as a three-dollar bill.” This man's judgment is surely subject to question. Why does Martin even offer the opinion of one who clearly cannot discern truth from fiction? It’s a complete diversion.
Page 131: Martin offers some examples of Clyde Bedell's rhetoric in regard to a critique by Bedell of Harold Sherman's account of the Urantia Movement. Bedell is reported as calling Sherman's chapter in his book, “How to Know What to Believe,” “an appalling mass of fiction fleshed over a fragile skeleton of misshapen fact,” ...filled with “fabrications,” “misstatements” and is utterly “contemptible.” One could say much the same about Martin's book, and as a matter of fact, Martin uses much the same if not stronger rhetoric in describing The Urantia Book in his review in the Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1990. He said, “No holy Bible offered to the Western world in the past few centuries is thicker, heavier, or stranger than The Urantia Book.” “Nothing could persuade me to read every line of this monstrous mishmash of claptrap interspersed with puddles of pious platitudes, but I have perused it carefully enough to get the drift of its wild science-fiction themes...” And “Indeed it may be the largest, most fantastic chunk of channeled moonshine ever to be bound in one volume.” Martin Gardner knows about rhetoric and he should not be criticizing Clyde Bedell’s rhetoric when Martin’s is as bad or worse.
Page 132: Martin says Sherman believed that Christy was sympathetic to Sherman's desire to have The Urantia Book include material about psychic phenomena. A paragraph from Harold Sherman's book, “How to Know What to Believe” is cited as proof. It seems obvious even from this subjective excerpt that Christy was probably putting Sherman on, and this is verified on the next page of Martin's book, by Clyde Bedell, who maintained that Christy was not being serious, she was simply doing her best to “get rid of [Sherman's] suggestion without argument.”
In another excerpt from a letter between Sherman and one Harry Loose, Sherman asks, “...why wasn't there something in the book explaining many so-called 'psychic happenings' which millions of people have experienced?” Sherman and Loose may not have known the answer to that question, but Martin as a science writer and professional debunker surely does. Such psychic phenomena does not exist, that's why it's not in The Urantia Book. Like Salyer before them, both Sherman and Loose had a thing for fringe psychism. Martin bases much of his case against The Urantia Book on these questionable witnesses. Bedell's description of Sherman on page 133 of Martin's book seems to tell the tale.
It's odd that Martin, who assuredly has no time for such airhead beliefs as the psychic interests of Sherman, would hold this man up as a paragon of honesty compared to a distinguished doctor such as Sadler. At the end of chapter 7, Martin says that it is not Sherman's account that is filled with lies, but Bedell's. He states, “...at no time did Sherman wish to discredit the Urantia Papers or to take over the movement.” Martin has no basis on which to make this statement, it's simply necessary for the premise of his book. Which is more likely, that of the hundreds of people who comprised the Forum over the years, the lone dissenter and believer in bogus psychic phenomena and a man who couldn't get his way is the more honest, or that Dr. Sadler and the rest of the Forum are on the side of truth? Martin says the reason he has quoted so extensively from Bedell's “angry speech” is so that people can see the obsessive devotion to Dr. Sadler, and to the idea that The Urantia Book came from the celestials, untainted by human hands. Yes, Clyde was devoted to the cause, but the real reason that he probably gave his “angry speech” (if in fact it was angry, which we don't know) was because what Sherman was doing, either wittingly or unwittingly, could potentially adversely affect the Revelation in progress.
Chapter 8: “Harry Loose.”