This blog post is part 3 in a series responding to the Creation Ministries International article, "Is The Bible Immoral?", where I take a rational look at the claims made by one of the more prominent Christian apologetics organisations in its defence that the Bible is not an immoral book. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found at the links. The next paragraph I will be responding to is headed "Was Sabbath Keeping Serious?". Thus begins the next instalment of my reply: (Note: CMI have a plethora of articles available to peruse over at https://creation.com/qa, including some which may already answer points I have made in this series. Head on over, have a read, compare both sides of the argument!) -----
The first law is a parody on Sabbath-keeping. Sabbath-keeping only applied to Israel and other signatories to the Sinaitic Covenant (i.e. converts to Judaism), including the Deuteronomic Treaty.
It's hard to know if Cosner is accurately paraphrasing or describing the content of the video she is criticising, because CMI haven't (or maybe even won't) share the link to the video in question so that you can see for yourself. I hope that this is an editorial oversight because it would be such a shame, positioning yourself as having the answers to defend the truth of God's inerrant and timeless word - but being so thin-skinned and petty that you won't even link to anything contrary to your opinion. [On the contrary, when I write a blog post, I provide links to the original source material and references, and I also email the organisation or individual where I got the source from to let them know that I have used their material] Anyway, on to the point at hand - did the laws of the Sabbath apply only to the Jews? Well, no. In Mark 2:27, Jesus is quoted as saying "The Sabbath was made for man", not as saying "The Sabbath was made for Jews - Gentiles are not obligated". Thus Jesus' words would indicate some sort of universal obligation. We also see that the New Testament writers believed the Mosaic Law was applicable to all mankind, as Romans 3:20 states:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
This seems to be an acknowledgement that the Mosaic Law (which incorporated laws about the Sabbath) was applicable to all humans, as standard theology states humans are all under the curse of sin, and Paul is writing in Romans that knowledge of that sin comes through the law. The text isn't "since through the law comes knowledge of sins for the Jews, and for the Gentiles yet another law that reveals another set of sins". This would be some really weird-beard theology if it were. Also, we see that the Sabbath was begun in the very first week of Creation as per Genesis 2:3 - when there were no distinction between Jews and Gentiles and there was no covenant to specifically apply the laws of Sabbath to. Sabbath applied to everyone! [GodSabbathTruth.com have a handy rebuttal to the claims of CMI that you can read more at here.] But then this concept that the Old Testament laws only applied during Old Testament times, to a very specific people group, is dismantled by the following: 1. If the Old Testament laws no longer apply, why do Fundamentalist Christian groups still quote the Old Testament when they want to demonise something (or someone) and they can't find verses caustic enough to back up their opinion from the New Testament? 2. If the Old Testament law was only for the Jews, then why did God punish the non-Israeli nations, as we see throughout the prophets? For not following the law that apparently was not applicable to them? Or did God just arbitrarily decide to eliminate anyone he wanted for vague and non-specific reasons? I know which one makes more sense from a plain reading of scripture... ---
The man who was picking up sticks on the Sabbath was not ignorant of the reasons behind this law, nor the penalty involved for breaking it. By gathering sticks, he was essentially saying, “I reject Yahweh’s Lordship, and I want to return to the way of life I had in Egypt.” This was treason, which in almost all law codes throughout history has been a capital crime.
Firstly, this was simply not treason. I really don't know how the author came to that conclusion (unless I start being cynical). Treason is typically defined as betraying one's country by either attempting to overthrow the head of state, or by acting as a covert agent/spy for another country. I don't think picking up sticks constitutes spying, so for Cosner to assert this act constituted treason, she is then saying Yahweh is so hair-trigger sensitive that picking up sticks on the wrong day of the week constitutes a threat to his sovereignty. If this is the case, Christians seriously need a god who isn't insecure. Secondly, if this man had spent all of his life in Egypt as a slave where they were required to do back-breaking work each day under pain of torture, why do his fellow Israelites, Christians and even his God hold him culpable? It is well-known in human psychology that people who have been in life-long abusive situations (such as slavery under pain of torture) have a tendency to repeat the behaviours they carried out for a long time after the abuse stops. It is pure fantasy to think that once abuse stops that a person is instantly psychologically recovered - some people stabilise quickly, some people take a long time to stabilise, and some people mask their trauma with destructive behaviours, but all in all, recovering from being in a life-long abusive situation only starts when the abuse stops. And I can pretty much guarantee that debriefing, counselling, therapy and healing weren't high on Moses' to-do list, so when we see that a guy who was a slave all his life was caught doing slave things - wouldn't the more merciful thing to do with an ex-slave be to counsel him and help him be a productive member of society? Obviously not in God's economy. Thirdly, even if he rejected Yahweh's lordship over his life, so ******* what? In no decent morality system does that warrant execution! Isn't God big enough and patient enough to give us free will to decide if we want to truly follow him or not? Not by the looks of it. God killed this man simply because he exercised his free will in a non-harmful way - he wasn't killing people, he wasn't abusing people, he wasn't inciting riots - which means he simply didn't have free will. Imagine an abusive husband who physically assaults his wife because she did something heinous like speak to another man, or eat food her husband doesn't like, or go to work on the weekend. If the husband in this hypothetical scenario isn't giving his wife freedom to exercise her free will, then neither is God giving that freedom to us. And if we don't have the freedom to exercise free-will, the consequence of Christian theology is that you and I are moral robots.
Fourthly, didn't the author say the majority of the Old Testament was built on case law, administered by judges? If that was the case, did the accused in this instance get a chance to defend himself? Was he afforded something like natural justice? Was there a trial brought about by the testimony of two witnesses as the law prescribed? Was the trial even held before Israeli judges (so they had leeway to apply appropriate punishments)? What exactly happened in this case? Numbers 15:34-36 (NKJV):
Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.”So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.
The fact that God said to Moses that this man had to die shows that the case was not brought before community leaders - the case went directly to Moses and God himself.
This means there was no trial. There was no defence statement. There was nothing like the western concept of natural justice. This was simply a divinely-ordained summary execution, which means there wasn't even a proportional punishment for the crime. So much for God being a god of fairness. All this means that the author is simply wrong when she states that violations of the Mosaic Law were decided by community judges under a framework of case law. They clearly weren't because this clearly wasn't. But fifthly, if what was in the Bible was decided by friendly and flexible case law, someone clearly forgot to tell the Jews that. Jews all across the world, in this modern day (you know, the ones who are custodians of the Torah, the Mishnah, the Talmuds, etc), take Sabbath so seriously that they deliberately buy electronic appliances that come with Sabbath Mode built in to them - for one day a week, these appliances cannot be turned on and have their buttons and lights disabled (amongst other features)! If God is so flexible with the commandments regarding Sabbath that violations were dealt with on a case-by-case basis and only the most flagrant breaches were dealt with by execution, why are Jews so afraid of offending their God that they dare not even turn a fridge light on?
Another element of case law is relevant here: Ancient Near East (ANE) law codes many times specified the most severe penalty for a transgression, assuming lesser ones, giving the judges leeway to decide which penalty was most appropriate.
Hold on - by referring to the practices of the ANE, doesn't that validate the criticism that the Bible is not original? Because if the Bible was original in its morality or in its teachings, we wouldn't be a need to resort to comparing Jewish practices to that of her neighbours - we would be comparing the neighbours to Jewish practices instead. So first the author defers to the Mishnah, and now they bring up the practices of the other ANE civilisations?
This defence of the Bible so far isn't going so well.
It is not reasonable to assume that all, or even most, cases of Sabbath-breaking were punished with the death penalty...
Actually, when we're strictly discussing the Bible (which, in a discussion of the Bible, it should be fairly strict), it is reasonable. Remember, we're not discussing if Jewish society on the whole was immoral or if the corpus of the Jewish law was immoral, but we're focusing on only the Bible. And you can't argue using examples you don't have - the Bible has only one OT example of someone who broke the Sabbath, and that person was dealt with by execution. So to dismiss the idea that all Sabbath violators in the Old Testament were executed as unreasonable, when indeed all the examples of Sabbath violation in the Old Testament ended in execution, is wishful thinking. ---
...only that this was an option when the case was particularly flagrant and serious—as in the Numbers 15 case, which was essentially treason.
Nothing in the Bible suggests that anything other than execution was an option for punishment, especially in light of multiple verses in the Old Testament where God directly commands Sabbath violators be executed! Numbers 31:15 - For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. Numbers 35:2 - For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. So to suggest that the Numbers 15:32-36 example was treason is firstly wrong, but also makes God out to have a character so weak that he is threatened by someone picking up sticks. -----
I want to pause and state that I really wish apologists would be a lot more honest with how they present and discuss the Bible. It seems that atheists and liberal scholars are the only ones who actually take a look at the scriptures with a degree of skepticism and let the evidence make its own case - the exact opposite of apologetics. I'm almost at the conclusion that apologists aren't trying to convince atheists with a logical and well-reasoned argument - they're just trying to make Christians feel better about themselves. -----
A good modern-day example might be if someone made a threat against the leader of a nation...
So CMI agree that God feels threatened by someone picking up sticks? Wow. So God can apparently make a universe out of nothing, cause the sun to stand still, split a sea in half and lead hundreds of thousands of people to walk out from one side to the other while they're carrying possessions and walking livestock, but picking up sticks on the wrong day of the week is enough to cause him to want you dead? Yikes! -----
So, was Sabbath-keeping serious? Let's look at the data: 1. In two verses, God commands the death penalty for those who violate the Sabbath. 2. In one passage, God personally commands a Sabbath-violator to be executed. 3. According to CMI, violating the Sabbath is tantamount to treason, no less! 4. Orthodox Jews, in this day and age, with access to more information and science than at any other time in history, purchase deliberately-modified electronic appliances that help the owner avoid offending God because a fridge light turned on. Was Sabbath-keeping serious? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. ----- In the next post in the series (told you it would be a long one!), I tackle the topic "Is God A Homicidal Maniac?". Until next time, stay healthy! -Damien
As I read and re-read and re-re-read the Bible as part of my personal projects, I'm finding two things: 1. The scripture-as-myth exegesis makes a lot more sense than the scripture-as-literal-history exegesis does. Two things that make me lean towards scripture-as-myth are one, that there are many people with functional names that typically make sudden or short-lived appearances to advance a storyline (Rebecca, to tie, who mothered twin sons, Nabal, fool, who conveniently insults David in 1 Samuel 25, or Eve, to give life) and then conveniently disappear from history almost as fast as they appeared, and two, the lack of precise details regarding significant events. Where exactly was the Garden of Eden? How high and where exactly was the Tower of Babel? The Levite and his concubine in Judges 19 - why does no-one in the story have names? You see, there are very few details we can actually use to corroborate these retellings with, and with the details we do have, an agnostic look doesn't support the Bible-as-literal-history account. 2. The world as known to the ancient Hebrews was limited as far as the authors knew their geographical neighbours. There are no mentions of tribes and cultures on the other side of the world (American Indians, Indian Indians, Eskimos/Inuit, Mayans, et al) and the only mention of Africans goes only as far as Egypt and Ethiopia (which happened to be major cultural centres). This becomes a problem because the Hebrews were apparently the beloved people of the creator of the universe - did God not bother to say something to Moses along the lines of, "Hey Moses, how about we give a shout-out to the Austronesian-speaking peoples of South-East Asia? I love them too, you know!" to which Moses replies "Who and where? There's no evidence for them. They don't exist!". This becomes even more of an embarrassment in Isaiah 34:1-2 (NIV), which proclaims a time of reckoning and punishment for the whole earth and all that is in it.
Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is on all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter.
I don't remember the aborigines of Australia having ever faced judgement or having their armies wiped out by God. Nor the Zhou dynasty of China. Nor the Parisi of northern Britain. It's almost as if the Jewish writers of the time knew ONLY about a world that extended as far as they could see their regional neighbours. So either God can't communicate the truth of his created world to his beloved people, or God was intended to simply be the local deity for the Hebrews in much the same manner as the Canaanites around them - then Zoroastrianism came along... ----- Until next time, stay healthy, stay positive, and Go Tiges!!!!! - Damien
In this series of articles, I am responding to the Creation Ministries International article, 'Is The Bible An Immoral Book' by Lita Cosner. As both the article and my replies are lengthy in nature, each post in the series will focus on each of a consecutive series of paragraphs under different headings. After the introduction section, the first paragraph is "Misunderstanding The Old Testament". (Note: CMI have a plethora of articles available to peruse over at https://creation.com/qa, including some which may already answer points I have made in this series. Head on over, have a read, compare both sides of the argument!) -----
But now on to the particulars. The first Youtube video we'll discuss tries to criticize some Old Testament laws by envisioning a dictator who institutes four laws that are meant to be analogous to the OT laws (explained in detail below). But this comparison is flawed.
I don't know if CMI's web editor forgot to include the link to the YouTube video they are discussing, or if CMI are just being petty by refusing to even share the link. But either way, it's very hard to know if CMI's analysis of the video they're trying to respond to is accurate because they won't tell us what video it is they're criticising!
First, it fails to realize that the Old Testament Law is largely made up of case law—that is, it presents examples, but gives some leeway for judges to decide individual cases
I don't buy this for a second. While I don't necessarily disagree that the concept of case law is present in the Old Testament, I do disagree with the idea that case law makes up a large proportion of the Old Testament. It's there in dribs and drabs, but it requires an imaginative (re)interpretation to say the OT is 'largely made up of case law'. As an example, it is widely believed (though subject to interpretation) that the Torah is comprised of 613 commandments that incorporate the classic 10 that make up the Ten Commandments. In light of this, there is no reasonable way you can say "it's mostly case law" when commandments from God number in the hundreds. Second is the concept that judges (or tribal leaders) had leeway in deciding cases. Again, I won't disagree that the concept is present, but I have to say it is incredibly minimal, if ever mentioned at all. There are very few (if any) examples of people going to tribal leaders to have disputes settled or tribal leaders settling disputes. Most of the dispute settling that we explicitly see in the OT was done either by the regent of the day, the prophet of the time, or the cases went straight to God. So in light of this, I disagree that the Old Testament society was built upon leaders using judgement based upon the concept of precedent. To me, it looks like Cosner is earnestly trying to inflate a concept that has scant evidence and tenuous support in order to facilitate a method of deflecting criticism, namely that of trying to make it seem that the Old Testament isn't so dissimilar to what we have in the modern West. "What we have in modern Western society is what was also in the Old Testament. You don't hate modern Western society, do you? Then you simply can't hate the Old Testament because they're really very similar!" No. No. A hundred times, no.
The Mishnah (codification of oral traditions) reveals the flexibility that the Jews understood the Law to have...
Hold up - why is an author discussing Bible ethics by relying on extra-biblical texts? We are not discussing the Mishnah. We are discussing the Bible. The article isn't "Is the Mishnah immoral?", or "Was ancient Jewish society immoral?" - the article is "Is the Bible immoral?". If you want to defend the Bible, stick to the Bible. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. If the author wants to make a case that the entirety of the Law as given to the Jews (supposedly by God himself) was moral, then they have to discuss the entirety of that law. We can't deflect criticism of the Bible by saying that the Mishnah gave Jewish societal leaders flexibility - this only says that the Jewish society of the time allowed flexibility and interpretation in to how they made decisions. But all this opens up two gaping holes that Christian apologists will soon sink in to: 1. Christians will hide behind the Mishnah when it suits them (e.g. like this author when they're trying to defend the Old Testament), but then completely ignore its value or its existence (or even regard it as heretical) any other time. For example, one of my previous posts Five Uncomfortable Facts - Part 2 showed that the Mishnah (as well as other non-Biblical Jewish texts) state things that fly directly in the face of the Christian anti-abortion narrative, such as that a child does not have any rights to life or personhood until it is halfway down the birth canal, or that a foetus is nothing but water for the first 40 days after conception. So to me, it is intellectually dishonest for Christians to hide behind the Mishnah when it says something they agree with, then conveniently forget (or even oppose) the Mishnah at other times. 2. By stating that it was the Mishnah that clarified the Jewish law, Cosner is admitting that the Old Testament is incomplete. If God's perfect, holy and inerrant word needs subsequent sets of texts to give it interpretation (and to deflect criticism), then it's not perfect, holy or inerrant.
For instance, they didn’t understand ‘eye for eye’ to mandate literally gouging out eyes and knocking out teeth—they instead understood it to teach the general principle of proportional punishment. It was actually a limitation of private vendettas, so a huge advance over other law codes that might command ‘life for eye’.
And this highlights yet more problems for those who take a literalist interpretation of the Bible. It is simply and plainly intellectually dishonest to live and die by a plain and literal English reading of the Bible (Do the words "The Bible says in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. There are no two ways about it!" sound familiar?), then turn around and tell us that 'eye for an eye' or 'tooth for a tooth' didn't really mean to gouge out the eyes or to pull out the teeth of transgressors. Which leads to the question: when and how do Christians decide when to take the English reading of the Bible literally, at face value, and when not to? When it gets uncomfortable? When they can hold up a Mishnah or one of the Talmuds as a shield? But this gets even more uncomfortable because we see that 'eye for an eye' wasn't based on case law - it was a direct commandment from God. Leviticus 24:17-22 (ESV, emphasis added):
“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.Whoever takes an animal's life shall make it good, life for life.If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him,fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” (emphasis added)
"For I am the Lord your God"? This indicates a direct commandment - not case law. Where does it say that a direct commandment from the creator of the universe could be relegated to flexible case law? Does that mean any and every commandment from God can be reinterpreted to mean something that we don't want the plain literal reading of the text to when it gets uncomfortable? -----
Furthermore, as pointed out in the above linked article, Deuteronomy is a suzerain-vassal treaty between God and Israel.
I'm cool with the whole suzerain-vassal treaty thing - except that I'm not. To understand why, let me take you through a hypothetical - I hold a loaded gun to your head and tell you to hand me your wallet. Could I then say to the cops or to the judge that you gave me your wallet of your own free-will, thus I am free of blame or guilt? If your answer is no, then congratulations, you're one step closer to realising that God is a mob boss. So did the Israelites have any reasonable option to say no to the suzerain-vassal treaty? Did they have any negotiating power? Did they truly have free-will to enter into the treaty in question? If God asks you a question, wants an answer on the spot, and you know this God has a history of killing people who give the wrong answer, then you cannot honestly say that the Israelites agreed willingly and wholeheartedly to this treaty of their own free-will. It's exactly the mob boss or the robbery at gunpoint analogy. To back up my case and show you how God reacts when things don't go his way:
In Numbers 11:4-35, God became angry with the people who wanted to go back to Egypt because they wanted to go back - so God had them killed. In Numbers 14:36-38, God killed the ten spies who gave the bad report on the spot (by plague) because they gave a bad report. In Numbers 11:1-3, God kills people simply for complaining. You can't claim to give people free-will when you keep killing the people who don't do what you want, then hang it over the head of the others as a threat. Any defence of theology that requires you to ignore this is not an honest and rational defence. -----
Those who are not signatories to this treaty are not bound to many of the conditions which were specific for that time, and designed to prepare the Messianic People for the coming Messiah.
Woah woah woah! The OT was only for Israel and only until the Messiah came? Is this an admission that the Old Testament no longer applies? If it no longer applies, why are things like homosexuality, cross-dressing, adultery and bestiality still considered sin?
----- So it seems that some Christians, in particular Biblical literalists, want the Old Testament to apply - except when they don't want it to. On top of that, to defend the Bible they will reach out to other texts and traditions that they either steadfastly ignore or consider corrupted.
----- In the next post, I will tackle the paragraph headed "Was Sabbath Keeping Serious?". Until next time, stay rational and healthy! -Damien
I came across this (admittedly old) article on the Creation Ministries International website while doing research for another project I am working on, and felt like writing a response. Is The Bible An Immoral Book? (dated 29th November 2011, which means I'm only 8 years behind the times) by Lita Cosner is an article that attempts to deflect atheist criticism of the morality of the Bible and of the God protrayed in that Bible. Here begins my response to "Is The Bible An Immoral Book" by Lita Cosner of Creation Ministries International. [Given the length of the article and the depth of my responses, this will be a multi-part series] CMI are actually one of the better resourced and laid-out web resources for Creationism, so it is entirely possible that some of their articles have already answered points I have raised. Their collection of articles can be found at https://creation.com/qa, and then use the Search function to look up a topic. Given that it was this particular article that inspired me to write a rebuttal against it, and also that I don't wish to go pre-emptively hunting for rebuttals, some may call me lazy, some may call me cynical, I prefer to call myself focussed on the task at hand. I'm responding to one particular article, not a whole organisation. -----
There has been a wave of atheist YouTube videos attacking the morality of the Bible, arguing that not only is it not original in its good moral teachings, but that it also advocates some moral atrocities such as murder and slavery
Factually correct. There are numerous YouTube videos from atheists taking a critical look at the Bible (including my own small collection here), and that yes, there is an argument that the Bible is not original (see Christine Hayes' Yale incredibly fascinating lecture series on the Old Testament) and yes, that the Bible advocates moral atrocities (as the Atheist Experience YouTube channel repeatedlystates). My hope is that the debate continues in order to be able to give people a chance to consider both sides of the argument and come to their own conclusion, like it did for me. Here, I find myself agreeing with CMI [insert smiley face]. Great stuff! Let's keep it going. ---
First, it must be noted that the atheist has no logical ground for saying that anything is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, other than his own personal preferences.
Well. That furious agreement didn't last long [insert sad face].
Right off the bat, the assertion above made by the author is entirely wrong: atheism is merely and simply the disbelief in the existence of gods - it is not a morality system. There is nothing about atheism or the disbelief in the existence of gods that dictates what morality you subscribe to - the author may as well say that atheism means you prefer crunchy peanut butter to smooth (I'm definitely in the crunchy camp. Skippy cannot be topped. Fight me).
One could be as outspokenly atheist as Richard Dawkins and still have a morality that says turn the other cheek. One could be as anti-theist as Christopher Hitchens and take moral cues from the Norse religion of the vikings. The converse is also true - there is nothing about believing in the existence of gods that dictates what morality you have. As a current example, the most senior Catholic figure in Australia, (still) Cardinal George Pell, has been found guilty twice of child sex abuse (once in trial, and a later appeal found the conviction was reasonable, though Cardinal Pell may appeal to the High Court of Australia) - did his theism dictate his morality? If his theism didn't dictate his morality, then neither does atheism dictate mine. The truth of the matter is that personal morality and religious belief are two separate things. As for atheism having no logical ground for morality, I have three things to say: 1. Atheism has no defined morality, period. It's not like as soon as you sign up to be an atheist that a package arrives at your door with a prescribed set of beliefs and values. All that being an atheist entails is not believing in the existence of gods, be it that you don't believe gods exist, or you believe no gods exist. Everything else from there is not in the realm of atheism. 2. While atheism doesn't have any prescribed set of values, the most common morality system subscribed to (especially by ex-Christian atheists) turns out to be the most logical for determining good from bad - a morality system far superior to that of the Bible - and it's called secular humanism.
The goal of human morality is that it should maximise the health and well-being of people as both individuals and as a larger society. This then entails that whatever increases human wellbeing and what minimises pain and unnecessary suffering deserves to be called good, and that whatever minimises human wellbeing and causes unnecessary/avoidable pain, suffering, misery or sadness deserves to be called bad. And when there is a conflict or misunderstanding between those basic concepts, then we use a criteria to weigh our options. [Personally, I subscribe to my own personal form of Epicureanism in that the greatest good is maximum personal pleasure within reason, minimisation of harm for yourself and others, informed by the best available understanding of the world and a mindset of simple living.] How do we determine what meets the criteria for good and bad? This depends on what morality system you prescribe to. For those who may not be aware, the basis of secular humanism is that by using research data, studying history, using science to obtain the best knowledge available and by having a rational consideration of the consequences of ones actions and decisions, we put ourselves in the best position maximise human well-being. To consider how and why this works, let's consider the concept of torture (or its euphemism, enhanced interrogation techniques) as an example.
On the face of it, you and I both know torture is inherently bad, and for all intents and purposes we can categorise torture as bad. But what morality system is best placed to tell us truly if torture is good or bad? From the secular humanist perspective, torture is bad because it inflicts unnecessary and long-term pain and suffering (both mental and physical), has no proven tangible benefit and has actually been shown to be counter-productive, hence the work by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and OMCT to prevent torture being used by governments. And to contrast, what does the Bible say about torture? Not much against it, and actually a lot in favour of it. Shockingly enough, Jesus himself actually endorses torture in Matthew 18:34-35 (NIV, emphasis added):
"...in anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed."
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
Thus summarises the basis of the Christian religion - whoever doesn't submit to God (or worship God in the correct way or even believe the correct things about God) is destined to be tortured. This tells us, sure, torture is bad, but far from preventing it, actually welcomes it. So one one hand, we have one morality system that says torture is bad, here are the reasons why and works on ways to stop it - and on the other we have a morality system with torture as the ultimate stick in carrot-vs-stick. The end result is that by considering multiple points of historical and research data and taking in to considerations the consequences of particular actions, secular humanism shows itself to be an incredibly logical basis for morality. So if an person, especially an atheist, bases their morality on the principles of secular humanism, then he bases his morality on the most logical system of morality available. But further to this, it could well be argued that Biblical morality isn't even a morality system - it's just a series of divine pronouncements and decrees. This then becomes the catch for Biblical morality - while the focus of secular humanism is to take actions and make decisions that improve human health and happiness on both an individual and a societal level, Biblical morality is just whatever God says goes. Don't like it? What choice do you have? 2. The truth of the matter is that how a person, any person, arrives at deciding what is good and what is bad is entirely up to that person regardless of what they believe about the possible existence of gods. People get their morality from a number of factors, the biggest one being the culture and society one grows up in, and what someone believes about God typically reinforces personal morality rather than informs it. To give an example, Christians in the antebellum South in the 1800's arrived at the conclusion that slavery was sanctioned by God, with justification from scripture. But Christians who take cues from an Australian Creationist organisation in the 2000's come to exactly the opposite conclusion. Why would that be? Because of the culture and society of the time/s. This means that two groups of Christians, separated by time, culture and circumstance can read the exact same text and come to polar opposite conclusions on any given particular topic. Thus, the Bible is NOT a reliable basis for the foundations of what should be called morality and does not deserve to be called logical. To really drive the point home, I really don't know of anyone who says "Well, I'd really love to own slaves, but because God says not to own slaves, I'll just refrain!". It's more the case that modern society has laws and a culture that frowns upon and abhors slavery, which in my opinion Christians have retroactively theologised to make it look like God has been against slavery all along. But let's even grant the assertion that atheists base their morality (the concept of what is good as opposed to what is bad) on mere preferences - OK. Let me tell you about my preferences (in no particular order): First is my preference for not being arrested or sued. Second is my preference for not paying expensive legal fees to defend prosecution for my actions. Third is my preference to improve the physical, mental and emotional well-being of my loved ones. Fourth is my preference to be a person that positively contributes to society at large (which includes things like paying taxes and not burdening police or the courts with having to deal with any illegal activity). Fifth is my preference to treat people in a manner that reflects the way I want to be treated. And this is among dozens of other preferences I could list.So even if you want to conclude that atheists base their morals on mere preferences, I would love to see anyone argue that my preferences are harmful or detrimental. --- The next part takes a swipe at evolution (no surprise there):
Evolution is based on the survival of the fittest at the expense of the ‘unfit’.
Not quite. First, evolution is based on the idea of self-replicating organisms being able to adapt to their environment. How, for example, Tibetan people thrive in places of low-oxygen that the rest of us would struggle to breathe in, or how bacteria are becoming more antibiotic resistant. There's nothing about morality or ethics in any of that. The author may as well assert that evolutionists get their morality from Clifford's circle theorems. Second, the term 'survival of the fittest' has been taken out of context, and unfortunately, not for the first time by Creationists. To clarify, the term fittest in the phrase survival of the fittest means fitness to the environment that an organism or life form finds itself in - such as humans being sustained by water and sunlight on a planet that has plenty of water and sunlight - NOT a reference to some vague notion of societal worth (which CMI have attempted to do in some of their other articles) - and my favourite example of this is the Naked Mole-Rat. The Naked Mole-Rat is small and ugly and virtually blind, so notionally of little worth, but because the species heterocephalus glaber has adapted so well to desert environments it lives in, its conservation status is listed as Least Concern. So either God is so capricious that he created a small, hairless blind rodent, for reasons unknown; or nature is so marvellous that it gives creatures whose existence defies common sense the chance to thrive. I know which one makes more sense to me.
Third, '...at the expense of the unfit' really reads to me like a sneaky reference to Social Darwinism (you know, the kind that racists employed) - not biological evolution - and we know this because nothing in evolution says that some species have to die for other species to thrive. In the clear majority of cases, the only reason entire species becomes extinct is typically due to either environmental factors (geological changes, meteorites hitting earth, etc) or humans getting greedy. The point I'm trying to make is that the author seems to be employing guilt-by-association (also known as an Association Fallacy) to make a point, not relying on a robust understanding of the science. In light of that, any attempt by the author, Creation Ministries International, any individual Creationist, any Creationist organisation, or even any professed anti-evolutionist to tie the theory of, or the personal acceptance of, the theory of evolution to automatically mean a depraved morality should be thoroughly rebutted. Has anyone told Dr. Francis Collins that evolution means you have a flawed morality? Has anyone told Billy Graham? Pope Francis? I'm sure they'd love to know. --- Next comes this gem:
How can any ethics be based on ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’? EvenRichard Dawkins claims that he’s a passionate Darwinian when it comes to biology, but passionately anti-Darwinian when it comes to ethics.
This is absurd - no-one should base their ethics on a theory of biological diversity. Ethics should come from morality, which should come from a desire to increase well-being. So I'm not surprised Richard Dawkins is supposedly anti-Darwinian when it comes to ethics. I don't even know what Darwinian ethics are, let alone what anti-Darwinian is. Does anti-Darwinian mean you don't like long boat trips around the world? What you believe about the mechanism for the biological diversity found on earth is in no way tied to how you treat your fellow man. People who believe the science of evolution, and people who believe the concept of Intelligent Design have both done awful things and have both have done things that have contributed to the overall well-being of humanity. The long and short of it is that we base ethics and morality off of what we understand helps humans live the longest and happiest lives they can! Hold on - I know secular humanists do. Christians just do what they're told... Also, we need to understand that there really are no Darwinian ethics. Charles Darwin was not a political figure attempting social revolution - he was merely a naturalist who wrote about nature as he saw it, and added a few thoughts that reflected popular thinking of the time. Furthermore, Darwinism merely refers to one particular model of evolution (there are numerous others proposed). Charles Darwin could be wrong about one thing, ten things, a thousand things, but the theory of evolution would still stand because evolution isn't defined by one person - it's defined by a rigorous body of scientific research. Also, Darwin isn't evolution and evolution isn't Darwin, just like Newton isn't calculus and calculus isn't Newton. To me, again, it looks like Cosner is attempting to guilt-by-association the theory of evolution by sneakily substituting the concept of the Darwinian model of evolution (natural selection) with Social Darwinism (a euphemism for clear and abject racism). I have observed in all my dealings with CMI (I will say on a personal level, both face-to-face and via email they have been warm and friendly towards me, so this isn't an ad hominem attack) that they suffer the same problem that pretty much every single Creationist suffers from - the false association between the basic theory of evolution by natural selection, and a once-popular theory of sociology called Social Darwinism. This becomes very apparent when they try to make it seem anyone who accepts the theory of evolution in a modern context to also be accepting of writings of Charles Darwin and others in the context of the 1800's - the 1800's was a very racist time period in history, and most any public figure who wrote anything expressing any opinion during that time on race relations would certainly have said something that doesn't sit well with modern notions of race relations. This does not mean anyone who believes in the theory evolution is/was a screaming racist because they believe in the theory of evolution, it does not mean they believe in the theory evolution because they were screaming racists, and to tie the two together is not conducive to a proper and healthy debate. People were racist BEFORE Darwin wrote his books, people were racist AFTER Darwin wrote his books, and people have based their racist beliefs on either of Darwin or the Bible - simple as that. The below isn't an argument from CMI directly (so I do not wish to put words in their mouth), but it is a paraphrase of almost every argument I have had with Creationists when they know they are losing the scientific argument. They imply that evolution was conceived in racism and has become the scientific mantra of racists:
"Do you believe in evolution? Well, evolution was created by the angry atheist Charles Darwin (fact check: it wasn't and he wasn't) who said evolution works by survival of the fittest (fact check: he didn't), and then a social movement began that devalued other human beings based on who they are or how they were born...no, not Christianity (this time) - I'm talking about another social movement which devalues people which was called Social Darwinism - so they must have been be disciples of Darwin - and they were clearly racists, so if you believe in evolution, you either are on the side of racists, you support racism, you're secretly a racist, or maybe even all three!"
This is textbook guilt-by-association. Just to drive home how bad and unhelpful guilt-by-association is, there is a small group in America (ostensibly the most Christian country on earth) called the Ku Klux Klan. They're Creationist Christians who don't believe the theory of evolution by natural selection either!
Neither falsehood, nor misinformation nor guilt-by-association are productive to the debate. We should stick to the facts and make a cogent and rational argument to make our points. ---
If asked, the majority of people would say that they would rather live in places where people didn’t murder each other or steal from each other.
I'm curious about the people who say they don't want to live in places where people didn't murder or steal. Yes, they typically live in Melton, but still...
These perceived more ‘moral’ countries (listed by the author as Western Europe, America, Canada) have many principles that can be traced back to their Christian heritage that underpinned their governments and society in general.
I once had a debate with a Creationist and I gave him examples of what made Western society so great, and I was able to show him they had no parallels in the Bible:
Trial-by-jury of peers and an impartial justice system?Not in the Bible.
Workplace health and safety regulations, to help people not die at work?Not in the Bible.
The concept of paying tax for the government to provide a wide range of beneficial services to the community?Not in the Bible. An impartial and well-resourced police force to keep the community safe?Not in the Bible.
Clean and sterile hospitals, so that those who get sick aren't at risk of dying in the one place they are getting the help they need?Not in the Bible.
Egalitarian principles of societal mechanics, which enforces a sense that all people are equal before the law and in the eyes of their fellow man?Vaguely referenced in the Bible, but it wasn't anything Jesus said - Paul wrote a line or two in one of the epistles about people being equal. But when you consider that something as fundamental as the abolition of slavery in the same Western countries that have a Christian foundation took almost 2000 years to happen, I'm not going to give the Bible credit on that one.
Suffice to say that my Creationist friend could not demonstrate even one principle that underlines modern Western society that supposedly came from the Bible that could not have been reached by secular means either.
The idea that Western values and principles are based on Christianity and the Bible is a pipe-dream created by Fundamentalists to try claim credit for something they didn't create.
But all this highlights three very fundamental errors by the author:
1. Only some of nations that have a strong foundation in Christianity are considered safe to live in.
To provide a few counter-examples, would Ms. Cosner like to live in Africa? Africa has some of the highest reported affiliation to Christianity, with a reported 147'000'000 Pentecostals - almost half the total general population of the US. Surely they'd be a great Christian destination, no?
Maybe Ms. Cosner would like to live in Central America instead?
The Central America's report Protestant/Catholic combined affiliations well-above 75%. However, as the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report, some Central American countries report an intentional homicide rate up to 10 times higher than the world average. OK, scotch that idea.
So it's clear - not every country that has a high affiliation to Judeo-Christian religion is safe to live in.
There must be something else to it...
2. What has happened historically when a society becomes all-out Christian?
We see things like the following:
The witch trials of Salem, Europe and other places. Innocent people were tortured and even executed en masse without any form of natural justice, on the mere suspicion of being a witch. Those interrogated (with enhanced techniques, mind you) either died so they stop family members from suffering the same fate, or gave false information to stop the pain.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The Confederate states of America were fiercely Christian - their government motto was "Deo Vindice" ("God Vindicates") - and were among the most cruel and barbaric societies on record if you weren't white.
Hitler's Germany - Hitler was a baptised Catholic, never renounced his faith, saw the Catholic Church in Germany officially celebrate his birthday, and Hitler got to die by his own hand, not at the hands of the numerous men who tried to assassinate him. I would try argue the point with anyone that these three examples (among many) are what happens when a society becomes hyper-religious, particularly in the Christian religion.
3. Western society became great because of political reforms, not through theological stirrings.
The concept of democracy from the Greeks? The senatorial style of government from the Romans? The Magna Carta? The Industrial Revolution? The Age of Enlightenment? Universal suffrage? None of these needed a Jesus.
I could go on with more examples, but even if I grant that there was a Christian undertone to some or all of the reformations throughout the ages, I would grant that credit to Christianity as a social movement as opposed to Christianity the henotheistic trinitarian religion. ---
Next is this paragraph:
But ‘Theft and murder are wrong’ doesn’t follow from a choice of preferences, any more than the preference ‘I like chocolate’ makes eating a consistent supply of chocolate into a human right or beneficial for someone
Hold up there, Cosner! Theft and murder are wrong firstly because they are legislated against in every country and state, as well as by the United Nations (the closest thing we have to a global government). But why would we say theft and murder are wrong, even without police or state intervention? The reason why highlights the biggest difference between humanism and Christianity - The humanist understand both the effect and the consequences of actions like theft and murder, as well as the principle of "I don't want to be killed or stolen from, so I won't murder or steal from other people". Humanists also understand from an empathetic point of view the emotional harm that murder and theft have and that it's bad to inflict emotional and physical harm on to people.
But from a Christian perspective, the biggest reason that theft and murder are wrong are because God said so. You may tack on whatever other reason you want, but realise this - every step away from because God said so is just one step closer to the reasons given by secular humanism. This has the unfortunate effect of confirming that fact that Biblical morality is just decrees from on high. The secular humanist actually understands the consequences of their actions and refrains from taking actions that are detrimental - Christians, however, could well be thieves in waiting and all that is holding them back is disapproval from daddy. But the long and short of it is, if God appeared to the world tomorrow and declared murder right and moral, the secular humanist still wouldn't murder or steal - whereas Christians could because their moral lawgiver just gave them carte blanche. So yeah, I guess the idea that theft and murder are wrong do follow from preferences - the preference to help humanity in general live as long and happy lives as reasonably possible. How we get there is another thing, but the Christian cannot argue that for them it is anything other than divine decree.
Furthermore, criticisms of the Bible’s morality assume that humans have correct moral reasoning.
This is both wrong and weird. Wrong if you are either a Christian or an atheist - if you are a Christian, your morality comes from the Bible which you would argue is correct, therefore you have correct moral reasoning (provided by a book). If you're a humanist, your moral reasoning comes from a rational understanding of the world around you and a desire to help humanity live happier and healthier lives, which, as long as you are being intellectually honest, means you are as correct as you can be. But how do we judge what is morally correct? By measuring it against a criteria. For theists, that criteria is against the will of their deity. And given that in passages such as 1 Samuel 15 and Numbers 31, Yahweh and his right-hand men instructed the Israelites to kill other people and kidnap young girls after their parents and siblings were murdered. For humanists, that criteria is what improves overall wellbeing and happiness in whatever situation the person finds themselves in (which definitely does not entail killing people or kidnapping young girls - quite the opposite). But this is all weird because I've never heard of anyone say that their moral reasoning is incorrect - plenty of people say that they have gone against their better judgement and done bad things, but the only time someone says their moral reasoning is incorrect is only when they understand at a later time, in the light of better moral reasoning, that their previous moral reasoning was incorrect. The only exception to this are people with mental illness or neurological injury that have a proven effect to skew the moral capacity of the person - and even then, it's rare that the person with said condition even realises that their moral reasoning is incorrect.
Many times in history, humans in various societies have assented to things which we know to be horrific. For instance, in Nazi Germany, most people either thought that Jews were non-persons, or assented to the idea through inaction
Yes. And there's a reason why we understand those things to be horrific - because we know the actions that we call horrific have caused avoidable and unnecessary harm and suffering (if not outright death). We didn't reach that conclusion by praying to a deity and waiting for what the deity wants us to think - we instead looked at history and used a sense of perspective and empathy. But I'm glad the topic of Nazi Germany has been bought up, because even here, Cosner gets her facts wrong.
Most people thought Jews were non-persons? Possible. But even then, if they did, it was the result of propaganda - the idea that Jews were less than human was forced down their throat. As per the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Propaganda was as an important tool to win over the majority of the German public who had not supported Adolf Hitler.
Assented to the idea through inaction? From the same source:
Combined with terror to intimidate those who did not comply, a new state propaganda apparatus headed by Joseph Goebbels manipulated and deceived the German population and the outside world.
So it was clear that the German people were deceived in to thinking bad things about the Jews, and that the state had no problem using force and terror tactics against people who didn't agree.
This is hardly assenting to the idea through inaction.
But the most ironic thing about Christians bringing up Hitler as an example of atheism that leads to death and atrocities is that firstly, Hitler was not an atheist, and second, Germany has had waves of anti-Semitism for centuries, with theological backing from none other than Martin Luther.
Yes. THAT Martin Luther. The same Martin Luther who was the father of the Protestant movement, the same Protestant movement that defines CMI's brand of Christianity. Oh, the irony.
Millions of people were killed as a result, but the people involved were, by and large, no better or worse than the average person today.
I'm not too sure how Cosner reached her conclusion here. I would actually argue the opposite - that people today are better than they were in the early part of the 20th century. To help make this point, Professor Stephen Pinker in his book, The Better Angels Of Our Nature, shows that in the last 50 years, society in general is in the middle of the most peaceful and prosperous time in human history. However, it could also be that Cosner is trying to say that we are a bunch of genocidal anti-Semites just waiting for government approval to exterminate those we don't like. If that is her point, I thoroughly disagree.
At about the same time, eugenics was widespread in America, with great support from the intellectual elites, resulting in 60,000 Americans sterilized against their will
This I agree with - eugenics, or at the version that encourages abusing or eliminating people based on unfavourable traits and characteristics they were born with, was practiced and experimented with during the last century. But does the author know and understand why we don't practice this kind of eugenics now in the 21st century? Because we realised - independent of theology -that forcibly giving people diseases, and deciding to give those people diseases on the basis their race and social status, was a bad thing. Can God say he hasn't forcibly given people diseases based on their race or social status? So once we realised what was happening, what did we do about it? When we saw that governments, particularly the American government, had been abusing their own citizens and the information and verification of that abuse came to public attention, we didn't wait for a deity to hand a policy document down from a cloud, or wait for someone to read the Bible to decide what to do - we made (and continually improved) standards for ethical research that anyone who wants to contribute to science has to abide by!
Psychological experiments reveal that the majority of people are willing to subject another person to pain and even danger if a sufficient authority commands them to do so, or sometimes if a large enough reward is offered.
Some experiments showed that, none more famous than the Stanford Prison Experiment. But not every experiment has. VSauce has a very interesting video based on the SPE that actually brings us to the opposite conclusion.
But does Cosner understand why we don't do more Stanford prison experiments? Because it goes against ethics - ethics that humans created to prevent other humans from suffering! So this implication that people are just waiting to kill and steal and make people suffer if only they could be free to is technically correct, but it turns out that people will be inclined to do bad things to other people if an authority figure permits, allows, encourages or even commands it - i.e. Demand Characteristics. ----- But this just goes back to a point before - the basis of Biblical morality is just decrees from God with very little regard for human well-being, unless human well-being coincidentally aligns with whatever God wants at the time. Whereas an opposing morality system such as secular humanity is a lot more well-thought out and actually concerns itself with human well-being, which is what a good morality system should be all about ----- As for saying atheism is not a logical foundation or basis for morality, Cosner is completely correct - atheism is not a foundation for morality because atheism is just an opinion on the proposed existence of gods. Whatever morality you enact is informed by the culture and society you are in, as well as a growing set of data points by which you refine your view of the world, thus further informing your morality ----- In the next section, I will tackle Cosner's next heading, Misunderstanding The Old Testament. The only other thing I wish to note before I end this post is that in going over CMI's articles, the only links they seem to provide in their articles are to either Bible verses, or to other articles they have written. Make of that what you will. ----- Until next time, stay happy, healthy and rational. Regards, - Damien (email@example.com)